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Finding the figure: Indy man uncovers hidden art with chain saw

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More than 22,000 pounds of wood sat in massive trunk sections in the empty field.

The pieces had been taken from an ancient pin oak on a nearby Bargersville farm. Rather than turn it into mulch, a local resident had each one shipped to a rural corner of the field.

Now it was up to Brian Kinch to find the art hiding inside.

Kinch has taken a creative spirit and skill with power tools into a unique side job. He carves wooden sculptures with a chain saw, and his past creations include eagles with outstretched wings, brown bears, Celtic crosses and a replica of the Lombardi Trophy.

“Carvers say that the figure is in there. You just have to get it out,” he said.

The job was arranged by Jeff Beck, a Bargersville farmer. He had established a small community park on a parcel of land that he and his wife called Praise Acres.

The outdoor education center consists of 15 acres of land at the corner of North County Road 725 West and Whiteland Road, and is a certified wildlife area.

Dressed in protective glasses, a facemask and gloves, Kinch went to work on one of the stumps on Praise Acres. Sawdust created a cloud around him. As he maneuvered the chain saw in slanted lines around the outside of the wood, an eagle flying through the sky emerged.

Stopping to assess what he’d cut, he stepped back from the piece to take in the entire figure.

Already, he had finished one of the sculptures. A pair of hands, clasped in prayer, were surrounded by trees, flowers and other plants. A small frog sat on a lily pad in the corner.

Kinch, an Indianapolis resident, comes to each job with a truckload of supplies and machinery. He has four chain saws, each with different sizes and strength to make varying cuts. Big saws are kept to cut large pieces of wood off of the stumps and get the basic shape ready.

The smallest one is called a detail saw. The blade doesn’t have a sprocket in the nose, so the chain stays tight and makes a smooth, even cut, he said.

The goal is to have the sculptures reflect both the natural world and the community’s sense of faith, Beck said.

Each of the three pieces of wood that would become the sculptures came from a 150-year-old pin oak that had been cut down recently. The historic tree had been growing on local farmer Ted Briggs’ land, but the dying giant had become a safety hazard.

Briggs arranged for it to be cut down over the summer. Beck had three of the large pieces taken to Praise Acres. He wanted each one turned into new works of art and needed to find someone to do the carving.

“It was a recycling job, so to speak,” Beck said.

Kinch, a chef by training, first became interested in chain saw art while working at the Radison Hotel in Indianapolis. He would carve ice for banquets and learned the basics of form, shadowing and how to get a chain saw to make delicate cuts.

“I thought, I carve ice, why couldn’t I carve wood?” he said. “I can’t have idle hands; I have to do something.”

Kinch had owned a food truck, Indy Cheese Steaks, that circulated through Indianapolis serving streetside cheese steaks at public events. Though he enjoyed it, he realized the business venture wasn’t going to work out, so he sold his truck and all of the equipment last year.

With fewer things to keep him busy, he started chain saw carving again.

Kinch started by carving chunks of wood around his yard and displaying them outside his house. When neighbors and friends saw his work, they asked him to tackle an errant stump or a large block of wood they wanted turned into a decoration.

Beck had posted a notice on an Internet forum called Carving Post looking for a carver in central Indiana, and Kinch jumped at the opportunity.

“I had struggled to find someone. I wanted somebody local, and it just worked that our personalities matched,” Beck said.

For the most part, Beck has allowed Kinch to dictate the designs he wants. The one stipulation was that Beck wanted a pair of praying hands. Anything else, Kinch could just run by him before starting.

One chunk will be a soaring eagle, with a cabin carved down and mountains below to make it appear that the bird is flying over the land. Another will be a pug, in honor of Beck’s pet dog, Sofie.

“(It’s) nice that something is able to come from something so old. Besides mulch,” Kinch said.

A lot of times, the wood will dictate what he does. If the wood inside the trunk is rotted or soft, he can do less with the blades of the chain saw. Knots and imperfections in the wood also have to be worked around.

Inside the trunk, he finds nails that have been grown over, bullets sunk into the wood — even something as errant as a horseshoe can turn up, he said.

But the pin oak wood that Kinch is using was from higher up in the tree, so it had fewer imperfections.

Chainsaw carving is an ongoing learning process. Every time he picks up his saws, he has another breakthrough about structuring his works of art, getting the tiny details perfect and shading just right, he said.

Kinch has worked throughout October and November to finish the Bargersville projects.

As he has been working, passers-by have stopped to inquire about the art. People from as far away as South Bend have taken time to watch the carving and asked for Kinch’s contact information.

“Just by sitting out here, he’s probably gotten three jobs,” Beck said.

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