It is said Michelangelo could simply look at a piece of stone and see what it was meant to be — perhaps a “David” or “Pieta.” Well, Bill Bell and Don Shimon from Texas Trails can do the same thing with tree stumps. Instead of a hammer and chisel for stone, they bring their chainsaws and woodcarving tools. Instead of scaffolding dangling them precariously over marble and granite, they steady themselves on dear old Mother Earth and simple step stools.
However, the artist is in their hearts and their work is still a joy to behold. For Bill, it started in the early ‘90s.
“About a year after we were married, we went down the coast in Washington State and I saw some chainsaw carvers in the Redwoods. I thought, ‘I’d like to try that. What can I lose? It will always burn,’” Bill said. “I bought a piece of redwood about two foot long and carved an eagle. I didn’t know you could take lessons. I carved maybe eight or nine years before I even took a wood carving lesson. Before that piece of redwood I carved a hummingbird on a bell.”
Now a carver since 1993, he never has taken any chainsaw carving lessons.
“I do that on my own. It’s like a big knife except it cuts real fast,” he said, laughing. “I carved quite a few bears, raccoons, alligators, and I think this is about the fourth or fifth Indian I’ve done. When I moved down here, I got rid of my chainsaw as I thought I wouldn’t be doing any chainsaw carving anymore. Wrong! That shows what I know!”
Not thinking himself an artist, Bill chooses a picture of something and “kind of goes by it.”
“At Texas Trails, I carved the Cat-In-The-Hat in about 16 hours,” said Bill. “I got Don to help me on this one. That was a lot easier.”
Don Shimon came down to Texas Trails when he retired and began taking wood carving lessons during the winter.
“I got started and carved a couple of little, tiny bears first, then a couple of cowboys and went on from there,” he said. “This was back in ‘97 and ‘98. I did a little chainsaw carving back home at our farm in Iowa - some mushrooms and things like that out of old stumps. When Bill came up to visit me one time, we turned a black walnut stump in my yard, about five foot tall, into a Cigar Store Indian.”
Bill and Don met in the Texas Trails swimming pool one afternoon - an ex-farmer turned rural mail carrier in Northwest Iowa and a ex-commercial refrigeration company owner. They started talking wood carving, struck up a bond and have been exceptionally good friends every since.
For the Tip o Texas Indian, Bill used the face on the Buffalo Nickel.
“If you look at the Buffalo Nickel and you look at the Indian, they pretty much resemble each other,” said Don.
Working from early in the morning until 11 each day, it took them about 13 hours to finish the Indian.
“It was a beautiful magnolia tree about 25 years old,” said Gene Christian, manager of Tip o Texas. “The leaves started falling and the top part of it was deteriorating and we decided, rather than waiting until it fell down, we’d cut it down, and we did. I called Bill and asked him if he would be interested in doing any carving on it so he came over and said he could make an Indian out of it.”
The men even have their wives help them on other smaller pieces of work.
“I do some painting, but most of the technical stuff I still get the wife to do. I start out and I’ll slop a bunch of paint all over everywhere, and she’ll say, ‘Get out of the way and let me do it,’” said Don, laughing.
“I painted his stuff until he did cochina dolls,” said Wanda Bell. “Then I told him he needed to learn how to paint, so he has done his own painting ever since. I took up woodcarving in 1997 and like animals and character carving, while Bill likes realistic carving.”
Both are blue ribbon winners.
Don and Bill enjoy carving in their shops where the air-conditioner cools their brows as they bend over their work.
“The chainsaw carving is nasty work. Dirty and you have sawdust all over you,” said Bill.
So they’ll go back to life as normal — Don and Delores are here seven months out of the year and Bill and Wanda are full timers. Is there another chainsaw carving in the works?
“We’re not planning on it,” said Bill.
“Not if we can help it,” Don said.
“Unless we have another dead tree someplace,” said Bill, a grin on his face.