A Canvas of Wood, Chain Saws as BrushesMr. Murphy appears to have a number of websites, which are rather haphazardly organized. One of the more approachable ones is here: http://chainsawraymurphyfolkart.com/about.html
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Published: July 23, 2008
HANCOCK, Me. — Ray Murphy’s art is dirty, dangerous and very, very loud.
Using only a chain saw, Mr. Murphy creates animals and figures from huge tree trunks and meticulously carves numbers on toothpicks and Popsicle sticks. When he is finished, so is the piece — he refuses to sand, varnish or paint anything he makes.
“I am a sawyer, period. I use chain saws and refuse to pick up carving tools,” said Mr. Murphy, 65. “Real chain saw art is done with a chain saw.”
And for $10, anyone can see him make that art.
Mr. Murphy started a nightly chain-saw show last year, a 90-minute performance where he attacks pieces of wood with one of three chain saws. At each show he recruits a volunteer from the audience and makes him wear a belt with a wooden buckle, from which he carves something. So far everything has turned out fine.
“It’s so unique that people don’t quite get it,” Mr. Murphy said.
Jen Ruth, who books dozens of chain-saw artists at carving competitions across the country, said there were about 8,000 carvers nationwide.
“As an agent, I’ve seen a massive explosion in chain-saw art,” Ms. Ruth said. “A lot of people want to get into it because they think it’s cool and they’ll get rich real quick, which is not true.” Most artists make their creations year-round and perform at competitions and fairs in the summer. But no one is doing the same thing as Mr. Murphy, Ms. Ruth said.
Mr. Murphy claims that he invented chain-saw art in 1953, when as an 11-year-old in a Wyoming logging family, he started carving animals from logs. He kept carving through his teenage years, in college, during stints at various logging companies and in the Forest Service, and ultimately at his own logging business.
Mr. Murphy went on to fame, appearing on “Wide World of Sports” on ABC in 1982 and carving the alphabet into pencils at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The museum still displays many of them, its archivist, Edward Meyer, said.
Business in Maine went well — so well, he said, that people bought his creations faster than he could make them. He socked away the money he made to fulfill his dream of performing with a chain saw every night.
He moved his shop from a side street to busy Route 1, and spent $250,000 building a theater for his shows. Rows of bleacher seating look onto Mr. Murphy’s plexiglass-covered stage.
“This is my dream,” Mr. Murphy said outside the bus, which now holds newspaper clippings, awards and other memorabilia from his carving career. As 7 p.m. — show time — approached, Mr. Murphy got antsy.
“Anyone here yet?” he asked.
Mr. Murphy got into the booth and started carving. Soon, a large log became a table and chairs, with a hamburger and fries atop the table. Then he meticulously tackled a piece of wood using a smaller chain saw, his face close. Out popped a small ladybug, which Mr. Murphy brought out and put on a dime.
“It’s experimental, nobody’s done this before,” Mr. Murphy said. “I’m kind of one of them characters willing to step off the deep end of the plank and test the waters.”
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The Bar Harbor Insider did a great piece on him, which includes photos and links to an NPR interview with him. His show and gallery are located at 734 U.S.Highway 1, Hancock, ME, which is 5 miles East of Ellsworth on U.S.Highway 1. There's another good article, this one by Nick Gosling, from 2006 when he opened his show. Click here to read it (with photos).