By Rick Banas of assisted living provider BMA Management, Ltd.
The BlueRidgeNow.com headline on Google certainly caught my attention in a way I was not expecting. I was doing a little further research for a Blog I was writing on Chainsaw Wood Carving Artist “Mountain Dan.” He had visited the Heritage Woods affordable assisted living community that we manage in Dwight on Aug. 29, 2012.
I was waiting until today to post the Blog because the impact of the events of September 11, 2001 are what led him to take up chainsaw wood carving.
Becky Gish, the Resident Services Coordinator at Heritage Woods, had arranged for Dan to do a wood carving demonstration. He was in the area because he was one of the attractions at the Central States’ Threshermen’s Reunion that is held annually over the Labor Day weekend in Pontiac, Illinois.
Dan carved a 32-inch black bear out of a hemlock log. His daughter, Stephanie, put the hair on the bear and sanded the face. She is learning to chainsaw. A young man who is learning the art, torched it for color. The used spray paint and a combination of linseed oil and paint thinner to provide the finishing touches.
Heritage Woods was purchasing and dedicating the bear in honor of Hollis Porter, who was one of the first residents of the assisted living community. Hollis’ daughter, Barb, was there to see Dan in action and for the dedication ceremony for her mother.
Dan and I had a chance to talk about his life as a chainsaw wood carving artist.
He started at the age of 60 just a few months after 9/11. “I was doing high dollar landscaping work in North Carolina,” he said. “What happened to the market and to the economy shut us down.”
One option was to go back to the west coast and “do the timber thing.” He had years of experience working for timber companies.
Instead, he tried his hand at chainsaw wood carving. He said he had been “running a chainsaw since he was 10 years old” and was good at it. He also had seen what others were doing when it came to chainsaw wood carving.
On Jan. 2, 2002, he decided to take a block of wood to see what came out. “It was pitiful,” he said. “I cut its head off.”
Rather than be discouraged, he kept at it and discovered “a gift from God that had been dormant all his life.”
He spent 12 hours a day, seven days a week for 120 days straight wood carving. He wanted to build a sufficient inventory of wood carvings by Memorial Day weekend, when the tourist season starts in the Great Smoky Mountains.
“I can take a picture of any animal and do a wood carving,” he said. “I run the fastest chisel in town.”
“Most of what I do is with wood that has been rejected by sawmills,” he added.
He talked about his belief that, “God never lets someone who he gave a gift starve. There were times that were tough, but we never went without.”
But, he told me, you have to do your part and put in the work.
He also talked about how his 65th Birthday was his toughest. “I was programmed from the time I was a kid that at 65 you are done.” That is what he was told by others and what the government says. “The government even starts sending you a check (social security).”
He came to realize that “I’m done when God tells me I’m done, not when society says I should be.”
The bear, he prophetically added, “will last longer than any of us.”
The BlueRidgeNow.com headline read “Chainsaw Artist ‘Mountain Dan’ Smathers Dies at Fair: Heart Attack Fells 70-Year-Old Woodcarver from Etowah.”
The article notes that he was advised he needed a pacemaker. With one, however, he could no longer operate a chainsaw.
Dan saw wood carving as a means to an end. He loved to talk with people, especially as a way to spread the Gospel. People stopping by to watch him work and to look at his wood carvings gave him the opportunity to talk with them.
He died doing what he loved.
“BMA Management is the leading provider of affordable assisted living in Illinois
and one of the 20 largest providers of assisted living in the United States.”