Artist Saws Art Where He Sees It

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Drive by the house on the northwest corner of Ponderosa and McKamey streets after dark and you're likely to run into a menacing bear or some other kind of forbidding creature.

In the light of day, one will discover chain saw woodcarvings, but lurking in the shadows at night, they can take on a life of their own especially the realistic creations that Mike Waldon and his assistant, Ben Harless, turn out.

While most chain saw artists do standing bears from ordinary logs, this duo prefers their bears on all fours and on the prowl. Not only are such bears more menacing, but they're also more difficult to carve, and they require a very special piece of wood.

"I can turn out a standing bear in two or three hours," Waldon said, "but a bear on all fours takes all day."

Bears, of course, are a hot item if you're in the chain saw woodcarving business, but Waldon has no idea why.

"I've never asked people what they see in them, but that's what they want," he said. "That's what's selling."

Custom items are a lot more fun to do than bears, and Waldon is willing to take a stab at just about anything somebody is willing to pay for.

"I've done a buffalo head and a full-size gnome," he said. "I had one lady ask for a tiger because her boyfriend liked them."

Waldon started out on a much smaller scale.

"My wife does tie dyes and barnwood signs and I go to craft shows with her. One day I just picked up a knife and started whittling. It kind of grew from there."

Originally from Indiana, Waldon has always been an artistic sort. At one time his medium was welding.

"It started out as a hobby. I was especially interested in making wind stuff. But when I moved to the Valley it turned into a job," he said.

After vacationing in the Rim country for years, Waldon decided to move here 20 years ago. He never plans to leave.

"I can't be without the sight of mountains," he said. "I could never live in Indiana again."

The bear on all fours currently resides at Macky's Grill, and other carvings by Waldon and Harless can be seen at the Thrift Boutique on Main Street and through the website for his wife's company, Arizona Rainbow Arts. Go to www.bestofpayson.com and click "Rainbow." Waldon can be reached at 472-4361.

For custom items, Waldon charges about $50 a foot, half of what many woodcarvers charge.

"But that's not a given," he said. "It really depends on how much detail is in the piece.

"The gnome, for example, was really detailed, so something like that would cost more."

If you're looking for a really unusual gift for the person who has everything, there still might be time for Waldon and Harless to produce a piece. They plan to keep working right up to Christmas.

"As long as I have wood and my saw's working, we'll be out here carving," he said. "Even if it's snowing."

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