Artist Carves Niche Out Of Forest

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The drought and bark beetle plague have the potential of leaving a bleak landscape in their wake. Rim country property owners are spending thousands of dollars to remove the majestic ponderosa pines that are the hallmark of Rim country which now stand dead and diseased.

Yet a few property owners, struggling to maintain the rugged beauty of the trees and willing to see the trees from a different perspective have contracted chain saw artist Ben Harless to create a work of art, bringing beauty and creativity from the death and disease.

Working on an old ponderosa at the Pugels' home in Pine, Harless carves from a bucket truck owned by Jim Armstrong which is used more often to remove trees.

Towering about 100 feet in the air, the tree is about 4 feet at the base and had been struck by lightning several years ago. Bees --nbeknownst to the owners --oved into the hollow the lightning created. But when the drought-stressed tree, along with a dozen or more on the property fell victim to the notorious bark beetle, owners Ray and Julie Pugel wanted to retain something from the grand old tree.

While talking to Armstrong about removing the trees, the Pugels learned about Harless and the idea struck.

"We just said no mean animals," Julie said of the sculpture that now rises above her roofline.

A large bird prepared to take flight from the top of the tree and a fish is beginning to appear under his wings. Harless works on the tree as weather and time permits. His inspiration comes from the tree itself.

"I take suggestions, and I like to get a feel for the people," he said. "It's not really a totem. This is a creation, a sculpting. This is my imagination."

He works with the knots, the grain and the natural aspects that each tree has to offer.

"My stuff is really abstract," he said "Sometimes when you look at it, it will change. That is why I call it vision, because it is what you see," he said.

Each time you look at the tree from a different angle, another direction or even in a different light or season, what you see will be different, he explained.

"You can do nice stuff with the average pine tree," he said.

Harless needs at least a 20-inch diameter tree to carve on.

Harless recently completed more than a dozen carved trees at La Seinga Ranch in the Ellison Creek area.

For more information, call Harless at 472-9736.

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