It all starts with a piece of wood -- the trunk of a tree, the base of a stump, a twisted branch.
The work begins as a rough outline; characters born a bit at a time through a chain saw cut here, a shave there, section by section, block by block.
The end result often can be lifelike. At the very least, it's an eye-catching piece of art. Eagles, bear, moose, fish, raccoons, cartoon characters, giant pumpkins -- there seems to be nothing Brian Richter can't carve out of a tree.
For the past seven years the 33-year-old California native has been professionally shaping trees into works of art. Give him almost any kind of tree -- though he prefers and normally uses white pine -- and with chain saw in hand he can create a sculpture.
Now Richter will try something new -- carving huge pieces of 1,000-year-old giant redwood brought in from northern California.
An eagle soars out of a piece of juniper in Brian Richter's sculpture gallery. The piece took about 11 days to create and four more to finish the fine details.
On Tuesday, a semi-truck consisting of 15 pieces of redwood totaling about 50,000 pounds arrived at Richter Sculpture Gallery, on Highway 371 just north of Baxter in the Northview Center.
Richter has sculpted pieces that range from the very small to several feet in height and width, but he's never carved anything of this magnitude. He hopes the sight of the giant pieces of redwood will be as special for area residents as they are for him.
"I'm bringing a part of the California redwoods right here to Brainerd, that's the way I feel about it," said Richter. "I'm going to do some real dandies."
Redwood trees regularly reach 300 to 350 feet and a diameter of 12 to 16 feet. The redwood pieces Richter will be carving were salvaged from stumps, remnants of trees that were cut more than 100 years ago by the logging industry.
Richter Sculpture Gallery on Highway 371 just north of Baxter in the Northview Center is owned by Brian Richter, who for the past seven years has been creating sculptures with a chain saw.
As he studies each piece of redwood, Richter imagines what he will create. He has been imagining what the pieces will be day and night since he knew they would be arriving.
On one piece, a 6-foot high section that was once part of a tree that measured about 7 feet in diameter, he sees a mountain lion crawling down a rocky slope.
"It's going to be an absolutely gorgeous piece," he said, running his hands across the wood, using his fingers to trace an outline of where he sees each figure. On a larger piece, a 7.5-foot tall section, he envisions a carving of a life-sized grizzly bear.
For the biggest piece of redwood, an 8-foot wide, 9-foot tall block that angles upward into a sort of summit, Richter has several ideas as to what he would like to create. One would be a boulder on which one mountain lion is playing with another near a twisted tree. Another idea would be a grizzly bear on a crop of rocks at a running river, a fish in its mouth. More fish would be jumping out of the river.
"There's a lot of ideas. What I'm trying to do is work with the full width of the tree," said Richter. "With this, I'm really going to make something special. It's going to be a monumental piece."
He has orders to fill, but Richter said he would like to start one of the smaller redwood pieces within the next month or two. The big pieces he figures to start on in the summer.
As with all his sculptures, about 98 percent of the work will be done with chain saw. He uses four of them, all electric and each with a different sized chain and bar, the largest being about 6 feet long. He will start out with the bigger chain saws and work his way to the rough shape. To get the intricate details, such as eyes, mouths and feathers, more precise tools will be used.
Depiction of wildlife isn't the only thing Richter carves out of wood. He also creates coffee tables, mantels and is currently working on a $15,000 bar.
It's a trade he learned from his stepfather, Roy Hamari, in California, whom Richter considers one of the best sculptors in the country. Hamari showed him the mechanics of carving with the chain saw. Richter said being able to create images from the wood was something that came to him naturally.
"I was artsy as a kid, but it wasn't something I was into," said Richter. "I was meant to carve. I know it is what I want to do the rest of my life. It's not always how much you're making. I did a factory night job in college and I hated it. Carving means a lot to me."
Richter's work can be viewed at his Web site: www.richtersculpture.com.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.