Just when chainsaw carver Josh Landry thought he wouldn’t be working much this year, he started what might be the biggest job of his career.

Landry, of North Anson, makes much of his living from doing demonstrations at fairs, festivals and other summer and fall events. This spring, when many of his paying gigs were getting canceled, he began carving a 15-foot ash stump at Stephen and Tabitha King’s Bangor home. He transformed the stump into what appears to be a living bookshelf – with human feet – that is home to books and creatures of all kinds, including a frog, a raven, cats and a dragon. It looks like it might be something out of a Stephen King horror story.

Animals sit atop Josh Landry’s chainsaw sculpture at the Bangor home of Tabitha and Stephen King. Photo by Jonathan Leonard

Since the Kings’ home on West Broadway is a landmark, visited and photographed by people from around the world, Landry will likely gain a bigger audience for his work than ever before. The vaguely spooky-looking Victorian home will eventually be turned into an archive for Stephen King’s writing and a retreat for other writers, attracting even more attention to the property.

“It’ll be one of the most viewed pieces I’ve ever done, that’s for sure,” said Landry, 33. “I hope it kind of opens up people’s mind to chainsaw carving. I think people think of it as very rough, but we can do work that is very intricate and detailed.”

The Kings spend winters in Florida, and because of the pandemic, they haven’t been back to Maine yet or seen the sculpture in person. The idea of it began when the Kings were faced with a dead ash tree that needed to be taken down and thought the 15-foot stump might be fodder for a piece of art.

Tabitha King said in an email she asked her sister, Stephanie Leonard, to look around for artists who could create something out of the stump. Leonard, a retired art teacher, found out about Landry and told the Kings. Tabitha King said she wasn’t completely sold on the idea of hiring a chainsaw carver, until she saw photos of what Landry could do.

“Finally, (Leonard) found Josh, and the pictures of his work convinced me that he had the skills to do the job. He was very responsive to my ideas,” Tabitha King wrote. “I think I will leave the sculpture to speak for itself.”

SPIN ON PRACTICAL SKILLS

Landry grew up in North Anson, about 10 miles northwest of Skowhegan, in a family that put practical skills to creative uses, including carpentry, blacksmithing and stone work. His father sketched, did some blacksmith work and worked with a chainsaw. Landry remembers his father suiting him up with protective gear when he was about 10, and teaching him how to cut with a chainsaw.

Josh Landry of North Anson has been carving with a chainsaw more than half his life. Photo courtesy of Josh Landry

A few years later, he became fascinated with the chainsaw carvings of local men he saw at fairs and festivals. By the time he was 15, he was creating bears, animals and other creatures with his chainsaw and wood; it just seemed to come natural to him. Landry said he rarely draws out his ideas before carving, though sometimes he makes clay models.

“I could always draw pretty well, but I needed a picture or something to look at,” said Landry. “But with carving, I’ve always been able to just visualize it and make it happen.”

Since his teen years, Landry has been creating and selling his chainsaw carvings, and he’s been commissioned to do sculptures for homes and businesses around New England and beyond. In Maine, he did a sculpture of a giant cobra that includes soccer balls, golf balls and other sports equipment for his alma mater, Carrabec High School in North Anson. He did another wildlife menagerie – including a bear, a deer and eagles – in the front yard of a Winthrop home in 2014 that drew lots of local attention.

But much of his income over the years has come from carving demos at fairs and festivals, Landry said. It’s a very different thing than carving a commissioned piece, but it gets Landry’s adrenaline pumping and tests both his skill and imagination.

“When I first went out before crowds, I was scared; now, it’s just adrenaline kicking in. I know I’m going to have to do something in 45 minutes that I’d spend three hours on at home,” Landry said. “I can’t stop and think and plan before.”

He usually spends his summers and falls doing fairs and other events as far away as Georgia and Tennessee, as well as in New England and New York. He’s done demos at L.L. Bean’s Northern Lights holiday event in Freeport, and he regularly competes in chainsaw carving competitions around the country. He’s won as much as $10,000 at a single competition.

A dragon on the back of Josh Landry’s chainsaw sculpture at the Bangor home of Tabitha and Stephen King. Photo by Jonathan Leonard

Landry, who married his high school sweetheart and has a 2-year-old son, does carpentry work and logging when he’s not carving. Since many of his regular chainsaw demos are being canceled this year, he said getting the commission from the Kings “was a blessing.” He began working on it in mid-March and was mostly done by the end of April. He still goes back to the property once in a while to adjust the lights he put into the stump’s hollow center, to illuminate the piece at night. He also plans on re-applying some weather-resistant stain to help preserve it.

As for how much money the work brought him, Landry would only say, “they took care of me.” He also said he’s gotten inquiries about future work from people who’ve read about or seen pictures of what he did for the Kings.

IMAGINATION’S THE LIMIT

When Tabitha King first approached Landry, her idea was that the tree was morphing into a bookshelf, and that various creatures were hanging out there. As the two discussed ideas, they came up with things that required a lot of detail work, like human feet on the bookshelf legs, to make it look like the bookshelf could get up and walk away. Landry also included tiny beetles, mushrooms and an owl.  Tabitha King mentioned that her husband liked dragons and wondered if Landry could put some dragon paws on the tree somewhere. He ended up creating an entire dragon, ripping into the tree. The sculpture also features a tiny mouse grabbing a cat’s legs, twigs as bookmarks in the books, and lots of gnarled, twisted branches.

“I told her that anything she could think of we could do, my limit is her imagination,” said Landry.

After the sculpture was mostly finished, in April, Stephen King posted a picture of it on Twitter with a straight-forward account of how the detailed work came to be.

Creatures lounge among books in Josh Landry’s chainsaw sculpture. Photo by Jonathan Leonard

“There was a dead ash tree in our front yard. My wife, Tabitha, had an idea to turn it into a sculpture featuring books and animals,” King wrote. “The sculptor was Josh Landry. He did it with a chainsaw.”

Landry said that even though the ash stump was hollow, the wood that was left was sturdy enough. The tree was about five feet in diameter and maybe 300 hundred years old, judging by the rings, Landry said.

Tabitha King said that she and her husband are “only occasionally” in Bangor these days, though it is their legal and primary residence. Ever since Stephen King was struck by a van in 1999 while walking in Western Maine, he suffers too much bone ache in the cold and spends winters in Florida, she said. They also spend a lot of time at their home in Lovell.

Last fall, the Bangor City Council approved a zone change for the Kings’ Bangor property that would allow it to be eventually converted into an archive for Stephen King’s work and a retreat for other writers. The plans were announced last year but no timetable for the conversion has been made public.

Though the Kings have not seen Landry’s work in person, they’ve seen pictures and have been keeping in touch with him. He says they’re excited to see it in person, and they plan to get together with him at some point to get the full tour of his work.

“I can’t wait to see their reaction,” said Landry.


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