Four miles from the Habersham County Fairgrounds in Clarkesville is the home of internationally-known chainsaw sculptor Chris Lantz.
Lantz, who travels throughout the country to compete and complete commissioned projects, is one of the features of this week’s Chattahoochee Mountain Fair in Clarkesville.
As unique as his sculptures may be, so is the story of how he got to where he is.
“Well, back in 1989, a year before I was born, my dad and my two uncles used to be real bad, and they used to party and they used to do drugs,” Lantz said. “And they started going to church in Melbourne, Fla., and then met a man there named Ted Travers. Well, Ted told them that he felt like he was being led by God to teach them how to chainsaw carve. So, he taught them and then I watched for 19 years.”
“On Dec. 5th, 2009, I left my house with a trash bag full of clothes, a $20 bill and a pack of cigarettes and I moved to an abandoned flea market in Columbus, Ga.,” Lantz said. “And I slept there for a week and a half, until finally I got a hold of a chainsaw. And then two weeks after that, I carved a bear that sold for $125. And since then, I quit smoking cigarettes, and I gave my life to Jesus.”
Lantz is doing three demonstration shows each night of the fair, that runs through Saturday.
“I'll be carving multiple pieces throughout the fair week here, and I'll do some that'll be under 30 minutes, some slightly above 30 – like between 30 and 45 minutes – and some almost up to 60 minutes, where you get like a larger piece similar like this eagle right here is chainsaw only right behind that sign,” Lantz said. “And I did that one in approximately 42 minutes as it stands right now from a log to a work of art.”
Asked how he got to his current proficiency at the unconventional art, Lantz said, “I grew up watching other people do it so I had a decent idea of at least a million ways not to do it before I started. And then once I started, I had my older cousin mentor me slightly for two weeks. And then he had said, ultimately, that if I didn't get the hang of anything in two weeks that he was just going to send me home. And so apparently, I did something right. He told me one day he had an order for this bear. And he couldn't do it because he was in the military currently. And he looked at me, and he says, ‘Listen, this guy is coming to pick up this bear tonight’, looked me in the face and said, ‘You gotta carve it and don't mess it up’ and pointed to me. So, I said, ‘All right’. So, I took all day long cutting it, not really knowing what I was doing, but trying to figure out how it actually was supposed to be and I had one of his to look at next to me. So, I ended up working it out by the end of the day, and then the guy came by, and he loved it.”
Asked if he has a favorite sculpture or a carving that is especially meaningful to him, Lantz said that’s a tough question to answer.
“I did this one in a competition out in Washington State,” Lantz said. “It was an 11-1/2-foot sailfish with two dolphins, and it was out of redwood from Washington, and I carved it in 23 hours out there competing against some of the best in the world. That piece means a lot to me.”
So how did an acclaimed chainsaw sculptor come to make Habersham County home?
It was proximity to medical options, but not because of Lantz’s vocation.
“My wife and I were looking for a house for our starter home here and we drew a circle on Zillow around the hospital in Gainesville, because that's where we wanted to have our first daughter,” Lantz said. “And we looked within that circle in our budget, and we lucked up and found a small home on two acres here in Habersham County and that's where we've been for the last five years. I like Habersham County. It's kind of small and it's full of a lot of artistic people and also people who appreciate our art. It's located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains so that puts me in a decent spot.”
Shelley Tullis of the Chattahoochee Mountain Fair Committee said Lantz's participation already is a popular new addition to this year's event.
"Having our local chainsaw artist, whose work is known across the country and beyond, doing demonstration shows, is another way the fair is enhancing the experience for those who attend," Tullis said. "We''re always thankful when our local artists and crafters bring new and exciting aspects to our event."
Lantz said it’s important to him to help build his local fair and raise awareness of the art he loves.
“I've carved fairs that are 10 times as big,” Lantz said “I just want to come out and do a good job and help build this fair and build the fair’s reputation in having high quality wood sculptures, but also having something really interesting to do and to watch. Someday, I'd like to host a chainsaw carving competition or series of competitions throughout North Georgia, and invite some of my friends who are world class from across the world and throughout the United States and put on the greatest show anyone's ever seen.”