SANTUC — Hidden away in the Santuc community, a treasure trove of wood carvings is regularly added to — piece by piece — by a self-proclaimed wild man.
Chainsaw artist Steve Nelon — better known as “Wildman Steve” — set out across the country with his wife around nine years ago, and before they left, a friend gave them a small bear carved out of wood. Little did they know, such carvings would become a major part of their lives.
“Wildman Steve” was asked how he got his nickname.
“I got that name when I was about eight years old,” he said. “I was always interested in flying, and I had a set of ‘wings’ made out of plywood. I jumped off a bank, trying to fly, and my daddy started calling me ‘Wildman Steve.’”
“I didn’t fly though,” he laughed.
The failed flight attempt did not deter the wild man from trying new things with wood in the future, however.
“I’m a timber cutter; I’ve logged all my life,” he said. “We didn’t like it when we crossed the Mississippi and started noticing we didn’t see any trees. I felt lost, almost like I didn’t have any clothes on.”
Nelon said Boseman, Minn. was the first place he saw land for logging after that point. He also noticed during his journey some unusual wood carvings — similar to the bear he was given — and the carvings were sold along the roadsides in California.
After six months of traveling through 27 states, the couple decided to settle down in Oregon.
“We pulled into Coos Bay, and I made two phone calls; on the second call I got a job,” he said. “I went to work the next day for Axman Logging.”
He was a chaser, processing the wood the machines could not.
“It’s a lot harder work than logging out here,” he added, explaining that logging on the east coast is done on the ground with skidders, while logging in Oregon was done on a cable sky line.
While living in Coos Bay, the wild man also had his first experiences witnessing chainsaw artists at work. Fascinated by the detailed pieces, he began to try his hand at creating his own.
“I learned a lot in Oregon,” he said. “I always thought Husky was the best saw made, but not for carving. I use a Stihl MS 180 because it’s the only one with blade mounts stiff enough to keep the blade from moving around.”
Steve began getting drift wood from the beach in Bandon, where he kept his motor home.
“Out West, you could get wood off the beaches that was 400-500 feet wide,” he said.
Because wood has to be cured for two-three years before carving, he began carting various pieces around with him. He said he kept a piece of black walnut tree drying for well over five years.
Steve moved back to the east coast in 2009, and purchased land in Santuc. That is when he decided to devote more time to the art at which he was becoming skilled. Steve worked as what he referred to as a “starving artist,” creating his own brand of art.
“I wish I had started earlier,” he said. “I always thought I could do it, but I was just too busy logging, trying to make a living.”
His sculptures range in price from $25-$3,000 and include a variety such as bears, frogs, peace signs, moons, benches and mailbox posts. Each sculpture is carved with pride and a meticulous eye for detail.
Nelon has recently created his biggest creation to date — a bear that stands over nine feet tall. Nelon said the bear was carved from a 450-year-old white oak tree from Lockhart, and it took around three months to carve. He spent around 10 gallons of gas and four gallons of oil for his saw, and he said the most time was spent detailing the bear’s head and teeth.
Each of Steve’s creations are made from white oak, red oak or cedar, and they are sealed with polyurethane for weatherproofing.
“When I make something, I want it to be here 1,000 years from now,” he said.
“Wildman Steve” laughed and said he continues to live up to his name by the way he drives his Harley-Davidson and the wildness of the art he creates.
For more information or to inquire about purchasing one of the carved pieces, call 864-492-7018.
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-762-4128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.