Carving boot camp

Bongo Love said he is holding a carving boot camp July 19. Anyone interested in participating is asked to email him at bongolove@live.com.

LAFAYETTE — Where many people see a stump or the ragged remnants of a dead tree best suited for a fireplace, Bongo Love sees a canvas.

That's why Lafayette officials last month contacted the Boulder County chainsaw carving artist to see what he could do with a desiccated elm on the east side of Waneka Lake.

Now all but done, the results — a nearly 20-foot-tall, three-dimensional scene celebrating some of the lake's native wildlife, including blue herons, snapping turtles and a trout — are turning heads.

"That is sweet, man," a passerby said last week as Love and assistant Robert Lyon surveyed the tree, on the southern side of lake's east parking lot, and pondered how best to seal it and protect it from the elements.

"Don't cut down your trees all the way. Save them for me," Love responded with a broad grin.

Love — also a musician who has performed at numerous local venues — is from Zvishavane, Zimbabwe, an area known for its stone carving.

Born Raphael Saidi, he came to Boulder County in 2000, and in 2006 he entered his first chainsaw carving competition, held in Craig. He didn't know the first thing about using the tool, including how to start it, and came in last place, he said.


Advertisement

Since then, he's never come in lower than fourth place in a competition, and he has carved numerous pieces, including a public art sculpture in Lyons that was washed away in September's flood, he said.

The artist said he used a chainsaw with a smaller, specialized carving bar and a die grinder to smooth out the contours of the Waneka Lake piece.

"The cutting doesn't take that long. It took two-thirds of the time just thinking what to do," Love said, adding that high winds and wet weather over the past month added to the length of the project. "We want to make the whole thing stand out."

On Friday, he had applied a protective coating to three-quarters of the tree and plans to finish the piece soon.

"It's looking nice now," he said, the excitement evident in his voice.

Lyon, 24, said his family has been friends with Love since he came to this country. After recently having been discharged from the military, Lyon said he is spending the spring and summer working on carving with his friend.

He said he is just fine with how long the carving process has taken.

"The longer it takes, the better. Then we get to talk to more people," Lyon said. "This is a big deal. This is going to be here forever."

Lafayette resident Steve Reynolds said he is looking forward to enjoying the piece for a long time to come.

"I like the uniqueness of it and the clarity," Reynolds said of the tree turned sculpture. "You can really see all the different subjects."

Reynolds had seen the tree when walking around the lake, then stopped by a second time with his wife and a friend to show them the impressive sculpture. He said he was struck by the artists' passion for their work and hopes they are asked to carve other dead trees in the area.

Lafayette Recreation Director Curt Cheesman commissioned Love to carve the tree for $2,000. Cheesman said he first met the sculptor a few years ago when he was doing a carving at a friend's home.

"I'm very happy with it," Cheesman said of the nearly completed piece. "I think it's what we talked about, and each day it becomes even more interesting with the details he keeps adding to it."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.