Over the past four years, Hillsvile man Brad Carico has been honing his woodcarving skills with the chainsaw. And while Carico has created some amazing pieces of art during that time, the work he performed from March 7-10 in Fancy Gap could only be described as his Mona Lisa, Sistine Chapel and The Last Supper all rolled into one.
Looking for something to represent the Fancy Gap community, the Blue Ridge Parkway and their three businesses (Fancy Gap Deli, Treasure Potts Antiques and Garden Shop), Charles and Margaret Barnhardt commissioned Carico to turn an 80-foot tulip poplar tree into a massive piece of art featuring three black bears climbing the tree.
“That is the largest piece I have done to date and probably the largest one I will ever do. I may not tackle one that big again,” Carico said while chucking over the four-day, 50-hour process that led to his masterpiece. “I’ve sold a lot of bears in the 6- and 7-feet range, pieces that were mobile that people could actually take their house, but never anything like this.”
Carico began working on the project Thursday morning, March 7 on a bitterly cold day with 30-mile per hour winds. While the weather warmed up on Saturday and Sunday, the first two days were frosty, making the work even tougher considering there was no margin for error.
“If I am carving a piece at my shop for somebody, I can always throw it away and start over. With that one, I had to get it right the first time,” Carico said. “When you are up there doing it, you are not thinking about anything but the chainsaw. It’s a pretty dangerous way to sculpt. You have to have your attention focused on what you are doing.”
Carico began making his own carvings four years ago and began selling them through Treasure Potts in 2010. Last winter, the Barnhardts asked Carico if he could do anything with the massive tulip poplar in front of their businesses. At that point, the tree was well over 100 years old and was declining to the point that it was becoming dangerous to the shop, Carico said. The Barnhardts didn’t want to cut it down completely, however, so they contacted Carico, who shared his idea for the massive wood sculpture.
The project began with the help of Boyd’s tree service of Meadows of Dan, who topped the tree down to a more manageable 24 feet. Even then, the work was extremely labor-intensive as the tree was approximately 50 inches in diameter.
“I used four different types of chainsaws and I would say it took a total of 50 hours over the four days,” Carico said. “The Barnhardts were very pleased. I think it exceeded what they were expecting.”
Carico’s massive sculpture certainly turned more than a few heads during the weekend. He said hundreds of people stopped by at different points in the process to wonder and gawk at the Fancy Gap artwork.
“I was probably photographed more in those four days than my entire life combined. We didn’t advertise it, it was mainly just people driving up and down (U.S.) 52,” Carico said. “The reactions have been really positive. It turned out like I had envisioned it, which is about all you can ask for.”
Charles Barnhardt said he thinks the sculpture will be good for his businesses as well as Carico.
“He does a great job. He should get some business of it, I would think,” Barnhardt said. “And we are pleased with it. It looks like it belongs in the community, something that belongs in Fancy Gap and belongs with the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were trying to make it blend with all those things and our shops, and it looks like it does that. We think it will be a good attention-getter.”
A 1989 graduate of Carroll County High School, Carico said he became interested in wood carving with a chainsaw when he saw a demonstration at the Virginia State Fair in 1987 on a school trip with the Future Farmers of America (FFA) at CCHS. He went on to college at Virginia Tech and is currently employed by the Virginia Department of Forestry as the Environmental Compliance Engineer for the western third portion of the state.
He said he never thought about woodcarving again until seeing some videos on Youtube in 2009 of people carving with chainsaws.
“I started watching those and said, ‘I could do that.’ I started playing with it, and family and friends would see my pieces. Then they would want a bear and things like that,” Carico said. “After a certain amount of time, people told me, ‘You should sell those.’ So I did a few and then I approached Charles at Treasure Potts, and he agreed to market the pieces for me.”
Since that time, Carico has sold his work up and down the East Coast from Florida to Maine, even into Canada and as far west as Alabama.
“I have done just about anything you could imagine. I’ve carved a standing angel for a guy in Alabama. I enjoy doing birds, things like eagles and owls. I enjoy carving all kinds of wildlife,” Carico said. “I sell a lot of bears because that seems to be what people want, but I also have done a good bit of custom work.”
Carico’s carvings are available locally at Treasure Potts on a routine basis, but he will also do commission work upon request. Carico can be contacted at (276) 206-6077. He also is available for demonstration carvings.