Ray Tallman says he was 11-years-old when he first picked up a chainsaw, but back then he was sawing logs up not carving them out.
Tallman is a carver. His medium is wood, and his chisel comes with a motor. “I feel comfortable with that and I feel that’s my instrument or my tool.”
He started carving five years ago, and has been steadily improving over time. “You just have to take your time, just continue to keep slabbing it off.”
A walk down memory lane shows Tallman’s early carved bears; a bit blocky, but recognizable. “They quickly transformed from the blocky ones to… these big fat-head bears.”
He’s carved bears and beavers and eagles and frogs and firemen and loggers. “You’re always trying to find that happy medium to make it realistic. But if you want to stay in that caricature form, you can exaggerate something, it’s only forgiven to a certain point.”
If he gets stuck, Ray has a simple trick. “When things aren’t real clear, the best thing to do is always close your eyes. You can close your eyes and see things, and once you get that picture in your brain, now you can go.”
Closing his eyes is what sent Tallman down this path, of course at that time losing his sight wasn’t voluntary. “The first thing I lost was faces. Faces would just whiten out and all I’d have was the voices then. It’s like taking mud all over you windshield, and then trying to look through it. As it progressed it got worse and worse. It got to the point that I refused to drive anymore.”
Tallman could only see in a dark room with a single light. “I’d sit there and then I’d just start drawing. Because now I could actually see the pencil hitting the paper. Otherwise I couldn’t. And I’d just started drawing from things I remember, because that’s all I had was memories.”
Eventually, Tallman’s eye doctor realized he had cataracts in both eyes. “It’s 1 in million that at your age, you’ve got cataracts. This is an old person’s disease. And you’re 1 in a billion to have it in both eyes.”
Tallman had surgery, and his world changed. “I was seeing things that I’d never thought I’d seen before.”
He also needed to express the creativity he’d found in the darkness. “I’ve got to find something to do. I tried drawing and I was like no, I have to do something more creative than this. I told my brother and I said ‘I’m going to go up and chainsaw carve me a bear.’ And he laughed at me, like yeah- right.”
The result was Clyde, a blocky wooden bear colored gray by exposure to the elements. “He’s not much to look at, but he’s got a lot of memory for me. When I first made him, I was so proud that it even looked anything like a bear.”
It’s important to Tallman that Clyde has a place of honor among his more advanced brothers. “You like looking back to where you were, and that’s what keeps you striving to go forward.”
It was only a couple years after carving Clyde that people offered to buy some of Ray’s work. “I was just carving, and people would drive by- how much do you charging for? ‘You’d actually pay for this?’ It’s like okay!”
Ray only has to close his eyes to remember his darkest days, which is why he enjoys this sight so much. “But this here… makes me feel way better than anything.
Learn more about Bear Butt Chain Saw Carvings