Twenty five years ago, in two boats in Fort Myers, Fla., Tiki Tom introduced “Chainsaw” Charlie Keller to the art of woodcarving.
“This guy came up paddling in a canoe with tikis all over it, and he said, ‘If this was my boat, I’d have tikis all over it,’” Keller said. “He showed me how to carve, and then I don't know, somehow he instilled that desire in me to have tikis all over that boat."
Over 25 years, Keller’s technique and skill level evolved, and today he can carve images of anything from animals to faces to lifesize people.
Looking at Keller’s trailer, which he lives in year-round with his dog Lilly, it is apparent just how many designs he can do with just a chain saw, angle grinder and Dremel tool.
“Dolphins are my favorite, they get more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ than anything else, save manatees,” he said.
Currently, Keller has a waiting list of customers around the country, including customers in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Arizona.
“That’s what’s fun,” he said. “The ‘have saw, will travel’ thing.”
But before he left to fulfill those commissions, he stopped in Kentucky at the request of Bill Ward, a friend and Danville resident.
Nestled in between a field and Ward’s property sits a hackberry tree, which was nearly demolished by the 2009 ice storm. Not wanting it to just sit there as it was, Ward called Keller about a commission.
“I asked if Charlie was going to come through Kentucky this summer, and he said yes,” Ward said. “So I gave him my card and told him to call me.”
For Ward’s hackberry tree, which Keller jokingly said is the hardest wood to work with, Keller first cleared the branches from the site and set to work about a month ago.
Initially, he was going to carve a bear from the tree, but after seeing the fisherman design on Keller’s card, Ward suggested that instead. The entire process took about five weeks, and the carving stands about six feet off the ground.
As he admired his finished product, Keller said, “I call him the Cortez fisherman.”
Keller’s latest commission is in Florida, where he will carve a military memorial in trees.