On a whim, a Lincoln man finds his passion

LINCOLN — Chris Nelson isn’t an artist. He’s not a carpenter, either. Really, he’s just a guy who likes to carve wood.
You can see his work in front of the Jerusalem Corners Country Store in Starksboro. There’s an eagle, a few bears and a full-size man, each intricately carved from a single piece of wood.
Not bad for a guy who’s only been carving wood since May.
That’s right — Nelson has only been doing this for five months. He now carves full-time — previously he was a road foreman in New Haven — and calls his business Chris’s Carvings.
After being hired to cut down trees by a family, Nelson toyed around with the leftover wood. First, he made benches and furniture. Then he sculpted a bear, and the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“People are surprised I have this artistic bone in me,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who is self-taught, mostly carves animals, though he is open to suggestions.
“If someone wants something, I’ll try it,” he said. “I like to talk with someone to see what they want — this woman wanted a rabbit for her husband, so I made one.”
See a gallery of Nelson’s work here
Nelson often works with Brett Sargent. They have been friends since childhood and attended Mount Abraham Union High School together.
Sargent, who owns a sawmill with his brother, has been carving since the 1990s. When Nelson approached him earlier this year about working together, Sargent was enthusiastic.
“Chris has a natural ability for carving, a good eye for it,” Sargent said. “With two people working together, you push each other to be better, and share ideas.”
Sargent has his own carving business, called BMS Chainsaw Carving. He and Nelson often attend exhibitions and carve together.
“Being a wood carver is a solitary life, and I don’t want to be like that,” Sargent said.
Nelson said it was hard to predict the future of Chris’s Carvings, but noted that so far business has been brisk.
“It’s growing all the time — I’m doing lots of exhibitions and commission work,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he mostly uses pine, because it is widely available in Vermont and also a very durable wood. He uses two chainsaws — one large and one small — an Exacto set and a Dremel tool. While special chainsaws exist for wood carving, Nelson said he wants to wait and see how his business does before purchasing one.
After the carving is complete, the wood is smoothed over to get rid of imperfections. It is then torched, painted or stained, depending on what the buyer wants the finished product to look like.
“It really is in the eye of the beholder,” Sargent said. “Sometimes people like when pieces are torched or stained, and some people just like them as is.”
When Nelson stopped into Jerusalem Corners Country Store to ask if he could display his artwork out front, owner Duane Fuller was happy to oblige.
“I heard that he’d done some wood carvings, and that he did a demonstration at Addison County Field Days,” Fuller said. “I figured he’d get a lot of people to see them when they drove by the store.”
Fuller said Nelson is welcome to display his carvings for as long as he wants.
“That could be a while, with the weather being this nice,” Fuller said.
In addition to the Jerusalem Corners Country Store in Starksboro, Nelson’s creations are also sold at Thomas’ Antiques in Bristol. They range in size and shape — “whatever fits in the back of my Jeep,” Nelson said — and can run from $30 to well over a thousand.
But Nelson and Sargent aren’t in the carving business for the money.
“We’re not trying to get rich,” said Sargent. “We just want people to have our art.”

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