Local chainsaw artist takes his skills to Burning Man

Glenn Richardson uses a chainsaw to create a portrait of his neighbor Warren Halvorson outside Richardson's home in Leisure Point, east of Woodstock. Richardson is creating portraits at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert this week. Rich Cooley/Daily
Glenn Richardson uses a roofing torch to burn southern yellow pine wood and finalize a portrait. Rich Cooley/Daily
Warren Halvorson stands beside his portrait created by artist Glenn Richardson. Rich Cooley/Daily
Glenn Richardson stands beside the "bird brains" sculptures he created with a chainsaw. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Glenn Richardson is showing off his artistic skills at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert this week.

The festival, which began last Sunday and ends Monday when a 70-foot-tall wooden man is set on fire, is held in a temporary city built in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Richardson, 56, of Woodstock, said the eight-day-long event is for artists from all over the country. There will be about 70,000 people there during what he calls “an off-the-hook arts festival.”

“This is really exciting for me,” he said. “This is an arts festival I’ve wanted to go to for awhile.”

He said he will be participating in a guild made up of three other carvers and one video artist from around Virginia.

A GoPro camera will also be placed on one of the carvers to give a first-hand, up-close look at how the carver creates his art and “be in the eyes of the artist.”

He said it will be like an out-of-body experience for the model for the portrait.

“We’re going to put the model inside the head of the artist,” he added.

At the event, Richardson will be creating wooden portraits by using a chainsaw and a torch.

He began creating portraits at the end of February and has designed over 100 portraits since then.

When Richardson carves a portrait out of wood with a chainsaw, the model of the portrait sits on a handmade chair, under a large gate made by Richardson with propane pouffers on top that shoots out fire. The model is also given ear plugs to protect his ears from the noise of the chainsaw.

Richardson said it takes about 10 minutes to complete the portrait. He prefers to use southern yellow pine wood because it allows the grain to “jump out,” and he uses locally sourced wood for his designs.

After carving the main face structure, he works on the finer details, eyes, nose shape, facial hair, hairline, glasses and anything else that distinguishes the model.

After finishing the details, Richardson takes a roofing torch and darkens the portrait to bring out the grain in the wood. He then sands off the ash.

Richardson said he likes using the torch at night because it allows the face to glow before it cools off.

“Now you can say you’ve burned your face off,” he said about the experience.

Warren Halvorson, a neighbor of Richardson, allowed his portrait to be carved.

“The whole experience was very relaxing, kind of like a good haircut without having to keep up conversation with the barber of hairstylist,” Halvorson said.

He added that as he concentrated on being still and focused, he slipped into a meditative state.

When the carving was complete, Richardson allowed Halvorson to use the torch on his portrait and when he was finished, Halvorson said he looked like Ned – Homer and Marge’s neighbor on “The Simpsons” TV show.

After the portrait was complete, Halvorson was able to take the finished product home and put it on display for friends and family to see.

In addition to the portraits, Richardson has also created larger pieces of art out of wood, such as a sea monster chair, a mailbox covering, a salamander, totem pole and a dinosaur bird skeleton.

When carving, he said he has a basic plan of what he would like to create.

“You have an idea and then you figure out how to get there,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

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