One piece of advice heard among successful advertisers, artists and authors alike is “know your audience.” Tony and Shanna Hawes, the married co-founders of Chehalis Valley Slabhaus in Oakville, know their audience.
It’s approximately 6,800 vehicles a day, according to 2019 data from the Washington Department of Transportation.
What does their audience like? Sasquatch.
Tony Hawes had recently reconnected with an old friend, Tony Robinson, a chainsaw sculptor who owns Native Beach Art in Copalis Crossing. The two Tonys hatched a mutually beneficial plan to garner attention: the Hawes would provide a 7-foot diameter sequoia right outside their business, and Robinson would chainsaw it into a 17-foot sasquatch.
With the help of his family, Hawes built a sawmill in 2011. Shanna fully supported his project as long as he promised one thing: he would never cut down trees just to mill them. Instead, all the wood milled would be salvaged or reclaimed. Together, the couple created the company NW Wood Source to provide their wood slabs to homeowners and contractors.
Shanna became the administrator, with sustainability as her central mission and passion.
“I was just enamored with the wood,” Hawes said.
He has worked with logs that predate him by hundreds to thousands of years, including pieces of old docks, columns from torn down buildings and logs that have washed up on beaches. Thanks to carbon dating, Hawes was able to see that one of the oldest logs he ever milled was 2,600 years old. In the future, they aim to assist the Department of Natural Resources in old growth fire reduction by taking a percentage of windfall trees from state and national parks.
“Most of the giant logs now, they’re not marketable, because the sawmills are set up to cut 28 inches and smaller because most of the logs aren’t big. So, a lot of these larger logs are getting left on site or they’re getting chipped up into pulp, which is fine, but there’s just a better use for them,” Hawes said.
NW Wood Source originally opened a shop in Mount Vernon called Skagit Valley Slabhaus. The storefront allowed them to sell ancient slabs along with furniture Hawes created. It also served as a gallery where they would showcase local artists. But Hawes, who had grown up in Oakville attending the Chehalis Tribe’s Head Start program, was homesick. So, NW Wood Source opened a second location, Chehalis Valley Slabhaus, at 304 E Pine St. in Oakville.
The two Tonys met seven years ago when their work brought them to the Washington coast. Robinson, at that time, was in just the second of his nine years of chainsaw carving. According to his flyers, a “miserably failed marriage” in 2011 left him feeling empty and without purpose, until “my creator showed me my gift … without hesitation, I left the world I knew behind,” and he became a chainsaw artist.
The journey has been fulfilling to Robinson, but not easy. When he first began selling his chainsaw art, he said he was making about $20 a month and surviving on Top Ramen.
“If you really want to become good at something, you have to sacrifice. The few times that you’re not going to eat well, it doesn’t matter. You gotta practice to get to this. It’s so worth it. It’s so worth it,” said Robinson. “We have a saying that if 1,000 carvers start, by the end of the week there’s 100, by the end of the month there’s 10, and by the end of the year there’s one.”
Robinson picks from an assortment of chainsaws just as a painter chooses a paintbrush. Though his work may not be as peaceful and quiet as painting, it is just as intricate. He was a carpenter for decades before ever pursuing his art, but no career could have fully prepared Robinson for the work he does now. Using chainsaws for up to 10 hours a day is extremely physically demanding, which is one of the reasons the art form is so challenging.
“You still have that carpenter mentality,” Hawes said to Robinson. “That’s what’s different (about you) from the other chainsaw carvers. You’re the only guy down there who would be working at it like a regular job.”
That work ethic has allowed Robinson to start and finish his sasquatch in about a week’s time. As of Monday morning, it was nearly complete.
Watching the piece transform from a massive upright chunk of sequoia into a mythical creature has given community members a deeper connection and understanding of the art form.
Robinson’s work, unlike many other chainsaw artists, is all freestyled.
“It’s all up here,” Robinson said, pointing to his head. “You just build your imaginary muscles, get them really strong, and then you just start seeing it. … And sometimes an idea pops into your head really clearly and that’s when you have to drop everything and go do it.”
Over the years, Robinson has studied many renditions of bigfoot until settling on his own style. The resulting product is a sasquatch whose features are more mythical than ape-like, with a face Hawes called “contemplative.”
The creature is also joined by an owl and a turtle, both carved in honor of a recently-passed Nisqually Tribe member who was deeply involved in Hawes’ childhood. At the sasquatch’s feet are bear cubs, and in his hand is a chipmunk. Completely unpainted, the red sequoia creates deep contrasting colors on the “fur” of the sculpture, and Robinson says time in the sun will deepen the colors of the piece.
The future of the sasquatch is uncertain, though there are several potential buyers already interested. As an extravagant and landmark-worthy piece, Robinson is hopeful it will end up displayed proudly somewhere, as it is now in Oakville. That way, passersby can experience Robinson's unique combination of whimsy and hard work.
“I remember a quote from when I first started,” Robinson said. “‘To be a successful artist you have to be 50% wild abandon and 50% self-discipline.’ And it’s so true how it works out. Although, I find myself on the side of wild abandon a lot more than I should be.”
In the limited meantime, the sasquatch will stand in Oakville, as a beautiful and joyful piece for so many to see. The Tonys estimate 2,000 cars have stopped to take pictures, with thousands more honking, waving or smiling.
For More Information
NW Wood Source website: nwwoodsource.com
Native Beach Art website: https://oceanshores.com/mobile/merchants/1071/native-beach-accessories.html