Tiger Woods swinging golf clubs at age 2. Mozart composing symphonies at 5. Picasso developing a whole new style before he reached adulthood. It’s always interesting to see how early in life one’s passions become apparent. When the Oregon-born Griffon Ramsey spent her childhood climbing fir trees, she had no idea she’d one day be carving them up. For art, for clients… for a career.
But sure enough, that’s what Ramsey does — using a chainsaw to render sculptures with skill and precision. As a female in a largely male dominated field, this self-described “rock star of the art world” crafts pieces that inspire a sense of wonder. We don’t want to speak for the trees (that’s the Lorax’s job), but if a tree falls in the woods, Ramsey is the person you want sculpting it.
The artist is currently riding a groundswell of support — she won the People’s Choice Award for her piece “Neverending Story” at the Australian Chainsaw Carving Championship in 2016. She’s also etched out quite a niche on social media, with an impressive following on YouTube, Vine, and Twitter.
The fans are well deserved, because this sort of talent isn’t just born. It takes endless practice, and, if you’re lucky, mentorship from one of the best chainsaw carvers in history. Ramsey had both, thanks to her persistence and smart use of beer as bribery. Years ago, she was fortunate to meet pre-eminent wood carver R.L. Blair. You may not know him by name, but you’ve seen his bears, beavers and rabbits in any of the five Disneyland parks he’s designed for. He also worked on Pirates of the Caribbean for the legendary ride at Disneyland, an experience which inspired Ramsey as a girl.
The relationship didn’t come easily. Blair, who lives 30 minutes from Ramsey in Oregon, originally declined to give the eager Ramsey lessons. But the persistent artist forced his hand — by showing up where he was working, with six packs to share. When it was time to work, she’d set up close to the revered master…and hang on his every word.
“I would come up with a project and I would just go and do it and then he would eventually walk over and say, ‘Why are you wasting your time doing it that way?’ And he would show me the fast way,” Ramsey says. Eventually, she made a mentor out of one of the all-time greats.
That was the beginning of Griffon Ramsey, chainsaw carver — an “incredibly physical” career that sometimes sends angle grinder disks flying her way. She can handle it. In Greek folklore, the “griffon” is a powerful and majestic creature with the head and wings of an eagle. In Austin, Texas, where she currently resides, this Griffon is a wielder of 7.5-pound chainsaws, masks and protective eyewear. Her “sawdust tans” are numerous, as are her philosophies about what she does.
“If you’re doing something completely original, no one knows what it’s supposed to look like,” she says. “When you get rid of the things you don’t need, you find the things that are most important to you.”
But what is it that draws her to a craft with such rigors? “The thing that I find really interesting about chainsaw carving — beyond just what I can do with it — is that it’s also this performance art that people really do enjoy watching. They actually love the process. It’s so loud and dramatic that it feels like there’s two different things happening at the same time. It’s the creation of the artifact or the byproduct of the experience.”
Which is why when you see the “rock star of the art world” at work, you won’t want to turn away.