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Roadside artist sinks his teeth into cedar

With sawdust flying and steel teeth screaming, Gamaliel Tejeda can shape a 1-ton cedar stump into a bald eagle, or a black bear, or a dolphin - jabbing and slicing the slabs with a palette of 15 chainsaws.

You can see his polished-wood menagerie for sale along U.S. 1, each creation shaped between a Friday and Sunday of downtime for the Franklin County electrician. When he finishes a bear, he might carve a turtle from a single slice of stump.

"That rhino," he said, gesturing to a double-horned beast, "came from between the wings of the eagle."

This is roadside art, not the stuff you'll find in many galleries. But chainsaw sculptors have carved off a big enough block of the art world that vendors make titanium carving bars. If you're a newbie, you can join a chainsaw-carving guild, subscribe to a chainsaw-carving newsletter or - if you're determined - study at the Wisconsin School of Chainsaw Carving.

"We get people from all over - even a lady from Israel," said school administrator Doris Johnson. "A lot of people come here from Texas or Colorado because of the quality."

As an art form, its roots wind back to loggers and mountain men from the early 1950s.

"It's really kind of classic frontier imagery," said Sally Peterson, folk life specialist for the N.C. Arts Council. "I think people's repertoires are going to expand. Once you've sold enough bears..."

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