When Liz Sether went hunting for a sculptor recently she had a pretty good idea where to start.
“The internet is the way to go these days,” Sether said with a laugh.
Sether’s family has owned a farm a mile west of Carlisle near Lake Oscar for six generations. She grew up there and it has always been a special place for her.
Sether got the notion one day to do something extra special at the farm. She wanted some trees in the yard reshaped by someone who was good with a chainsaw. The person she hired for the project was Jason Soderlund from Chisago City — a community only 12 miles from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
Soderlund was working on a dairy farm in northeastern Missouri when on one of his days off he decided to visit a chainsaw sculpting competition near Quincy, Illinois. That trip changed his life.
“I experienced the art form for the first time and immediately became mesmerized and hooked,” Soderlund said.
Soderlund apprenticed with a chainsaw sculptor from Brainerd for two years before striking out on his own. He currently runs a business in Chisago City called “Soderlund's Wood Mill” with his brother, Josh. They create and sell rustic furniture along with carved signs and chainsaw carvings.
The job Sether had in mind was the sculpting of four trees in the farmyard. She had quizzed the family about what shapes she should ask Soderlund to sculpt. One of her great-nephews had recently shot a bear so that was his suggestion. A great-niece suggested an owl. Sether already had an idea of her own. Bowing to her roots, she decided to ask for a gnome.
“My mom and dad are 100% Norwegian so you have to go with something Scandinavian,” she joked.
After sending pictures of the trees to Soderlund and describing the type of trees they were, Soderlund said he was interested and would take the job.
“He was so personable, I think that is what sold me on him,” Sether said.
Only one of the four trees would not work according to Soderlumd, a boxelder. The rest were oak and ash and would work very well.
“A tight-grained wood makes a great sculpture,” Soderlund said.
Soderlund’s truck and trailer arrived at the Sether farm on a Thursday and 4 ½ days later he departed — leaving two bears and a gnome behind.
There was only one obstacle of any note to be overcome. Soderlund was not wild about the idea of leaving his property parked by a motel at night and the three-hour, 175-mile drive from Chisago City to Carlisle was quite a haul.
With permission of the family he ended up staying on the Sether farm and taking his meals with the family. By the time he left his employer said “he was practically a member of the family.”
Soderlund only travels a great distance for on-site work a few times a year. That is what made staying on the Sether farm so special.
“It’s a real neat place and I really feel grateful for her letting me stay there. You need to be right by the work at times,” Soderlund said.
His 17 years as a chainsaw sculptor has taught Soderlund plenty about his unique craft.
“You have to kind of see what you are going to be leaving in before making your cuts,” Soderlund said. “I have a rough idea of what I want to do. It just starts out very rough and then it just gets refined and refined more until I have the basic shape.”
Soderlund has always had an interest in art and as an artist he has to be pleased with what he does.
“That’s first and foremost,” Soderlund said. “I have to be happy with it. I have never had a situation where I have been extremely pleased and the customer has not been happy with it.”