He has a chainsaw, but don’t be afraid
Chainsaw sculptor Michael Gilligan hopes there is a decaying tree in Minden Park with his name it.
Gilligan has offered to create a tree sculpture which reflects the heritage and tradition of Minden. He pitched his idea to a receptive Town Board on Oct. 7, and he and town officials have the cottonwood all picked out.
“I’m not asking for any compensation or money,” he told the board. “I see it as an opportunity to practice my skills and give back to the community in which I have enjoyed living for the past few months.”
The tree which borders the Sixth Street quadrant of Minden Park is nearly 100 years old and is decaying. It is slated to be cut down as part of the town’s tree replacement plan, but Gilligan would rather create a sculpture than have the tree removed.
“I asked them to leave me 20 feet of the tree all the way across,” he said in an interview. “Then, I’ll spend some time over there doing what I call ‘woodspeak.’ You just sit there and look at it till something hits you. The wood talks to you to tell you what it what it wants to be. It’s pretty amazing.”
Gilligan, 25, has been a wood sculptor for about 10 years.
“I was just sitting around one day and got bored. I went into a store and bought a wood chisel and made some masks. It just escalated from there from small tools to using hatchets and axes and now finally chainsaws.”
Gilligan, who grew up in Texas the middle child in a family of five kids, said he gets lots of cuts and nicks working with the chainsaw. “It’s almost a requirement of mine, but I am very careful about not losing limbs, hands or fingers,” he said.
n No formal instruction. He hasn’t had any formal instruction, but did complete a wood sculpture in his hometown of Tool, Texas. A tree on the family’s property “blew apart” and Gilligan’s mother insisted that he or his younger brother make something out of it.
“It took two weeks. I just sort of went at it. It’s one of the most daunting things. You have this tree out there with massive limbs and you just analyze it subtly until you see the shapes that can fit within the confines of the wood.”
The figure has been dubbed “St. Francis of Assisi,” he said, because of the robed look of the sculpture.
For the Minden project, Gilligan plans to enlist the help of Douglas High School senior Kevin Molina to come up with a sketch. Gilligan hopes to incorporate a sculpture with three figures representing what he sees as the “uniqueness” of Minden. He plans to include a rancher, business person and construction worker.
“The most unique thing about Minden is the way it developed in such an organized manner,” he said. “There is a sense of community here that I think I could depict.”
Once the sculpture is complete, it must be treated with a water resistant stain.
“If the wood is bad or already decaying, the sculpture may last only a year or two until it has to be taken down,” Gilligan said. “Sometimes, though, the decay adds to the form.”
n Sidewalk superintendents. He estimates it will take two weeks to complete the work and Gilligan is counting on lots of comments from passers-by.
“I love it to death when people stop by and offer their opinion,” he said. “It’s exactly what I want to have happen. Sometimes, I put down all the equipment and just stand back and make it look like I’m watching just to hear people’s comments. I want to hear what they are thinking. The chainsaw does get heavy and it’s nice to take a break.”
Gilligan has been in the area approximately a year, supporting himself as “a construction slug.” He moved to Lake Tahoe for work, but fell in love with Carson Valley. .He also makes furniture out of lodgepole pine.
It’s difficult for Gilligan to put a price tag on his artwork because he gives most of it away. He said he never felt confident enough as an artist to charge for his work.
“It’s very hard for me since I was never formally taught or apprenticed to an artist. It makes it hard for me to consider myself a legitimate artist,” he said.
Gilligan was raised in Texas and graduated from Southwest Texas State University with a degree in anthropology and philosophy.
He plans to move soon to New Orleans with a friend, but wants to complete the Minden sculpture before he goes as a gift to the town.
n Life-long motto. “When I look back on my upbringing and my education at a Jesuit high school, the motto was, ‘Man for others.’ It’s become my mantra. It sounds like something simple, but it’s not if you really practice it,” he said.
“I don’t have a lot of money to give or a lot of time, but with this, maybe I found a nice compromise and balance, giving my time and skills for something the community wouldn’t get any other way,” Gilligan said.
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