A craving for carving: Athol wood artists turn trash into treasure

  • Michael Legassey uses a propane torch to burn the fuzz and ridges left by the saw, adding contrast and definition to the work while smoothing it out. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Michael Legassey rainbow trout carves out of a hollow log. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Michael Legassey adds a little paint to add color to his creation. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Michael Legassey uses a torch to burn off the fuzz from saw blade and give definition to the carving of a Jack-o-Lantern. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Mark Bosworth and Michael Legassey with some of their chain saw art on display in Athol. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/23/2016 10:08:38 AM

Route 2 East is a surefire way to have a toll-free trip to Boston and all the cultural aspects the city offers.

But easing off Exit 16 in Orange can point you in the direction of a couple of local men dabbling in a primitive but sophisticated artform that screams rural Massachusetts. A few minutes down Daniel Shays Highway will reveal a patch of land resembling an outdoor art studio and, at least five days a week, you’re likely to see Mark R. Bosworth and Michael J. Legassey using logs and power tools as their medium.

Bosworth and Legassey are chain saw woodcarvers and create their art at 7 Fielding Way in Athol, mere feet from the hum of passing vehicles on the highway. They are self-employed craftsmen who own their individual businesses. Bosworth operates Fine Wood Sculpture & Artworks and Legassey runs Wood Wizard Carvings. They took different paths into the artform, but both make their living at craft fairs, competitions and by the side of the road.

“I put my heart into it. It’s not about falling in love, but I have a fascination with detail and so, I mean, I put my heart and soul into every piece,” said Bosworth, 62. “I don’t just pop off things to sell. I’m trying to make sculptures that are appealing ... and the bottom line is I believe what I have is a gift. That’s it.”

Bosworth was invited to the lot about four years by Legassey’s father, also named Michael J. Legassey. The elder Legassey used to carve wood sculptures at 7 Fielding Way, on land owned by Stephen Clark, who also owns Piragis Boats & Motors across the highway. Clark said he lets the men use the land, next to Gethsemane Cemetery and near an overpass that connects to Brookside Road near the Orange townline, for free. He said he paid the elder Legassey $300 about 25 years ago to carve a wooden replica of a Stihl 090 chain saw as a gift for a loyal customer’s 40th birthday and admired the work. Legassey later cleared brush from the land and Clark agreed to let him work there.

The younger Legassey, 24, graduated Athol High School in 2011 and said “making treasure out of trash” is his favorite aspect of woodcarving.

“People pay us to get rid of the logs because they don’t want them in (their) yard and then they pay us to take them back because they’re beautiful again,” he said. “My dad does tree removal, so we’ll go cut down a tree and take all the logs out, bring them here, carve them and then they’ll come back and buy them from us when they’re bears and eagles and stuff.”

He said his father does not carve much anymore.

“I grew up watching (my father),” the younger Legassey said. “I have a picture of me in diapers with him holding my hands on his chain saw, helping him carve stuff.”

Bosworth and Legassey regularly create pieces to their own hearts’ delight but also carve custom pieces for customers. Bosworth once crafted a bull for a Merrill Lynch Wealth Management branch at the request of a local pastor’s son who works for the firm. Legassey has carved various Pokémon characters — such as Charmander and Squirtle — to capitalize on the recent Pokémon Go fad and draw people to his booth at craft fairs. He spent a week in Winchester, where he was hired to carve an 8-foot wizard out of a tree stump. Rot made this impossible, though he said he will carve a healthy log and deliver it to the customer.

Bosworth said he starts every piece by envisioning what he wants the final product to look like. He used mostly handtools when he started woodcarving in 1992 and used a chain saw only to get a project started. He eventually learned he could use a chain saw for even the finest details and now rarely uses handtools. Once the carving is done, he often torches the piece to add definition.

“That will burn off all the little fuzz that’s left from the chain saw, as well as it adds a char and it softens the edges,” he said, standing next to a towering carved grizzly bear for sale for $1,500. An incomplete Native American chief with folded arms and a headdress stands near his truck. Someone had asked about Native American sculptures at the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield the previous weekend.

Bosworth and Legassey use Spar Urethane or Australian Timber Oil to create a seal that makes water bead off the finished sculptures. They get much of their wood for free from loggers, though they pay a delivery fee.

Bosworth, who graduated Athol High School in 1972 and was voted “Best Male Artist,” said he grew up whittling but did not become a full-time woodcarver until he was laid off from L. S. Starrett Company after 39 years.

“From ’92 to 2013, I had done lots and lots of handcarved projects and was (at) shows and competitions. I even tried to make a (full-time) go of it but it just never got off the ground,” he said. “In my unemployment I was tied up just trying to find a job. In the meantime, in between getting some applications out, I’d grab the saw and cut a couple pieces out. I was over here at that time. I was just over at my house.

“I make a pretty good living. I’m doing, I’d say, better than I was when I was punching a clock at Starrett,” he added. “Honestly, getting laid off was like an answer to a prayer.”

Bosworth can be contacted by phone at 978-249-3495 or email at: mbswrth72@gmail.com Legassey can be reached by phone at 978-320-8325 and can be found on Facebook at: @WoodWizardsCarvings

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 258
On Twitter: @DomenicPoli




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