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Trees felled by tornado get new life as chainsaw art at Winterfest

An eagle was taking flight Sunday from one of the pine trees felled by last July's tornado in Chestnut Ridge Park.

Jimmy Keller, a 15-year-old from Gowanda, gave the bird its wings with his Stihl chainsaw, the engine's cutting drone drawing onlookers to watch him, intent on his work at this year's Winterfest.

"It's amazing what you can do with the trunk of the tree, and make artwork," said Pat Capalaces of Blasdell, as she stood and watched Jimmy work.

He was one of the attractions at Winterfest, a seasonal party run by Erie County and the Orchard Park Recreation Department that had everything but snow: hayrides through the park, marshmallow roasting, snowmobiles, the Erie County Sheriff's mounted division, walks led by park rangers, rock and wood painting, and, as usual, a breathtaking view of the Buffalo skyline. Bright sunny skies and temperatures around 40 degrees more than overcame the lack of sledding and tobogganing.

Capalaces said fighting cabin fever brought her to the park Sunday.

"I kind of wanted to get out of the house," she said, "and the sun was shining."

"This is why we live in Buffalo," said Ray Stevens, riding up on his bicycle.

"This is perfect weather for activities," said Daniel J. Rizzo, commissioner of county Parks, Recreation and Forestry. "We had six straight weeks of snow. What better break in the middle of winter."

Meanwhile, Keller, a sophomore at Gowanda Central High School, brought several of his sculptures from home to display: the rough head of a horse – still in the process of creation, a varnished boot on a barrel and a cardinal, painted red.

By midafternoon he had sculpted the eagle and a lighthouse, and was planning to work on some smaller pieces. The sculptures he produced Sunday are being donated to the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy for a fundraiser, with the date yet to be set.

All this, from a kid who decided a year ago that he wanted to make chainsaw sculptures.

"I saw someone else do it. I figured if they can do it, why can't I do it?," he said.

His first carving was a bear. He also has done a howling wolf, lighthouses, a dragonfly and other animals, like foxes, a turtle and his mother's favorite so far, an alligator.

Jimmy's mother, Jennifer, sat in a chair under a Buffalo Bills blanket, watching her son and making sure he took enough breaks.

"If he gets fatigued, we tell him that's time to put it down," she said.

Jimmy wears safety glasses and ear protection, and is very careful, she said, and his parents want him to stay alert so he doesn't have an accident. He works in their backyard, and she acknowledged that there is the buzz of the chainsaw, "but it's OK," she said.

He bought his first chainsaw from Arthur's True Value Hardware in Orchard Park, and now has six of them. The hardware store has been very supportive and even had him carving outside the store last year.

Jimmy works with pine, getting the wood from people who have cut down trees and want to get rid of the logs. If someone shows him a picture of what he wants, he can come up with it.

"I'm up for any challenge someone throws to me," he said. "I have a picture of the animal or whatever they want me to carve, and then I just start carving away."

Jimmy created his own website, too, Keller's Custom Creations.

Giving is something Jimmy is used to. He has been making Christmas wreaths and selling them since he was 9, and donates all the money he makes to charities. He made about $2,000 from 80 wreaths last Christmas, and he is setting aside money to get and train a therapy dog.

"I was raised to, like, always give back and help others," he said. "Life isn’t always about yourself."

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