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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

In Other Words: Finding Magic in a Tree Stump


Chris Rust with Sasquatch in my yard. 

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When does a tree really die? In the hands of Christ Rust, it is simply transformed into another form of beauty to live on a bit longer. 

Phone: 859-905-0714 - Email: josh@joshmcintoshlaw.com. This is an advertisement.

I was well aware of Chris Rust’s chainsaw talent before we took the 90+ foot hackberry tree down last year. That’s why I asked the crew to leave an eight foot stump knowing that sooner or later Chris would work his magic. The stump had to dry for about a year. Then one day last week Chris pulled up in his truck and unloaded an unbelievable arsenal of chainsaws and grinders and scaffolding and assorted equipment. 

He stared at the eight foot stump for the longest time before firing up the 36” chainsaw to make the initial rough cuts to bring the image forth from the wood. Wood chunks and dust flew and soon the rough image of a Sasquatch appeared. 

Chris Rust surveys the tools of the trade. 


But let me back up for a bit.

What do you see when you look at a dead tree or a stump or a log? Well, Chris Rust sees images of mermaids, animals, faces, or even a Sasquatch.  Chris is a local chainsaw artist and chances are you have seen his work. He is also a Fort Thomas firefighter/paramedic. And he is married to Stacey and they have three sons (Chay, Connor, and Curtis) and a dog, Carver. But he is now carving out a name for himself as a very public chainsaw artist. 

Rust's bear logo.


His work is scattered throughout the trails at Highland Park and few are in the Model Native Garden in Tower Park. When you walk the trails you are compelled forward to see what piece is around the next bend. There are pieces in homes around town, across several states, as well as in Canada. 

I asked him how he discovered this talent. He really didn’t know he had this ability until his mother asked him to carve a bear. Chris was in his 30s at this point and his artistic talent was apparent, he was always artistic and drew and painted, but just not with a chainsaw. He used an old Sears chainsaw and eventually he found a bear inside a log for his mother. Soon after he was asked to give a demonstration for the art classes at Saint Joseph school. And then things took off.

One of Rust's carvings in Highland Park. 

Chris loves the outdoors. He and Jeff Mohr have been improving the trails in Highland Park for years, mostly for the benefit of the cross country teams. They had to remove some dead ash trees and, well, since he had the chainsaw in his hand, he thought he’d try bit of sculpture. His first pieces — a squirrel, a fox, and an old man’s face — still line the upper trail.  But his skill grew with each new piece and he added more — an owl, a cardinal, aliens, a wizard, and more. All are set in dead trunks of trees. “It was kind of random. Just fun,” he says. Mohr encouraged him to do more. There are now around ten pieces along the trails. 

”The aliens were kind of fun to do. To run across aliens in the middle of nowhere,” he says. One of Mohr’s co-workers asked if she could paint one of his pieces. “I like to collaborate,” he said. So she painted the owl and “It turned out better than I anticipated,” he says. 



He created pieces in Tower Park for Earth Day and various raffles and as a fundraiser at the Farmers Market. A few pieces are on display in the windows of Warden real estate office at the corner of Highland and Grand. Then people began to commission him to carve pieces. So he did. And piece by piece his talent developed. Chris adds, “I want to keep it fun even though it’s a business. I don’t want to harm the creativity or fun.” 

And he wants the client to have fun. Chris carved a dragon’s head for a customer in Cincinnati. For Halloween the customer added lights and a smoke machine for ambience. Some other large pieces include a Saint Francis statue, a mermaid, a dog, and a train for a boy to play on. 

A train for a child. Courtesy: Bonnie Feldkamp 

Chris sings the praises of everyone who has helped him - Jeff Mohr, Bill Poff, other artist friends and community members.  He believes that he is not alone in doing this. It’s a community. And the community is a bit more colorful and attractive because of his art. 

Courtesy: Chris Rust


Things are happening for Chris. As his talent grows so does his recognition and a demand for his time and skill. He says that he is “hoping to be at Homearama this year” doing a demonstration. “It’s interesting to see where this goes.” 

Chris says, “I don’t go out looking specifically for trees to carve up. That’s a living tree. There are trees that have to come down anyway. So it’s a dual benefit. It’s a dangerous tree and has to come down. So what can I do to take a negative event and … make it into something positive?”  And that’s the great takeaway. It’s a lot of hard work and talent to bring magic into the world. The power to transform that negative into a positive is magic indeed.

One of the logo piece for businesses.

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