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Everyday People: Carving a living

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PEQUOT LAKES — If you’ve driven along Highway 371 North through Pequot Lakes this summer you’ve likely spotted wood sculptor Roy Hamari out working in the hot sun.

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Hamari, 77, carves his art pieces with chainsaws and other wood-cutting tools right along the highway, just outside his sculpture gallery. It serves as both an attraction and a marketing strategy.

Not everyone stops, but some do.

Hamari, who grew up on his family’s Deer Creek area farm, decided to spend his summers in Pequot Lakes three years ago while returning to California for the winter months. He began woodcarving when he was about 6 years old. He would make his own wooden toys, like toy guns, knives and cars.

“I never dreamed it would become my livelihood,” Hamari explained.

He attended the University of Minnesota, earning an industrial arts teaching degree and spent 25 years as a teacher, mostly out in California.

His first teaching job was as an industrial arts teacher at Pine River High School in 1956. A year later, he was offered a position in charge of the wood shop and training industrial arts teachers at St. Cloud State University, which he did for three years.

But one of his daughters had a severe heart issue that required her to live in a warmer climate. So he, his wife and family packed up and moved to California in 1961. Since he taught during the school year but was off during the summers, he and his family had a vacation getaway in Bear Valley, Calif., a resort community.

In Bear Valley he began carving sculptures and sold them in his front yard. His hottest-selling carvings were bears, of course. Eagles run a close second, he said. The same is true for his most popular carvings in Minnesota, as well.

As his wood carvings continued to sell, he decided to quit teaching to take up his art full time. He opened his first studio in Carefree, Ariz., in the late 1980s. There, he would carve outside as entertainment for passers-by. Native American art is particularly popular in the southwestern United States, so he found himself doing a lot of Native art carvings there. He owned a couple of galleries in southern California, including in Big Bear, another popular resort community.

Hamari enjoys using a variety of styles and subjects. He doesn’t really consider himself to be a chainsaw sculptor anymore. Although he uses a chainsaw for some of his work, particularly the outdoor pieces, he also uses other wood-carving tools that allow him to better express himself as an artist. He also has worked in other mediums, like bronze and stone.

During the summer months in Pequot Lakes, Hamari said he’s working every day, often long hours, either put in by carving or by running his gallery and doing other administrative work. When he moved here three years ago he had hoped he would get out fishing and enjoy other outdoor activities but he’s been too busy. He likes to fish but hasn’t been in a boat in the three years he’s been back in Minnesota.

It’s time to slow down a bit, he said.

“I’m usually working until it gets so dark I can’t see,” Hamari said with a smile.

So Hamari decided that this is the last summer his sculpture gallery would be open, where people can stop by and see some of his work and potentially buy what he’s got in stock. Instead, he’ll remain at the same location and work on commissioned pieces, but won’t keep regular hours at the gallery. He shuts down his operation here in October and moves back to Palm Springs, Calif., for the winter. He returns to Pequot Lakes in May.

Hamari’s clients range from hotels and other commercial businesses to private homeowners. He said his biggest market is people who want sculptures for their vacation or retirement homes.

Bears and eagles make up at least three-fourths of his commissioned pieces, he said. Wolves also are popular. He often works on a few different pieces at one time since the wood needs to dry at various stages during the process.

Sometimes a homeowner will contact him when a large tree in their yard has to be removed. Since the tree had sentimental value, the owners often wish to have the wood made into something special.

Hamari recently was delivered a massive tree that fell during thunderstorms in Bemidji earlier this summer. Sometimes commercial tree services contact him when they end up with an interesting tree that needs to be removed.

His sculptures sell for anywhere from $100 to $25,000.

Hamari said he has no plans to quit wood carving. The only reason he would quit is if the work became too physically demanding for him.

“I enjoy what I do. I feel you stay healthier if you stay active,” Hamari explained. “When I get old, I may explore other interests — jewelry-making, pottery, painting.”

Hamari said he not only enjoys being able to express his artistry but he enjoys watching his customers get enjoyment out of his work, too.

“It’s not work,” Hamari said. “It’s too much fun to be work.”

Hamari has four daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren.

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Jodie Tweed
Jodie Tweed has been a staff writer at the Brainerd Dispatch since May 1997, primarily covering education and writing human interest stories. She also took over as HealthWatch editor in the spring of 2010. A graduate of Pequot Lakes High School, she received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications at Bemidji State University and her master’s degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University. She previously worked as news director at KLKS Radio in Breezy Point and was a media consultant at a Twin Cities public relations firm. She also worked as a staff assistant for the former “Nashville Now” television show on The Nashville Network while attending college in Nashville. She and her husband, Nels, have three daughters, Erika, 17, Madeline, 2, and Beatrice, who was born in April 2011.
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