For chain saw artist Dean Williams, art is in the eye of the beholder.
His eye just sees more in trees and stumps than most.
"I can pretty much look at any tree and see something in it. I can see elf faces or bears or raccoons," Williams said recently, legs hanging from two tiers of scaffolding. He sat staining an eagle atop a stump outside a Hastings home. "When I am sleeping, I can sometimes picture how I will carve it."
Then he wakes up and goes to work with his six chain saws, drills, carving chaps and other gear, seeing what he can fashion.
Lately, he has transformed a tree damaged by a June windstorm into eagles, owls, a raccoon and a bear cub - all on one 20-foot-tall stump. He has a backlog of storm-damage stumps in the Hastings area awaiting his handiwork.
Williams, 46, is a Hastings High School graduate who has been sketching pictures since his school days.
His first job was building custom houses with his dad for a dozen years until age 26. Then he worked for several companies until he was laid off in 2006. After applying for many a job, Williams started a business building log furniture and doing home remodeling.
Three years ago, he served a very brief log-carving apprenticeship. He heard about a chain saw artist working in Hastings. He took two logs to the guy and asked him to carve something.
"He carved a bear head," Williams recalled. "I went home and carved an eagle."
Since then, he's been refining his techniques, and slowly his prices have inched up to about $400 for a three-foot eagle, which takes about two days. His advertising is mostly by word-of-mouth or spread by his traveling carved art show - a bear, an eagle and a pelican standing tall behind the cab of his tool-laden pickup.
"I just drive around with them three. They're always in the truck," said Williams.
He and his wife Teresa, an accountant who "loves what I do," live with their two young daughters across the Mississippi River bridge a few miles north on Hwy. 61 in Cottage Grove. He chain saws logs into beasts by the highway, and that, too, attracts a few curious customers.
Williams lined up his current, four-scaffold-high project while visiting Sven and Maxine Telander's garage sale. The June storm had toppled four trees on their corner lot at Oak and Forest streets in southern Hastings.
Seeing the statuesque wooden trio in Williams' pickup, Sven Telander, 76, asked: "Are you going to carve my tree?"
"What do you want?" Williams replied.
"I told him two eagles and two owls," Telander recalled. "He said OK and had an idea about putting an eagle's nest in the tree." Maxine asked if a rotted hole in the trunk could be plugged by a raccoon. The cub was the final figure added to the arboreal menagerie.
Williams found a big ash stump with roots on a Mississippi River bank, turned it upside down and tapped it into the 20-foot stump top to become an aerie.
"I can hardly keep up with all the chips he takes out of there," Telander said recently, watching the chain saw wizard. "I've been burning them every day." The retired farmer said he uses his lawnmower bagger to suck up the piles of sawdust around the tree.
"It is an amazing art," said Telander, who himself creates stained-glass windows and glass pendants.
A car stopped and two women walked up to the eagle-topped stump. Hastings resident Sharon Braun noted:
"Out of the storm came something beautiful."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283