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Carving a niche

Brothers Jordan, left, and Jarrett Dahl have been carving a niche in the art world with their chainsaw works. They spend the summers creating their works together in Keystone, S.D. The two grew up on a farm near Dawson, and return there to work, as well. Jordan also farms while Jarrett devotes himself full time to the art. He will be carving this winter in Palm Springs, Calif. (Submitted photo)

DAWSON -- To the hundreds of visitors who watch them every day, Jarrett and Jordan Dahl are surrounded by more noise than can be made by a frenzied crowd of Viking fans in the Metrodome.

The two brothers rev chainsaws at full throttle and spit out blizzards of wood chips all day long. It's all in the name of giving life to dead trees.

Their talent as chainsaw artists is to evoke a feeling of energy and motion in the detailed images of wildlife they carve from logs. They've transformed woods ranging from soft pine to rock-hard black walnut into everything from soaring eagles and charging bison to leaping dolphins as fluid as the water they make home.

They will tell you it's the quiet that matters most.

"You get in a zone,'' said Jarrett Dahl of the quiet concentration that is required behind the chainsaw, protective glasses and ear guards.

For three years now, the two brothers have spent their summer days in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Veterinarian and business owner Duane Pankratz had seen their works on display at Cabela's stores in Minnesota and South Dakota, and invited them to set up shop on his property in Keystone, S.D., just two miles from Mount Rushmore.

All day long and well into the evening, they carve as people watch, ask questions and exchange money to carry their works home like wildlife bagged on a hunt. They believe their works have made it to every state of the Union -- and beyond.

It's not just those who happen on their summer haunt who appreciate their works.

Terry Redlin has invited them to demonstrate their art at his famous art center near Watertown. S.D. He paid the two what they consider their best compliment ever. "If I were as young as you, you would not be here,'' said Jarrett of Redlin's telling praise.

Were it not for Jarrett's free-spirited escape after high school graduation in 2004, they wouldn't be here either. Jarrett, now 24, was 18 and just out of high school when a friend asked him to join him on a trip to Alaska. Jarrett intended to enjoy the summer before coming back to attend college and possibly, someday, start farming.

Jarrett and Jordan grew up on a Lac qui Parle County farm, the only two boys and the youngest of five children raised by Wayne and Laura Dahl. The two boys always loved the outdoors, but had never handled a chainsaw for anything but clearing brush.

In Alaska, Jarrett met Scott Hanson. Hanson had grown up in Madison only six miles from the Dahl farm. He is an accomplished chainsaw artist who makes his living by it on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula near the town of Soldotna.

He introduced Jarrett to some of the cuts and techniques.

For three summers in a row Jarrett refined his skills under Hanson's tutelage. In 2006, Jarrett won the Alaska People's Choice award for his depiction of two eagles with wings spread in combat over a fish.

Jordan, now 22, was 16 when he and his father came to see what Jarrett was doing.

Jordan has since married and is farming, but for both brothers -- carving remains their passion.

They love to create what they can visualize in their mind's eye. They appreciate the pace at which their creations come to life. "You don't have to be patient to be a carver,'' said Jarrett.

The opportunity to carve in the Black Hills provides a great market for the two, but their skills have been honed in many places. Wayne Dahl believes Jarrett's turning point as an artist came at a carver's rendezvous in Pennsylvania, where he saw the works of many different, talented artists.

His father likes to tease his two sons that have the best world possible: "People praise them all day and hand them money,'' he said, laughing.

It's not quite that easy, of course. The brothers work well into the night most days of the summer. The days are spent carving the works that their visitors want, mainly bears, bears, bears and eagles. They reserve the last hours to create the works that inspire them.

Or, they come home to the Dahl farm, where the interruptions are less frequent. It's here that Jarrett was inspired to carve down 30,000 pounds of cottonwood into a 10,000 pound, 25-foot high depiction of an Indian warrior holding an eagle aloft. It's now on display in the Black Hills.

Jarrett also puts his work on display each year at the Minnesota State Fair, where he's crafted in front of the cameras of Twin Cities television stations. He's headed soon to Palm Springs, Calif., where he will carve full time this winter.

The last couple of winters the two brothers have also teamed up to compete in the St. Paul Winter Carnival ice sculpturing contest, where they've won awards -- including the carver's pick.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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