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An artist that happens to be a woodcarver

An artist that happens to be a woodcarver

By Nancy Price

As a child growing up in rural Greenwood, T.J. Harmon saw art in everyday nature: In birds, animals, fish and trees. He created forts from logs and heated firewood. During high school, he learned to build houses through Central Nine vocational school and continued that trade after graduation, though his inner artist pulled him in different directions: as a tattoo artist, chef and musician.

He found his true calling in an unexpected way. “I was dabbling with chainsaw carving while in culinary school,” Harmon recalled. “I kept doing (carvings) and people kept buying them, even the goofy-looking ones in the beginning. They were buying them up as fast as I could get them done. And then I told myself, ‘If you can make these at a high output, you should be able to make a living at this.’ I gave it a shot and it’s finally starting to help pay my bills and I feel like it’s just going up from here.”

Harmon has been a chainsaw carver for the past five years. He’s creates sculptures in a variety of shapes and sizes: from butterflies, cardinals and fish to eagles, horses and Vikings. “I just love coaxing an idea or picture in my head, out of a log, out of a chunk of wood,” he said. “One of the things people compliment me on is I capture emotion well in my work. I’m an artist that happens to be a woodcarver.”

Cardinals are among the more popular sculptures. “It’s just neat to see that log go from a cylinder to a little bird on some driftwood that fast. But I do hand carvings, too. I can make birds life-sized with knives and chisels. I carve with axels and mallets, all kinds of stuff,” Harmon said.

T.J. Harmon carves details into an Native American. (Photo by Neal Smith)

The Viking sculpture has garnered the most interest. “They really like it,” he said. “Not a lot of people carve Vikings; everybody carves bears. I try to be a little different.”

Harmon uses a lot of reclaimed and repurposed white pine for his art. “I’m not just going out and cutting live trees down,” he said. “I usually find (white pine) when people are excavating for neighborhoods, or farmers clearing out for roads. There’s not a lot to be done with white pines, so they spend all that
money and time and fuel to chip it up and bury it in the ground. I take it and give it a new life, to make people happy with it and re-purpose it for years to come when it was almost over for that tree or that log.”

Harmon has gained exposure for his artwork by traveling and participating in chainsaw competitions around the country, though he admitted there were times he thought of giving up. “It’s very, very hard physically and mentally,” he said. “If you don’t sell your products or you do horrible at a show, you put all that time and money, to get into it and then you go home. So, you’ve got to always be on your game. There’s no room for error if you want to do it for a living. It’s like being in a race, and it’s like anything else. You just have to pace yourself and stay steady or else you’ll just constantly burn out and crash.”

Cardinals are the most popular carvings, while a Viking has garnered much attention. (Submitted photo)

Harmon has his supporters, including Joe Hubbard of Center Grove. Two months ago, Hubbard was pulling into a local Moose organization’s parking lot when he noticed Harmon working outside nearby. “The fairs had closed, and he was trying to make money any way he could,” Hubbard said. “He started (to carve) an eagle. I was blown away that someone could do that with a chainsaw. The precision you have to have, and the artistic ability is just amazing.”

Recently, Harmon was invited to join a TV reality show in the works featuring chainsaw carvers competing against one another. “I had no idea it was going to get to this point,” he said. Despite the invitation, Harmon is turning down the opportunity as he would need to cancel all future competitions. “I’m not ready for the big screen yet.”

Harmon can create custom-made artwork. His pieces are around $100 per square foot. To contact T.J. Harmon or for more information about his work, go to norsewoodsmen.com.

Harmon is inspired by nature and often creates birds, including this eagle. (Photo by Neal Smith)

Two upcoming chainsaw competitions, as part of charity events, will be held at the
Marion County Fairgrounds. T.J. Harmon will be competing.

Aug. 21 and 22
Thunder in the Crossroads
benefits the B.A.C.A. (Bikers Against Child Abuse)

Sept. 10-13
Heartstrings Music Festival
benefits the Make A Wish Foundation


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