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Andy Cummings with his chain saw carving of a giant heron, which won best of show at the 25th annual Southern Wildlife Festival at Calhoun Community College on Friday.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Andy Cummings with his chain saw carving of a giant heron, which won best of show at the 25th annual Southern Wildlife Festival at Calhoun Community College on Friday.

Carving through adversity
Chain saw artist discovers talent while clearing hurricane debris

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Surely there was a mistake, Andy Cummings thought to himself as he bent over to take a closer look at the two large ribbons adorning his giant heron carving.

How could his art creation win the best of show honor at the 25th annual Southern Wildlife Festival considering he's still wondering if he's an artist?

"This is my first show," he said apologetically, as if embarrassed by his beginner's success.

The Montevallo resident didn't need the blue ribbons to help him stand out at the art show and sale that is open to the public today and Sunday. He is the only artist exhibiting carvings done with a chain saw.

It's an unlikely talent that grew from his willingness to help victims of Hurricane Ivan two years ago in Pensacola.

Cummings was there performing volunteer work with a Red Cross cleanup crew. He used his chain saw to help clear thousands of downed trees so people could get in their homes.

One elderly lady he met was distraught that the storm had toppled a tree she planted when she gave birth to her first child. To cheer her up, Cummings used his chain saw to carve the stump into a dolphin, which was the mascot of the school where the lady worked.

When it actually came out looking like he envisioned, Cummings couldn't believe it.

"I was surprised it came out, that I really I could do it," he said, noting until then he had only carved hiking sticks, which he learned as a Boy Scout.

Stump art a success

The stump art was an instant hit with the lady and her neighbors, who begged Cummings to carve stumps in their yards. Pretty soon, the neighborhood had more than 20 carvings of animals such as turtles, swans, chickens and herons.

The initial ones were all done out of the goodness of his heart. But because people liked them so much, he figured he would try it as a second income to his carpentry job. He said it's been slow going, as he's had 15 commissioned pieces, including a coffee shop sign in his hometown and a couple of story poles. He often donates carvings to a charity fundraiser just to get the publicity.

Ellis Chenault, a Decatur photographer who was one of the judges, said Cummings has that special vision that will make him successful in the art world.

"To visualize the end product for a three-dimensional piece of wood showed a lot of vision," he said. "There were several pieces that could have been best of show, but his vision is what made the piece stand out."

Beverly Newton, show chairwoman and SWF artist of the year, said it was Cummings' generosity that won her over her and his winning best of show is simply an extra bonus.

"He took a disaster and turned it into something positive," she said. "His work is creative, it's beautiful and it's from the heart. That's why I'm excited to have him here."

Cummings said he's had to learn the limitations of what a chain saw can do, and he will share his techniques with three demonstrations this afternoon at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 and again Sunday afternoon at 12:30 and 2:30.

Other SWF activities today include live birds of prey and giant tortoise demonstrations, the state duck calling championship, working duck decoy contests and children's art activities.

'Inspiring' win

As for the heron that won best of show, Cummings said he prefers carving herons because of their elegance, but ultimately the shape of the wood determines what kind of animal it will be.

He figured the heron must be his best work because it won a ribbon.

"It's kind of inspiring to know you can do that," Cummings said. "You always have doubts and you don't know when to quit and leave it alone.

"But it's just something that I really love doing and want to find a way to do it as much as possible," he said. "So (this award) gives me incentive to do more."

How to go

What: Wildlife art show and sale; state duck calling championship; working decoy carving contest;
children's activities; and live birds of prey and turtle/tortoise demonstrations.

When: Today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Calhoun
Community College.

Cost: $3 for adults and $2 for students and seniors.

25th annual Southern Wildlife Festival winners

Painting, fin and fur

First: Martiena Richter, fox squirrel.

Second: Bob Hickman, striped bass.

Third: Beverly Newton, baby elephants.

Painting, general:

First: Terry Smith, backwaters reflection.

Second: Luke Buck, fox in winter.

Third: Steven Harmening, fall foliage.

Painting, feathers

First: Todd Reed, barn swallow.

Second: Wes Siegrist, small gray jay.

Third: Danny O'Driscoll, blue-winged teal.

Photography

First: John Orehovec, great egrets.

Second: Will Hershberger, pileated woodpecker.

Third: Bobby Castlebury, Echinacea.

Carving

First: Andy Cummings, heron.

Second: Euyless and Aurora Holcomb, magnolia blossom.

Third: David Sercel, red-throated bee-eater.

Southern Wildlife Festival events

Today

11 a.m. — State duck calling championship.

11 a.m. — Working duck decoy competition.

11:30 a.m. — Live birds of prey demonstrations by Feathers in Focus.

12:30 p.m. — Chain saw art demonstration by Andy Cummings.

1 p.m. — Painting miniatures by artists Wes and Rachelle Siegrist.

1:30 p.m. — Live birds of prey demonstrations by Feathers in Focus.

2:30 p.m. — Cooking wild game by Ron Casey, chef at Decatur Country Club (tentative).

2:30 p.m. — Chain saw art demonstration by Andy Cummings.

3:30 p.m. — Live birds of prey demonstrations by Feathers in Focus.

4:30 p.m. — Chain saw art demonstration by Andy Cummings.

Sunday

12:30 p.m. — Chain saw art demonstration by Andy Cummings.

1 p.m. — Carving demonstration by artist David Sercel.

2 p.m. — Turtle and tortoise demonstrations by Mama's Education Turtle and Tortoise Haven Rescue.

2:30 p.m. — Chain saw art demonstration by Andy Cummings.

3 p.m. — Retriever demonstration by Bill McAdam.

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