Eidson also carved benches into a tree that fell during the spring storms.
COVINGTON -- Give Ben Eidson a chainsaw and he'll create a masterpiece.
If you don't believe it, take a trip to Chimney Park, a still-in-development passive play area planned for the wooded area behind Newton County Library. An oak tree that was toppled during the spring storms has been transformed into a sitting area, three benches carved into its huge trunk. And there appears to be an old man peeking at you from the trunk of a neighboring tree -- a magical wood sprite perhaps?
This is all thanks to the work of Eidson, a Jasper County resident who was commissioned by supporters of the park to make something meaningful from the fallen tree and the other that is still standing but has begun to wither. It took him just six hours to do both carvings; the wood sprite he suggested himself and did for free.
"You have to look at the tree and fit the face to the tree. If the tree is curled or there's rot on it you leave that spot in, but make the beard go around it. If there's a knot in it or a hole you try to incorporate that in the carving," he said.
You might say Eidson is a natural born artist. His father was a potter, his grandmother painted china and his great-grandfather worked with wood to create furniture and art.
"We've got four generations of artists. It's just kind of been expected of me to work with art and draw since I was 2 or 3 years old. I've just done it my whole life," Eidson said.
His first piece was a pig mailbox that got lots of accolades and struck the fancy of a homeowner in Social Circle who commissioned him to create an 11-foot cigar store Indian to stand outside his house, which was to be featured on a tour of homes. Word of mouth soon brought other projects.
"I've carved eagles, fish, raccoons, wolves. Anything that makes money, I'll carve," said Eidson, a truck driver with four children whose art is his side job. "It's hard to make a living as an artist. There's a reason why they call them starving artists."
The most unique piece he's ever made is a frog lying on its stomach reading a book, which is on display at a primary school in Morgan County. It was commissioned by the staff at the school in memory of a teacher there who loved reading and frogs and had recently died of cancer.
"That meant something to me. It was unusual. It was from a huge oak tree that was over 100 years old. I had a piece of wood left over and I thought, I wish I had something to use it on. It was perfect (for the frog), the dimensions and shape and everything. I guess it was meant to be," he said.
It can take Eidson between a day and a day and a half to complete most projects.
"I try to do everything I can with a chainsaw. Hand tools are so time-consuming. I've got to get a lot of wood out of whatever I'm doing and quick. I use a 4- inch grinder, like anybody can buy for about $50 ... then I put on the finish," he said.
Often, people will ask him to create his pieces from dead trees.
"Some trees have sentimental value for people. They planted them or they looked at them their whole lives or something. They want a keepsake around," he said.
Eidson charges around $100 per foot of carving. He doesn't charge for anything not carved, such as a stand that may be needed for the piece.
He's hoping at least one of his children will be the next artist in the family.
"It's embarrassing, but we've got a picture of my 2-year-old daughter on the commode with her coloring book. She wouldn't even put it down. I'm thinking she may be the one," he said.