When the town of Libby, Montana, is brought up, words like cancer, asbestos and vermiculite are often associated. In 2000, the entire town was declared an EPA Superfund site as a result of environmental illnesses and fatalities born of the W. R. Grace vermiculite mine, the ore laced with amphibole asbestos. While the cleanup continues, longtime residents want people to know their town is much more than “the town that was poisoned” and is becoming a hub for year-round outdoor activities and tourism.
Surrounded by the Cabinet Mountains and meandering Kootenai River, Libby is rugged and beautiful—the perfect place for artist Ron Adamson to continue his work.
Known by many in the community, Ron’s works can be found not just in Libby but far from Northwest Montana, stretching across the U.S. and on every continent, save Antarctica.
He’s now sharing his work and bringing other artists to Libby through his annual Libby Chainsaw Event, held for the second time this past July. Ron and son Jeff welcomed carvers from Big Fork, British Columbia, Oklahoma and even Macedonia. Seeing this incredible talent was a treat for all.
“In the quick carve they get 90 minutes to create something, and then it’s auctioned off,” explained Ron. “It just absolutely thrills people; they can’t take their eyes off it, especially the kids.”
Art was in Ron’s veins from a very young age. At 19, he completed his first wood carving while working shifts at the local lumber mill.
“I wasn’t a smoker and I hated going in the break room with all that haze. I would carve during my hour-long lunch and my two 15-minute breaks,” said Ron.
His carvings were entered into the Libby Chamber of Commerce’s Art Show at Memorial Gym. Having visited his first museum at age 18, and having never been to an art gallery, Ron was shocked that people were already interested in buying his pieces.
While supporting his growing family of a wife and three children, Ron continued to work in the lumber industry while also improving his artwork. He eventually landed entrance into the Charles Russell Show and the Museum of Native American Culture show, where he met others willing to advise the young artist on how to sell, market and display his works.
Soon after he began working in bronze casting, wood and stone sculpture and has been a working artist, exhibitor, instructor, seller, promoter and auctioneer of art for more than 40 years. He opened his art studio at his childhood home set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cabinet Mountains and beside the flowing waters of the Kootenai River. His heart for Libby is evidenced by his teaching work with Flathead Valley Community College - Lincoln County Campus; his donation of art to countless community organizations for fundraisers; designing and creating carvings for beautification projects around town; carvings for Libby’s annual Nordic Festival Parade; and extending himself in service in his community at every opportunity. And while Ron is generally highly regarded as an all-around “good guy” by the locals, only his family and closest friends had any idea about his notoriety in the art world until a few years ago when a connection was made between him and a famous rock band.
One of Ron’s most celebrated commissioned works of art can be found ‘Standin’ on the Corner’ in Winslow, Arizona. A 6-foot tall bronze statue of a ‘70’s man balancing a guitar on his foot was inspired by a portion of lyrics from the song “Take It Easy” by the Eagles. It took Ron two years to complete and has become an iconic Route 66 landmark and photo opportunity in Winslow since its installation in 1999. Winslow’s Standin’ on the Corner street festival draws thousands annually and is held the last week of September. “It’s way more famous than I’ll ever be with the amount of people taking selfies with it,” said Ron. “It’s really amazing to see how many people take pictures of it.”
After decades of participating in and creating art shows around the country, Ron decided that Libby should benefit from a first-class chainsaw sculpture carving event. He announced his plans to do just that at the January 2017 Annual Libby Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet and Auction. Ron believed an annual chainsaw carving event would provide a venue for local artists and vendors, in any medium, to sell their wares alongside the chainsaw art created at the event, thus attracting tourists and art collectors to the area to help stimulate the local economy. An added benefit to the city/county would include the boosting of community pride and establishing a very different legacy for which Libby may be remembered other than asbestos and asbestos-related illness. It is his heartfelt hope to leave behind not only a legacy of beautiful art but the promise of Ron Adamson’s The Libby Chainsaw Event as his gift to the community that has given him so much through the years—family, friends, inspiration and a home base to produce his work.
An additional benefit of the event is to educate and raise awareness of the role of timber and the logging industry in Lincoln County, and demonstrate the many different things one can do with wood, apart from creating beautiful chainsaw carvings and burning it for heat. Mentoring, educational, entertaining and informative seminars in which carvers share their knowledge with one another and the public are central to the event.
“We are aware that we may very well inspire and empower the next great chainsaw artist and contribute to their ability to make a living for themselves as artists,” said Ron.
Ron hopes the event will grow yearly through sponsorship and being partially self-funded by the artists, himself included, with 25 percent of all auction sales at the event returned to the nonprofit to cover expenses.
The ultimate goal is to make Libby a hub for chainsaw carving and to inspire others to repeat our formula in other communities in Montana, thus making the entire state known for its first-class chainsaw carving events.
You can learn more about Ron and see examples of his works at RonAdamson.com