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Ridgway, Pa.: Where the Dust Flies

Small Town Turns Chainsaw Carving Into A Fine Art

New York, March 16, 2006

(CBS) When The Early Show asks for ideas for its "Tour My Town" series, there is no shortage of suggestions. Viewers from around the country respond with all sorts of interesting ones. This week, co-anchor Julie Chen visits the small town of Ridgway, Pa.

Located in the northwestern part of the state, about three hours from Pittsburgh, it's an outdoorsman's paradise, offering everything from elk herds to snowshoeing.

Thanks to the Ridgway Heritage Council the downtown has preserved its historic architecture without the addition of chains such as Wal-Mart or McDonald's.

Nestled near the Allegheny National Forest, this town of nearly 5,000 maintains its peace and quiet — except for a tell-tale buzzing that reveals a favorite local pastime: chainsaw carving.

When Liz Boni wrote to invite The Early Show to Ridgway, she said. "Anywhere that you find woods, you're going to find a chainsaw carver," adding, "These are serious artists with a definite eye for quality and ability."

Thanks to Boni, and a lot of trees, once a year carvers from all over the world converge in Ridgway for their own kind of convention, the international Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous.

What Chen learned in Ridgway is that the town was built on wood. At the turn of the century, a thriving lumber industry created more millionaires per capita there than in any other U.S. town.

Though a small lumber industry still exists, Ridgway might be better known for what can be carved from the wood — everything from bears to birds to the downright bizarre. "I think it's becoming an industry in its own right. It's an art movement that's going on worldwide," Boni said.

Angie Polglaze came all the way from Australia and told Chen, "It's my livelihood. It's who I am. That's what happens with this art form. Once it's got you, you're doomed."

Which is why carvers from all around the world appreciate the chance to come to Ridgway, where they can hone a craft it seems only fellow carvers can understand. "We all speak the same language, we're doing the same thing," said Steve Backus. "We have the same trials and tribulations."

Chen says everyone in Ridgway is proud of the Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous and, given all the enthusiasm, she even gave it a try herself, though she was a bit worried about losing a finger along the way. She had a mini-lesson from Brian Ruth, who carved a bear right before her eyes.

The carvers' work is sold and auctioned, sometimes for thousands of dollars, and is displayed all around town. Ridgway hopes this annual event, along with local recreational opportunities, will bring more visitors to their neck of the woods.

"I don't know that if we took it somewhere else it would work the way it does in Ridgway," said Boni.

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