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Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Eagle springs from mighty white oak

Auglaize County man's work bound for Pentagon

By Margie Wuebker

'People are happiest when my work involves an eagle.'

- Tim Kuenning,

New Br. . .

NEW BREMEN - Tim Kuenning ponders the mammoth log that stood straight and tall before settlers came to this part of Ohio. Beneath the rugged bark he sees a majestic 8-foot eagle with wings spread in flight and talons holding an American flag.
He reaches for his chainsaw and creates a shower of sawdust as blade meets wood - the first cut in an ambitious project bound for permanent display at the Pentagon.
Kuenning, a full-time lineman with the village of Minster, works part time as a chainsaw artist traveling once a month with Wal-Mart's FLW Series for professional bass fishermen, where he carves the championship trophy. A man approached him at one of the tournaments and admired the eagle taking shape as the winner's trophy.
"The guy was commanding general of the National Guard Readiness Center and he wanted to commission a much larger one for display at Pentagon headquarters," Kuenning says. "I put him in touch with the right people and the rest is history."
The National Guard is a major sponsor of the fishing tournament named in honor of Forrest L. Wood, legendary founder of Ranger Boats, so the arrangements fell into place rather easily.
"It took me a year to find the right log," Kuenning says. "I talked to a log buyer and told him what I was looking for - a nice hardwood that needed to come down. There was no need to cut a perfectly healthy tree and hurt our ecology in the process."
The white oak, which estimates peg at around 200 years old, showed signs of dying when it was felled north of St. Marys. The log, standing just over 8 feet tall with a 5-foot diameter, was donated after the owner learned its intended purpose.
"The first cut took me 5 1/2 hours and then I called it a day," he says explaining the process involves taking away unneeded wood. "The first cuts are the most crucial because you run the risk of taking away too much."
Kuenning likens the process to visualizing a design in the wood and then cutting away all the extraneous material. People see a log shrouded in bark; he sees all that it could become - a majestic eagle, a rugged cowboy with saddle in hand, a crusty sea captain clutching the wheel of his beloved ship, a venerable Indian chief in feathered headdress, even a long-necked seagull perching on a dock.
The eagle holding a flag is a design he created in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
"I carve things in all shapes and sizes," he says. "But people are happiest when my work involves an eagle. It is the national symbol of America and everything she stands for."
Although the 5 1/2-foot eagle took less than two days to carve, the finished work involved many more days. The layered feathers created with the tip of the chainsaw were painstakingly "burned" using a propane torch to bring out desired coloration while staining the stars and stripes involved an even greater investment in time.
"The staining took longer than everything else combined," he admits.
The eagle currently is at his home as plans are still being made for how it will be transported to Washington, D.C.
The commanding general suggested using a helicopter to fly the eagle to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, where it would be loaded aboard a transport plane for the remainder of the journey.
Kuenning is only too happy to let others handle transportation concerns, adding his expertise does not involve military logistics.
People often refer to Kuenning as a chainsaw artist. However, he prefers the title wood carving specialist. He has earned the title over the course of nearly 30 years, perfecting his talent with countless hours of practice. His avocation took root years ago after watching a chainsaw artist turn logs into rustic chairs and bigger-than-life mushrooms with swipes of a trusty blade.
"I thought it was possible to do more intricate things," he says. "So I went home and tried. Chainsaw sculpture is a skill you have to acquire on your own because nobody offers courses."
Kuenning says the neat thing about his eagle bound for the Pentagon is that it was made by an Auglaize County man from wood grown right here in Auglaize County.
"The accompanying gold plaque will be nice but for me the greatest honor is having my grandchildren see it in Washington and tell people 'My grandpa made that.' "
Additional online story on this date
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