Carvers take leap away from frogs

The Logs to Frogs event was almost devoid of the amphibians.

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Kevin Strauslin of Eugene works on his quick-carve entry, while his finished main entry sits in the back-ground. His entry, "The Dancing," took first place from the judges and won the People's Choice and WOW competitions. Early Sunday afternoon, Strauslin's carving had already been sold privately to an admirer.

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Judges Ron Kingsley (left) and Joyce Plyter score the second-place-winning carving by Jacob Lucas on Sunday.

MILTON-FREEWATER -- The Seventh Annual Logs to Frogs chain saw carving competition drew close to 200 spectators to the closing auction on Sunday.

There was also a tie for the record number of carvers this year with 17 chain-saw-wielding artists from the Pacific Northwest.

What wasn't so prevalent was frogs.

What had once been the ubiquitous carving standard for the competition -- as well as in front of businesses around town -- frogs were reduced to a single croaker that made an appearance among this year's main carvings.

"The last few years I have come I have seen fewer frogs," said Legaya Bernabe, who comes from Pilot Rock each year to watch the telephone-booth-sized trunks get carved into frogs, often commingling with bears, eagles and horses.

"I like them all ... and how talented everybody is. It is just amazing what you can do with a chunk of wood," she said.

What carvers did not create this year were plagues of frogs, thus reducing the amount of them even more from the previous year's decline.

"We were still seeing some frogs last year," Milton-Freewater City Planner Gina Hartzheim said.

In an attempt to move the competition more toward the creation of marketable carvings, last year event coordinators allowed carvers to create any frog-less design they desired.

With no direction, many of last year's carvers fell back on the tried-and-true frogs for their inspiration.

So this year organizers took the bull by the horns and provided a theme that would help set the tone for more marketable pieces: The Wild, Wild West.

The plan worked.

Most of the 17 carvers at this year's Logs to Frogs created bears, eagles and horses.

The others produced a cowboy, an Indian, a moose, a pair of boots, a couple of buzzards and a Yosemite Sam.

Not a frog was to be found among the main carvings, except from the one carver who won the competition last year.

Ironically, Chris Foltz's winning carving last year included a frog, along with a bass and a dragonfly.

This year he created an enormous butterfly flying precariously perched over a frog.

"I always have to do something extremely difficult for myself," Foltz said.

It isn't that Foltz favors frogs; truth of the matter is, he does a lot of bugs.

"Apparently I do, because I am pretty much the one guy who does a lot of insects," Foltz said.

This year he won an international invitational chain-saw competition in Chetwynd, British Columbia, with a 10-foot-tall preying mantis.

As Foltz worked on his second quick carve on Sunday -- quick carves are competitions where carvers have about 75 minutes to complete a carving -- Hartzheim pondered how the butterfly would connect with this year's theme.

"It will be interesting to see what his interpretation will be. You know nature is wild and there are butterflies in the wild," she said.

For Foltz, the connection was simple.

He grew up in the city and the only wild animals he saw were insects.

As for the frog he included, well there is another reason he stuck with tradition.

The fact is bears, eagles, horses and other animals associated with the mountains are common at carving competitions, Foltz said.

So while Logs to Frogs coordinators were eager to move away from the frog motif, last year's winner was more than happy to stick with what he points out is a unique aspect about Milton-Freewater's competition.

"I really don't do them a lot. I just do them because it is the core of the show ... It is cool for the show to have frogs in it," Foltz said.

Logs to Frogs is held by the Milton-Freewater Chamber of Commerce.

The money raised from the auction of the quick-carve entries is used to fund the subsequent year's competition.

The first-prize winner receives $1,000.

The carvers keep their main entries, with some selling locally either by auction or privately.

Most, however, take their carving back with them, in hopes of getting higher prices in other markets.

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