HOW MUCH WOOD?: Eric Richter, above, poses for a photo with his award and ribbon Sunday during the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. Below, a handcrafted wooden owl was displayed in Richter’s booth during the event. (Staff photos by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
HOW MUCH WOOD?: Eric Richter, above, poses for a photo with his award and ribbon Sunday during the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. Below, a handcrafted wooden owl was displayed in Richter’s booth during the event. (Staff photos by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
There really aren't any formal schools that teach how to carve wooden creations with a chainsaw, but self-taught artist Eric Richter still says it's been a lifelong education developing his skills.

As a child, Richter learned from his grandfather how to shape and create metals into three-dimensional artwork. His grandfather mentored Richter during an apprenticeship to pass on his knowledge of how to create three-dimensional items and jewelry items from copper and other metals.

Richter had a slightly different idea. He decided to take a different artistic path and transitioned from metal to carving wooden sculptures - with a chainsaw.

After a bit of experimenting and expanding on his grandfather's lessons of how to carve wood, Richter found his niche in chainsaw wood carving.

For two decades, he has been shaving away the outer layers of wood to reveal wildlife animals waiting to emerge.

Richter, whose mother Donna is the Lead Academic Officer at the Canaan Community Academy, has created a variety of wildlife animals over the years including horses, birds, turtles, bears and beavers - even alligators and giraffes. He also has fashioned the lumber to look like trees and anything else that might feel like fun to create at the time.

"I go off what's inspiring for the day," he said.

Unlike some artists, Richter has a specific plan whenever he begins working with a piece of wood. He often sketches out his ideas prior to picking up the chainsaw.

He also studies taxidermy books and his surroundings for inspiration when making his large wooden animal creations, which can take weeks at a time to complete.

But sometimes he focuses on smaller works, or what he calls "secondary projects."

"That's what I do to take a mental break," he said.

Richter took a work break to display his creations during the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art.

"Ever since I've been young, I've heard about the Chautauqua," he said.

His family, who lives in the Madison area, would encourage him to come to the art festival each year, but the timing never worked out just right.

Then again, Richter hasn't been attending other art festivals that long, he said. He would usually take his creations to Paul Bunyan lumberjack shows, but he's begun to add art festivals to his schedule over the last few years.

This year was the first time the Hillsboro, Ohio, resident exhibited at the Chautauqua.

But it didn't take long for word about his work to spread.

Thanks to a 13-foot-long and 800-pound wooden alligator, his booth on Vaughn Drive was sought out by many festival visitors.

Richter's work also caught the eye of judges during the juried art festival. He was awarded the festival's Best Presentation award.

Yet the 13-foot reptile isn't the largest work he's completed, he said. He created another alligator - an 18-foot creation - that now provides decor for a museum in Miami, Fla.

Although Richter mainly focuses on wildlife animals, he's also created sea creatures and plants found growing in the outdoors with his work.

"I won't limit," he said. "I love to study nature's patterns."