By Ashley Reams Dunn
WESLEY CHAPEL — When James Kelske looks at a piece of firewood, he doesn’t see a chunk of timber. He sees possibilities.
Kelske uses a chainsaw to turn logs into art. Dolphins, flamingos, pelicans, penguins, bears, turtles and tiki gods dot the lawn in front of The Tree Feller, a tree removal and land clearing business on SR 54 in Wesley Chapel where Kelske has been selling his creations for the past three weeks.
“If you can see what you want to make in a piece of wood, you can make it, I reckon,” he says.
Kelske, of Zephyrhills, has worked with wood all his life, which he claims has been quite long. When asked his age, he responded: “I am 443.” He’s only been carving for the past couple years though.
What got him into it?
“Hunger,” he says, as his dry sense of humor becomes even more obvious.
He saw someone carve a flamingo out of a log with a chainsaw about two years ago.
“I said, ‘I can do that,’” he recalls.
He picked up his saw, found a log, and made his own flamingo on the first try. Now, he says he can carve anything as long as he has a picture to look at.
“If you’ve got an idea of something that you want, I can pretty much make it,” he says.
Kelske — also known at the Tiki Man — first sold his artwork on SR 54 closer to Zephyrhills near the New River Library. He stopped about six months ago and began taking his creations on the road, setting up at locations in Brandon (where he grew up) and Tampa. But loading and unloading the heavy wooden pieces made traveling difficult.
So, about a month ago, he got in touch with The Tree Feller’s Dave Morrissette and Owner Walt French, to ask about setting up at their location at the corner of Ellerbee Road and SR 54 in Wesley Chapel. For Morrissette and French, it was a win-win situation.
Firewood is piled up outside, and sometimes it has to be thrown out.
“Instead of wasting it, we’re recycling it,” Morrissette says.
They say they’re also hoping Kelske will bring in more business for their tree care business, which offers free mulch, tree removal, tree recycling, land clearing and senior discounts. Business has been waning lately because of the economy, and the holiday season isn’t going to make it any better.
“This is our slowest time of the year,” Morrissette says.
The set up is also nice for Kelske, who now has a seemingly limitless supply of wood for his artwork.
On Nov. 19, he was carving a giraffe, a project he had started the day before.
“Some pieces take longer than others, but I like to get a couple made in a day,” he says as he looks out over the sea of parrots, gnomes and other chainsaw art he’s created. “This stuff goes in spurts. Sometimes I can keep up. Other times I can’t.”
Kelske admits that he’s always been creative — he also likes playing guitar, for example — but he approaches his woodwork in a down-to-earth way.
“People think this is special,” he says. “I think it’s basic, really.”
Pieces range in price from $20 to $1,000 depending on the size and how much time they take to make. Kelske can usually start and finish a big piece in two days, but he gives himself a week for special orders. He has to be in the right frame of mind before he begins.
James Kelske sells his artwork at The Tree Feller, 5835 Ellerbee Road in Wesley Chapel. Call him at (352) 206-2872 or (813) 312-0710. For more information about The Tree Feller, call (813) 909-2002.