BRADFORD — Ridgway chainsaw artist Joe Dussia is carving a panther statue for the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford from large pin oak trees felled for the construction of its new Engineering and Information Technologies building.
Carving began on Tuesday, Nov. 16 and is lasting for three or four days, until the panther is completed.
The public is welcome to watch Dussia work in the Dorothy Lane parking lot of Blaisdell Hall on campus near the Richard E. McDowell Community Trail.
The wood for the new panther statue, which will find a home inside the atrium in the new Engineering and Information Technologies building, came from trees planted when Pitt-Bradford moved into its current home in the early 1970s.
Dussia said that making carvings from felled trees is not uncommon. “People can be sentimental about a tree,” he said.
However, it will make from slower carving than what one would see in a competition. Dussia spent part of last week sharpening his saws to bite into the harder wood, which will also much longer to carve than his usual medium of ponderosa pine.
“It’s just more work every which way,” he said of using oak. “But it makes it kind of nicer, too. It holds the detail better. I’m real blessed to have this opportunity.”
While most of his art ends up in private homes, he likes the thought that this work will be on public display. Dussia and his wife, Zoe, are both award-winning chainsaw carvers. In fact, she was the person who introduced him to the unique art form.
Dussia said he had always dabbled in art a bit, especially airbrushing motorcycles, so while he was out cutting firewood in Elk County, he stopped at the Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous, an annual weeklong gathering of chainsaw carvers in Ridgway, to watch people carve.
“I thought, man, I like chainsaws, I like motors, and I just started tinkering with it,” he said. He also really liked one of the carvers he had watched, Zoe Boni, whose family founded the rendezvous. “I really thought Zoe was a pretty cool girl.”
He followed up with her to get some tips from her, and she introduced him to some of the smaller saws artists use to cut finer details.
“I was like, this was my girl. This is the girl I’m gonna marry for sure,” he said.
While their romance progressed, so did Dussia’s carving. “Around the time that I got involved in chainsaw carving, I saw a mountain lion in the forest around Ridgway. I was all wound up about,” he said. He began carving mountain lions one after another, trying to make each one better than the last.
The Pennsylvania mountain panthers like the one Dussia saw also go by the names of cougars, pumas and mountain lions. They are the inspiration for the University of Pittsburgh’s panther mascot (as well as that of another in-state rival in State College).
Dussia’s chainsaw-carved panther will be the second created for the campus.