CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — When Forest Cunningham looks at sections of fallen trees and logs, he doesn’t only see pieces of wood.
Instead, he sees a friendly bear or a snake with a sideways grin or a fierce bald eagle, all waiting for him to set them free.
Cunningham, 47, is an artist, a woodcarver whose gift is the key to releasing these creations.
Born and raised in Cheyenne, he perhaps is best known for an outdoor sculpture he carved several years ago. He carved a bear for a friend from a stump located at Warren and Third avenues.
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In 2015, city leaders created an uproar when they decided the bear was in the public right-of-way and would have to come down.
Community members didn’t like it and threw their support behind the bear. The city found a permanent home for the bear at Cheyenne’s Frontier Park.
“I was touched,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t realize the bear had become that much of a beloved fixture in Cheyenne.”
Cunningham, who sports a beard and has a slim build, pulls his long hair into a ponytail. He works in several mediums, including acrylics and oils.
But his artistry shines in woodcarvings. He uses a chain saw instead of a paintbrush and a strong piece of wood instead of a canvas.
When he strikes the blades of his 15-pound chain saw onto a piece of wood, he sends chips flying in all directions.
He uses delicate tools to create images like the wings of the 3-foot-tall bald eagle he made.
“You have to be real careful not to cut toward what you want to leave there,” he said of his technique.
“There is a lot of stopping and contemplating the next cut. With carving, you better be careful because it is very hard to put back” what is cut, he added.
Cunningham learned to carve with a chain saw years ago when he lived in a cabin in the mountains 40 miles west of Laramie.
He cut plenty of wood to keep warm and said he realized he could do something positive with it, too.
Cunningham and his wife, Linda Cannon, lived in the cabin for many years before they moved to Colorado to better care for her as she has multiple sclerosis.
They moved six months ago from their home in Walden, Colorado, to Boulder because they wanted to find a place that was close to the mountains and one where Cannon could find a quality nursing home to care for her.
Cunningham was her caregiver for many years, and carried her when she could no longer walk. But now, she requires such care that he no longer can do it on his own.
Still, he visits her at the nursing home almost every day and often takes her on trips to the mountains in his pickup.
He also creates drawings for residents and employees there to brighten their day, he said.
He has had his share of physical suffering, too. When he was 21, he was in a car crash in Colorado that broke his pelvis in five places and damaged nerves. He suffers from health problems caused by the crash that he deals with to this day.
Since they moved to Boulder, he also has found people who want him to create carvings for them.
One of his most recent creations is a snake wrapped around a tree branch in the driveway of Eric and Liz Jacobson’s home. The 20-foot long snake took about 100 hours to carve.
The work is dedicated to the memory of a nonpoisonous corn snake named Roxy. She was a childhood pet for the Jacobsons’ daughter Cece, who is now 26.
“We contacted Forest, and he carved this amazing snake,” Eric Jacobson said Saturday. “He carved it out of the branch and captured Roxy’s spirit and really made her come to life.
The snake is more lifelike and amazing than I ever pictured.”
Cunningham is a “very interesting guy,” Jacobson said. “He reminds me of the good hippies from the 1960s and 1970s who want to give and were full of love and into respecting anything in return. He’s generous and giving,” he said.
Cece Jacobson hasn’t seen the snake, but will when she travels home from Texas for Thanksgiving.
Carving happy bears are one of his favorite things to do.
“It’s all in the eyebrows with those bears. I can get almost any kind of expression I want by the tilt of the eyebrows,” he said.
Cunningham has always loved to draw and create things, his mother, Janet Cunningham said.
“That is where I sought refuge from the world, where I found a comfortable place I didn’t like to come out of too often,” he said.
“There’s something very spiritual about the place of creativity. When you get there, you lose track of time. It’s kind of a state of bliss almost.”
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com