Chainsaw artist enjoys, carves nature’s blessings


ARCANUM — The Bontrager home on Littles Road near here could easily get passersby sidetracked for admiring the carved tree that sits out front.

Al Bontrager, patriarch of the household, did the work himself after he took the old tree down this summer because of the wires.

“He let it dry awhile,” said wife Sheila. “He started carving it in September and just finished it last Friday.”

His work features two bears and an eagle.

Al is no stranger to the art of carving.

“When he was about 7 years old, he started whittling,” said Sheila. “His grandpa was one [a whittler]. Al would use Exacto knives and gouged his legs until he got the right tools.”

Today, he uses a chainsaw 80 percent of the time on his work and power tools the other 20 percent.

“He does more chainsaw carving, and not as much of the finished carving,” she said. “He likes the tool which gets the most wood off first. The one in our yard is a silver maple tree.”

Her husband, she said, is from Topeka, Indiana, south of Shipshewana.

“He loves bears,” she said. “He will look at a picture for a little bit and start carving.”

Al’s biggest project thus far as been the carousel at the mercantile in Shipshewana.

“It’s still a working carousel,” the 44-year-old Sheila said. “He was invited to do the carousel, and it took him two years to work on it.”

The Bontragers have a framed collage of each of the pieces he made for that carousel.

The Bontragers have been married for five years, and have four children…Walden, 4, Amber, 3, Wilson, 2, and Jasper, 5 months.

The couple met on a mission field in Haiti.

“He was never married before and I was a widow with two children, now grown [Heather Critchfield and Andrew Stauffer],” she said.

None of their children have gotten involved with their father’s craft yet.

“The kids play in the sawdust,” said Sheila, who said they are Dunkard Brethren.

Al works full-time at Stull Woodwork in Ludlow Falls, a job he has had for five years.

“He’s also a good daddy,” she said. “We feel really blessed.”

The family is expected to be moving to Montana in the near future.

Sheila is somewhat looking forward to it.

“Leaving people back here is a challenge,” she said. “But I lived out West for about 10 years.”

By Linda Moody

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