If you drove down the 1200 block of East 12 Mile Road last week, you likely witnessed small crowds at the corner of Blair Avenue watching a man carving a curious fellow with a grinning cat out of a tree stump.
If you were one of the passersby who stopped to talk, you met Steph Collin of Rochester.
The woodcarver was recently hired by Royal Oak resident Dennis Breeze to turn the tall stump of an elm tree into a sculpture of the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.
"I wanted to carve a bear in golf bloomers swinging toward Red Run Golf Club," said Collin. "But the homeowner came up with the Alice in Wonderland theme and I liked that, too."
As Collin worked with his chainsaws on Friday evening, he was attracting fans.
Larry Deyo, of Madison Heights, stopped to ask if Collin could turn a birch tree in his yard into a totem pole.
“I love it,” Deyo said of the Royal Oak carving. “It’s fantastic. It’s hard to believe you can do that with a chainsaw. I can’t even draw a stickman.”
Royal Oak neighbors say they have gone out of their way during the course of the two-week carving process to watch Collin work.
"This is a thrill and a pleasure to have in our neighborhood," said a woman who wanted to only be identified as Janet. "One of the good things about living in Royal Oak is we like creativity. I think it is going to be a destination for walkers and runners."
Collins, who has been carving for a dozen years, is enjoying working in Royal Oak where folks are not shy about complimenting him for giving new life to a tree that has been dead for seven years. He’s even been invited to a party by neighbors.
And the 12 Mile location is big bonus for the carver.
“Most of my work is in someone’s backyard or on a 10-acre lot in the U.P.,” Collin said. “To have a site like this, with high visibility, is what every carver hopes for.”
Neighbors agree the sculpture will be a focal point on the busy street and say they can't wait to give directions such as: "Look for the Mad Hatter and then make the next left."
- After the sculpture is completed, Collin will come back in about a month to assess the project. At that point, he and Breeze will decide whether to leave the sculpture natural or stain it. Collin can also take a torch to it to add color.
- The only tools Collin uses to sculpt are a chainsaw and a grinder.
- Collin works at Chrysler by day, and carves after work—up to 30 hours per week. “I hardly see my wife,” he joked. He estimates he’s carved up to 9,000 hours in the past decade.
- Carvings have to be assessed every four or five years. “They are like having a deck,” Collin said. “They need to be power washed and resealed.”
- Collin can work on stumps as small as 4-inches in diameter. He charges $125 per lineal foot for smaller trees. The stump on 12 Mile Road is in the $200 to $250 per lineal foot range, he said.
- Collin has never cut himself and believes anyone that feels confident with a chainsaw and understands safety can become a carver. “Now people are going to have different abilities. It’s like sports. There are going to be Calvin Johnsons and there are going to Mike Williams. But I believe if you can make the 26 letters in cursive you should be able to carve a triangle, circle and a square. That’s just three things and it’s all you need to know to carve something.”
- You can contact Collin at Chainsaw Sculptures, 248-495-2332.