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Da bears

For Chichester carver Michael Martineau, the bears make everything else possible

CHICHESTER -- Michael Martineau makes his living selling popular characters carved into wood using chainsaw and chisel, but when things get quiet around his shop, his focus turns to fine art as he tries to create works that are uniquely his.

Martineau, who taught himself how to wield and chainsaw and turn chunks of New Hampshire pine into roadside kitsch and backyard creatures, owns a studio and store called Timber Art in Chichester.

“I’ve always been an artist, and when I saw someone making sculptures with a chainsaw, I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he said.

Bears are Martineau’s bread and butter. Bears holding “Welcome” signs, climbing trees, looking dangerous, or grinning happily are scattered across the lot at Timber Art.

“I sell more bears than anything else,” said Martineau. “They’re really popular.”

But animals of all kinds draw attention. There are turtles in his outdoor work area that are carved and primed and ready to be painted. Plastic flamingos pale in comparison to the massive pink ones that stand six feet tall. Cats and dogs, including some familiar cartoon critters, are also popular, and Martineau creates custom orders for people who want their favorite pet captured in sculpture.

Martineau pays homage to Native people through somber statues that possess wise faces and the traditional dress of various tribes. He carves totem poles bearing classic images including eagles with their wings spread, but he also gives them a modern twist. Martineau is currently working on a custom totem pole for a local high school that celebrates athletics with lacrosse sticks and different types of balls carved into the tower.

Roadside kitsch and cartoon and movie characters are part of Martineau’s repertoire. He creates giant pirates that look remarkably like Johnny Depp channeling Keith Richards, wizards that look as though they were carved from the pages of Harry Potter’s fascinating life, and on his front porch stands Betty Boop, her 1930s cuteness preserved in pine.

Martineau sells a lot of kitsch to restaurants and businesses that want to draw the eyes of passers-by, and he enjoys the challenge of making custom pieces that meet his client’s whims.

But when things are quiet at Timber Arts, Martineau takes that time to focus on more refined pieces. Inside his shop, there are delicate faces carved into large burls (the bulbous growths on trees caused by disease but which possess swirling wood grains inside). The faces stare out from the burls, the wood warm and polished to perfection, and they’re both eerie and beautiful at the same time.

Martineau also seeks inspiration from the famous works like Salvador Dali’s dripping clocks, Rene Magritte’s lonely feet, or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

But Martineau said if it weren’t for his bears, his exploration of fine art couldn’t happen.

“The popularity of the bears makes it possible for me to try other things,” he said.

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