Chainsaw Art – A Bethel Prof’s Passion
Adjunct professor of Spanish and sculpture Roberto Celis has a unique passion – wood carving. Unlike most carvers who wear safety glasses while using their chisels, Celis’ tool of choice requires him to wear ear plugs as well.
Using only a chainsaw and sanders, Celis crafts beautiful artwork in the form of abstract furniture. I recently spoke with him about his unusual hobby and his life.
CB: Where did you attend college and what did you study?
RC: I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010 [with a] Bachelor of Fine Arts in Crafts and Material Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
CB: What first attracted you to the arts?
RC: Watching my dad work Saturday mornings in our own little woodshop. I loved the sights, smells and power of all the tools. I would compact the saw dust in to balls, throw them as hard as I could and watch them vanish into thin air. I thought it was magical.
CB: What is your current role at Bethel?
RC: I teach Spanish 1 and Sculpture 1. I also advise the Undergraduate Bethel Council and lead a group for students who have lost a loved one. I have lost both my parents, allowing me to be compassionate for these students. Losing a loved one is hard and [they] need to know they’re not alone in [their] pain.
CB: What do you like about working with students?
RC: It is a whole new world for them, and I love being able to introduce them to it and see the growth from day one to the final. It is amazing just seeing how much they learn when they really push themselves. As an art teacher, I also [like having the] ability to go to the studio and make anything I want!
CB: How did your artistic career begin?
RC: I had taken woodshop classes in high school, but in college, I took a special workshop to learn chainsaw techniques. The next day I went and bought my first chainsaw; I just knew it was my passion.
RC: I have made everything from chairs and tables to sculptural vessels with the chainsaw. The stumps I usually start with are green, so I carve out the rough shape I want, then cover it up and let it sit about three months so the piece can dry out. Once it is pretty dry, I finish carving with the chainsaw; about 20 hours of sanding later, I have my finished piece. Most of my pieces take 40-50 hours of work time but about six months to complete due to the drying process.
CB: What is next for you?
RC: I am currently applying to graduate school for my M.F.A. and we will see where God takes me from there. I know I want to do something in Latin America, [such as] teaching or working in missions.
CB: What is one thing most people do not know about you?
RC: I ride or run to work every day even in the rain or snow, so if you live within 3 miles of Bethel, you should too! God gave us only one planet to protect and care for, so let’s do it!