HANCOCK — It didn’t take long for Ray Murphy to attract an audience Tuesday afternoon.
The man known as the chainsaw sawyer artist began working on a wizard within view of Route 1 traffic and, within 15 minutes, about a dozen spectators had gathered to watch. Another person drove slowly by along the highway berm.
While another impromptu show isn’t out of the question, those who want to see his formal show are advised to do so by Sept. 8. Although Murphy will continue to create sculptures with his chainsaws, he is retiring the show that has run since 2006 in a large building he designed himself.
“I’ll tell you what, that show takes up about all your energy,” said Murphy, who will be 77 in November. In addition to the 90-minute show, he needs three hours for preparation and another three hours for cleanup daily, he said.
“Then, this is another seven and a half hours,” he said, motioning to the sawed figures that he says he sells as fast as he can make them.
Murphy is not planning to stop creating art with his chainsaws; it is only the show that he is retiring.
“It’s too much,” he said, explaining he had a heart attack in 2016. Until two months ago, he couldn’t work with the largest saws. Starting them can still be difficult. “My whole shoulder is not very strong.”
He said since the heart attack, which he believes was caused by working too hard, he feels like he has been working his way up out of a slump. He was on top of his game right before that, preparing to travel to England to saw the alphabet into a pencil — twice — in front of the queen. Now, however, it’s time to slow down.
During the summer, shows have run seven days a week. He has typically begun his summer season around Father’s Day, in honor of the fact that he made his first piece with his father’s chainsaw. Shows continue through sometime in September, depending on demand, which seems to be highest when the weather is hot, he said. Although he has not firmly established a date for his last show, he is considering Sept. 8 because it will mark 67 years of making art with chainsaws.
Murphy, who is a quarter Shoshone, grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. He made his first piece of chainsaw art when he was about 10.
He did his first stage show in 1980 in Omaha, Neb., and then displayed his talents in other places such as Missouri and Kansas. He has won numerous competitions and confessed he has won second place many times, too. His work has also been featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and he even has a star on the Chainsaw Carvers Walk of Fame in Mulda, Germany.
Just don’t call him a “carver.” Murphy trademarked the name “chainsaw sawyer artist” to distinguish what he does from those who create using carving tools. His items are made with a chainsaw from start to finish, including details such as eyes, hair and fingers. Creating a basic form with a chainsaw and adding detail with carving tools is not the same thing, he said.
Murphy ended up in Maine after visiting a friend in New Hampshire in 1987. While out exploring, he picked up a brochure for Acadia National Park.
“I never heard of it before,” he said. Still, he knew this was a place of opportunity for him. “I knew it even before I got here.”
He headed to Myrtle Beach, S.C., the following year but moved to Maine permanently in 1989.
He began creating chainsawed art at his current location in 1991, buying the property in 1994. The building in which his shows currently take place was built in 2004-05. The building provides seating for 400 people, who can watch him work in a booth about the size of a bus with a glass front. The booth protects the audience.
“If a chain comes off a chainsaw, it travels at about 85 miles per hour and it can almost go through a person,” he said.
He also joked that the booth protects him from rotten eggs or tomatoes the members of the audience might throw if they don’t like the show.
His specialty is sawing small objects. A camera inside the booth projects his work onto a large screen so the audience can see what he’s doing as he cuts a ladybug so small a dozen of them can fit on a dime. Some sawed and painted ladybugs are on display in a showcase inside another building on the premises.
During his show, he carves tiny numbers and names on objects as small as a craft stick and on a pencil, which he also sharpens with the saw.
He makes some bigger things, too.
“I make two all-bark burgers on a sawdust covered bun with special sauce and fries,” he said. He also makes a plate for the sawed food and a table and chairs.
If he has enough wood left over, he will create a squirrel to hold the fries. The show finale involves creating figures using two saws at the same time.
Murphy said the inspiration for many of his creations comes from what he sees, whether it’s a butterfly or a lighthouse.
“I can see something and remember what it looks like and put it on wood,” he said.