A cut above the rest

Chainsaw sculptor brings one-of-a-kind carvings to the Island.

Wayne and Janet DeMoranville attracted a crowd near their pickup truck during a recent visit to Vineyard Haven. — Lexi Pline

When Michelangelo approached the massive pillar of marble that would become “David,” he saw past the featureless stone block and envisioned his masterpiece before it even took shape.

When Wayne DeMoranville looks at a log, he looks past the cracking bark and twisting grain, and is able to picture a bear, an owl, or even a beautiful mermaid. 

Now he is leaving his home base in Middleboro and coming to the Island occasionally to sell his sculptures, and offer commissioning for projects. Recently, DeMoranville has visited the Island with various sculptures loaded in the back of his pickup truck. His stops at the town parking lot at Stop & Shop in Vineyard Haven, and along State Road near the Larder, have attracted interested crowds, and even prompted a Times employee to park illegally for a moment to get a closer look.

For his entire life, DeMoranville has been surrounded by wood. He was born into the construction and masonry trade — his father showing him everything he knew at a young age. 

“My father was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met, and he taught me a lot,” DeMoranville said. 

He started out building homes, and occasionally doing some more elaborate fireplace projects and stonework, for his clients. But he was looking for a change of career, and while he was at a fair in Marshfield, he found that change. 

There was a world champion wood carver at the fair, carving freshly-cut logs into detailed and expressive works of art. After DeMoranville witnessed the dramatic transformation, he knew he had found his life’s passion. “From that point on, I told everyone that this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life,” DeMoranville said.

The first step DeMoranville took toward his newfound dream was to get carving. He promised his friends he would carve a dog out of a log. “Everyone laughed at first,” DeMoranville said. But his friends and family were taken aback when he carved a sculpture of his German shepherd with impeccable accuracy. “My biggest compliment came from when a dog walked up to my sculpture and started sniffing and barking,” DeMoranville joked.

From then on, DeMoranville honed his craft working with different types of wood, and carving various sculptures with just a chainsaw and some Dremel tools. 

When looking at the blank canvas of a cut log or a dead tree still rooted in the ground, DeMoranville said he envisions the finished product, then just takes off the “extra wood” until nothing but his intended sculpture remains. 

“I just start at the head and work my way down. I suppose there is a certain vision you have to have, and a certain way of looking at things where you don’t see what’s there right in front of you, but all the possibilities of what it could turn into,” DeMoranville said.

After almost 23 years of carving wood, DeMoranville said, he still learns new tricks of the trade every day. 

“There is so much to know. Right when you think you’ve done it all, it actually gets more involved,” DeMoranville said. “When I started doing this, it was basically just starting up a chainsaw and getting to work. Now there are so many different methods to carving wood.”

Along with agricultural fairs and local wood-carving competitions, DeMoranville has participated in national competitions, and worked next to some of the best in the business. 

DeMoranville said social media and the advent of online advertising has allowed him to spread the word and garner attention for his creations. “As you start to meet other people in the business, the bar gets higher and higher. Sculptors are held to a very high standard,” DeMoranville said.

Although DeMoranville works with ice and other sculpting mediums occasionally, he said wood is “a universal medium” that everyone can connect with on different levels. “I think it’s something deep in our blood from the earliest days of humanity. Everyone is fascinated by wood — the feel of it, the smell of it,” DeMoranville said. “It brings me great joy to see people come up to my carvings and touch them and smile; it really lights up faces.”

DeMoranville also likes to carve furniture. He said he enjoys creating functional art that is both beautiful and useful.

He told a story of one bench he carved from scratch for a woman who was battling cancer, but he didn’t know how much the bench meant until the woman passed away. “Her husband came up to me after she had passed, and told me how she would sit on that bench every morning and it would bring her such peace. It was her favorite spot to be,” DeMoranville said. “I really push hard for functional art. If someone can look at something, feel it, and use it, that is so valuable to me.”

Although wood is his main thing, DeMoranville said he loves spicing up a wedding or dinner party with a stunning ice swan.

“Ice is a lot harder than wood. There are some real headaches to deal with,” DeMoranville said.

Whatever the occasion, DeMoranville said an ice sculpture adds an element of elegance and class. “People sometimes ask me why I carve ice if it’s just going to melt. I tell them the ice might melt, but the memories will last a lifetime,” DeMoranville said.

DeMoranville said he started coming to the Island decades ago, but only recently started making regular trips to network and sell his wares. “I love the Island. People have a different mindset here that I really appreciate,” DeMoranville said. “I feel very at home here.”

Although his most common and popular carvings are bears, eagles, owls, and totem poles, DeMoranville said the Island might enjoy some nautical-themed carvings that remind people of the sandy beaches and swirling whitecaps. 

“I am a Pisces, so I love to carve fish. I think the Island would appreciate whales, sharks, or mermaids,” DeMoranville said. 

DeMoranville has been talking with organizers for this year’s Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, and he said the conversations have been fruitful. “We might even be able to get a wood-carving competition at the fair, or at least an exhibition. I think these sculptures will fit right in here,” DeMoranville said.