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That’s a Big Eagle!

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019 9:00 am | Updated: 10:53 am, Thu Oct 24, 2019.

Hunsacker Drive in Running Springs is lined with auto body repair shops, fenced in yards strewn with broken-down utility trucks, piles of desiccated wood and rusted forklifts. There is an electric utility station and cars parked along the soft shoulder. It’s also the location of sculptor Shane Kinman’s workshop. 

On Friday, Oct. 11, Kinman and fellow artist Alexandre Safonov posed holding chainsaws before the enormous eagle the two of them had carved out of high-density urethane foam over the course of the past two years, using an onslaught of chainsaws and other implements of Apollonian destruction.

“It’s in five parts. The head, the body, each wing, and the tail section with the Coastguard Seal.” Kinman said. “We can’t even get it through the door without taking it a part.”

Fittingly enough, the prodigious raptor is going to serve as the figurehead of the bowsprit of the U.S.C.G.C. Eagle, the three-masted barque used by the Coast Guard as a training vessel, which is one of two active sailing vessels commissioned by the U.S. military.

“To start, they took a 3D scan of the bow to make sure the thing would fit the ship. Then an engineer made a model in a computer out of foam blocks. We had it engineered into separate pieces. It’s really difficult to work on a sculpture of this size all at once. We moved all over as needed.” Kinman said, brushing his hand lightly over the detailed feathers of the sculpture’s preened and smoothed flank. “Nothing removes material as fast as a chainsaw.”

On Kinman’s website, www.masterwoodcarver.com, you’ll see a variety of his carvings. These carvings range from simple, rustic signs that mountain residents might hang outside their a-frame, to a baroque, ornate hand-crafted electric guitar festooned with roses and draped in a coiled diamondback rattlesnake called simply “The Serpent.”

“I make a lot of guitars, handrails, signs, sculptures, and a lot of really bizarre stuff for Disney. I just made them a lightning-struck tree for one of their rides. I’ll make anything out of wood that can be sculpted.” Kinman said. “Or just anything that can be sculpted.”

Kinman jokes that his education in the art form was “slave labor.”

“My father was a sculptor,” Kinman said. “I tried some ‘real jobs’ in the music industry but came back to sculpting. You just don’t appreciate it if you grow up around it. But now I love it.”

On a high table near the eagle sculpture, there were seven chainsaws arranged in ascending size. The smallest chainsaw had a guide-bar of about eight inches long, while the largest was deluxe ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’-sized. Adjacent to the chainsaws was another high table covered in hand-sized rubber mallets and a décollage of shiny, metal chisels.

Kinman said the high-density urethane foam is incredibly difficult to repair, so he and his partner on the project, Alexandre Safonov, a master sculptor from Russia, had to practice several different techniques and build several practice models before they could tackle the full-sized piece itself.

“We met at an art show,” Savonov said. “Later [Kinman] asked me ‘Hey I need you to be a part of this. I need your help.’”

“This whole project has been nothing but learning,” Kinman said. “We’re studying as much as we’re working. With this material, we’ve had to relearn all the tools we’ve been using for thirty years. But we’ll use a rock if we have to. Whatever gives us the right texture.”

“We had to practice before starting,” Savonov said, gesturing to the three-foot tall eagle head sitting in the corner of the workshop.

“Right away, we ran into problems,” Kinman said, approaching the eagle head. “See? It’s ruined. The fiberglass mold on this head wouldn’t release. You can only mold a section that can be pulled off straight.”

The idea is to cast each part of the finished model so the final piece can be cast out of fiberglass and built around an internal support structure, then the whole thing will be gilded in real gold. The next step, Kinman said, will be for the sculpture to be cast in a new kind of spray-on semi-rigid molding material that he and Safonov have had experienced some successes in working with so far.

“The company who makes the material is so excited about the project, they’re going to donate the material for free,” Kinman said.

“It’s something special, something different,” Safonov said. “This is ‘job of life.’ We’ll be gone and this eagle is still going to be flying all over the world for the United States of America. We put all our knowledge and all our skills into this project. Discussed every little step to make it right.”

For those interested in commissioning master woodcarver and sculptor Shane Kinman to create a custom piece of art, he can be reached at www.masterwoodcarver.com. Master sculptor and painter Alexandre Safonov can be contacted at www.sashasart.com.

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