By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
CORINTH – During trips to the Smoky Mountains, Bo Hancock was always fascinated by the chain-saw artists who turned hunks of old wood into objects to be admired.
He even tried his hand at chain-saw carving a couple of times, but on each occasion the pieces of wood turned out looking like, well, pieces of wood.
And then, his life changed.
Hancock, a Corinth native who now lives in Savannah, Tenn., had been an electrician for 25 years before going to work in maintenance at Kimberly-Clark mills in Corinth.
“I got tired of working that shift and I prayed to God to give me something to do,” said Hancock, 53. “I dedicated my life to God and started living for him.”
Not long afterward, he was driving down the road when he spotted a log. He picked it up and took it home and put the chain saw to it.
“In about an hour, you could actually tell it was something,” Hancock said. “It was a bear. And the more I did, the better I got.”
When it became clear to Hancock that he had a real talent, he got up the courage to leave Kimberly-Clark.
“It was a big deal to quit that job,” he said. “Everybody thought I was crazy to give up a $75,000 job with benefits. But I just had the peace of God. I turned in my notice, took my five of weeks of vacation and left. I never looked back.”
That was about 12 years ago.
Today, Hancock has carved thousands of bears as well as eagles, Indians, owls, raccoons, bulldogs, turtles and pelicans, among other things. The largest work he’s ever done was a 24-foot-tall tree he carved into turkeys, ‘coons and squirrels; the smallest was a hummingbird.
“I do everything from people’s granddaughters to Bigfoot, or that’s what I tell people anyway,” Hancock said, as he brushed little pieces of sawdust off his shirt. “You can turn a log into just about anything.”
Eagles in Tupelo
Hancock’s business is simply called Bo Hancock Wood Sculptures & Custom Wood Work. His shop is located on Highway 72 West in Corinth, just past the hospital. He sells some pre-carved items at his shop, but most of what he does is commission work.
“I can do a piece for $50 or I can do a piece for $10,000,” he said. Freestanding pieces are usually $100 and up. For commission work, he charges $800 to $1,000 a day.
“But I can do a lot of stuff in one day,” he said.
He travels to do work within about an eight-hour radius, but he will go farther if the job is extensive.
“I do work at a lot of duck camps in Arkansas,” he said. “I carved 33 ducks around a lake once. I was supposed to stay three days and ended up staying two weeks. They kept cutting trees and sinking them in the lake for me to stand on a scaffold and carve on. That was literally the coolest job I’ve ever had. I never wanted to carve on dry land again.”
Hancock often gets calls from people who want him to make works of art out of dead trees in their yards. Ted Moll of Tupelo was one such homeowner.
“We had lost a couple of trees from construction that had gone on around here,” said Moll, who lives in the Spring Lake neighborhood. “I hated to see the whole yard decimated.”
Moll did some poking around and found out about Hancock’s shop in Corinth, so he drove up to check him out.
“I told him I had one tree that had been cut down to 10 feet and I had another one to cut down at 15 feet,” Moll said. “He talked me into eagles. I think they’re his favorite.”
Hancock spent two days at Molls’ home in 2010, using scaffolding to reach the tops of the trees.
The 10-foot tree is carved into an eagle soaring with a full wing span. The 15-foot tree had an owl carved in the bottom and an eagle on top.
“We really enjoy them,” Moll said. “People who drive in the driveway always comment on them. It’s a bit unique for this area.”
Hancock does a lot of carvings for museums, libraries and parks, and he gets commissions from all over the world.
“I got an order to carve a Siberian bear for a place in Russia,” he said. “I carved it here and sent it there. The shipping alone was $23,000.”
His next job is in Biloxi, where he’ll carve an 18-foot cedar tree into pelicans and other ocean-oriented themes. Then he’ll be on to Missouri to carve an alligator for Gator Inc.
Once he’s carved a piece, he burns it with a torch to get all the fuzz off. Then he sands it and finishes it with a preservative and a protective varnish.
For most pieces, Hancock uses two Husqvarna chain saws – a larger one for carving and a smaller one for detail work.
“I probably have 20 or so saws that I’ve won at competitions,” he said. “But 80 percent of the time, I use those two.”
Hancock said he’s never regretted giving up his steady day job.
“Leaving that job was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “I can work when I want to and quit when I want to. Some days I work 12 hours and some days I work four. I try to work seven to eight hours a day. I work until my arm starts drawing up. Then it’s time to go home.”
BO HANCOCK’S BUSINESS is located on Highway 72 West in Corinth – it’s the place with the carved bear in front. He’s open by chance or appointment. Call (662) 808-0707.