If I Build It They Will Come

Written by Teresa Dennard.

Rick Kuper, Local Chainsaw Artist Extraordinaire

Drive north on State Highway 79 a few miles; when topping the hill past the river bridge, you’ll see it. Pull in the driveway and take a look around. Rick Kuper has created everything you see. From bears to pelicans to owls to cigar store Indians, he is a master sculptor and artist extraordinaire. His medium of choice is the chain saw.

 Rick and his three brothers grew up in St. Louis and went to Catholic school. Most kids lose interest in coloring and drawing by the age of 8 or 9, but not Rick. He had created 2000 drawings by the time he was 12 years old. Art was his best subject. After his dad died at 46 with heart trouble, his mother, a five-foot Irish woman, moved them all to the country. “We grew up very poor, but she always took good care of us and made sure we had a dandy home.” At 17 he was trading art for real estate and cars. “I ink rendered Conan the Barbarian on art board for some fellow students in my senior year and got $150 apiece,” says Rick. “I sold about 15 of them.” After high school Rick’s mom wanted him to go to college and become an architect, but he knew from the first day it was not for him. He took welding and metallurgy instead.

He didn’t get his real start until he packed everything on the back of a ’78 Ford pickup and moved to the Ozark Mountains. That’s when he started growing his beard. He was 21 and living like a gypsy. Rick saw some hard times and just couldn’t get settled somewhere. He moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Cumberland Mountains, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Alaska and a few others--twelve different states. “I just didn’t see it happening like I liked it, so I moved on. Sometimes I would struggle to make minimum wage; sometimes I would make $70-$80,000 a year. It’s all in what I sell.” He was in the Ozark Mountains when an investor came along and told him he should be in Canton, Texas. Moving there, he set up on The Mountain. He drew huge crowds to watch when he cranked up his chainsaw and started carving. He was a showman.

Continuing his gypsy-esque lifestyle, Rick met a man that convinced him he should move to Logansport, and from there met Joe Hairgrove who offered him a place in Timpson on Highway 59. He stayed there for ten years…his longest stay in quite some time. And now he has settled into his gallery at River Hill. He lives a simple life and doesn’t require much to survive. He has plenty of critters to keep him company—three dogs, ten cats and about 3,000 frogs. He doesn’t drive but has some buddies he can call on to get a ride to town for supplies. He’s too “caveman” to get on the Internet and doesn’t have a phone, but plans to get one soon. He loves National Geographic, is a Pepsi-holic, and a big adventure for him is going to Hobby Lobby. To say he’s eccentric is an understatement, but his talent is undeniable. He’s carved enough wood to fill up ten football stadiums.

Much of the wood for his carvings comes from trading with different people. Cedar is mainly what he uses, but he also trades for wood like spalted pecan and basswood. “The wood tells me what I make out of it. I made a bear that had two branches sticking out for the arms. I don’t do anything evil. We have enough of that in the world already.” Not everything is carved with a chainsaw. One project in the gallery is a huge train set, all carved by hand. “I’ve spent half a year carving this. I just wanted something really cool that was different from the normal train set. One tower alone has 150 pieces of wood in it that took me four days to build. Another thing I really enjoy building is a dream catcher. It’s harder on the body, but more fun to do. I spent several months working on this large one. It took me five days to put the leather on it and cut the fringe. The rest of the parts came from the Sabine River.”

The biggest thing ingrained in Rick is staying busy. His father once told him he’d never amount to anything. He set out to prove him wrong. He’s appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Times, the Shreveport Times and now the Crossroads! His gallery includes hundreds of items for sale, each unique in its own right. His crafts are in homes all over the United States. When someone stops to look, he doesn’t interfere. A woman walks in and he greets her with “Hello Punkin’, feel at home.” People tell him he’s so talented, but he says it’s a passion. He knew if he built it they would come. “Everything I do turns into something pretty.”