By LINDA HICKS
Moving to Vilonia in January, 40-year-old Randy Head has warranted the nickname of Termite—leaving a pile of woodchips behind him. His artwork, however, is what has earned him the status of a chainsaw Picasso.
“My dad told me to find something that I loved and figure out a way to make money at it,” Head said, regarding his career choice. “He said, ‘That way, you will never have to go to work.’ That is the best advice that anyone has ever given me.”
A vacant corner of real estate, located at the Rusty Gold Flea Market, on Highway 64 about halfway between Vilonia and Conway, serves as Head’s art gallery where he carves from about 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. There, he invites spectators, to come and watch as he works. In fact, he said, he does some of his best work with his fans looking over his shoulder.
After pull-starting his gas-powered saw, Head deftly applied the tip to an Eagle’s wing demonstrating his talents. Fragrant chips were flying everywhere like rocket-powered confetti, and sawdust was blanketing the ground.
By the age of 10, Head had begun his hobby that what would become his career path. A farm boy in Illinois, he said, he always carried a pocket knife and spent many hours whittling. By the age of 18, he had become a talented woodcarver. Self-taught for the most part, he said, he has had one formal lesson that lasted about 20 minutes. The teacher showed him how to carve a human face using a gouge and mallet. He was told, he said, by that artist that he had “the gift” and didn’t need lessons.
The whittling technique later transformed into chainsaw carving. Since, he said, he hasn’t worked a day but instead is doing what he loves. He has been traveling around the U.S. showcasing his talents at a variety of venues for more than 20 years. He has set up in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. He has pieces of work all around the U.S. as well as in some other countries.
His first trip to Arkansas was in January. He didn’t know anyone in the state. He’s not sure exactly why he was drawn to come but, he said, once here he was drawn to Vilonia.
“Jan. 1, I packed up my stuff. It was 30 below zero there and I told my family and friends that I was headed to Arkansas,” he said. He was questioned by his friends and family regarding the move.
“I really didn’t have an answer,” he said. “I just felt like I was being pulled here.”
He had planned on finding a location in Little Rock. Driving by Rusty Gold Flea Market, he said, he felt an urge to go inside and talk to the owner John Finch. It wasn’t long until they were friends and he had a location to set up in and an invitation to go to work.
The one stipulation, he said, was that he had to know how to carve a Razorback hog. Head said he nailed that to Finch’s satisfaction on the first go.
“God brought me to Vilonia,” Head said. “I had been out of church for a long time but three weeks ago, I was baptized and I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I have had so many opportunities already.”
A coincidence or not, he said, he was drawn to introduce himself to a man in Wal-Mart parking lot. The man, he said, was sharp dressed, driving a pickup truck with two Civil War swords on it and a business logo.
Although Head was hesitant, he said, he felt drawn to talk to the stranger. The man, he said, was a member of a church and extended an invitation to him to attend. He did. Since, he said, he has gone weekly to the services, made many friends and found a church home. He plans on settling in the area and building a log cabin.
He said he likes the slower paces in southern states. His parents, he said, are originally from Alabama giving him southern roots. He went on vacation to a resort in Alabama, one year, planning to vacation a week with his brother and ended up staying there for more than two years carving.
That all happened by accident. He was enjoying himself so much, he said, he pulled out his chainsaw which he always has with him, and carved a couple of ashtrays as a gift to the lodge. The owner showed him a saloon that was being built, inside a cave, and offered him an invitation to stay which included free room and board.
Returning to the focus of his work, he said, he can carve anything from butterflies to 40 foot totem poles. Most pieces can be done in one day. He likes doing horses, bald eagles and wildlife. He can also do custom pieces including likeliness of children and dogs. The costs vary.
He has sold pieces costing from a few dollars to $7,000. His favorite piece to date has been a Cherokee Indian in a full head dress for a customer in Indiana with a $6,500 price tag.
One of the more intriguing projects, he said, was a request for a canoe, an Indian style dugout 12-ft. long, to be made out of a log. He carved it. They put in the water and went for a ride, he said.
A smile on his face, he extends his hand. Not all of his meeting with customers end with a sale but, he said, all “part ways with a smile and a handshake and sometimes an invitation to a meal.”