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Bear of a Project

Rio deJarnett's 12-foot-tall carving, which he has created from a pine tree by using a chain saw, is turning heads in the Malibu mountains.

February 07, 2001|SCARLET CHENG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's a fearsome-looking beast: 12 feet tall, standing on its hind legs, paws raised to the sky and jaws agape in mid-growl. And surprising to come upon while tooling down a quiet road in the Malibu mountains. "It's become a kind of local celebrity," says Rio deJarnett, 40, who, using a chain saw, carved the bear out of a 200-year-old Jeffrey pine tree felled by a windstorm.

Because the tree from which the bear sprang was so large and so heavy--about 5 tons--DeJarnett cut the trunk to size while the crane that delivered it held it upright. There was no moving it from the site where it was delivered, so he's been working on it right where the crane set it down--near the road not far from his house.

Like many saw carvers, DeJarnett is self-taught. The urge to sculpt logs into animal images has a long tradition, from early totem poles to the roadside displays common in Northern California's redwood country. Evidence of the craft is more sporadic in Southern California--as are trees demanding to be carved.

DeJarnett became intrigued last year while watching his friend Stacy Poitras sculpt a piece, and four months ago launched his own carving projects. A former contractor, DeJarnett works from his home for an Internet business, Malibu Mountain Gallery, and works on his chain saw sculptures in his off time. Other projects include an eagle in flight, a pair of swimming sharks and a dolphin amid seaweed.

It was the crane operator who came by to move an 8-foot bear that DeJarnett helped Poitras carve who told DeJarnett about the tree that would become the 12-foot bear. The crane operator had salvaged the tree after it blew down in Brentwood.

DeJarnett carved the big bear while perched on scaffolding and wielding a chain saw. "You can only work at it four to five hours a day," he says. "Otherwise, you just get too tired holding the thing up--a chain saw's pretty heavy--and it could get dangerous."

He peers up at his creation. "A grizzly was what I originally intended, but his head now looks a bit like a Kodiak." He shrugs. And admits to learning much by trial and error.

With final applications of linseed oil, DeJarnett finished his bear this month. He hopes to sell it for $10,000.

Meanwhile, lots of people have been stopping by to look at it at its spot at the intersection of Kanan Road and Mulholland Highway, south of Highway 101.

"When I'm working out here on the weekends, I might talk to a hundred people," says DeJarnett.

"He'll be a little landmark until he's gone."

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