Thursday, May 23, 2013

Big bark, no bite: Long-time chainsaw artists yap on love of dogs, sculpture

Lindsey  Treffry | Inland360

Toby is an abnormally sized beagle. 12 feet tall, to be exact. And for a while, he traveled. Three-thousand miles on a trailer, actually. People would travel miles to visit him, too — to see him sit outside Dog Bark Park.

Nearly 20 years later, Toby is surprisingly old for a dog of his stature. But not as big as the 30-foot-tall dog, Sweet Willy, who has overshadowed Toby for years, making him look like a mere puppy.

Frances Conklin consults Dennis Sullivan
about a carved dog in their Dog Bark Park shop.
Toby and Sweet Willy are just two of thousands of creations made by Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, chainsaw artists and owners of Dog Bark Park and Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Sullivan, 71, was a building contractor for 24 years and wanted to change careers. So, he started by hand carving wood with a knife and then moved onto using saws and chainsaws.

“I didn’t have any strong feelings to carve bears,” he said. “I wanted to separate myself.”

Sullivan likes dogs a lot, he said, and by 1985 he started carving dogs full-time. In 1995, he met Conklin at an art show, where she was showing some of her sewn work, the stars aligned and they fell in love.

“Running a sewing machine isn’t that different from chainsaw. Something is whirring around faster than you can see it,” Conklin said. “You learn to keep things away from it.”

Conklin said she did have to build a bit more muscle, but Sullivan said together, they’ve created approximately 35,000 pieces total — the sellable sizes at least.

Your basic dog begins with a log and a variety of different sized chainsaws. The most popular wood they use is Ponderosa pine.

“I tell people it starts with Ponderosa pine, but quickly turns to dogwood,” Sullivan joked.

They cut the pine log down to the appropriate size — a small or large dog. Small dogs are roughly 8 by 10 inches and 2 1/2 inches thick. Good for a desktop size, he said. Large dogs, not near the scale of Toby, are 6 inches thick and, depending on the breed, can range from 16 to 20 inches tall by 16 to 24 inches long.

Conklin specializes in the painting, because, Sullivan said, she has an artistic, light touch and paints to reflect the breed. Popular sellers include the beagle, Labrador retriever, Bernese Mountain dog and the golden retriever.

Each dog gets a brass license tag and a red cowboy bandana around their neck.

Other Dog Park Bark sculptures include, but are never limited to, concrete alphabet blocks, a totem pole, a carved wooden car, a 12-foot tall coffee pot, in which Sullivan hopes to house a coffee pot museum, and a toaster, which is 45 feet long, complete with a wooden plug and fake electrical port. The hard, wooden toast is removable.

“I leave it to others to determine if it’s art,” Sullivan said. “But it is sculpture.”
Sullivan said he never tires of it. And with all his fame, just maybe, neither does Toby.

-If you go
WHAT: Dog Bark Park and Inn Bed & Breakfast
WHERE: 2421 Business Highway 95, Cottonwood, Idaho
WHEN: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday
COST: $98 per night double occupancy. Includes breakfast. $10 per additional person. Single occupancy is $92. Dog chainsaw sculpture prices range from $49 to $124 and can be purchased in person or at

As seen in May 23 issue of Inland360.

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