A big tree in Richland Center’s North Pond Park had to come down due to Dutch Elm Disease and tree cutters were hired to get that done.
But Richland Center Parks and Grounds Superintendent Terry Sime had an idea about how to turn that negative into a positive.
He envisioned commissioning a chain saw artist to create a thing of beauty.
However, he knew there would be cost involved and didn’t think he should ask for local taxes to foot the bill. Still, he had Sprague and Brothers contractors leave a 10-foot stump with every intention of seeing things through.
One day he was talking with Dave Bartz, who lives in the Allison Park section of town in which North Pond Park is located. Bartz asked Sime what he was going to do with the stump. Sime explained his idea and Bartz decided to get involved with the project.
Bartz said, “You’d think from my time in the Air Force I’d learn to not volunteer!” In any case, Bartz’s efforts bore fruit. With a flyer created by Sime in hand, Bartz went door to door in the Allison Park area, “everything north of the River, including Rainbow Drive,” he said. Although some people declined to contribute, others did – with some providing $100 or more. A fund was set up and the City Treasurer kept a list of contributors.
Enough was gathered to pay a chain saw artist and hopefully have some money left over to go towards perpetual care.
Sime set up a meeting with the Richland Center Parks Board, made up of individuals appointed by Mayor Larry Fowler to serve four-year terms. Currently on the Parks Board are Bob Bellman, Larry Hallett, Nancy Kropp, Kathryn Lewandowski, Jay Mueller, Jim Patch, and President Pat Elliott. Discussion was held on what the carving should depict and ultimately a perched eagle was chosen.
An Internet search turned up four or five Wisconsin chain saw artists, but Sime grew discouraged when his initial requests were declined. Sime said he discovered that some chain saw artists are not interesting in working on-site, instead opting to carve in their own areas.
But, as luck would have it, Sime found a more agreeable chain saw artist on a visit to Wisconsin Dells. Sime saw a chain saw artist at work and approached him about taking on the Richland Center job. The man agreed.
However, on the day appointed for the chain saw artist’s initial visit, a different man arrived in Richland Center. Sime thought the artist had only looked over the worksite and stated what he’d charge when Sime asked when he could start work. Sime was surprised when the artist, Zoli Akacsos of Monroe, said he would start right then and Sime was even more surprised when the work was completed that very day.
Sime said, “When he started work, I was skeptical. I thought he looked very young and I noticed the lack of prep work, like a drawing. I was out on a limb. I hired him and people’s money was on the line.”
As the day wore on, Sime’s apprehension was alleviated. “It was eye-opening to watch Zoli go from stage to stage of carving. He didn’t measure, he did it all by sight. It took him approximately nine hours.”
Nine hours after Akacsos began work, Sime’s mood had evolved from tense to elated. Sime said, “When he was finished, I was very pleased. I called (Richland Center Director of Parks and Recreation) Shane Stibbe and said, ‘You gotta see this!’”
Although the carving is complete, Sime said additional funds are still sought to put on the finishing touches to the project. He said it is hoped to have a plaque placed naming sponsors who donated $100 or more, to have lighting installed, and to complete maintenance work, such as lightly applying water-based white paint to the eagle’s head and sealing the sculpture in the spring. Additionally, Bartz planted the idea of placing a sign with information on the American eagle.
And, Sime said, plans are to conduct a dedication ceremony in the spring.
The chainsaw artist took time away from carving to tell Observer readers about himself.
Zoli Akacsos (pronounced ZOE-lee uh-KAH-chos), age 28, grew up in Romania and moved to the United States eight years ago; choosing Wisconsin Dells because he has friends there. Soon after his arrival, the man he worked for taught him how to create chain saw art and his skill has advanced to the point that the artistry is his only source of income. He said he is kept busy, adding, “Sometimes more than I can take!”
About five years ago he selected Monroe as his base of operations and his shop is located on the lot of a tree service. Akacsos gets most of his wood from the tree service staff, paying them only for the fuel to haul logs to him. “They treat me very good,” he said. “I rarely have to buy wood.”
While most of us Wisconsinites are shivering during the three coldest months of the year, Akacsos enjoys the balmy weather in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. This year will be his fourth there, where he has a customer base and a place to stay.
Here in Wisconsin, nearly half of his work is done on location, on stumps still in the ground. He has created artwork at homes, parks and businesses.
With the help of his chainsaws Akacsos can create unlimited designs of just about anything someone requests. He said he’s created flowers, pumpkins, all kinds of animals and even renditions of human figures, including Santa Claus, again for Monroe.
He sometimes uses pictures or figurines for the basis of a creation, but other times, he said, “I just go off what’s in my head. It depends if I’ve done that type before.”
Up to now, the largest artwork he has created are the 10-12 foot animals that made up some of Monroe’s Zoo in the Square. Some of the smaller creatures from that project can be seen on his website: www.zoliswoodcarving.com.
But, this spring, he will surpass by far even the tallest of the Zoo in the Square animals when he creates a 35-foot-tall totem pole at Lake Geneva. Previously, he has created eight-to-ten-foot-tall totem poles.
The smallest chain saw artwork created by Akacsos is a three-inch-tall bear.
Akacsos staves off homesick feelings by each day talking to his parents, who still reside in Romania, and by staying in touch with his friends in Wisconsin Dells. He said he studied English in Romania from the time he was in second grade, but put a stronger effort into it since arriving in the U.S. “It’s not the same as when you had a choice,” he said.
Still, he said he is happy to live in this country. He said, “I love the freedom and opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Sime is pleased that his brainchild took shape.
Sime said, “I envisioned something that could enhance our parks and grounds for years to come.”