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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Silhouettes Amongst the Missouri Trees

Stacey Robinson
In a coffee diner near Mineola, Missouri, Stacey Dean Robinson sits across from his wife Jo as he appears to answer his cell phone. He quickly sends a text message then looks into the eyes of Jo and says, "Had to take care of some important business." Before he finishes his statement, Jo's cell phone plays her favorite ring tone receiving a text message saying, "I love you." She looks up at Stacey and replies, "I love you too."  Life has not always been easy for Stacey and Jo. It has been filled with many obstacles, hardships and hard times. Although, they both support each other, believed in each other and worked hard to be where they are today.

The Robinson's preform a unique entertainment at many county and state fairs across the nation. Stacey and Jo along with family members take to the road carving logs into pieces of art using chain saws. They art of chainsaw carving is unique, although, while others may carve wood using a chain saw, the Robinson's are the only family show in the nation to date where both Stacey, Jo and family all participate either carving or assist providing show information and stage announcements. Nevertheless while Stacey and Jo make the business appear so easy, it started during difficult times. 

Stacey and Jo both natives from Missouri, married young. Many said they never would last a year, much less decades. Stacey was 19 when he married his wife Jo who was a mere 17 years old. Stacey was a carpenter building homes during the week but the couple barely got by on his income of $125 per 40 hour week. Stacey would cut fire wood at night and on weekends for the extra income. Jo took orders during the week and often found herself assisting stacking cords of wood and loading their rusty truck bed.  The extra money would make life a little more comfortable staying afloat over monthly bills and enjoy a few finer things in life.

Jo was turning the firewood into a small family business where Stacey found himself frequently in the woods operating his chain saw.  As he returned weekend after weekend, he began to see Silhouettes amongst the trees. "One tree continue to fascinate me" states Stacey. Each time he drove out to cut more wood to fill orders that Jo set up during the week, Stacey past this same tree. He saw things differently as he viewed the trunks perhaps as people see different things when viewing clouds. Although, Stacey would keep the imagines in the back of his mind.

One Friday after Stacey had a long week working construction, Jo was thrilled that she had four orders for fire wood.  Stacey was less enthused but the extra money was important.  Stacey had once spoke to Jo about the particular tree which fascinated him so much and the silhouette which illuminated out to him. He brought the subject up again before going out to the woods asking if  Jo cared to come look at it.  "Jo made it clear to me about this tree and cut the requested wood. I think she may have thought I was perhaps crazy," said Stacey.   

That next day, Stacey drove to the woods. As usual loaded with his gear of safety equipment and chainsaws, he drove deep into the backwoods of Missouri with full intentions of filling the four orders. Although, he managed to drive to the area where his wife Jo did not want him to be. The area where Stacey seem to become lost into visions of the silhouettes which seem to obsess his mind. Stacey step out of the truck as he walked to the tailgate removing his chainsaw. He pulled the choke out, primed the motor fuel and gave a strong tug starting the saw. He began working on the silhouette operating his saw differently than ever before. Intrigued like an artist working his brush over canvas, Stacey ran the edge of the blades up and down, side to side as the imagine he had seen for months began to take formation. The carving took most of the day to cut out and finish.  It stood large and heavy as Stacey managed to load it into the truck bed and drove it home. He arrived after dark where he laid the carved statue out from the truck bed and left it in his front lawn.

The next morning, Stacey took Jo out to look at it. As she took one look, she questioned, "Where did you get it."  Stacey explained this is the imagine he had been telling her about which he saw in the tree. The carving was a larger than life Cowboy which was detailed nicely. "She couldn't believe it" states Stacey. " We place it on the porch and poeple often honked the horns and waved at the statue as they drove by our home.  Others pulled up into our drive and asked where we got the large Cowboy carving. It wasn't long after that when more would come and ask if we could carve other items. That began a new concept of the business. "Whatever it was I could carve it, it seem to come easy to me. Jo then started taking orders for carvings and told me there would be no more firewood," replied Stacey.

He continued his carpentry work remodeling and building homes during the week and began carving during the weekends. They even participating in local arts and craft shows selling out all the carvings at most of the shows. Jo then took photos of the work and sent them to an entertainment agent explaining what Stacey did. Several days later, the agency replied desiring to know more about his work.  "Jo convinced me to quit my job after 15 years working construction as a carpenter. It was a very hard decision, already having several children. Although we signed on with the agency and toured several years under contract until Jo eventually became our business manager and contracted our own shows with county and states fairs," Stacey said.  

Driving home after completing a weekend show they happen to be near a husband - wife team who also professionally carved. Stacey wanted to meet with them and they decided to stop in and see them. After a few hours visit they were on the road again where Jo stated. "I can do this." She had assisted on many occasions with tree cutting for firewood since she was a teenager and knew how to properly handle the equipment along with doing some hand carvings too.  It wasn't long after she began and the show grew adding their son's as carvers too. Jo is one of about six female carvers in the nation and perhaps the only other husband - wife team. "The Robinson Carving Company is the only complete family preforming this type of entertainment," states Mel Willard, Assistant Director, Missouri State Fairgrounds.   

Robinson Carving Co.

The family team uses Stihl chain saw equipment with standard blade bars except on the smaller chain saws where they use a carving bar and special blase. The OILOMATIC ® STIHL RAPID Micro chain has a special cutter shape that reduces cutting friction to a minimum, ensuring fast cutting speed with good efficiency in any type of wood. This special carving chain is more forgiving in dirty conditions than full chisel standard chain types due to its cutter shape.
Each piece starts out using a large saw as they rough out each piece from a log. Then they reduce to a medium saw to preform detail work and finish detailing using a small saw. Each item then is sanded and coated to a desired finish.  

Stacey is a quiet man of few words. This was the agencies only compliant when they first began their show explained Stacey.  "Jo came up with the idea to have the kids get involved.  Starting with his boys who, then were just 7 and 9 years old opened the show announcing, to handing out business cards before and after the show. Jo even put cheat sheets in their back pockets to read from if they got lost during the announcements. They practice day and night resiting the opening and closing of the show. They even answered questions from the crowd," replied Stacey. 

Over the many years, they have performed in 41 states. As the boys grew, they took up carving and the girls became the announcers. The boys now have grown, moving on working with full time jobs starting their own careers. "The younger son Clint just got married this February on the 15th," states Jo.  The oldest Travis, has his own family and Stacey and Jo became grandparents.  One daughter also moved out on her own last year but the younger two 10 years old and 18 still are at home. Stacey commented "The boys miss doing the show and traveling but they still carve pieces, just not on the road."

The Robinson's take December through January off from performing. A well deserved vacation this year found them enjoying the beaches of South Padre Island and Jo enjoys the quick trips into Mexico for shopping. Stacey like any Cowboy enjoys riding and takes time out with his quarter horse "Vaquero" when he can. He joined Cowboy Mounted Shooting a few years ago earning level three mens division just over the summer months. He hopes to get more involve with the sport and his youngest daughter "Bailee" now 10, competes in the Wrangler Division earning lever three.

Today, the Robinson's continue to perform many shows each year booking from February through November. Stacey also travels to perform custom work sculpting unique designs as tree art in yards or creates custom entrances. Many carvings are ordered on line through their web site that the Robinson family work on when not on the road but at home near Montgomery City, Missouri.  On line items can be viewed at shipping items smaller than 3' feet in length by UPS.

When Stacey is not working his chain saw, he enjoys working as a Cowboy. "My father worked horses all his life. Still today, he does cattle drives, plows fields using draft horses, and breaks horses choosing to do things the old style way. A true cowboy. Sometimes, the business seems to keep me farther from my love of horses, but Jo schedules more time home that allows me the liberty to get out and ride," states Stacey.

"Stacey is the best cowboy I have ever known," replies Jo. "He's always been a hard working man. He refuses to tell a lie and the most honest man you will ever meet. Doesn't drink or smoke but he does chew. The love of my life." states Jo. She continued, "Romantic, he can be, but in a unique way, which makes it cute." Stacey and Jo eloped 29 years ago surviving rough times, tough economies and raising five children often traveling from show to show. Today, if you happen to be walking through the woods of Missouri and the sound of a chain saw echos its song, look for the Silhouettes amongst the trees.


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