How artist Bongo Love used a chainsaw to carve out a niche for himself in Colorado

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of Bongo Love
Bongo Love isn't afraid of the chainsaw. He's won multiple awards at chainsaw carving competitions -- including third place in Vancouver and fourth place at the World Cup in Germany. He's also getting set to compete in Whittle the Wood in Craig this June. And he's recently opened a tea and art shop, The Front, in Lafayette, where he shows his carvings. Bongo Love's come along way, from carving animal sculptures for tourists in Zimbabwe (his home country) to chainsaw carving in Colorado; he took some time to tell us his story and how he conquered his fear of chainsaws.

How did you get your name?

I play a lot of bongos, and in Africa and they call me Bongo Love because I love bongos. I've been called that since I was ten years old.

When did you start carving?

I started carving when I was in Africa. I used to carve little stone sculptures with chisels and mallets. I started when I was about eight. My grandfather was a great sculptor, and he would carve his stuff -- and when he takes off one day, I was trying to carve his stuff. Then, from there, he gave me my own piece and said to me, "This is your own piece. Don't carve mine."

When I got older, I started carving boss stone and wood, but not with power tools -- just with hand chisels, mallets and axes. In African shoes, we put a little piece of metal in the sole, so that's one of the strongest metals, so we would take that metal and sharpen it. We couldn't afford tools, so we made our own tools out of those little pieces of metal.

In Zimbabwe, we're from the Shona tribe, and they are world-famous sculptors. That's when I started making sculptures for tourists. So whenever they saw an animal, like hippos or rhinos, they would want that as a sculpture. So we would carve them that.

Photo courtesy of Bongo Love
When did you move to Colorado?

I moved from Zimbabwe to Boulder in 2000, but I didn't carve for a while. I wanted to try and get my bearings right. I played music first, before carving. Homesickness turned me into a musician.

Why Colorado?

I have no idea. It's actually a funny story, because years before I came here, I met a tourist kid and he traded me a T-shirt that said "Colorado Rockies" on it. I had no clue what it meant, no idea. But it was one of my favorite shirts. Someone stole it, but when I came to Colorado, I thought, "Was that a connection?" But Colorado's been nice to me. I've learned a lot about the importance of education.

When did you start carving in Colorado?

Sometime in 2005. I could afford some tools, so I started buying little hand tools here and there. All of a sudden, while I was looking at the type of sculptures here -- trying to find the difference between sculptures in Africa and here, because sculptures are culturally motivated -- I saw a chainsaw competition in Craig, Colorado. I called them for the heck of it. I thought, "Oh, yeah. I could beat them."

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