'The Bear's Den' showcases Townshend's Charlie Dion, his chainsaw carvings and philosophical musings
Charlie Dion lives in Townshend, Vermont. Aside from working in the woods and building his own log home by hand, Dion is a craftsman. He carves sculptures with a chainsaw. And the majority of his carvings take on the same silhouette — that of a bear.
In the film The Bear's Den, he reflects on his life as an outdoorsman, and how his passion for the chainsaw brought him to where he is today.
The film by Dion's nephew, Daniel Herzog, is part of Vermont Public's "Made Here" series, now in its 18th season.
Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch recently spoke to Dion about his unique creations and his musings on life in Vermont. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Engisch: Well, Charlie, in the documentary, we kind of learned how you came to pick up the chainsaw and eventually use it as an artists' tool. Can you sort of briefly tell us how your life as a chainsaw carver came to be?
Charlie Dion: Well, I was involved with a tree service, which I had started and ran that for a few years. We had scraps of wood, always trucking things away when the guys were kind of cleaning up. I'd make a chair; I'd make a table. I got involved with just wanting to use the saw, not really thinking I was an artist or anything. I'm probably still not really an artist — but a craftsman. That more or less helped me along.
Well, how did the documentary come about? Like, what did you think about being the subject of a film like this? How did how did that process go?
My nephew, Dan, just thought it was really cool the way I went about sort of, not homesteading, per se, but close to it — building my own house. I guess he thought there was something involved there. As far as a movie, it was just him sort of, well, "There's a story here." It's amazing to see what he does, you know?
Yeah, it's so beautifully shot. What was your first reaction when you saw him? Like the finished piece?
I didn't cry, but I'll tell you what, it hit me deep. But I think it was about me, you know? Just like, man, that's emotional.
Oh, that's cool. The documentary is called The Bear's Den, and that's the name of your business. We get to see in the film, you and your wife and friends create these unique carvings of bears out of wood. Why do you think you were drawn to carve bears? What was it about bears?
Yeah, one of the things I found back when I was doing the tree service was how to carve a bear. It was actually a different chainsaw carver, and he sort of showed the first steps. I think it's kind of a popular thing to do. So, that is basically one of the first I ever did from there.
We just sort of perfected that. I did spirit faces and eagles and other things. But when I was very early in carving, people would take the carvings. And I was impressed, because they look like an overgrown pig more than a bear really! It just seemed to work out.
In the film, you say you're you're in your 60s, right? And you kind of reflect back on the decades of your life, living and working in Townshend, Vermont. How did that region shape you and your personal philosophies on life?
Townsend's a great little spot. Just to get to know some of these guys, and in the Vermont way of life, you know? It's hard to put into words, but the friendliness, the openness to try and help other people instead of trying to take. It's a nice town like that. I think a lot of our towns in Vermont are that way in helping people out.
When you mentioned that, it reminds me of the part in the film where you get a call from somebody close by that's having some water issues. You're helping them out with trying to get their pump going or you know, you've got a generator and you've got a wagon...
Yeah, we'll go over and we'll give our hand and even if we don't have the right tools, we kind of come up with something! If we couldn't do it one way, we figure out another way, you know?
Yeah, I think that's a theme that we noticed, too, and that bartering that goes on.
Yeah, and you get a loaf of pumpkin bread, some kind of cookies, a cup of coffee or something. There's no need to be paid, but you can certainly, maybe have a soda, or even a beer — if it's after five.
Right now, you're you're at The Big E. That's the country's only multistate fair representing all of the New England states. That event plays a big part in the documentary, too. What does your day consist of while you're at the Big E? Is it 17 days that you're there?
Seventeen days, yeah. We're camping out in a camper, kind of out in the parking lot. We have my son, Colby, and his best friend, Zach, who's been helping out. He just started learning how to chainsaw carve.
We fire up the saws usually around 11 or 12 o'clock and start performing with the chainsaw carvings and stuff like that, doing demonstrations.
We go right up till about 9 o'clock. After four or five days of doing it, and you don't get a good night's sleep, we all get these droopy little eyes!
At the Big E, do you sell a lot of the carvings?
We do. We probably made about 130 different carvings. We get pretty wiped out. This year, we had to go up in prices because everything with the inflation and everything. So, we're sort of adjusting that a little bit.
And my son, he's into these gnomes and stuff, so kind of a new department. People are really liking it.
So he's in the gnome department?
Yeah, I'm still on the bear department. That's why they're not in the movie!
The Bear's Den premieres on Vermont Public's main TV channel 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20.