Meet The Local Artist Who Experiences Zen Through Chainsaw Carving
Don Mesuda of Hopewell Junction can carve an eagle in under an hour — and he’s just getting started.
Don Mesuda first saw his art come to life when he carved a human face.
PHOTOS BY Michael Polito
Don Mesuda’s backyard is alive with owls, raccoons, eagles, and bear cubs. They’re not pests, though; they’re chainsaw carvings.
Sporting a bandana and a lumberjack beard, Mesuda seems like someone you’d see stepping off of a Harley at the local diner, not an artist who has experienced a Zen-like enlightenment through carving. Yet for the last five years, he has immersed himself in the world of chainsaw carving. Underneath his earmuffs, headphones blast music as he works. If it’s a good day, the wood chips fly, and Mesuda is absorbed in the moment.
“When I start sawing, I’m still hearing the music,” he says, “and then when I start seeing the piece, the music fades. It’s really strange…it just blends all together. I just flow, and my focus and concentration is on my piece.”
Mesuda was a successful electrical contractor, but felt at a loss once his children left for college. Once retired, he developed an interest in woodworking after seeing an Adirondack chair and realizing he could build one like it. That led to other woodwork, including a walking stick with carved images. The intricacy of that work spurred him to explore chainsaw carving.
Mesuda has since been offered opportunities to carve on contract, but has declined in order to preserve the integrity of his calling. Occasionally he will sell a piece, but carving is a calling for Don, not a stream of income. After years of answering to clients, the freedom to work with complete autonomy and the support of the carving community seem far more valuable than cash.
He attributes his success as an entrepreneur to the journeymen who mentored him: “I’m forever grateful that they passed on the trade to me. Most of those guys have passed, but I say, ‘My God, they would be amazed where I went with the trade that they taught me.’” Even so, Mesuda doesn’t miss the high-stress, fast-paced life his business demanded. These days, his focus is on carving — and he’s never been happier.
Regardless of whether he was contracting or carving, Mesuda’s mother, Carol, was his biggest supporter. A deeply religious woman, she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 57. After 19 years, she succumbed to the diesease, and as she was drawing her final breaths, Mesuda leaned in and, without thinking, asked her to speak to him through his carvings. He says the difference in his work is astounding. His eagles, in particular, appear ready to spring from their perches.
The carving skills that led Mesuda to a new calling may have had their roots in something he didn’t discover he had until later in life. One night, Mesuda and his wife, Mary Ann, were watching an interview with an author on television. The author, who had dyslexia, was describing the symptoms of this difficult-to-diagnose disorder. He turned to his wife in disbelief. “That’s me!” he exclaimed.
He was embarrassed by the disorder at first, but now he’s relieved to have some validation for all of his unexplained frustrations with reading and studying (he prepared for his master electrician license by using videos). Mesuda has even discovered that dyslexics often possess a higher aptitude for three-dimensional reasoning. In a way, dyslexia led him to chainsaw carving.
Mesuda’s brand of humble ambition is rare. He’s proud of his journey, but restless to reach the next step. In his own words:
“Your best carving is your next carving.”
To view some of Mesuda’s work and to contact the artist go to www.donmesuda.com