CHARLESTOWN — The yard in front of the tiny house on Carolina Back Road is considerably brighter these days since sculptor Taylor Olson moved in and put several of his completed works on display.
Olson, born in New Jersey, moved to Rhode Island with his family when he was a toddler and has lived in South County all his life. He moved from Wakefield to the Charlestown house in September.
“I was looking for a good location so people would see my stuff, and this is the best location I could get,” he said.
A former stone mason, Olson has chosen wood as his medium and a chainsaw as his principal tool. A small, greenhouse-like building near the house serves as his workshop.
“It’s just fences and I have a tent that goes over it,” he said. “I try to be as polite as I can with the noise from my chainsaws. That’s a reason why I moved out of my last place. I never got any complaints about it, but when I was doing it, I felt like I was making noise. I didn’t feel right.”
Olson switched to wood about a year ago. The change from working with stone to sculpting wood was something he said he had felt compelled to do.
“Something was pushing me away from the stones and the wood was drawing me in,” he said. “I did a statue of my wife. I just wanted to see if I could do it, you know? And I was able to do it.”
Stone and wood, Olson said, have a lot in common.
“They’re both natural, as natural as you can get, so I kind of work with nature,” he said.
Each time he gets a new piece of wood, Olson said, it takes some time for him to know what he is going to do with it.
“I look at it, I meditate on it and it takes a little while, but it comes,” he said. “It comes, and then a stronger feeling comes on top of that. It could be a process of days.”
Depending on the size of the piece of wood and the complexity of the sculpture, Olson takes between a week and a month to complete each piece. Most of his pieces are private commissions and the wood is almost always donated.
“People give it to me pretty much,” he said. “I’ve only had to buy two pieces of wood. Definitely hardwood. Oak is great, maple, ash. The pine is hard to chisel because it’s so soft. It doesn’t cut through. It’s too soft.”
Wearing protective clothing, Olson roughs out the piece with a chainsaw and uses finishing tools for the detail work.
“I’ll get my grinder out, my chisels,” he said.
Olson noted that sculpting in his outdoor workshop won’t be feasible when it gets very cold.
“It’s something you have to enjoy and if it’s really cold out there, the full artistic natural process is just stunted, because you’re not having fun,” he said.
Olson’s sculptures, many depicting animals and mythical creatures, are made to be displayed outdoors. Olson seals them with a blowtorch to preserve the wood before painting them.
Olson said his wife, Merelise, his daughter, Abby June, and his two stepsons, Jamie and Jacob, have often served as creative inspirations, but ideas also just pop into his head. One such idea was transforming a 10-foot log into a chain.
“Something always comes to me, like the chain,” he said. “I really wanted to do another chain, so I went and got a log and did the chain. It just happens. It’s some kind of artistic feeling.”
Carving standing tree stumps is something Olson hopes to do more of.
“People will cut down a tree. If they would just leave 12 feet, then I can carve anything into it and it will be absolutely wonderful,” he said. “A big bear, an angel, a deer. This guy wants me to do a deer … If you’re going to cut down a tree, leave the stump and call me and I’ll come over there and we’ll carve it up.”
Olson encourages people to contact him with their ideas for sculptures, either free-standing or carved from tree stumps. He can be reached at 401-284-8769.