This article by reporter Jessica Wetzler was originally published in the Daily News-Record, Oct. 24, 2019.
Want to know the secret for getting a group of elementary school students to be quiet? Bring out a chainsaw artist.
With sawdust floating in the air and wood chips covering the dewy ground, the only sound to be heard outside of Eastern Mennonite School on Wednesday was Sean Hanifee’s chainsaws ringing.
“My favorite part was when the pumpkin was carved,” said Anna Gerber, a third-grader at Eastern Mennonite School.
Other students were more attached to the 10-foot blue dragon breathing fire, representing the school’s mascot, the Flames.
“I liked it when they showed us the dragon,” said Reed Shritsti, a student in Heidi Byler’s class. “That was my favorite part.”
Hanifee, of Rawley Springs, began his journey with woodcarving when he was a teenager in Maryland. The hobby carried with him while he was teaching at Turner Ashby High School, spending any free time he had working on projects.
In 2016, Hanifee made the decision to leave TAHS to carve full time and add a new tool to his toolbox: a chainsaw.
Nearly 80% of his orders are chainsaw carving-related, with his most recent project being a collaboration with Eastern Mennonite School to carve a dragon for its new play space.
“This was my largest piece yet,” Hanifee told a group of students in kindergarten through fifth grade, who spent their morning watching Hanifee carve a pumpkin out of a walnut tree.
Students watched intensely as Hanifee transformed a log into a pumpkin with a rounded surface and a “scary” face as requested by the students.
By the end of the demonstration, Hanifee revealed the final look of the dragon to the students, who were eager to play on the newest addition.
The dragon plays into the school’s latest project of creating a play space made almost entirely of repurposed logs — an idea sparked by teacher Kendal Bauman.
“I was excited to be a part of what Kendal has been doing here,” Hanifee said. “To see this area returned to nature with their playground. … I am making a part of how [students] spend their day.”
Bauman, a physical education teacher at Eastern Mennonite School, began working on creating a new playground for elementary school students over the summer, trading in plastic equipment with logs and tires.
“Kendal has been the mastermind behind this project,” said Andrea Wenger, director of advancement at the school. “He put the emphasis on imaginative playing.”
Bauman said he wanted to create a natural play space to promote a “gross motor” exercise area — which incorporates full-body movement and core muscles — and provide new recess equipment, adding that Hanifee’s carving “will be a great addition to our recess play space.”
Hanifee said he will return to the school to work on other projects, such as carving an oven for the outdoor kitchen play space and a bench.
“I am just happy to contribute,” he said.