Spirits in the Wood (1991)

About the Film

In the Ponderosa pines of central Oregon, chainsaw artist J. Chester "Skip" Armstrong creates breathtaking eagles and other finely crafted animals. His choice of materials and methods of creating shape, texture, and detail have much in common with both regional vernacular western chainsaw art and delicately tooled wood sculpture.

This fascinating video explores the processes of creativity, raises questions about the differences between folk art and fine art, and captures Armstrong's unique aesthetic sensibilities, his outlook on life, his surroundings, and his growing reputation as an artist.

Armstrong says he wants to "dance inside the log," and he and the chainsaw unite in a furious blitz of energy that allows him to see his idea materialize almost instantaneously. From the natural form and grain of the raw log, he "frees" the animal shape. Then with smaller power tools, he details his sculpture. Bears, coyotes, and sea otters come to life by this furious artistry

Revealing art as performance, this video of Armstrong and his work includes the making of one individual piece from conceptualization to completion. The video shows him interacting with admirers at crafts fairs and in gallery demonstrations. These contrasting contexts raise theoretical issues about the ways in which folk is defined.


  • Slatioara International Film Festival, Romania, 2003. National Fine Arts Video Festival 1992, Honorable Merit Award (200 entries, 10 awards given). Oregon Council for the Humanities Chautauqua Program, 1995-1999. Juried screenings at


For licensing, film rights and permissions, contact Sharon R. Sherman, the distributor Sharon Sherman, or Folkstreams.