Artist Profile: Andy Enzi and Jeff Rapetti, Chainsaw Carvers

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2015 17:00

This profile was part of a five-article feature called “The Age of Creativity” that appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Friends and Neighbors Magazine. Featured artists shared how they found their artistic calling, the challenges and rewards of their art, and their advice to other boomers and seniors ready to explore creative callings. For FAN’s list of creativity resources in the foothills, see Creative Outlets: Art Classes, Writing Groups & Much More.

bear-head-FN00240-editedGrowing up in the Mother Lode, Andy Enzi and Jeff Rapetti didn’t give art much thought.

Enzi, 52, graduated from Sonora High in the early 1980s and went to work in the woods.  “For a kid out of school, logging was great money,” he says.

Rapetti, a 55-year-old Calaveras High grad, worked construction for that same good money, eventually getting his contractor’s license and building homes in the foothills.

Neither took a single art class in school nor had a “creative side” that they knew of. Yet today both are sculptors who make a living off their work.

Which is pretty much bears. Jeff carves his bruins of cedar and Andy prefers coast redwood. Their tools of choice: chainsaws, sanders and routers. They have collectively turned out thousands of wooden bears, which cost into the thousands for an eight-footer.

“Bears are the money,” says Jeff.

“They’re 90 to 95 percent of my sales,” agrees Andy, whose Murphys store, Loco Oso, includes baseball-playing bears, tree-climbing bears, backpacking bears, coffee-drinking bears and more.

Jeff Rapetti shapes a bruin

Jeff Rapetti shapes a bruin

But how did these two working men cross the great creative divide?

“I was in my 30s, raising a baby and a 4-year-old by myself,” Enzi recounts. “I was looking for something I could do at home.”

Then he met Tu Lee, a talented Vietnamese chainsaw carver from Monterey. “I became fascinated with his work,” Enzi says, “then I thought, ‘Maybe I can do that.’ ”

Although admitting his first two years’ of carvings were “hideous,” he persisted and by 1996 was asked to carve at the California State Fair. “Things took off,” says Enzi. “I began selling my work and got invitations to fairs around the state.”

And Rapetti? “I learned it from Andy about 15 years ago,” he remembers. “He was helping me take down a tree one day and showed me some of his carving. I just had to give it a try.”

Rapetti admits he too was “terrible” at the beginning. “But my wife said she liked my carving anyway, so I kept on. I sold my first bear after two years.”

He began building fewer houses, carving more bears and enjoying being at home with the three young children he and wife Danise adopted.

“I like that it’s quick,” says Rapetti of his new profession. “I can carve a bear in a day. If I don’t like it, I can do better the next day.”

Meanwhile, Enzi broadened his horizons: He carved an old prospector for the Tuolumne County Fair and a frog for Calaveras County’s. He’s turned out clowns, cowboys, Indians, fisherman and the fireman who, with a little girl he rescued, stands sentry in front of the Ebbetts Pass Fire Station in Arnold.

But since bears still put the honey on the table, he keeps turning logs into bruins: biking bears, golfing bears and even a bear reading a newspaper inside an outhouse. He tweaks his bears’ expressions, fine-tunes their eyes, then does it again.

Andy Enzi

Andy Enzi at work

For such detailed work, Enzi says, carvers use what he calls a “dainty” quarter-inch chain and a 12-inch bar that tapers to a dime-sized tip for a carving’s fine touches.

“I set high standards for myself – standards that are way too high for my talent level,” laughs Enzi, who carves on the Murphys-area property he shares with his wife, Jeannie.

Rapetti, meanwhile, combined his construction and carving skills to build a couple of whimsical cabins he sold in White Pines. They have crooked posts with bears on them and sloped railings. They meet code, he says, “but kind of look like they’re sagging – like they’re out of a fairy tale.”

Chainsaw carving has worked for Rapetti and Enzi, who left high-paying careers for the artistic unknown. But would they recommend veering so off course to others?

“It’s been good for me,” says Rapetti. “I like being at home, and my kids like having me at home. If you can do that, I’d go for it.”

“Feed your drive,” adds Enzi. “If you’re passionate about something, start playing with it. See if it works.”

But be warned: You just might end up with a basement full of bears.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2015 17:00
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