Faces in the crowd: Lonnie Glines and Don Mulder

September 15, 2019

By Aaron Michell

Driving up M-115 just south of Marion, it’s hard not to spot the wood creations of Lonnie Glines and Don Mulder.

Bears, eagles, deer; Spartans, Wolverines, and Chippewa creations. Cows. Giraffes.

Just about anything the imagination can think up, Lonnie and Don can cut up.

Lonnie and Don are the chainsaw carving artists behind Timber Art, and they’ve been honing their crafts at their new Middle Branch Township location for the last year.

And it’s become a family business.

Don – the boyfriend of Lonnie’s daughter Lauri – was taught the trade by Lonnie a couple years ago, and has proven a quick study. The pair – along with Lonnie’s wife Donna and the grandkids – makes the rounds every year at county fairs, local festivals, and big events, entertaining onlookers with their chainsaw art.

We caught up with the duo at their M-115 location recently where we talked about chainsaws, family, and more. We learned that Lonnie and Don are more than just a couple of faces in the crowd.

Marion Press: How did Timber Art come about?
Lonnie: I used to be the Jonsered Power Equipment rep for twenty years. I needed a chainsaw carver for the Midland Fair. One of my customers had a carver who was looking for sponsorships, and I told him to come to the fair – if I liked what they were doing, maybe we’d do more. I had ‘em doing open houses and other events for me, and I hung around ‘em.

And they kept bugging me, telling me that I should start doing this. I said I couldn’t draw; I can’t do this. When I first started hanging around ‘em, they could almost be done and I still didn’t know what they were doing. People would be standing there, asking me ‘What’s he cutting?’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know?’ Within a year or so, after about five cuts they’d ask me, and I’d say, ‘Oh, he’s making a bear.’

[At the time] I was going to buy a ’68 Shelby on Ebay… I told them, if you guarantee me I can make payments on this car, I’ll start doing this. And there were three of them, and they kind of looked at each other and giggled, and said: ‘Yeah, we’re pretty sure you can do that.’

I just hung around ‘em. Jerry Wagner taught me how to do things – he died a couple years ago. He gave me the instructions on how to make a bear.
Did you grow up with a chainsaw in your hands?

Lonnie: No. I was cutting firewood when I was 15. My dad bought two saws, and told me and my brother to go cut some wood; no experience, no nothin’. I wouldn’t let my 15 year-old grandson go play with a saw right now. But being a rep for twenty years, I’ve seen all the pictures of all the accidents… I know what they’ll do. The guy who doesn’t respect the tool is going to get hurt. I had my granddaughter – who is now 16 – cutting two years ago. It scared me the whole time, because if she gets hurt I feel it’d be my fault. Both of my them want to learn.

I was more like an apprentice. I’d tell Jerry where I was weak. I’d do a couple of [cuts], and he’d make suggestions and tell me what parts I wasn’t doing right. It’s like working with Don now: He doesn’t want to copy my work; he wants to have his own style and I try not to interfere with what he’s doing. But every now and then I’ll try to show him something that will bring him forward. And every now and then, I’ll have an ‘ah ha’ moment where I make a cut different then I did: ‘Oh, wow.’ My style is constantly evolving.

When they say Rembrandt in his early years [evolved into] Rembrandt in his later years – at first I couldn’t tell the difference. Now I understand what they’re talking about. I kind of understand, he probably evolved too: learned how paints blend together, evolved in whatever he was doing.
Don knew how to draw before he started, so he’s got an advantage. But he’s got the same thing as me – it’s the desire to learn that really pulls you forward more than anything else.

MP: How did you get your start, Don?
Don: Two years ago last June was when [Lonnie] first showed me how to carve a bear. I bugged and asked; bugged and asked. He showed me how to carve one small standing bear, and one stump bear, and I went to the backyard and started making sawdust. I’d get frustrated: ‘Oh, I can’t do this.’ But in my mind I knew I could, because I could see it – I just didn’t know how to go into it.

But I kept at it, kept at it – finally it started making a little sense to me. Carving around [Lonnie] helps, because I see him do things, and I pick up on that real fast.

And I’ve always cut wood, so I’ve been around the saws – I know how to handle a saw. I just never knew that you could do all this stuff with it. For me it’s really cool because I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

MP: Where are you guys from originally?
Don: I was born in Grand Rapids, but I was raised in Harrison.
Lonnie: I’m from Minnesota. My sales job brought me to Michigan thirty years ago. I was in Iowa – the company I worked for was in Minnesota and I lived in Minnesota, and then moved to Wisconsin. The territory in Iowa opened up so I said, sure, I’ll take it. Then Michigan opened up – and it had three times the population and 100 times the trees; there’s going to be more sales here – so I said, yeah, I’ll take this.

MP: What’s your favorite part of living in this area?
Lonnie: I always say that we’re on the edge of vacation land. The snowline is between Clare and Harrison, and my wife used to work in Clare a little bit, and she’d say, ‘It’s nice down here. Is it snowing at home?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, we’ve got three inches in Harrison.’ That’s where your elevation changes; that’s where your snow line is. All the vacationers; all the cabins; people going up north starts right here.

Don: And all the trails too. If you’re looking for trail rides, it all starts right here.

MP: Outside of making carvings, what keeps you busy?
Don: I finish drywall in Mt. Pleasant. It’s not as fun as this job! We hunt, and fish when we can. We went fishing two days ago, and last year at the same time was my first time fishing that year. Twice in two years. Before I picked up the carving, I had that free time. Now, if I’m not doing drywall, I’m doing this, because I enjoy this. Instead of looking at my free time and thinking, ‘I’ll go fishing.’ Now, I want to go carve something.

MP: And this is kind of a family business?
Don: The family goes with us a lot. To MIS (Michigan International Speedway), or the fair. They all came up to Marion Days, and Manistee. During summer when the kids are out of school, a lot of times they’ll come with us.

Lonnie: The grandkids always went with me when I’d have a festival to do. Here’s $20, give ‘em a wristband and let ‘em ride the rides. Go get your wristbands and have fun. Having them with us, we get to see ‘em but they get to go out and have fun.

Don: When we go to MIS, my daughter, Kia, usually brings her girlfriend, Chloe, and they’re both out there working the carvings – selling them while they’re doing the carvings. At MIS it’s the most family-oriented because it gets really busy and they all try to help out.

MP: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Lonnie: Making people happy. Customers find one piece, and they’ll go gaga over it. You might be at $500 on that piece, but they only have $300 – and it’s like, I want you to have it. That piece was made for them. One in a hundred are just giddy when they buy something, and those customers are really fun to deal with.

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