By Molly Barber
This is the story of a Bear-Naked carver, his grandfather, Stumpy-the nine fingered man, Eagles, Medusa, and an army of wooden bears.
The turn of this century is where our story begins, when a young Dan Forschler was working with his grandfather out in the woods. “I was about 17 years old; my grandfather asked me, ‘Do you want to go to college or do you want to work?’ and I told him I’d rather work, so he took me over to the coast. He’s got the Legend of Bigfoot– the gift shop in Garberville and he did burrow work and stuff like that. When I went over there, he showed me how to carve.”
From there Dan learned all he could from the different carvers working for his grandfather. The first bear carving he ever did he took exact measurements and spent two weeks trying to get all the measurements right. “It came out nothing like a bear, it looked like a pot-belly pig. I told everybody it was a pot-belly pig and I sold it.” That didn’t slow Dan down one bit, he continued carving, learning, and listening to his grandfather. “My grandfather always told me to stay out of the competitions. He said, ‘If you want to make money doing this, go out to the middle of nowhere, they’ll come find ya.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Dan’s company is called Bear Country Gifts and they have their products in multiple locations- Air Cooled in Oroville, Second Hand Sally’s in Paradise, California Hardwood Producers in Auburn, Jeff Roe’s Produce in Chester, Mountain Comfort Furniture & Design in Truckee, and the Canyon Dam Store in Canyon Dam.
His favorite things to carve are Eagles but doesn’t do them much. He also enjoys carving other types of birds like owls. One day he hopes to find the right tree to carve a Medusa. “I always wanted to do a Medusa. Just a giant Oak tree where all the limbs come out in different directions. I think that would be cool.” He does commission work for people and sometimes gets some odd requests. “The weirdest request I’ve had was from a guy named Stumpy. He was about 80 years old and had an accident in a mill when he was younger and he didn’t have a middle
finger. So he asked me to carve him a middle finger. So I did that for him and then his mom came back and wanted me to do one for her. So that was odd.” He also carved 1,400 bears in a week! When he showed me the picture of all the little bears, I told him it looked like a little army, to which he replied, “Yeah, that’s why I only carve left-handed bears for waving. Because if I cut them all right-handed, they’d look like a bunch of Nazi’s. And being German I don’t want a bunch of people to think the wrong thing.”
There’s just something special about Dan and his carvings. And so it’s no wonder to me why people stop when they see the carvings. There’s life in them and a kindness in their eyes. Maybe it’s Dan radiating through his work -he does after all give the scraps of wood from the carvings to those in town who might not be able to afford a lot of firewood otherwise.
The bears seem to be the main sellers and Dan has a theory as to why, “I think it has something to do with your inner-child. You know, everyone can connect to a teddy bear because they’ve always had a teddy bear given to them as a gift. So when they’re driving down the road and they see the bears, I think that might be the psychology behind it. They wanna feel like they’re kids again.”
If you’re interested in seeing some of Dan’s work in person, you can go to one of the locations mentioned above. I know for a fact that Mike at Caynon Dam always has them on display, sometimes even taking up some of the parking lot. Mike is probably the best way to get ahold of Dan for commissioned work and you can find his number on his ad on page 39. Dan also offers classes to people who are interested in learning to carve. For around $1,500 you get a week long session with Dan. You leave the class with our own chainsaw and the ability to carve your own bear.
Dan, also known as the Bear-Naked Carver (a story for another time) is a character and if you ever get the chance to meet this man, don’t squander it. He’s such a kind and humble guy with a contagious laugh and awesome stories. After interviewing him I knew I had to add this quote because it so perfectly sums up Dan and his art- “If you light yourself on fire with passion and enthusiasm, people will come for miles to watch you burn.”