Since the McLeod County Fairgrounds moved to its current site in 1993, visitors have been greeted by a few familiar wooden figures.
It started with a giant dog, which still greets visitors at the entrance right beside the animal shelter, and an eagle, which kept watch in front of the fairgrounds office before a storm destroyed it a few years ago. An owl was added along the way, and it can still be found on the green beside the west parking lot and Commercial Building. All three figures were carved out of a log by chainsaw.
"They were just putting the fairgrounds together when I carved the eagle and the dog," said John Orvis of Hutchinson. "I was asked by Marian Filk. She arranged to have the logs delivered. They were delivered to my daughter's and son-in-law's place out on the farm and then I carved them."
The 85-year-old's wood carving didn't start with a chainsaw.
"I learned to carve with a knife and chisel from Ancher Nelsen," Orvis said. "He was the representative for this area in (the U.S.) Congress. He had a community ed. class I joined."
From there, Orvis got together with a family member from Ohio who also carved.
"I talked him into trying chainsaws," he said. "I had a couple. We carved a chainsaw fish. That's the only one he carved and I never carved by hand again after that. I was sold on the chainsaw. It worked good for me."
When carving, Orvis always preferred to work from memory or imagination.
"I never used a pattern," he said. "Most of (the carvings) are smaller than that guy (the dog). I never used a picture. I used whatever was in my head."
Many who know Orvis from his career as an educator won't be surprised he had a good picture in his head. He was a biology teacher at Hutchinson Public Schools, and with his master's degree in media he also learned about library science.
"I spent most of my life in a classroom or in the library," Orvis said. "I saw a lot of kids grow up."
Over the years, he touched up the dog and the eagle carvings. The dog has stayed in good shape, but the eagle suffered more from the elements and from wood rot. A wind storm finally did it in just a few years ago.
"I had a name for the dog. It's Hercules," Orvis said. "I don't know where the sign went. And I don't know why I named him."
He's enjoyed having thousands of people see his work.
"You have a good feeling when someone likes something you've done," he said.
But Orvis never took his talent too much further. He prefers to think of it as "a hobby that paid for itself." He did enjoy carving for people, though. A few clients in the area have large projects of his, such as a 13-foot bear and a couple of totem poles. He used to visit a Little Falls craft show with his daughter and sell about 30 pieces a year.
"But I never got into the classy, expensive stuff," Orvis said.
The carvings at the McLeod County Fairgrounds are a good example of Orvis' approach to his art. Hercules, for example, took about eight hours.
"I never was trying to be productive," he said. "I would work for two, three hours and that was about my limit. ... I wasn't trying to put it out fast. If I tried I suppose I could have done it faster, but that wasn't my objective."
Today, Orvis' carving days are behind him.
"I'd be afraid to run the chainsaw," he said. "My sight is bad, and I have neuropathy in my legs. I haven't carved now in seven, eight years."
But his Hutchinson home is still full of proof of his work. Dozens of carvings in his yard, on display cases and displayed throughout the house are a testament to the hundreds of projects he took on. A colorful bear near the front door is a favorite, as is a hand-carved bird on a carved branch. Other favorites include a patchwork rooster and a penguin carved to have the appearance of a leather body. A giant bear stands before his door with a "Merry Christmas" sign nearby, and other animals congregate together in the yard.
"I've carved hundreds and hundreds of things," Orvis said.