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Annual festival in Perry draws large crowd on first day

He was the only one Saturday.

The only one carving little animals out of poplar wood. The only one rocking out to Metallica. The only one wearing safety goggles or a camouflage T-shirt with “She Thinks My Chainsaw’s Sexy” on the back.

His work station near the corner of Ball and Carroll streets, too, was unmatched.

The open, tent-like structure had a canopy made of white tarp and walls of wire netting — literal safety net.

Every hour or so, he’d step inside and out came the buzzing, blasting, grinding sound of his artisan’s tool, the electric saw, which he handled like a sword.

Of the 61 vendors at the 21st annual Perry Dogwood Festival in downtown Perry, Mal McEwan was the only one.

“It’s been hard for me to get in festivals like this because they’re always scared of the chain saw ... scared of the noise,” said the north Georgia wood carver, standing near his tools in an American flag-theme top hat.

“We draw a lot of attention. We’re not rockstars, but we’re the rockstars of the artist world,” he said.

McEwan, who lives in White County and makes art using the name “The Mal Hatter,” began chain saw carving seven years ago.

Saturday, his art — carving and chiseling 4-foot tree logs into eagle heads, bear figurines and hanging bats — attracted large crowds throughout the day.

One woman requested a piece for her husband’s military unit in Iraq, where the soldiers keep the bat as their mascot, said McEwan.

The items on display at the festival sold for $25-175, and other work can be viewed at www.georgiachainsawartist.com.

“I’ve carved everything. I’ve carved cowboys, Indians, flying pigs, the Grim Reaper,” McEwan said. “A friend of mine turned 40. I put it (the symbol of death) outside her place of business as a joke.”

Later, he said, the life-size carving was donated to the Cleveland Police Department, where it was used for a methamphetamine and alcohol awareness campaign.

“I’ve traveled from Florida to Washington state,” he said. “I’d love to do more carving at festivals just like this.”

Megan Smith, president and CEO of the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce, said sunny skies Saturday helped usher in this year’s festival.

“The attendance has been much larger than it was last year,” she said. “But of course, we’ve already had better weather.”

The two-day festival, which runs from noon to 5 p.m. today, includes an entertainment stage, a rock climbing wall and spider jump, a moon walk, pony rides, and arts and crafts vendors, including Marianne Boyles’ candle fundraiser on Carroll Street.

For more information, visit www.lilbit countrycandles.com.

Eighteen contestants from across Middle Georgia participated in the third annual Perry Idol singing competition Saturday night at Perry Middle School, competing for recording studio time at Platinum Sound & Media in Macon.

From noon to 12:45 p.m. today, residents can register homemade cakes in the festival’s cake decorating contest.

“Perry turns 185 this year and we want as many cakes as people can bake,” Smith said.

The entry fee is $5 per cake. Festival visitors can pay $4 to taste and judge the cakes.

Perry Mayor James Worall and other local officials will announce the winning cake, she said.

“We’ve had fun with the kids activities and there’s a good selection of vendors,” said Carrie McCall of Kathleen, waiting for a pony ride with her two young daughters at about 3:30 p.m. “Anything that promotes this area and local tourism, as well as local vendors, with the economy being the way that it is, is great.”

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.

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