"Ricky Lee Mack was a good guy. A guy with lots of talent," said Jeff Wartluft in his celebration of the life of his friend at a gathering of dozens of the chainsaw artist's friends this week at Cherry's Sunset Family Restaurant in Kresgeville.
"He was good, fair and honest," Wartluft continued. "He touched, even changed, people's lives. He delighted in seeing the smiles on his customers when they first saw their carving."
Ricky Mack is best known to people in the area for his chainsaw art sculpture of a bald eagle in flight at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. It greets visitors to the CCEEC's Birds of Prey program and serves to memorialize Frederick Renshaw Wallace, a master falconer who trained the Center's Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle for use in education programs. Wartluft underwrote the cost of the sculpture.
"One project we did together was the Soaring Eagle for the Carbon County Environmental Education Center," Wartluft noted. "Rick gave me a 'good guy' price. Today, you will find the Soaring Eagle next to the eagle enclosures where they keep injured birds that no longer survive in the wild."
Mack, 53, was best known as a self-employed chainsaw artist and owner of The Cutting Edge in Brodheadsville. Mack donated his time and talents to many organizations in the region.
Mack graduated Bangor High School, Northampton Community College where he studied art, and Lincoln Technical Institute where he studied computer servicing. This led to a job with IBM where he traveled extensively repairing printers.
One day, while driving to service a printer in New Jersey, he drove past a man carving a large winged eagle with a chainsaw. He was so amazed that he pulled over and said, "If you did that with a chainsaw, I'm hooked". They spoke, and the carver gave Mack some pointers on how to choose a chainsaw, how to modify it for carving, and how to make chainsaw art. He was hooked.
Mack somehow got a chainsaw, stole a carving log, and that night turned on the outside lights in his backyard and carved a cat, his first chainsaw sculpture. From there, Mack continued to experiment, developing his art and his skill with a chainsaw.
He met and work with chainsaw carver Dennis Beach. "Rick had a shop and I would go there and carve whenever I wasn't on the road carving, because I didn't have a shop of my own," Beach explained.
"Rick paid great attention to detail. I was good at roughing large carvings very fast. When I was done, I thought it was a nice sculpture, and then Rick would come along and say, 'you know it would look a lot better if you did just a little here and a little there.' He helped me improve my detail and I helped him pick up his speed. He wanted to make each and every piece the best he could"
One day, Linda Lee Musto stopped by Rick's shop in Brodheadsille, and said she was interested if he could carve a gnome house for her. "We went over the measurements," Musto said. He must have liked the measurements because he asked her out on a date. Soon they became partners.
"It took a while to get the gnome house, Musto said. "The first one, in cherry, cracked. He made his second out of black walnut. I keep it in my yard."
Two years ago, Mack was taken with prostate cancer. In what he believed was a miraculous event, the cancer seem cured. But instead of being gone, it had moved to his spine and neck, leading to his passing.
"We talked about chainsaw carvings needing three dimensions: width, thickness and length. Without any of those dimensions it would be a flat drawing," Wartluft said. "We humans also need three dimensions to be complete: the physical dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the mystical spiritual dimension. I know Rick was searching to help fill those voids.
Ricky Lee Mack is gone but the beautiful benches, fish, dogs, bears and lifelike eagles that he carved, the hundreds of people that watched him work, and the dozens of friends of his that knew him will keep his memory alive.