EAST PEORIA — When Robert Prunty sees a wooden stump he wonders what type of animal he could carve into it.
Prunty, 65, of East Peoria said he has always been artistic and liked to draw as a youth.
“I just started carving after my mom passed away. I didn’t have a lot of money. I just bought some carving tools back in 2002,” Prunty said.
Prunty grew up in Metamora and graduated from Metamora High School. He lives on a lane along the Illinois River off of Route 26, but he has an East Peoria mailing address. He is retired now but worked at Caterpillar Inc., Unity Point Methodist Medical Center, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and as a pastor.
Now, in his spare time, he carves wood.
“Because I could paint and draw, I figured I could put it into 3D,” he said.
First, Prunty said he “roughs it in with a chainsaw” and then uses an angle grinder that has a chainsaw blade on it he uses for some detail. For smaller detail, he uses roto tools and dye grinders.
For those who are not artistic, the concept of carving with a chainsaw an idea from one’s mind into a tree stump may seem impossible, but not for Prunty, who really had no formal art training except for a couple of classes at Illinois Central College.
“When I was in high school they didn’t even have art classes back in the ’60s. We did have art contests,” Prunty said, adding that he was runner up his junior year and the first-place winner his senior year with his Christmas scene paintings.
Prunty’s first carving was a pirate, which he modeled after Capt. Jack Sparrow, the popular character from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“I didn’t really have many tools at the time. He took a long time. ... I used a sawzall and a drill and I had one roto-tool,” he said.
Over the years, Prunty has carved a variety of animals and nautical items, including alligators, eagles, dolphins, pelicans, turtles, bears, raccoons, wolves and pirates.
His favorite canvases are oak and walnut, which are hard woods.
Samples of Prunty’s work are all over Tazewell County and even in other states in peoples’ yards, homes and at businesses.
“Actually, down at the Dolphin Cove, there’s a giant pirate that I did out of a big red oak. I carved that one in December outside. I (almost) froze doing it,” Prunty said. “I don’t carve a whole lot in the winter.”
Prunty carved a 120-pound Yogi Bear for the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Goodfield.
For each foot carved, Prunty charges about $75.
“It’s all negotiable,” he laughed.
In addition to animals, Prunty has carved wooden signs, sports-related items and even a Coca-Cola bottle for a Washington couple. Roger Kramer of East Peoria has one of Prunty’s pieces in his yard — an 11-foot Illini Indian.
Although Prunty does a lot of wooden carvings for customers, his family also receives unique gifts from him.
Prunty said he did a Chicago Bear for his son-in-law and a wooden model of Brett Favre for his daughters, who are huge Green Bay Packers fans.
“My nephew (Jordan Schierer) got all-area Dallas football team, so I made him his own Heisman trophy out of a cherry wood,” Prunty said.
Wooden decorations adorn the inside and outside of the Prunty’s home. Robert lives with his wife, Michele, and their children. There is a rose, pelican and wolf in the family’s flower garden and a pirate that greets visitors out front.
The most challenging thing Prunty has carved, he said, was a 15-foot walnut bear carving. He had to carve it while standing on a step ladder.
While carving the Illini Indian, Prunty fell off a ladder onto his saw, but luckily it was not running.
The pirate at Dolphin Cove was also challenging, Prunty said, because of the detail on it, including a spy glass, treasure chest, anchor and ship’s wheel. Prunty estimated he spent 30 hours on the piece.
“A lot of people ask me how long they take but I don’t really time myself on them,” he said.
People have contacted Prunty and commissioned him to do work through word of mouth after they see his work somewhere. There are 11 of his carvings on his street alone.
Prunty does six to eight carvings each year, but he slows down in the winter. He said he will continue to do the carvings “as long as I feel good, and I actually feel pretty good at my old age.”
“It’s kind of fun because it’s artistic and creative,” he said. “It can be tiring at times.”
Prunty signs all of his work “RL Prunty” the date.
“Everybody I know knows I carve, so they call and say, ‘Hey, we’re taking down a tree. I’ve got more wood than I know what to do with,” he said.