Local artists carving out a living in Arts and Crafts Community

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This 6,000 pound sculpture was carved by Messex out of a 120-year-old tree stump thatw as diverting water in a nearby field. From left are Bryland. Brandon and Brandi Messex.

When Brandon Messex looks at tree stumps or pieces of wood he sees hidden figures inside waiting to be transformed into detailed sculptures. Messex is a wood carver who owns Heartwood Galleries on Highway 321 in Gatlinburg with his wife and fellow artist, Brandi.

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In a classic example of turning nuisance wood into a work of art, Messex and several fellow artists transformed a tree stump into the foundation for a treehouse.

With a chain saw in hand Messex can transform any tree stump into a work of art. While he carves a variety of subjects, his most popular theme is bears and other forms of wildlife.

Messex began his career 17 years ago shortly after his hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps ended. He was visiting his sister at Cherry Point, N.C. There he saw a wood worker carve a work of art with a chain saw. Messex returned to his sister’s home where he cranked up the chain saw and proceeded to carve up his first work of art.

“My first carving was a pumpkin,” said Messex. “I carved several pumpkins and sold all of them. Then I started getting orders from people who wanted Indians and other designs.”

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This life-sized sculpture depicts a 4-year-old girl that died tragically.

The Messexes opened Heartwood Galleries in Gatlinburg 10 years ago and have been carving up a successful business ever since. The Messex gallery is filled with hundreds of wooden sculptures on a variety of themes carved by himself and a variety of other artists in the area including Brandi.  His shop is filled with wooden sculptures of bears, raccoons, fish, a hornet’s nest, hawks and much more.

A family of bears, standing more than 5-feet-tall, stand in the display window. Messex carved four sets of these bears on a variety of themes. The bears were purchased by Old Time Pottery in Pigeon Forge. One set of bears are dressed as pilgrims. Others are dressed in spring attire, summer attire and a Christmas theme. Messex switches the bears out every three months.

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