On The Cutting Edge Virginia tight end Chris Luzar has mastered the art of chain saw sculpture

November 12, 2001

Chris Luzar could easily pass for a lumberjack. The Virginia tight
end stands 6'7", weighs 255 pounds, can talk for hours about his
love for the outdoors and looks at ease with a chain saw in his
hands. Unlike most Paul Bunyan types, though, he'll tell you how
much he admires Michelangelo, because, as Luzar says, "he said
there's only one true art, and that's sculpture. That's how I
feel. I'm a sculptor."

Luzar has dabbled in art since elementary school. He's dyslexic,
so he was attracted to a discipline that didn't require much
reading and writing. "I never did well in English, but I always
got an A in art," he says. So Luzar kept taking art classes while
also displaying considerable talent on the football field. At
Lafayette High in Williamsburg, Va., he was an all-state tight
end. When he signed with Virginia, he intended to major in
architecture, but the studio time required of budding architects
conflicted with football practice. He concentrated on studio art
instead.

Last spring Luzar was trying to come up with a subject for his
senior project, and he wanted it to be "something big and pretty
neat." Then one day, in a scene that would have looked out of
place in all but the worst slasher movies, one of his art
professors, William Bennett, brought a chain saw to class. He
gave it to Luzar and said, "There's a stump out back. See what
you can do."

It took Luzar a while to master the intricacies of large-scale
carving. "I had used a chain saw before," he says, "but just for
cutting firewood."

After a couple of weeks Luzar finished his first chain saw
creation: one football player tackling another. "You'd be
surprised how detailed you can get with a chain saw," he says.
Luzar has turned that piece into part of a coffee table.
Subsequent works are on display in the front yard of his rented
house, where Luzar does most of his sawing.

The racket of his saw doesn't endear him to his housemates, but
as neighbors and others drive by they tend to rubberneck at the
sight of the Bunyanesque figure in safety goggles, earplugs and
steel-toed boots at work on a tree trunk. "I've almost caused a
couple of crashes, but I don't notice people that much," he says
with a laugh. "You've got to be focused, or you'll cut your leg
off."

Last May, Luzar held his senior show, composed primarily of chain
saw artworks, in the Cavaliers' locker room at Scott Stadium,
because he wanted faculty members and his fellow art students to
see where he spends much of his nonsculpting time and because he
wanted his teammates to see his artwork. He was redshirted as a
freshman but spent the next three seasons as a backup tight end,
making 20 catches in 31 games for 218 yards. A fifth-year senior
who graduated with a studio art degree last spring and is now
working toward a master's in education, Luzar has started every
game this fall (his younger brother, Kase, a sophomore, is his
backup) and is second on the team in receiving yards (314) and
tied for second in receptions (28).

Luzar's preferred artistic material these days is wood, but he
also has sculpted with bronze and plaster, and--inspired by the
book of Exodus--he welded pieces of steel to look like a bush and
then hooked it up to a propane tank. Just like Moses, he had
himself a bush that "burned with fire, and the bush was not
consumed." (That work also sits in his front yard, but only gets
lit on special occasions.)

Luzar, who hopes to teach art after pursuing a career in the NFL,
was recently tested in each of his loves. The Cavaliers went on
their first five-game losing streak in 19 years, but on a happier
note he sculpted a woman from an eight-foot-long, half-ton chunk
of a 100-year-old tree Bennett had removed from his property. The
work has been on display at a Charlottesville public arts
festival. Says Bennett, "I had no doubt that he would turn it
into something special."

COLOR PHOTO: MANUELLO PAGANELLI

"You'd be surprised how detailed you can get with a chain saw,"
says Luzar.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)