Each year for 12 years Mert Menge has been carving bears for Collier Park’s Logging Museum during Living History Days. He comes before and during the event and leaves after creating another masterpiece for the park’s collection.
(2008 Friends Newsletter) Mama bears, papa bears and baby bears are everywhere in Collier Park’s Logging Museum area. Not the growling dangerous kind, but friendly-faced bears that peer whimsically at everyone who walks by. They are all produced by Mert Menge, a long time friend of the park.
Menge, a logger by profession for thirty years, has been interested in art since he was in the 6th grade, and he was good enough then that he entered his work in national competitions.
After years in the woods cutting timber, he tried wood carving with his chain saw, first producing a carving of an eagle that, in his words, “actually turned out good.” Then he carved bears and a neighbor bought the first one. Twenty bears then sold for $1000 in a Bend parking lot and Mert’s hobby turned into a business. He sold his logging operation in 1995 and went into wood carving full time.
“Everyday I work, lots of people stop by. Yesterday I sold a piece to people from Denmark. And I’ve sent pieces to England, Japan and many other places around the world,” he says with obvious satisfaction.
His relationship with Collier Park started in 1995 when Park manager, Jim Beauchemin, stopped by. “He said he was starting a Living History Day event, would I come down for it,”
Menge recollects.”My wife had a heart attack in 1996 and I couldn’t go that year, but I’ve been there every year since.”
“I work using three chain saws from 7 am - 4 pm each day I‘m there, and have done one bear carving each year.” The last two years Menge has been building a sled for a logging donkey restoration project. “They have all the pieces now. They just have to put it together,” he says. “It will be 24’ long, 8’ wide, and the logs are 27” with cross pieces in between. I had to notch them all out so they’d fit.”
“I’m 67 years old and I will keep coming to the park as long as I can do it,” he concludes. “Lots of people like to watch me work, they are fascinated by it.” And at home, Menge is making 200-250 chainsaw carvings a year. He regularly donates to non-profit fundraisers for schools and churches and always makes donations to the auctions held by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Oregon Hunter’s Association.
“All the ideas for the designs just come to me,” he says. To get an idea of the scope of his imagination, check out his website, www.bearfactoryoregon.com.
The Friends of Collier Park fund the purchase of the carvings from Menge, but he is quick to say he gives them a special price. “They’re protecting my heritage, I don’t mind working cheap!”