Nathan Nuszkiewicz’s paintbrush is a chainsaw.
His canvas is a tree or a massive wood slab.
On Monday, he was outside his Rhinelander home and shop, working on a woodcarving to go on a roof peak at a customer’s home.
“It’s going to be a whole scene, where we’ve got the trees and the sky and the clouds and the sunset in the middle, and then, through that, there’s going to be an actual six- to six-and-a-half foot eagle flying out over the trees,” he explained.
Nathan’s wife and business partner, Erica, watched nearby.
She takes care of the organization, the books, and the social media for Potlicker Chainsaw Sculptures.
He takes care of the carving.
“It’s a blessing. To be able to watch him create every single day, it blows my mind still,” Erica said. “I’ve been with him 12 years doing it.”
Nathan achieves impressive detail using a chainsaw, a skill he mostly taught himself 25 years ago.
He’s been doing it full-time ever since.
“I did a couple of them, and [I said,] ‘Wow, people will actually pay money,’” he said, thinking back to his early days of carving.
The next step in creating this Northwoods scene is using a blowtorch to add smoothness and color, highlighting the texture of his cuts.
As he worked, he thought about his customers, many of them seasonal visitors from downstate or Illinois who grind out paychecks. Meanwhile, he gets to create art outdoors and live in the Northwoods.
“They’re down there living the hard life,” Nathan said, almost taking pity on them. “We’re up here living like this.”
Nathan spends most of the good weather months high on scaffolding, carving eagles, bears, and even hodags into trees.
Business has never been better for the self-proclaimed mom-and-pop shop. New orders will have to be made with patience.
“Right now, we’re getting close to where they won’t see us until next year,” he said.
Thirty miles away in Crandon, entrepreneur Stacey Jameson has only been in business for a few years, but also understands the need for hard work.
She’s the executive director of the Forest County Chamber of Commerce, but also just opened her own coffee bar and shop.
All told, she’s putting in 60 to 70 hours every week.
“I come in every morning before I go to work. I stop after work. I’m here on weekends doing things,” she said.
The entrepreneurial itch started years ago when Jameson was a student in Crandon learning business basics.
The teacher in charge of that class would later sell her the building that became her shop, Jameson’s Whiskey Darlin’.
“The benefit of owning it is just that rewarding feeling that you have of all the hard work and dedication you’ve put into your dreams and your visions and your schooling,” Jameson said.
Jameson’s drinks and local products have been selling well.
It’s one reason she and chainsaw carver Nathan Nuszkiewicz are featured by the new Guiding Rural Innovation and Development program housed at Nicolet College.
The GRID, as it’s called, seeks to replicate the economic successes of places like Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, rural areas with similar demographics and natural beauty.
“These places that focus on supporting small business and building up that entrepreneurial ecosystem did really well,” said The GRID Innovation and Business Development Manager Toni Van Doren.
Since the program’s start a year ago, Van Doren is most proud of having developed an asset map.
It’s a way for startups to more easily navigate resources like grants, business plans, and expertise.
“You don’t have to know what questions to ask. You just have to know, ‘I’m going to call The GRID, and they’re going to find it for me.’ That’s really what our goal and purpose is,” Van Doren said.
“The GRID isn’t going to duplicate any efforts of any other program that’s already out there. We just really want to amplify awareness of all of these great resources that we do have.”
The GRID offers connections to classes, experts, and networking, knowing that starting or growing a Northwoods business can be scary. The GRID’s goal is to make it a little less daunting.
It’s getting statewide attention for its efforts. On Monday, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced a $50,000 grant to The GRID.
If its mission is successful, The GRID will help the Northwoods become more vibrant, with more small-business entrepreneurs like Nathan Nuszkiewicz and Stacey Jameson.
If it’s successful, different places will look to the Northwoods as a model, just like the Northwoods looked to Coeur D’Alene.
“Other communities are [going to be] looking to us to stay, ‘How did they do that?” said Van Doren. “That’s where I want to be.’”