LIMESTONE – Randy Rupert, aka the Wizard, has made a living at carving ice or wood for 39 years, but it wasn’t until Donald Trump Jr. noticed a chainsaw sculpture of President Donald Trump in front of the Wizard’s Workshop in Punxsutawney that two CNN reporters arrived at the workshop to get the rest of the story.
As best as Rupert can figure out, a seven and a half tall wood statue of President Trump was on display outside of the workshop when one night someone stopped and took a photo of the sculpture with their children and posted it on Facebook where it spread quickly on social media.
“It got a lot of exposure in front of my shop with car after car stopping and taking pictures of it,” said Rupert. “Somehow it got sent to Donald Trump Jr. and he made a comment about somebody in Punxsutawney called the Wizard’s Workshop [which] carved this likeness of my father and offered his approval.
“From there, CNN got hold of it, blew the picture up and saw the signage behind Donald Trump’s head with the phone number,” Rupert continued. “They called, and at first I thought it was just someone [messing] with me, but it was Hunter Schwartz and he called me back a week or so later and said they were going to be there on July 14. They were here for about an hour and a half and I took them through the whole place and explained how I went about making this Donald Trump. Right now they’re out at the golf course talking to the owner and taking pictures of the Donald Trump sculpture.”
Rupert said he could testify that no Russians were involved in making the sculpture.
It all started when Tony Hugill, owner of the Punxsutawney Country Club, called and wanted to commission a bust of Trump.
“He wanted me to come out there and to look at a tree on the fairway that they topped and do a Donald Trump bust,” said Rupert. “I got there and looked it over and the stump was not appropriate for the job. It had some issues and some bad spots in it. I talked him into cutting the rest of it off and I would take a good size log from his property and bring it back to my shop and do it here and deliver it to him. It went from a four-foot Donald Trump bust to a larger than life statue. It turned out pretty good.”
Rupert explained that Hugill is a Republican who loves Donald Trump and he “just had to have one.”
Following the installation at the golf course, Hugill called a couple weeks later and said his business has quadrupled.
“I think its’ hilarious,” Rupert said.
His next big project and his largest project ever is a chainsaw sculpture of a Yeti. It took Rupert a year to find a large enough piece of wood for the new carving, which turned out to be a five-ton log that can be seen along Route 66 at his workshop across from the Limestone Fire Hall.
“It’s such a big log it’s going to take a lot of whittling. It came from a private residence in New Bethlehem,” Rupert said. “I had to use a big excavator to pick that up, put it on a trailer, deliver it, and erect it for me.”
From Ice to Wood, Groundhog Day Relived
Ron Rupert started out as an ice carver and was a certified executive chef for many years. Ice was his first attraction in carving and he did that for about 15 years.
“I was interested in ice carving and took it a step further from doing ice buffet pieces and stuff like that,” said Rupert. “I started travelling around and doing high-speed competitions at nationals. I was probably into it for about 15 years. I was also an ice-carving promoter and promoted my own events in the Franklin area and different places.
“It got old and I decided to give it up when I learned I could make stuff out of wood and people would buy them as hideous as they were when I first started. That sort of put a fire under my butt and sort of weaned myself off of the food service industry that I was affiliated with for so long. I’ve been in business for myself wood carving-wise since 2002.”
Rupert said he did very well as a chef for seven or eight years, but decided to accept a position as one of the first three chef instructors hired for the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney that opened in 1989.
While there, he met a woman he was attracted to many years before who was a substitute instructor. He and Martha both had their own side ice businesses and “just sort of hit it off, but we were married to other people.”
Movie And Real Life
“I have always affiliated with Groundhog Day and even back then with the ice,” said Rupert. “I would do a lot of sculptures for Groundhog Day. Students were always involved and we had the national ice carving championships. That’s what got me involved with the ‘Groundhog Day’ movie with Bill Murray. All of the ice work you see in the movie was all me. When they were scouting for the movie, I was unloading some ice with students and there was Bill Murray with a baseball cap on and a trench coat trying to be incognito. I talked to him a little bit and then he disappeared. Murray and [director] Harold Ramis were scouting around town for things to put in the movie and ice carving was a part of the celebration and they wanted to incorporate it into the movie. That’s the only part that got cut from the movie because they ran out of time and it ended up on the cutting room floor.
“I wasn’t at the school for very long — maybe not even a year. It really wasn’t my bag and I was more a hands-on executive chef. It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy talking about what I did. When I left, Martha pretty much got my job and ended up teaching the same courses that I taught and took over the ice-carving club that I started. Martha J. Rupert is still a faculty member in the program.”
Lean Toward Fisher
“I went through a divorce in 2000 and ended up staying in my grandparents’ hunting camp in Fisher with no running water for three years and I loved it in the middle of the woods and still close to my job at the time. People still found me and they heard about my carvings through word of mouth. I loved it there. They would stop at the Red and White store in Fisher and ask for directions and they would come in and find me and business was happening.”
Rupert was also working at the Clarion Psychiatric Center when he moved to Fisher.
“I took a step down from the hustle bustle of city life and working for upper class restaurants and country clubs and I answered an ad in the paper for director of dietary,” continued Rupert. “What a change — I went from being an executive chef to being the dietary director. I just sat in the office, twiddled my thumbs, and directed people. Really, I trained the crew pretty well. I never had to be there. I kept leaving work earlier and earlier because I got interested in woodcarving and was more interested in that and it sort of took off pretty quick for me.”
He decided to plunge head first into is woodcarving in 2002, hung up his chef hat and found a property for his business in Limestone. He later opened a Wizard’s Workshop in Punxsutawney that now serves as his main base.
From a small operation as a woodcarver, he grew the business with a 20-foot trailer, a dump trailer and a dump truck, and he’s pretty pleased with the way things have turned out.
It hasn’t been an easy job wielding a chain saw that gets heavier with each new version as he moves it for some intricate sculpting of his new yeti in Limestone.
“It’s really taken a toll,” said Rupert, 59. “I have arthritis and I’m working right now with a torn rotator cuff and a problem with my bicep tendon. I know I need surgery, but I’m going to postpone that until after next year’s Groundhog Day.”
He has his priorities.