A fierce competitor from an early age, Lynn Backus is the middle child and only daughter of chainsaw carving pioneer Judy McVay and tramp logger Dick Backus. Born in Spokane, Lynn and brothers Steve and Boaz were constant companions as the family chased logging jobs in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska before finally settling in Humptulips with Judy, after their parents split in the late 60s.
Early on, Lynn formed a deep connection with animals, which spawned a lifetime of rescuing, healing, and protecting all sorts of creatures from pheasants to dogs and everything in-between. With support and encouragement from her equestrian mother, by age five Lynn had her own horse and was fearlessly preforming agility stunts. By the end of the fifth grade, Lynn’s bedroom wall was adorned with an arsenal of ribbons won barrel racing and English jumping. In high school her competitive spirit turned toward softball; a sport she excelled at throughout adulthood.
By age 18, Lynn had been using a router and burning, brushing, and finishing woodcarvings for a decade; first as a child in Humptulips, where mother Judy and uncles, Pat and Mike started the family carving business, and then as a teen when the family business moved to Whidbey Island. After graduation, in pursuit of a career more stable than carving, Lynn worked for Whidbey Telecom in a wide variety of jobs including grounds keeping, swapping rotary phone mechanisms for push-button keypads, and line maintenance. But truth be told, she never strayed too far from her roots and continued helping at the family woodcarving business alongside working full-time.
In the late 1980s, Australian native Rob Chalk, was wandering about the Pacific Northwest and hitchhiking along US 101 at Kalaloch Lodge when Dick Backus pulled in to gas up his truck. The two struck up a conversation, ended up friends, and Dick offered him a ride, which ultimately took the pair to a family birthday party on Whidbey Island where Lynn was in attendance.
Lynn and Rob hit it off and in 1988 they married and then took off on a yearlong wild adventure first to New Zealand and then to Australia where they rented and camped out of the “Banana Express,” a bright yellow El Camino with a canopied sleeping area in the back. While traveling, the two took odd jobs sometimes staying a month or two in one location before moving on. It was there that Lynn worked for 10-weeks as a cook and deck hand on a prawn troller and fished the entire west coast of Australia. Other gigs included a stint at a sunflower farm as a pollinator, a nanny, cleaning hotel rooms, and a deli clerk.
The couple made many friends along the way and collected stories both good and the ones that make for good stories later (after you survive)! All were experiences that along with a multitude of cultural differences; food, language, blatant prejudice against Aborigines, and confronting anti-Americanism, expanded Lynn’s world view and influenced her life as an artist.
Soon after returning from Australia in 1990, Lynn and Rob’s son, Alex, was born. He grew up carving alongside his family and by age nine had won an award for youngest carver at the 1999 Westport competition. His winning six-foot bench featuring a lighthouse and killer whales was purchased by his mom and remains in her private collection. In 2000, at age 10, Alex helped Grandma Judy carve the iconic ‘Welcome to Ocean Shores’ sign, which has since been designated a significant historical artifact.
Daughter Maria, a talented artist in her own right was born in 1995 and grew up much the same as Lynn; burning, brushing, and finishing her mom’s work before graduating to carving. At a young age, Maria was introduced on stage as Uncle Boaz’s auctioneering helper and at 10 she carved at an event for the first time. Maria’s first pieces (two trees) were snagged once again by Lynn but don’t worry, there were more to come. By age 16, Maria was carving and auctioning her work at Ocean City’s Annual Burning Bear Festival, a venue she continued to carve at until 2014; she’s still carving today, in addition to working fulltime while parenting twin daughters!
Lynn first carved competitively in 1991 at Duke Moore’s Mt. Rainier Contest when son Alex was still just a baby. Her competition piece, a dolphin, was purchased by a 16-year-old who happened by, had money, and fell in love with it. A bit surprised, Lynn thought “I can do this!” and from there she began showing the world a talent she’d been honing since the age of eight. That same year, Lynn placed fifth with an honorable mention at the second annual Westport competition giving her the notoriety as the first woman to ever place at that event. A great honor considering Westport (1990 – 2005) still claims fame to being dubbed the very first “world’s largest” carving competition.
At a quick carve competition at the Washington State Fair, Lynn carved a fishing bear in just 10 minutes and the thick crowd who’d gathered was impressed by her speed and artistry. But even after watching her remove headphones and face mask, a guy in the crowd looked Lynn straight in the eye and asked, “who’s the guy that does this?” Unfortunatley, despite the carving mastery of female artists competing today, it’s a prevalent sentiment that continues. In fact, when growing up, Lynn’s mom Judy was often the token female competitor at carving events. So, it’s not surprising that Lynn, who came from a family that values mentoring others, saw talent in female carvers and helped many navigate the challenges of working and competing in a male dominated sport.
With two kids to feed and little help, Lynn spent the majority of her carving career as a roadside carver at outdoor venues including the Hoquiam Farmers Market, brother Boaz’s shop at Ocean City Marketplace (affectionately referred to as “The Corner”), Skagit Farmer Supply, Nisqually Bay Farmers Market, and a shop she owned in Bellingham to name a few. In addition, Lynn continued carving at the Washington State Fair (an event her family started in 1976) until 2009 when she stepped in to care for her ailing father. In addition to carving, Lynn worked a multitude of carving events often doubling as chef, ensuring all the carvers were well-fed. For eight years, beginning in 2004, she organized the Deming Carving Event in northwestern Washington and a smaller event held at Nisqually Bay. A stone’s throw from the Canadian border, Lynn’s Deming event is where niece Chelsey Backus made her carving debut at age 15.
Still carving and attending shows, now a Grandma, Lynn resides on a six-acre hobby farm in eastern Washington. In 2020, Maria’s three-year-old twin girls, the third generation of carvers, completed their first carving (with Lynn’s help). The two switched places midstream; one twin finishing the other’s work, which is exciting to watch! And stay tuned… the girls are actively practicing a stage routine in order to help uncle Boaz with auctions in the near future.