“WE ALL BELIEVE IN HOME” references the hope and shelter that Habitat provides along with a sprinkling of why Manitoba is unique on a national and international scale.
41 layers of elm, ash, spruce and oak build upon each other, the shapes being abstracted beluga whale forms. The layers also recall the Tower of Hope in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Canada’s only national museum outside of Ottawa. We follow the pattern as it rises, the journey is convoluted−like life.
Pieces of elk and deer antler arise from the cracks and gaps, seemingly in a random fashion. Only by standing back and looking at the whole piece do we see that there is a pattern to the antler pieces as they rise to the apex, as does hope.
Colors and thicknesses vary, textures modulate and shapes protrude. The 6 pieces of birchbark sewn together into a pair of wings symbolize the shelter we all seek−that place we call home.
Polar bear footprints and 10 abstract representations of beluga whales swimming through the waves at the mouth of the Churchill River remind us that our home is the only prairie province to have a saltwater coastline−a world capital for beluga whale and polar bear watchers.
Manitoba is in the middle of nowhere and the heart of everything−the place we call home.
WE ARE SO IMPRESSED BY HABITAT THAT WE DECIDED TO DONATE A HOUSEWARMING GIFT TO EACH OF THE 25 HOMEOWNERS OF HOUSES BEING BUILT IN MANITOBA. BELIEVING A PIECE IS INCOMPLETE UNLESS SHARED, EVERYONE IS VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY.
For a short documentary about the piece in French:
Everybody gets in a slump from time to time. I find that after I finish a piece, I develop a hesitation to start a new one. Maybe it is the abrupt change from finishing one piece and having to start with the planning and rough carving that attends the commencement of new work. Whatever the reason, I usually find myself in a slump after I finish a piece, a reluctance to start something new. Luckily I live in a style where there is usually something to do to occupy myself till the enthusiasm returns.
Ideas for new work, on the other hand occur when least expected and often in bunches. While working on something entirely different, an idea for an excellent piece may show up, or it may occur when I see something around the place, or am reading about something else. I keep a list of ideas written down so that when I am ready to start something new, I can decide from among several options. The list of ideas can also serve to build enthusiasm for starting new projects.
So this last slump was a double whammy because I had just finished a string of several projects and had used up all the items on my list. After completing all the spring work around the place, I was looking to keep my skills up, but didn’t have any ideas, nor was I really enthused about starting a new project.
In the past, I’ve worked on some small projects – little things – to keep the carving muscles in shape. One such activity that I like is to make leaves and feathers. I find they are often useful for inclusion in other projects later and are also nice things to give guests – particularly to kids. While making some leaves, one of the pieces of antler I selected had a flaw in it (not unusual) that resulted in a couple of weak spots – holes – in the leaf. In a case like this, one can either scrap the piece or incorporate the flaw into the design. I chose the latter and decided carve some caterpillars and attach them to the leaf to make it look like they were eating it and making the holes. It turned out kind of nice for a little project, but I felt that, to be honest, the caterpillars should have been carved from the same piece as the leaf. Glueing them on after is the easy way. Thus resulted in the next project.
I selected moose antler because it was flat and not to thick and proceeded to make two pieces – each a leaf that looks undisturbed from above, but underneath holds three caterpillars hustling over the surface and borrowing into the folds of the leaf. One would think that the difficult part would be the carving of the caterpillars themselves, but they were relatively easy. The hard part was making the underside of the leaf. Why? Because after the caterpillars were carved, the surface remaining had to smoothed until it looked like a leaf – and there were those caterpillars in the way. This involved a lot of sanding using a stick to hold a small piece of sandpaper. The after the surface was smoothed, it had to be carved to look like the underside of a leaf – i.e. the veins had to be carved into the surface, or in one case, the veins had to left in relief whole the rest of the surface was reduced.
The pieces turned out better than expected – for an unexpected reason. The center of a moose antler is spongy like all antlers. Some parts are very spongy with relatively big holes. Other parts are quite dense and can be carved. I choose pieces that were dense in the middle and the unexpected benefit was that when finished, the middle material turned darker than the outer material. Since the caterpillars were all carved from the inner material and the leaf surfaces all carved from outer material, the result is dark caterpillars crawling on a lighter leaf surface.
The caterpillar project got me thinking about how objects could be carved onto the surface of other objects and the wide variety of potential projects that could be realized using this technique – and the idea list is again growing.
As a biologist, I try to make my pieces as detailed and correct as possible. For flowers and animals, it is fairly easy to study specimens and pictures and determine the correct number size and shape of constituent parts. Then I attempt to model the parts and put them together, or else I try to carve the parts into the larger piece. Some skill is of course required to convert visual observation into a physical piece. But once the parts are completed and in place, you can usually tell when you are finished.
Abstract pieces are another thing altogether. This work-in-progress is entitled: Nuts and Roots and Seeds and Shoots. First, there is no model to measure and compare with. In fact, for original abstract ideas, there is really nothing to start with, except an idea in your head. Further, you never know when you are finished. The idea in your head is a starting point, but once it becomes translated into a physical thing, there are always other things that can be added, subtracted or modified to improve on the idea. Basically, you continually work on the piece until something inside says, “that is finished!” In a few abstract pieces, I’ve kept working on it until I’ve gone one step too far and then decided to remove or repair that last addition, subtraction or modification. But even then, for several weeks, every time I looked at the completed piece I wondered if there was something else I could do to improve it.
An abstract piece does have the advantage of being more open for discussion. People seeing the piece before or after completion will often give ideas, comments or criticisms. These are all very welcome because their comments are based upon their view of the idea behind the piece–a view that is just as valid as mine was when I started. Comments on a realistic piece are much more limited: “that looks like the real thing”, -“his nose looks too long”, etc. Abstract pieces allow a person to provide more input from their own frame of context and can engage a person more fully.
For other abstract pieces already completed, see Cornucopia and Orchids (under Miscellaneous in older posts or in Gallery )
Reg, where do you get your ideas? This is one of the questions I get asked a lot. The others are:
- how long does it take to make that?
- how did you start doing this work?
- do I get a discount?
But, back to inspiration–it is easy to get the ideas as they are all around me. I live in a park, surrounded by the perfect images of nature. As a biologist by training, I find the snails and worms to be every bit as wonderful as the flowers. As well, I don’t limit my ideas to local nature and find inspiration from books, videos and talking to other people.
Consequently, I have pieces representing sea creatures, even though I live several thousand kilometers from the ocean. But, overall, the beauty and grace of the natural world provides most of my ideas.
I’m also not too proud to take a nugget of an idea from somewhere else and build upon it to make something new and unique–often with little in common from the original idea. I have two bonsai-inspired pieces, neither of which look like a traditional bonsai tree.
So, finding an image worthy of attempting to copy is the easy part. The difficult part is trying to make that copy within the limitations of my skill as a carver and the availability of the pieces of suitable antler. This brings me to another aspect of inspiration–the desire to make the piece the best possible–the work ethic. In this, I have two sources of inspiration, or models of work ethic.
First, the level of skill and dedication of traditional oriental artists. Whenever I am tempted to say, “ah, this is good enough!”, I think of the work I’ve seen in Japan, or a Chinese carving I’ve seen on the internet and realize that it can be made better, even if it means starting over. If you feel like saying that it is probably good enough–then it probably isn’t. I was recently working on an oriental dragon and had finished the scales over the two foot long body. I tried a modification of the scale carving and to mixed emotions, discovered that the new method was much better. It meant I had to redo the entire body, but the final result is much better and I am satisfied.
- The second source of my work ethic inspiration is my wife, best friend and partner Jamie and our son Justin. Both are perfectionists (darn!) and so I am somewhat driven to ensure that my work meets their standards. Not that this is a problem, quite the contrary, I like to make my work the best possible so that even if it sits on a counter in my basement, I can be satisfied that it is the best I can do.
One of the questions we are asked is “who inspires you?” People expect me to reference the work of great designers and furniture makers. However, it is the material itself that plays a large part in my philosophy.
When the Japanese architect, Kiyosi Seike, (1918-2005) said “I cannot help believing in the divine nature of a tree when I see that through some mysterious inspiration it has been enhanced and transformed into artistic expression”, he expressed my feelings about my work.
There are two people who continue to inspire me although neither of them are still with us–my parents. They have shaped both my creative thought and my work ethic. My mother and father adhered to 4 principles:
- For your life’s work, find something that makes you happy. You will have a more interesting life and you will succeed at it because you will practice, practice, practice!
- Whatever you choose to do, do it 100%. Sometimes a piece doesn’t quite turn out as well as I hoped. Instead of saying it’s good enough, I remake it. I burned the top of The Rubaiyat chess table and now I am satisfied with the new version.
- Respect yourself, others and Mother Earth. My parents treated everyone well, and being farmers (as were their parents) respecting the land was ingrained. I definitely respect the fact that it takes 50-125 years for my raw material to grow.
- Never quit learning. It’s a big, wonderful universe out there and learning anything keeps your mind sharp. My father never stopped reading about farming and current affairs and experimenting with new (to him) woodworking tools. My mother started sewing when she was 12 and was always trying to improve her sewing techniques. Asked to mentor Fashion Design students, she learned to use an industrial sewing machine at the age of 98.
The influence of my mother and father is reflected in my work. Their philosophy colored how I create.
We have an interconnectedness and interdependency on the natural world and items made of wood can represent and express that. Wood is a product of nature, something beyond humanity. The pieces I create could not be made of any other material. Trees are natural and supernatural. I truly believe a piece is incomplete unless shared.
Today we were in our community at Rossburn Elementary School. We built a stool (un tabouret) with each of the grade 5/6 French students. We chose this class as we are both trying to improve our French.
These projects involve a lot of time and extra help is always appreciated. Fortunately, the grade 7/8 French class volunteered to assist us. They played games (in French) with half the students while the other half assembled their stools.
The stools can also be used as a step-stool and were made from white spruce. White spruce (l’épicéa) is the official tree of the province of Manitoba. The top was textured both for interest and to provide a non-slip area.
It’s fun to work with students as they are always enthusiastic–even before they know they will receive a loot bag! The local office of Louisiana-Pacific provided us with tape measures, lip balm and balloons. Pencils were provided by the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve.
We had an enjoyable and productive day building a useful item, speaking French and having fun–just another great day in the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve where we live, work and play!
As we’ve mentioned before, we live in a very rural part of the prairies and get much of our inspiration from our surroundings. That conjures up images of deer grazing beside sparkling water and birds singing among the wildflowers, which is true. There are, however, other images and sensations that arise from experience.
Take for instance the bears that eat the Saskatoon berries from the bush outside our bedroom window (and bears are not quiet animals–they don’t have to be), or the bear, maybe the same one, who stuck its head right through the open window into the living room. A quiet pastoral scene is not what comes to mind. Now bears foraging in the area can be somewhat expected. After all, berries are nutritious and bears will and do eat anything. And to be honest, when the bear put its head in the window, we were cooking with the windows open. One could almost say we were asking for it.
And of course there are mice getting into the house and gophers eating all the tulip and crocus bulbs. The deer like tulips and crocuses as well, but apparently don’t like daffodils. However, after planting dozens of daffodils, we found that while the deer don’t like them, the gophers still do, so we no longer have daffodils, but do have well fed gophers. And while you can put a cage barrier around the shrubs and newly planted trees to stop deer grazing, the cages do not stop the 7 foot tall moose from grazing off the top 2-3 feet of your woody perennials.
Oh, and don’t try putting a cage around the berry bushes to stop the bears–they’ll knock that cage away without even putting in an effort. And they don’t stop a grazing on berries, they chew anything that catches their interest. Their teeth are very sharp and very strong and will go through the end of a kayak very easily. Canoes are also susceptible to animal damage. We had to repair the sides of our canoe a few years back when a beaver dropped an 8″ diameter poplar onto it!
Then there are the barn swallows that insist of building their mud nests against the speakers on our porch and on the interior walls of the shop or garage if we happened to leave the doors open. On reading up on what to do to deter them, I learned that barn swallows will continue building other nests all summer if they find suitable locations, even if they already have a nest. They are the strip mall moguls of the bird world–burning energy to build nests that they don’t use. How does such behaviour fit into a Darwinian model of survival of the fittest? The solution from the internet nature experts–stop fighting their nest building, sit back and enjoy them. Thanks for the advice.
And now that we are away from mammals and onto birds, every spring and summer, a magpie stakes a territory in our front yard. In some respects this is good because the magpie is quite territorial and keeps the other birds away from the Saskatoon bushes in the front yard (leaving them for the bear). The negative side to this situation is that the bird keeps attacking its reflection in our basement window, thinking this is a trespassing magpie. and throwing itself against the glass. This starts at sunrise (4:30 am in the summer) and lasts all day, interspersed with bouts of feeding. And being “bird-brained”, it never learns that the reflection isn’t a real bird. In fact, the more aggressive it gets, the more aggressive the reflection gets (naturally) and the more riled up the magpie gets. At least this bird problem has a solution–we put thick plastic over the windows so the bird cannot see its reflection. Now we only get the occasional bump when it attacks the usurper in the main floor windows.
But the incident that prompted me to write this entry happened just this spring. We covered our house in metal siding and metal roofing after seeing our neighbour’s wood-sided house with numerous holes from woodpeckers. To that end, the metal works excellently. Now, in the spring, the males of some species of woodpeckers attract potential mates and declare their territory by, naturally, drumming on trees using its beak. One enterprising male discovered, early one spring morning, that knocking its head against the metal of our roof makes an even bigger sound. And if the woodpecker thought it made a bigger sound outside, he should have heard the ruckus inside the house. It sounded like a jackhammer was being used. Now I’m all for live and let live, but it took a few wildly thrown rocks to get the bird off our roof and convince it that there were better places to go a-courtin’.
Whether it’s an occasional table for your home or numerous wood furnishings and artwork for a new spa in Winnipeg, Manitoba, our pieces remain:
-unique in design
-singular in execution
These photos are from a dream commission. We were given the freedom to come up with the designs based on the company’s needs, wants and budget.
Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature officially opened January 15, 2015. Everything from the restaurant tables to the artwork in the changing rooms was made of local wood using local talent.
Honored to be given the chance to design and make over 100 pieces for the spa, we hope you enjoy our creations as much as you enjoy the spa!
Ever mindful of the 3 pillars of sustainable development, we created a built environment that is:
INAKA CUSTOM FURNITURE AND ART can help you achieve LEED credits and make your vision a reality.
Merci pour cette belle opportunité de mettre en valeur notre spa en démontrant les magnifiques œuvres que vous avez créées.
In one of our older posts (Interesting Stuff: Memories are made of this), we talked about turning items from your family into tangible memories. But not every family has art or jewels to pass down to the next generation.
In fact, for a lot of people who grew up on farms in the Canadian prairies, even the buildings have disappeared to make more acreage. Sometimes all that’s left are a few shrubs. Such was the case with our latest commission. On arriving at the homestead, all we had to choose from was some caraganas.
This lowly shrub is actually a legume, Caragana arborescens. Native to Siberia and parts of China, it was introduced to North America in the 1700s.
The uses are astounding: a food source, an emmenagog to prevent pregnancy, a cancer treatment, fiber to make rope, a source of blue dye, pet bedding and even oil for aromatherapy.
During the 1930s, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFRA) worked extensively with farmers on the Prairies to establish caragana shelterbelts to prevent wind erosion. Saskatchewan farms alone have an estimated 25,000 miles of mature caragana shelterbelt. Add Manitoba and Alberta into the equation, and you’ve got thousands more miles of the hardy shrub-like plant.
With this kind of heritage, I had to come up with something wonderful. Because of the small amount of raw material I settled on a toothpick holder and wind chime/mobile. The challenge was not only that I needed 7 wonderful things for 7 family members, but to create something that future generations would like to keep.
After cutting over 300 pieces, I was able to choose some pleasing designs to make these items.
The idea for a memory piece is to remind you of loved ones and good times and smells from your childhood.
Sometimes a piece as simple as a wind chime can be an unforgettable memory peg. To be a part of that for this family was a very enjoyable and satisfying commission.
Let us know if we can create a tangible memory peg for your family.
“—received the wind chimes and the toothpick holder today and am very touched by them, the thought of preserving something in the first place, then turning these thoughts into pieces of art. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“—thank you so much for the imagination and the concrete time and skill you put into the caragana wind chimes and toothpick holder. That was such a lovely, lovely idea.”