Layers of PASSION

By Jody FarrelThe Hunter by Len Smith

Three Peace area artists share their love of wood carving

Len Smith

Stopping to admire Len Smith’s woodworks at his regular farmers market kiosk may stem as much from his infectious smile as your interest in carving. Smith began wood carving in Barrie, Ontario, where he lived until moving to Grande Prairie nearly 13 years ago. He spent years experimenting with all manner of woodwork, beginning with “blanks,” blocks of loosely prepared forms, and gradually learning sculpture of decoys and characters, as well as intarsia, or carving into wood.

Smith’s works speak more of a love for the process than a love of detail. He spends most days in his workshop and two to three evenings teaching. His studio is in his home, but you’ll find him every Saturday morning at the Grande Prairie farmers market selling his works and tools and sharing his love of his art.

Snowy Owl by Bruce Tolton

Bruce Tolton

Bruce Tolton’s bird carvings require a mastery of woodworking and painting skills that can only come with patience and passion for detail.”

You really have to know your anatomy, or all you’re left with is a block of wood on your mantle,” says the Grande Prairie carver. “It doesn’t look good.”

Hours are spent accurately detailing feathers and talons and painting the newly-carved birds. Still, the work gives him a great sense of tranquility. “Any bad day is gone once you’re carving,” Tolton says.

Willow Ptarmigan by Sean ReillySean Reilly

Sean Reilly wasn’t long into wood carving when he realized he was less concerned with replicating than with giving a very sensual impression of both the bird he was working on and the wood he’d chosen for the subject. For Reilly, exact replication of the subject equals placing the stuffed bird on display.

The Wembley artist’s subjects have a minimalist look to them. A ripple carved into the back of the otherwise sleek crow suggests both that bird’s likeness and its more mythological, dreamlike quality. “I like the high tactility of a piece,” Reilly says.

He uses a variety of woods, including oak, and likes the West Coast’s yellow cedar and Ontario’s basswood. Reilly finds the process of carving “incredibly therapeutic. Just the act of peeling off layers and layers of wood takes you to a different place,” he says.

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