Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Team Yukon Canada wins first place at the International Carnaval de Quebec 2014 including Public Choice and Volunteer Choice Awards

What does it mean to follow your dreams? For Whitehorse, Yukon snow carver and sculptor Donald Watt it started at age ten, wishing someday to carve snow at the famous Quebec Winter Carnival. He recalls as a young boy watching the promo film for the Carnival on television with his father and proclaiming his aspirations. His father’s reply was that he was capable of doing anything he wanted. That stuck with him, and when Quebec invited Yukon to form a team for its national sculpture competition, he jumped at the chance. Donald not only lived his dream of carving in Quebec but has also seen victory as captain of Team Yukon, winning numerous times at the National and International Championships. Sadly, his father never got to see him carve in Quebec but Donald always pays homage to him by building an inukshuk from the initial chunks of snow removed as the carving begins to take shape. His father’s presence is now with him at every event watching him carve. Now, with over 30 years of carving, numerous awards from around the world and doing 6-8 carvings per year, that adds up to a lot of carvings, a lot of experience, and a testament to the power of his passion.

Donald Watt

Donald Watt

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture - Quebec 2013

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture – Quebec 2013

Snow carving is unlike any other art form; its closest relatives being ice and sand carving. It is a medium that requires a great deal of planning because it is not only dependent upon ones carving skills, but the carver must adhere to the laws of physics and nature. With a starting block of snow typically weighing 20-40 tons, it is not uncommon for a suspended portion of snow to weigh a ton or more. So if the structural design pushes load-bearing limits, combined with challenging weather conditions such as rain, the sculpture could collapse and end up in a pile before it is even judged. Other considerations are working against the clock as well as observing the criteria that the judges are looking for. These include creativity and artistic merit, technical difficulties as well as adherence to the original design. The appreciation and awe of a completed snow sculpture is fleeting; a live in the moment type of art work that not long after leaves its legacy in the photographs, memories and a marred footprint of where it once stood.

1st Place - San Vigilio, Italy 2013

1st Place – San Vigilio, Italy 2013

2nd Place - San Candido, Italy 2013

2nd Place – San Candido, Italy 2013

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The process for completing a sculpture is always a team effort, and each team mate will lend their strengths to complement the whole. The 2014 World Tour team for Yukon is comprised of Donald, Michael Lane and Ken Anderson. Donald is the three dimensional specialist and will guide the team in the initial stages to taking away the major chunks and getting the sculpture to an impressionistic stage. Michael is the idea guy and detailed carver who will advise on the fine particulars, and Ken is a skilled first nations carver that will also lend the knowledge and detail required for the traditional northern and west coast first nations themes.

Breckenridge, USA 2013

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When he isn’t carving snow Donald is still active in the arts. Formally trained in sculpture and printmaking, he enjoys helping out with three dimensional design; building and designing sets for the local theater groups as well as hiring himself out to the art department to design sets for movies that are filmed in the area. He also creates clay sculptures that he refers to as “fairies with attitude.” These aren’t your cutesy, pixie-like Tinkerbell fairies mind you; these have a personality all their own. Donald says that the idea for these fairies came from his Irish grandmother. She would always say, “Donald, you don’t go in the back of the garden because that’s where the fairies live, and they’re not always nice!” So he decided to create these not-so-friendly looking fairies and give them some chutzpah. Why do people connect with Donald’s fairies? Maybe they represent nonconformity; a rebellious free-spirit that doesn’t care what people think of them or how they look. Maybe they depict the balance between the dark and the light; good and bad. Or, maybe they’re just a whole lot of fun!

The Lady's Not For Sale

The Lady’s Not For Sale

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For many artists there is the piéce de résistance that lingers in the back of their mind; the ultimate work or challenge that pushes them to their outer limit. Having traveled the world carving snow sculptures Donald’s ultimate vision now is to go to Antarctica to carve the Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen expeditions. He wants to do a carving at Scott’s Antarctica landing spot, showing him leaving for the South Pole heavily laden with all of his supplies. Then he will fly to the South Pole and do another carving showing Amundsen’s arrival there with his sled dogs and planting the Norwegian flag, the first expedition to do so and beating Scott by thirty-four days. It is an enormous undertaking; requiring a lot of planning, permissions, safety logistics and funding, but having seen the journey and accomplishments of a wide-eyed young boy to where he is today, we don’t doubt that Donald Watt can make it happen. Keep following the magnificent snow sculptures of Donald and his Team Yukon through his linked website Snowcarver.ca… and maybe leave a little room on your nightstand for a fairy to watch over you.

Learn more about the art and science of snow sculpture during our interview with Donald Watt, and we always welcome Comments and Sharing on social media:

Arlene Ness Explores Art Through Culture

Arlene Ness Explores Art Through Culture

Our destination for today was the Gitanmaax Reserve in Hazelton, B.C. where we were meeting with Gitxsan First Nations multi-medium artist Arlene Ness. Driving into this scenic area we were struck by the imposing mountains and lush forests with their breathtaking, resplendent autumn colours! It was easy to avert my eyes occasionally to glance up at them, if only for a second. Suddenly, flashing lights in our rear view mirror suggested we were now getting a police escort by the friendly RCMP of this quaint village; we didn’t even know they were aware of our arrival! As I snapped out of it I realized that I had missed a school sign during one of those brief sight-seeing moments, and the police officer’s intention was not one of fanfare. Luckily he gave me a warning and sent us on our way. Without further delay, but well within the posted speed limit, we were once again on our way to Arlene’s place to get to know this diversified and prolific fine artist.

Arlene in front of her Grizzly stained glass

Arlene in front of her Grizzly stained glass

Arlene says that she has been creating art in various mediums ever since she was a child. From following her mother’s and sisters’ examples, to loving high school art classes, to seeking expertise and education from renowned teachers, to undeniably her own drive and initiative, Arlene has never shied away from pursuing art forms that intrigued her. Life inspires Arlene, and depending on what peaks her interest be it her mood, the seasons, her family or nature, she may indulge her creativity in carving masks, stained glass, jewellery, paintings and drawings. She has even undertaken the enormous task of carving totem poles under the tutelage of master carver Earl Muldon. How does one person manage to spread her creative energy around to all of these disciplines and excel at them, on top of raising four children and teaching First Nations fine art at the community college? From what I observed of Arlene she has this zen-like calm about her and knows how to set boundaries and balance her life so all aspects work in harmony. With her art, she doesn’t try to force her creativity in any one direction, but rather she takes guidance from her environment, embraces how she feels and lets it come to her. She is the proverbial water flowing around the rocks.

Hummingbird Dreams

Hummingbird Dreams

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The beauty of Arlene’s fine art transcends all cultural boundaries. Her style reflects the traditional Northwest Coast Native Art form lines which she maintains strict adherence to when working on art forms of the crests and symbols of other clans. When working on her own family’s crest and symbols she allows herself more freedom to include her own contemporary designs and interpretations. She is of the Giskaast clan; the traditions, stories and ancestral knowledge being very important to her, and it is her desire to pass down that knowledge to future generations. Her art work is an expression of herself, her culture and of the love she has for her natural surroundings and all its inhabitants. Seeing one of Arlene’s beautifully carved masks, for instance, invokes curiosity about the meaning behind it, and one does not have to be of Gitxsan ancestry to appreciate the story it tells or marvel at the craftsmanship. Though the oral history of each clan (adaawx) that is shared with succeeding generations is of primary cultural importance to the clan itself, the art that Arlene creates is the physical heirloom of her ancestry but is there for all of us to appreciate and enjoy.

Learn more about Arlene and her art as Corinne chats with her. Feel free to comment below and share on social media.

The story of Copperhaired Woman in "The Return" above can be found on Arlene's website

“The Return”


The story of Copperhaired Woman in “The Return” can be found on Arlene’s website

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Owl’s Well with Stone Carver Beate Marquardt

Owl’s Well with Stone Carver Beate Marquardt

Half-Owl carved of Indian Soapstone

Stone; the fascination that humans have had with this material goes back 3.4 million years during the Stone Age when the first evidence of shaped tools and weapons were found. Throughout the ensuing ages further clues have been left to reveal its uses. Prehistoric Stonehenge, with its still undetermined raison d’etre demonstrates the relative permanence of stone and the symbol it was to represent. More recently, the carving of four 60 foot high heads into a granite mountain over a fourteen year period was considered a worthwhile endeavour to draw tourist activity. The result was the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Bringing us to present day, this story is about Beate Marquardt who shares with us the artistic realm of her carved stone!

Beate in front of one of her Emily Carr tree pieces at the Lakes Artisan Centre

Beate in front of one of her Emily Carr tree pieces at the Lakes Artisan Centre

As we rolled into Burns Lake we looked forward to our meeting with Beate at our rendezvous location, the Lakes Artisan Centre, where numerous artisans including Beate display and sell their works of art. It was here that we would film most of Beate’s pieces which we were eager to see. It is one thing to look at a photograph of a sculpted, three dimensional carved piece of stone, but yet another to see the vibrant colours in person, walk around it, and feel its smooth surfaces and lines. It comes alive!

Fishcolour Fish

“Fishcolour Fish” – Brazilian soapstone on local shale

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From the gallery we traveled to Beate’s home which is surrounded by a wilderness setting, the likes of which invites even roaming moose and their young to take pause. She used to live in a much more rural area south of Burns Lake, living off-grid and requiring a ferry to get there, but once her Down syndrome son Wolf graduated she knew that he would get bored and so she moved closer to town where there are more programs for him to participate in such as the Special Olympics. I think Wolf was wondering who these two strangers were at first but soon he warmed up to us and sat down next to us as we all ate our cookies. A noticeable feature as we walked through Beate’s home was that we saw owls everywhere. Not only does she love owls, but these are a symbol of the nickname her parents have called her since infancy, and appropriately lending itself to the name of her website Owl’s Stone Carving.

"Alabaster Buddha" - U.S. Alabaster

“Alabaster Buddha” – U.S. Alabaster

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Stones have always been a part of our lives and I’ll bet there is nary a child that hasn’t picked up a stone to toss, feel and observe its shape, or just to skip it across the pond. There is an inherent connection between us and the earth, and it is evident from Beate’s carvings that she deeply understands the interconnectedness between all living things. Beate’s passion for carving stone took off in 2007 after receiving her first chunk of soapstone from her eldest son Peter the previous Christmas. She hasn’t looked back from that point and with only seven years of carving it is amazing how fine her work is. Beate notes that she does not pre-plan her carvings, but rather that the stone itself has a plan, and it’s just a matter of time before it reveals it to her.

"Green Woman of the Lakes" - Indian soapstone

“Green Woman of the Lakes” – Indian soapstone

"The Threat"

“The Threat” – Photograph by Jean-Philippe Marquis

Looking at the various carvings that Beate has done I can see that her subject matter has meaning; whether meaningful because of family association, symbols of nurturing, spirituality or cause. Above you will see “The Threat,” a beautiful piece that Beate carved in red Pyrophyllite and Black Chlorite. It is a message of protest to Enbridge who plans to put their pipeline directly through the town of Burns Lake. The sculpture depicts a salmon enveloped in a wave of black oil.

"Mother Earth Raped by Pipeline"

“Mother Earth Raped by Pipeline”-Brazilian soapstone and 2 painted drill cores

Above is another carving with a compelling message; Beate describes it as follows:
“My mother Earth is depicted as a voluptuous woman with big nurturing breasts and a pregnant front. Her hands are missing to show her defencelessness while suffering the brutal attack by the double pipeline carrying toxic bitumen.
The difference in surface treatment of polished breasts/abdomen and rough carved face/hair has this meaning: Just like the raw sexual interest of a rapist usually concentrates on breasts and abdomen and eclipses the beauty of the abused person as a whole so does the predominantly economic interest of the pipeline supporters neglect the importance of the unique beauty and balanced harmony of Mother Earth as a whole.”

Please join us with Beate as she talks more about her love of stone. We thank you for taking the time to comment and share on social media!

Greg Bradacs Carves Visions of Nature

Greg Bradacs Carves Visions of Nature

When antler carver Greg Bradacs had mentioned in an email that we would not be disappointed by a visit to his Bird’s Paradise property we weren’t quite sure what he meant, but as we drove down the long forested driveway and emerged into the clearing at his house we started to understand. He had transformed his quarter section of land into an interesting nature walk of wonder that accentuates the natural beauty and features of the land while also accenting it with his own creative flair in the form of a pond, trails, gazebos, wildlife viewing areas and of course…custom designed outhouses! He took us on a walk around his “living canvas” as he calls it; a rural retreat for adults and children alike while painting us a picture of the future plans he has for what is otherwise known as Visions of Nature. The heart, soul and energy that Greg has put into his property is evident everywhere we look, and it is no surprise that we see the same passion and focus that he puts into his antler carvings.

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Having been exposed to the outdoors since childhood, Greg has always been inspired by nature and found that drawing wildlife using pen and ink as a teenager was a fitting entry to his first artistic expression. He moved on to pointillism, honing his technique and deriving great satisfaction from the detailed images that would appear from the hundreds of thousands of dots that he meticulously put down on canvas. Greg’s drive and focus were a perfect fit for this art form. When Greg created the large eagle depicted below he decided to count the amount of dots he put down in a few select places. On the pupil of the eye there were 1400 dots, the nostril 300, the third large feather down on the left wing was 24,450 and on the third flight feather up on the right was 23,840 dots! The proof is in the pointillism as the detail that Greg exhibits is stunning! His pointillism also took shape as animals drawn on the skulls from which they originated. The outcome was not only Greg’s beautiful work of art but also commemorative to the animal taken.

Freedom of Flight IV

Freedom of Flight IV

Greg’s decision to carve antlers twelve years ago would bring his imagination, creativity and infinite detail to the natural “gifts” that moose and deer drop to the ground every year. He notes that many times he will get a vision in his head, a story that needs to be told and put forth to his antler medium. He then searches for the perfect “canvas” in his collection of antlers, one that speaks to him, and then gets to work! He uses a Dremel tool and dentistry tools with their fine bits to patiently carve the details of landscapes, animals, people or scenes. The result is another one-of-a-kind work of art!

One such story that Greg needed to tell was Can You Hear The Laughter, shown below. Click on the link within the name to read about how this remarkable carving came to be after 2 1/2 years in the making!

Can You Hear The Laughter?

Can You Hear The Laughter?

Click on the images below for a closer look!

Greg’s sought after antler carvings and commissioned pieces are not just the result of the skills he imparts to create them, but also unites the personalization he undertakes during the design phase. Through extensive fact finding he will get to know the recipient of one of his pieces to the point where the finished antler carving could represent a history of that person’s life. A great example of this was Greg’s piece, Memory Lane, a 50th birthday gift. By clicking on the link provided you will see that the personal life details of the birthday boy are embodied exceptionally well within the artistry.

Don't Look Back

Don’t Look Back

Rock Climber

Rock Climber

Click on the images below of Silent Minds, a remembrance to the riches-seeking miners of the past!

Enjoy getting to know Greg with us in his garden interview and please share on social media!

Joe ~The Carver~ Ratushniak

Joe ~The Carver~ Ratushniak

Our journey to the rolling hills north of Merritt, B.C. brought us to a sprawling five thousand acre ranch where a guy named Joe Ratushniak carves wood for a living. When he is not carving, Joe and his partner Julia help out on the ranch with the cattle, the haying operations, general ranch chores and some riding. It is a breathtaking drive into the ranch with endless hay fields and heavy forestation all around. Ironically this environment is a bit of a conundrum for Joe. The peaceful surroundings and fresh mountain air makes an idyllic setting for him to work and yet he sometimes feels too secluded; sequestered away from the hustle and bustle and interaction with others which can be an important part of promoting your art and developing yourself.

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Click on the images below for a closer look at the full carving above:

Joe started out working for a log home builder utilizing his skills to make other people’s home living dreams a reality. The builder’s specialty would also include a carving of some sort as a signatory complement to the new home. One day the usual carver wasn’t available and so Joe was asked to do the carving. It was at this point in his life that carving wood for a living began. He has been carving for twenty years and is still giving life to people’s dreams but now it is in the form of commissioned pieces that range from sports bar tables, animals, masks and totem poles to name just a few. Joe figures that ninety percent of his work is commissioned by customers and the rest is from his own creative initiatives.

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When we first started talking with Joe we felt as if we were sitting in the office of an engineer or an architectural designer, not in the studio of an artist. He used words like blue print, proposal and give it some flair. It was at that point we realized we weren’t talking to someone who thinks of himself as an artist. Joe says so himself. He describes himself as a “journeyman” and although he does remarkable carvings they are still just jobs to him. As the conversation carried on Joe’s own transformation, not unlike the wood he carves, was taking place before us. His body language, his tone of voice and the words he used started to reveal an artist. His voice became louder and he sounded passionate and excited about stepping away from the journeyman and towards the artist. He used terms like spontaneity, something undefinable, draws you in and open to interpretation. Joe has about six solid ideas for his own art pieces which he is ready to pursue. He informed us that although he still has mixed feelings about art he knows that this is where he wants to be. Having said that, Joe’s art will still maintain a functionality to it, as he says, “to justify its existence in the first place”. What we observed was that Joe’s humble nature belies the fact that the amazing detail and imagination that he puts into his carvings is most assuredly art and certainly fine craft.

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The photographs throughout this blog show the remarkable work that Joe has done, and the video pans during his interview showing the degree of detail of these pieces will blow you away even more. On Joe’s latest commissioned piece he created a sports bar table supported by a Stanley Cup shaped pedestal base with the carved table top represented by a jersey in such detail that it appears as if it was a real jersey thrown on top of the table! Don’t miss it and be sure to check out our interview with Joe. We love comments and please share on social media!

Richard Menard – Sculptures of Tranquility

Richard Menard – Sculptures of Tranquility

I never grow tired of walking through the forest. I walk side by side with my senses. The air is rich with oxygen and the smell of humus fills my nose as I take a deep breath. The cool humidity blankets my skin and I feel tingly and alive. Each step I take brings with it the sound of crunching leaves and crackling branches, I hear the sweet melody of birds chiming for a mate and I listen as the breeze lightly brushes through the tops of the trees. Sometimes there is no sound at all and with it comes a calm that I am eternally grateful for. My footsteps take me down a path I may or may not have traveled before but each time I go it is the trees that draw me there. I am always humbled when I stand in the presence of the great trees. They are so grand and amazing and always take my breath away every time I see one.

Richard at his home on Denman Island, B.C.

Richard at his home on Denman Island, B.C.

Shari and Richard in front of Richard's handiwork; their new studio.

Shari and Richard in front of Richard’s handiwork; their new studio.

I preface my blog this way because I want to introduce you to Richard Menard. Richard lives on Denman Island, British Columbia, a short 10 minute ferry ride from the east side of Vancouver Island. He and his partner Shari and their cat Mische live on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the ocean.

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Richard is a sculptural artist who spends his days in the company of the great trees. Not only do they watch over him as he works, their fallen ancestors become resurrected into new artistic forms in Richard’s sculptures. They are grand and they command attention just as they did when the trees once stood in the forest. At the same time, his sculptures are simple and respectful and are a fitting homage to the fallen giants.

Copper Woman

Copper Woman

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Richard loves to work with burls not only for the challenge but also for the inner beauty of the tree. He can bring out the colours and the patterns in the detailed work he does. Burls can be elusive as they are not all that common, especially when you are looking for something big. It starts as a rough and tumble process once Richard finds what he is seeking. Most of the time the burls aren’t sitting in a convenient location, they are super heavy and they are awkward due to their size. Once he wrestles the hulking piece of wood onto his truck with a little help from his ratchet lever hoist, he takes it to his studio where it will sit quietly and wait until Richard finds an idea for that particular piece. It is a chunky and clunky task when he begins to work with the rough piece. He quickly cuts away the bulk to reveal the basic form and as time goes on the tools become more refined and the sculpture begins to come to life. Primarily, he carves faces with smooth, delicate features and closed eyes from red and yellow cedar. The faces are peaceful and serene and give the whole sculpture a meditative quality.

Goddess in the Garden

Goddess in the Garden

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“In our modern world, a great many of us experience a daily bombardment of noise, imagery and over-stimulation. My intention is to create art that invites the experiencer to contemplate, breathe and feel at peace.”

– Richard Menard

Please join us as we find out more about Richard Menard and his art in the following interview. Comments are always appreciated and don’t forget to share with social media!

Bird Carver Don Smith

Bird Carver Don Smith

Don Smith came walking up to our van in the Mossbank campground and introduced himself as a friend of the folks camping next to us. How did we know them? They had recognized our van Arty from the Moose Jaw Walmart parking lot where we camped the night before, and finding out about our quest for artists from a chat with Corinne, thought of Don who is a bird carver. It’s funny how one thing always seems to lead to another, and I’m sure that synchronicity will be the most overused word that we put on our pages over the next few months, and certainly the most appropriate!

"Golden Eagle"

Don’s family had settled in Mossbank in 1941 and so Don was a wealth of historical facts pertaining to the area including the tale of Old Wives Lake and the Cree-Blackfoot battle, the air force training base that was there from 1941 to 1944, and the mountainous snowfall in February of 1947 that blocked the railroad to such an extent that they had to bring in a giant “snow blower” to cut a swath down the tracks. Don graciously showed us around the area including his home where he had fascinating documents, photos and paraphernalia from these historic eras gone by. And he even shared a joke or two!

"Don with some of his feathery friends"

He also showed us the remarkable carvings of birds that he displays throughout his house. Don’s foray into this art form started with his father who was a bird hunter, and who would document his birds by carving them. His work was extraordinary and he won many awards. When he had carved a goose and attracted a buyer for it that set the stage, and now Don has become an accomplished carver of birds in his own right and has won an award for an extraordinary Ruffed Grouse which is on display in the Shurniak Art Gallery in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. Technology and materials have changed since Don’s father’s time and so now instead of painting on the feather details, Don can actually burn in the feathers using a hot iron and then paints the proper colouration.

"Meadowlark"

"Bohemian Waxwing"

Please enjoy these photographs of Don’s bird carvings as much as we enjoyed meeting and spending some time with Don and sharing with us his artistic passion. Please click on the three thumbnails below to view the birds in their entirety: