Sculptor Warren Wenzel Chisels New Life Into Stone and Wood

Sculptor Warren Wenzel Chisels New Life Into Stone and Wood

"Goalie"

We left the immaculate Molgat Park campground at Sainte Rose du Lac, Manitoba heading (what we thought was) east to meet up with and interview sculptor Warren Wenzel in Gimli. We heard that it was a pretty drive heading through The Narrows, gliding over the only bridge to traverse the shimmering waters of Lake Manitoba. It’s really too bad then that I messed up on directions and took a more circuitous route; south to Portage la Prairie, then east to Winnipeg, and then finally north to Gimli. Sigh…maybe next time. After knocking on Warren’s door and phoning him with no answer we were getting a little worried that our longer than expected excursion here would all be for naught. But then he emerged from where we should have guessed he would be, his garage studio out back where the magic of his wood and stone sculptures come to life.

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Warren has always been active in the arts in one way or another; his college courses leading him to dabble in cement and wood sculptures as well as abstract pieces in plexiglass. Working with wood though has always interested him, and so in 2000 when a home developer had left behind a landscape tie at a house he and his wife Denise were building, he decided to create his first chainsaw sculpture. His subject was a human sized dragon made up of 150 lbs of wood with fibreglass for the wings. It was certainly an ambitious endeavour for his first one and Warren notes that it was so big and heavy that he wound up gifting it to some friends rather than move it to Manitoba. The dragon is now resting comfortably in St. Albert, Alberta.

Wooden Bear

Wooden Bear

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Warren’s wife has made it a yearly tradition of giving him a different gift at Christmas that has something to do with art. So it wasn’t until Denise and her sister collaborated on some stone, hammers and chisels as his gift one year that his love for sculpting stone took off, and Warren has been carving it ever since for the past sixteen years. What he loves about working with the wood and stone is that once he has transformed the piece it is no longer just wood or stone, it has another identity that not only has a part of him in it, but also whatever the subject matter and the characteristics of who the piece is being designed for. Warren loves the creation process the most, taking away the chunks and then the fine bits to finally reveal what the piece of stone or wood was meant to be.

"Coyote Trickster"

“Coyote Trickster”

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Most of the time when Corinne asks an artist what their most difficult piece was, the response is usually associated with a technical aspect of the creation process. When she asked Warren though the question choked him up a bit. His wooden piece titled “Monk” was requested by his son. Warren initially thought of a portly shaped Buddha, but what his son had in mind was the likeness of a slender monk. As it got closer to completion his son said that the monk needed some prayer beads. Unfortunately his son passed away shortly before the piece was completed, and it wasn’t until Warren found the prayer beads amongst his son’s things that he then draped them in the monk’s hands, completing the piece. The “Monk”, sitting in tranquil meditation, exudes a serenity and spirituality to those that see him in Warren’s art tours. They also see the monk’s wooden “scars” where the wood did not lend itself to a perfect human form, and to Warren these are symbolic of the flaws and vulnerabilities of humanity.

"Monk" - wood

“Monk”

Most of Warren’s work is done by commission from his corporate sponsor, where they will give him a list of retiring members and then he will endeavour to create a unique retirement gift for them. He will find out details about the member, pick an appropriate stone to use, and design a sculpture that would best reflect the personality and characteristics of that person.

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A project that he hopes to include in his portfolio one day is a monumental piece. An idea he has is for the town of Stonewall, Manitoba which is known for its limestone quarries. He wants to use a large chunk of limestone from Stonewall to create a 6 1/2 foot hockey goalie and place it in front of their town arena. Anyone who is familiar with hockey knows that a “stonewall” is another term for a goalie (Warren is one himself). What could be a more fitting monument to the town of Stonewall and its limestone legacy than to have an enduring piece, a goalie in limestone, sculpted by a goalie?

Enjoy our interview with Warren and don’t be shy about sharing his story and work on social media and email. We also appreciate comments.

Artist Debra McLeod Turns and Burns

Artist Debra McLeod Turns and Burns

We went rolling down highway 41, then 21, and then 51 heading for Ruthilda, Saskatchewan on our way to interview wood turner Debra McLeod. The roads were long and straight but reminded me of a patchwork quilt. At times, Arty was rolling and swaying and skipping along. One of the nice things about taking the road less traveled is that you may find you are one of the only vehicles taking it, and although Gary still needed to be paying attention to not drive off the road or hit any Pronghorn we were both able to enjoy the sights along the journey. Another perk is you can stop on the highway for a photo opportunity or two which we did. At one point a local fellow stopped and asked us if we were lost. He obviously doesn’t or hasn’t seen a Vanagon around his area before because if it were me I would have asked if we were broken down.

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We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in the town of Ruthilda with only a population of six people. It is quaint and tidy and filled with history. The original Ruthilda hotel was built by Pat Boone, and then in 1926 it burnt down but was later rebuilt. The town council finally passed a law in 1962 allowing women into the drinking establishment of the hotel. I could imagine from its current façade that in its glory days it was a brilliant white with red accents. In the window of the front door hangs a sign with Merry Christmas on it. I immediately wondered how many Christmases have since come and gone. It is fascinating to me to find a place like Ruthilda in the middle of nowhere. I do not mean that in the derogatory sense, it is just a place most people will never see unless they have a reason to go there, like we did.

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Deb McLeod lives on a quarter section of land with her musician husband Ian, their exuberant pooch and the cat. They built their home in that spot 6 years ago but a deep family history has its roots in the area. Deb is a journeyman carpenter by trade and so it only made sense that she did all the finishing work. By looking around their home, it is easy to see that Deb has an appreciation and the skill for fine craftsmanship. She has always had a love for wood ever since she can remember. Growing up on a farm, it was common to be building something whether it be fencing or repairing a barn. When she went to grade school she desperately wanted to take shop but because she is a female it wasn’t allowed. But Deb would get her way and made a career from creating things with wood.

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Nine years ago she asked her step-father to teach her wood turning. He showed her the basics and she has never looked back. Her shop is full of tools including a very impressive lathe with all the bells and whistles and many finished and unfinished pieces waiting for her attention. Deb loves turning wood, and each and every day she feels more excited about getting into her shop than the day before. The whole process is intriguing and exciting to her but she admits it is the decorating of her wood pieces that she really adores. The turned piece becomes her canvas, and for that reason her wood of choice is birch, a white wood with no visible grain lines. In the winter I ask Gary, “can you put another piece of birch on the fire?” whereas Deb says, “Ian I’m going to put another piece of birch on the lathe”. I can tell you that Deb’s work has made me look at birch in a whole different light. I’m not sure I can burn it anymore.

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Deb is inspired by many things and often her best creative ideas come to her in the middle of the night when she is fast asleep. These mischievous ideas wake her up from her comfy slumber and then all she ends up doing is wishing for the light of dawn so she can get her ideas out of bed and make them come to life. She never has a problem with finding ideas, and sometimes the problem is having too many. Her latest series is three rather voluptuous pieces of wood that took on the persona of sisters. Soon she was looking at pictures of evening gowns that would serve as the decorations for these lovely ladies. Who knew wood and evening gowns would go together?

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Please join us as we listen to Deb talk about her passion for the art of wood turning. Please help us spread the word about Debra McLeod and her art by sharing through social media and email. Thanks!