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.

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.


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.


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!

This Guy’s Got Mettle! Artistic Metal Fabricator James Rackstraw

This Guy’s Got Mettle! Artistic Metal Fabricator James Rackstraw

Creativity in the form of art is a wondrous thing. It can bring beauty into one’s life. It can add appreciation for other people, places and nature on the tiniest or grandest of scales . It helps us to become aware of whom we are and give us an awareness of other people and other things. It can provide an awakening and it can heal.

James Rackstraw is a young artist in terms of age and in terms of his art career. He is one such person who has found creativity and art to give him everything I have described and more. His story is quite remarkable. He has faced extreme adversity from an early age as a child. Spinal meningitis left him with the inability to communicate effectively. When we met James we could tell that determination was his companion and has walked with him side by side, enabling him to change his life and become the person he is today. He has been the passenger in twelve car accidents and broken almost every bone in his body and he had his hand almost completely severed when three thugs broke into his home with intentions of robbery. He has been up, living a comfortable life, and he has been down, at times living on the streets. James doesn’t mention these things because he wanted us to feel sorry for him, but rather because the experiences have brought him to where he is today. He notes that without those experiences and the understanding he gained that he wouldn’t be James Rackstraw, artistic metal fabricator.


Click on images to enlarge:

James’ work reminds me of a mixture of Edward Scissor Hands, with a dash of Old England and a sprig of Steam Punk. He loves to take found items that may be leftover scraps, old antiques or just someone’s junk and piece them together and create a new functional item like an Old English lamp post or a jewellery stand. It could also be something more abstract like a warrior sculpture or a robot. The irony of James’ art is that he breathes new life into something that would otherwise be discarded and his art breathes new life into him, a person who many people doubted and metaphorically discarded.


Click on images to enlarge:

Although James loves working on his own he says one of the best parts about being an artist is connecting with people. He told us that having spinal meningitis as a child gave him an innate ability to read people. His struggle to communicate forced James to learn through observation. He spent a lot of time watching. Oddly enough this skill that was acquired out of a disability is something he now uses to give himself a better understanding and insight into what he creates for someone. He gets great satisfaction out of creating not only the art but a connection to the art for the new owner of the piece.


Click on images to enlarge:

James is an inspiring person. He is a great example of what the human spirit is capable of. Whether we have hardships to the extreme like in James’ case or we don’t, it is uplifting to be reminded that humans are extraordinary and that gives us the ability to make our lives and our world a better place through the creative process.

We invite you to watch James speak candidly about his life and his art. Please feel free to leave a comment and post on social media. Thanks!

Norma Jackson Lives a Creative Life

Norma Jackson Lives a Creative Life

When we planned a trip to Vancouver Island in April our intention was to meet with some of the artists we didn’t catch up with the first time around. One of those artists was Norma Jackson. Norma lives in Duncan, B.C. with her husband Rodney and their cute little pooch. She is an award winning, eclectic, acrylic painter who often incorporates sculpture into her pieces. When she is not working on her own projects she spends time sharing her knowledge and inspiring others to discover their creative potential in various workshops she holds in her studio or takes on the road.


It was wonderful talking with Norma as she reminded me that when you have an intention for your life you must pursue it no matter how scary it may seem at first. Norma started out like many of us, myself included, speeding down the life long job highway only to discover; “this is not for me!” Not to say that a job doesn’t serve a financial purpose and is even sometimes fulfilling, but this route, from beginning to end, doesn’t suit everyone. I can’t say exactly how Norma came to this crossroads in her life, but perhaps it happened because she was open to the possibilities of what might, and did, cross her path. One day she found herself playing the role of a business executive with little opportunity for creative potential, and the next she was living a creative life painting and sculpting for a marionette company. With the help of a wonderful lady who became her mentor, Norma discovered many things that lay dormant within her and so put herself through many firsts such as painting, sculpting, set design, public speaking, puppeteering, writing, directing and performing to name just a few.



Eventually Norma found herself in the field of healing, and she discovered the healing properties of creativity, whether from creating for oneself or sharing one’s creativity with others. Norma discovered that it doesn’t matter if we are at the beginning of our life or coming to its end, the power of creativity can heal the smallest or biggest wounds. Her experience and her desire to help others led her and her band of marionette’s to visit people in hospice care, and later she developed a highly effective marionette program for youth contemplating suicide. In her video interview Norma shared with us some heart wrenching stories that left a lump in my throat.


Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger image.

Often we think of art and creativity in such a limited way; something to be admired or something that only people with excess disposable income can enjoy, either to pay for art school, lessons or just to purchase someone’s creative accomplishments. Norma is one artist, of many I’m sure, who have taken the merits of art to another dimension in society and as Norma says, “art is the life’s blood of our society.” Although her hospice work and the youth suicide program have been dismantled because of government funding cuts, her creative endeavours have changed the path of those who were dying by giving them comfort and peace, and to those who wanted to die by giving them a reason to live.

Today, Norma works on her own art and with great insight and a deep connection to her surroundings wherever she finds herself and with whomever she meets. She is interested in people, rituals, nature, abstract and just about anything that her open mind welcomes in. I was fascinated to hear her story and what led her to where she is today. These are the stories that keep me going in my life when the demon of doubt sometimes shows up unexpectedly. Perhaps they may do the same for you.

Please join us as Norma shares her journey by way of living a creative life. We love to hear from you so please leave a comment and share on social media. Thanks.

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.


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

Click on the thumbnail image to show a larger view.

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

Click on the thumbnail image to show a larger view.

“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!

Darren Petersen – Artisan Glassblower

Darren Petersen – Artisan Glassblower

Riddle: What work can be done in shorts and a t-shirt and preferably during a frigid Alberta winter?
Answer: Glassblowing of course; standing in front of a 2300 deg Fahrenheit gas furnace!


Darren Petersen of Sparrow Glassworks has been working with glass for 23 years and independently making a living doing it for the past 15 years along with his wife Deborah who is also an artisan. While most Red Deer residents may be filling their garages with quads, snowmobiles and snow blowers, Darren and Deborah have filled theirs with a home based glass making studio replete with all the tools of the trade including two gas furnaces, one containing the initial crucible of molten glass, and the other for reheating to maintain malleability while working with the glass.


Darren gave us a demonstration of the glass blowing technique while I tried not to sweat on the camera in the penetrating heat of the furnaces. It was a marvel to watch him work with what is such a delicate and fragile substance in it’s hardened form, but while molten he could manipulate and shape it to his will. He made it look so easy; no doubt a result of his many years of practice, trial and error.

Feel the heat with Darren’s glassblowing demo below!

Darren notes that along with the conventional techniques learned for glassblowing that he has also figured out some of his own tricks to create desired effects. I’m sure thousands of years ago this practice would have appeared mystical, and my lack of understanding of the process from beginning to end certainly left me bewildered, especially once we entered the gallery. The contrast walking from his shop of steel, heat and sweat into the bright, quiet gallery with the finished, handblown creations of coloured and clear glass staring back at us was palpable! All around us were glass objects in the form of drinking vessels, vases, pitchers and ornamental pieces that left my mind struggling to comprehend how they ‘came to be.’


Darren says that there are virtually no limitations to what can be done with glass, and he actively seeks out new and interesting ideas to shape into glass. Not willing to be bound by the safe and well traveled routes through his glass creations, he says that his ‘multiple glassblowing personalities’ allows him to try various undertakings without the constraints of convention. Armed with the knowledge that glass has absolute properties in it’s heated and cooled states, it is quickly evident to him whether a particular experiment will work or not, and so he is not averse to improvising on the fly and an object of one intention may become another as the process unfolds. Regardless of what Darren’s next creation may be, he is always inspired by nature’s beauty as well as a purpose or interconnection of the piece for the appreciator.

From the furnace blast now to the finished glass!



Please click on the image for a larger view:

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Darren as much as we did and please feel free to leave a comment below!

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.


"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:

Meet Rabi’a – “Woman of Steel”

Meet Rabi’a – “Woman of Steel”

Rabi’a greeted us at her gate with a hello, a hug, and a request to help her flip over a twelve foot long sheet of ¼ inch steel cut into the shape of a woman. It was a glimpse at her next project; the woman of steel to be clad in colourful ceramic tiles. [See photo of “Dancing Myself” updated below and the sculpture on public display in Castlegar, B.C.] It was perhaps a fitting symbol of this “woman of steel,” as Rabi’a’s boundless energy was apparent while she toured us around her property. That energy has transformed what was once a bare lot on the Slocan River into a beautifully treed sanctuary and also home to her bed and breakfast, The Artful Lodger. You will find an experience of cozy strawbale cottages, a solar shower (trust me, it’s very hot!), organic gardens and orchard, a boardwalk to the Slocan River, and of course the eclectic one-of-a-kind garden art sculptures created by Rabi’a. As we walked around the property it was evident that her outdoor art sculptures were as much a part of the décor of her acreage as were the variety of abundant trees she planted, each piece lending its own personality to the surroundings.

From Rabi’a’s history of homesteading and permaculture she is clearly a do-it-yourself person. That trait has extended to not only building the boardwalk shown in the included photos, where she hauled in 120 used tires for the base of it, but also to learning how to weld. That skill, combined with her creativity led to the creation of “Huge and Foolish“, a piece shown in Castlegar’s Sculpture Walk 2011 and purchased by the Columbia Basin Trust which now has it on display in Castlegar, B.C. for everyone to enjoy.

The "Huge and Foolish" mold

"Huge and Foolish"

Our visit with Rabi’a concluded with a tour of her strawbale cottages and a nice cup of tea, scrumptious dried apples and intensely flavoured dried tomatoes in her welcoming home; these goodies post-harvest bounty from her garden and orchard. Thank you for your hospitality Rabi’a.

“Dancing Myself”

Please click here for a more extensive look at Rabi’a’s art and enjoy the last two photographs below of views from Rabi’a’s property. Please feel free to leave a comment in the “Leave a comment” section below.