When my father retired from working at BC Hydro, the guys from work commissioned Pete Ryan, the famous wood carver from Hope, BC, to carve something for Dad. He carved a couple of herons in a softwood burl.
After my father passed away a few years ago, I was rummaging around in his stacks of wood (he had hundreds of pounds of wood for his wood working projects) and found a slab cut out of a maple burl. After admiring Pete Ryan’s carving for years, I finally had a piece of wood worthy of my own attempt at something similar. However, there were a few issues I had to work out first.
The slab was 14 x 8″ of solid maple burl, about an inch thick, and very heavy. It had a few rough edges with the bark still on, as it was cut out of a piece of firewood with a chainsaw – likely a piece Dad found out in the bush or perhaps given to him from our neighbour, Roy Corbett. It had a split partway up the middle where some bark had grown in as well. And the wood had very interesting colouring – after I sanded off the rough chainsaw marks with my belt-sander, I could see a dramatic colour change from one side of the wood to the other. The grain was very interesting as well, with a strong arch in the lighter grain to crazy-curls in the dark area. I knew I wanted to carve a heron into this, but how?
I like to represent animals in their natural context as much as possible, and we see herons most often wading in water. I decided this bird was going to have his feet in the water. The way the colour shifted from very light on the top right to very dark on the bottom left had sunshine & shadow written all over it. The split in the wood was a problem at first – would I have to cut it off and make this a much smaller piece? Then the idea came that it could play into the sunshine & shadow, especially with the bark on it, giving a very dark shadow away from the ‘sun’. And in the end, the curly dark grain of the bottom left sure looks like wavy water with the sunlight reflecting off it. It took first prize in its division the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarving show a few years ago.
About the carving:
It is carved in maple and finished with multiple coats of tung oil. Oh, and the little snail clinging to a bull-rush? It’s carved in lignum vitae. I carved it tucked away in its shell as though it’s hoping to avoid being the heron’s dinner. This carving took me about 20 hours and currently hangs on our wall and reminds me of my father. I can’t part with it, so it’s not for sale.