Husqvarna in Hope: Wood Bear Carving with a Chainsaw
Between the Owl Street Cafe and the Hope Husky,
beneath misty mountains bridled with spring waterfalls,
I turn into the driveway at the carved bear and eagle.
Today the wood carver is "OPEN."
The sole witness to my arrival is a massive stone face under a maple tree, a boulder hewn from the mountains beyond Hope.
Where bald eagles and grizzlies hunt salmon on the carved cedar doorpost, a gnomish face in the handle keeps the gate to a kingdom of Middle Earth.
This is a workshop whose creatures spring out of ancient logs and blocks of wood from old growth trees of the British Columbian forest. Here are spirit teachers released from their matrix, unseen until the carver's "optic heart" (Avison, "Snow," 1960) hones their shape and sound. Pete Ryan comes from the back room to greet me and show me around.
“My first teacher was Don Colp, whom I met in the 70‘s while he was exhibiting his work in a mall, carving a bighorn sheep from a block of wood with a Frontier chainsaw. Soon I was carving bears with an Husqvarna to promote their chainsaws at the dealers. After that, I took a commercial art course for four years from a mail order school in Minnesota, following a curriculum written by Les Kobala, who also designed all the covers for the old “Field and Stream” magazines, and Norman Rockwell, another great magazine illustrator. I get ideas from the wood. As I take away the rough stuff with the chainsaw, I notice the shapes within and work with hand tools and airbrush techniques to bring out the details. My early pieces were rough, but from the beginning people liked them, and I have gotten better with every piece I carve.”
A stump uprooted from the mountain in a great mudslide and washed down the flooding Coquihalla River has become a glass end table with a shelf. Disaster turns to art. Now squirrels cavort along the top, bright eyed and busy tailed.
“Can you see the heron in the shelf?” Pete tests me.
I miss it, as do many. My eyes are open, but I see nothing until Pete points it out. The piece took over a year to complete.
Wooden masks and faces line the gallery walls.
A Kwakiutl Indian style eagle mask hangs in the corner near Spirit Woman and the blue guitar, finished with the work of Sabeana Golhoff, a Haida colleague who braided cedar strings and painted the interiors of the hinged mask in traditional patterns. Suspended from the ceiling of a room, the mask opens and closes with a cord pull, as spirit eagle flaps its wings.
Pete’s latest project, an eagle with pinions spread for flight, is drying for a few weeks. After careful inspection for hairline cracks that may appear as the wood dries naturally, Pete will finish it with varnish or oil, depending on whether the piece will go outdoors or indoors.
The model for the eagle, borrowed from his taxidermist friend, spreads its wings in the back room.
A chain saw roughs out the shape of the sculpture as fragrant flying woodchips litter his workshop floor. His wood of choice is BC Grade one yellow cedar logs, about $400 a metre. He then carves the details of beak, talon, feather, fur and scale with hand tools, like single and double-bladed knives or small chisels, or with small power tools, including a dremel and 1/2 inch belt sander. Occasionally he finishes a piece by airbrushing dark stain for the modelling and shadows.
He carves house posts for huge upright beams in log cabin homes around the world, especially in the US and Japan. One client there ordered a custom carving for the finials of cross beams that support the beachfront cabin floor, dolphins arcing in still curves toward the Sea of Japan.
Collaborating with various log home companies, he fulfills special commissions for clients who seek the unique signature his art brings to their homes and lodges.
Recently he has started carving picture frame bas-reliefs to hang above a fireplace--wall plates a metre by a metre and a half in which dolphins leap out of the wake, or a family of bears claws salmon out of rapids as the sun sets. He invested in a large table lathe for this work, carving the wood burl and highlighting it with a technique that makes it look like sunshine.
In his breaks he smokes a cigarette or plays his blue guitar and sings. A fiddle hangs on the wall of his office. Sometimes he plays it, too. Saturday nights you may find him down at Skinny's Grille, beneath his Hobbit Wall, jamming with the locals from Hope.
As well as carving signs and sculptures, Pete also restores antique furniture.
He has plans for a gallery tour. If you have a gallery and want to exhibit Pete Ryan’s work, or want to commission a unique signature piece, contact him here.
Located two hours drive east of Vancouver on the way to Kamloops, Sun Peaks, Kelowna, and the vineyard destinations of the Okanagan, his studio just west of Hope at 63010 Old Flood-Hope Road is handy to the last gas and meal stops before you enter the Coquihalla Highway. Meet Pete Ryan, part truck driver, part Renaissance man, part Pygmalion, whose creatures come to life. In an urban and digital world, they remind us of our roots in land and sea, and our condition as beings who still belong to and do not own the primeval forests, shores and mountains of our magical Earth.
Avison, Margaret. "Snow." The Winter Sun . University of Toronto Press. 1960.
Walk around Hope and See Pete Ryan's Work
Margaret Avison's collected poems vol. 1: "the optic heart must venture"
Wonderful breakfast and lunch in a dining room with owls everywhere (not live ones!)
Pete Ryan's workshop is 2 hours east of Vancouver near Exit 168 from the Trans Canada Highway on the way to Kamloops, Sun Peaks and Kelowna.