The complex wood grains of oak, cedar and birch became a canvas for Don Olsen’s imagination to shape.
It started as an escape from mounting stress at work. A bad day at the office sent Olsen to his basement workshop. He would lose track of time. His worries slipped away.
“All I had to do is concentrate … it was flowing out through my fingers and into the wood,” he said.
What started as stress relief became a lifelong hobby. After 25 years of carving Olsen defines himself as an artist, preferring not to be regarded as simply a hewer of wood.
Nature is his inspiration. He often carves birds or wild animals such as wolves, deer or moose.
Many of his pieces are finished with wax that lets the natural grains show through, but also means any flaws caused by the carver are very visible. It takes skill to create a piece and finish it with wax. Other pieces such as birds are painstakingly painted.
Olsen shares his expertise with newcomers during Mid Island Carving Club meetings held in Bowen Park’s woodwork shop. Meetings start again in September, after a brief hiatus this summer.
They’re held 9-11:30 a.m. every Thursday in the workshop, located in the lower level of the complex.
The shop has a library stocked with carving reference books and equipment such as band saws and sanders.
Other members are also willing to share their knowledge with new carvers.
“We have a lot of experienced carvers and they are quite prepared to critique work and make all sorts of recommendations – not in a harsh way, but an encouraging way,” said Olsen, who loves to share his knowledge with new carvers and watch as their skills develop.
“I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction … you can almost see your own craft being transformed in that person’s hands,” he said.
Every year Island carvers are also invited to show their work during the Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors Woodcarving Show and Competition.
This year’s 18th annual show is Nov. 3 at Bowen Park. Carver registration is 8:30-10 a.m., judging begins at 10:30 a.m., and the show is open to the public from noon to 4 p.m.
Olsen said the show has categories for all skill levels from novice to expert. The event also allows people to connect with other carvers on the Island and share knowledge.