Friday, March 2, 2007

13' Grizzly Bear Carved

New Life for Old Wood

High on a scaffold, alone in the afternoon, Craig Thompson worked diligently on his latest large scale project, a 13-foot grizzly bear. It was the sight of the man standing near the roof line of his garage and the large animal coming to life under his chisel that made me investigate further. Initially, a white polar bear standing near the driveway had caught my eye, then beyond, I could see a small forest of animals. One small black bear cub had clambered up a tree while the mother bear protected from below, and nearby a bald eagle rested on a stump. All around, lay large pine logs, waiting to be turned into works of art.

Craig generously showed me around his outdoor gallery, and he explained how he’d discovered the huge tree that had “held” his grizzly. “I found this cottonwood tree in Limehouse and I asked owner if he’d sell it to me when it was cut down - it had been hit by lightening about five or six times. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen around here, and I thought I’d try to make a bear out of it.”

At the base, it’s five and a half feet in diameter, and it’s 16 feet in circumference, weighing close to eight tons. For such a large tree, it’s surprising that it’s only about 80 years old. Craig says that the cottonwood is a softwood cousin of the fast-growing poplar, so it doesn’t take long to reach this mammoth size. “Being dense with water, it carves smoothly; you just have to sharpen the chainsaw a little more often,” he explained. After a week of hard work, starting first with the chain saw to rough out the initial shape of the bear, Craig estimates that he’s cleaved off over a ton of wood.

Many artists, he says would stop there, but he prides himself in being more of a realist, and enjoys taking his work a step further to add more detail and make it appear more authentic. There’s no doubt that next to its life-size neighbours, its sheer size is impressive and awe-inspiring. This self-educated woodcarver doesn’t know where his interest in bears originated, but he does remember a 1966 movie, “Night of the Grizzly”, in which a favourite actor, Clint Walker played a part. He explains that it’s the power of the big wild animals like bears that appeals most to him.

When asked whether he excelled at art in grade school, Craig shakes his head emphatically, “God no!” He described how he does remember enjoying playing with plasticene. “That’s how I got started in sculpture… but it was back in 1985 or so when I went to the CNE and I stumbled into a room where there was a woodcarving competition. I was just amazed by what people were doing with wood - that really sparked my interest in woodcarving.

“I started off whittling with a knife and after a few years, in 1989 I entered a competition at the CNE. That was the last year they held it and I got a second place in the novice category.” Laughing, he adds, “The carving itself -a bald eagle, was the next thing to firewood!” Finally after 20 years of it being just a hobby, Craig has jumped in with both feet, along with chainsaw and chisel, and if recent sales are any indication, he appears to be on track to doing very well. His giant bear was sold before he had even half completed the chisel work.

While his large pieces are impressive, I am taken aback when he invites me into his garage studio to see his small animal carvings. I admire the mother polar bear and cubs, a black bear stretched out on a tree limb and a tiger that is just as true-to-life - all realistically rendered.

As the afternoon sun sets, the huge bear casts its goliath-sized shadow across the woodchip-littered ground. Craig climbs back up his scaffolding, and I ask him if he ever thinks of himself as a “Michelangelo.” Amused, he admits he’s thought about the Italian marble carver who created the mammoth “David” 500 years ago. “I think his David was 17 feet tall and it took him five years or so to complete. This has taken me nine days so far - I think if he’d been able to use a chainsaw he would have used it!”

Craig Thompson’s wildlife carvings can be seen at 4991 Trafalgar Rd., just north of Ballinafad or he can be reached at 905-877-0491.

Sandra Traversy is a writer/photographer living in Erin -

1 comment:

Lorraine Marian Kenny said...

I just saw this particular carving, it is the most amazingly powerful figure of a bear I have ever seen. Majestic in expression and stance...awe inspiring indeed. Craig Thompson is indeed an artist who's energy flows into his carvings and brings them to life.