Friday, 23 March 2012

Sculptor Shares Passion for Wood Carving

(This is a report I wrote as one of the directors of the Parkhill Area Horticultural Society)

If you are intrigued by chainsaw tree carving, then you would have enjoyed the March 21 meeting of the Parkhill Area Horticultural Society (PAHS).  Robbin Wenzoski, who carved the Royal Oak in Coronation Park, spoke enthusiastically of his love for carving.

Robbin Wenzoski and friends

Valerie Thomson introduced Mr. Wenzoski, who was born in Golden, B.C. and worked in construction, timber framing and logging there before moving to Ontario. He started to carve in 2003. His first piece, entitled Synaptic Twist, took 1,100 hours to create — with a mallet and chisel. Afterwards, said his wife Laura, he had “no fingerprints left.” In 2006, he was persuaded to use a small chain saw and “couldn’t believe the detail, how far you could go with it.” He recalled his first carvings: an elephant and a small clown. Since then, he has carved 37 tree trunks in London alone and has received commissions in Orangeville, Brampton and at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, a children’s rehab centre in Toronto.

A sculpture done using epoxy

He enjoys the excitement of doing live carving shows but also does a lot of work in his studio. One of his most unusual commissions was a replica of a lioness from King Tut’s tomb, which now serves as a mantelpiece in the Egyptian-themed living room of one of his clients. To keep up with demand, he maintains an inventory of old-growth tree stumps in his yard at Muirhead, Ontario — one is an impressive eight-foot diameter log from a lot in Strathroy.

For the crowd of nearly 40 people at the Horticulture Society meeting, he passed along some of the things he has learned over the years: He noted that tree trunks sculptured while still in the soil will eventually rot at the base and will need to be cut off, placed on a concrete base and supported by 18” iron pipe. He now leaves no bark any tree he carves, as it attracts destructive insects.  His favourite wood is the “rich, dark wood” of the black walnut, with Coronation Park’s Royal Oak running a close second. His least favourite?  Poplar because “radial checks [small cracks in the grain] are a problem.”

Robbin's sculpture of the Royal Oak

His passion to teach others to carve finds an outlet at the Haliburton School of the Arts where, each summer, he provides a course on chainsaw carving. Class size is limited to 12, and much of the focus is on safety, including the use of steel-toed boots, chaps, safety eyewear, ear plugs and anti-vibration gloves. Mr. Wenzoski’s only injury involving a chain saw occurred when he was 13 years old and accidentally fell on one he was carrying while jumping off a vehicle.

Carvapalooza, a five-day carving extravaganza is another expression of Mr. Wenzoski’s passion to teach his art. Now in its fourth year, the event attracts carvers from all over the world and has grown from 17 carvers the first year to 33 last year. They produced 148 pieces which were auctioned off to help carvers defray their travel costs. The participants learn new carving and saw sharpening techniques, as well as how to relate to the public and increase sales.  

Most visiting carvers ­— some from as far away as Peru, Bulgaria and Tasmania — are billeted in the community. Laura Wenzoski and her friends “do all the cooking,” but the meals are eaten at the local Legion, one of 16 sponsors of the event.  This year’s Carvapalooza will take place from April 11 to 15 at the Wenzoski’s property in Muirhead, Ontario, located south of the 401 about 20 minutes west of Rodney. The general public can see live carving over the five days and bid on the final products on April 15.
Laura Wenzoski chats with a PAHS director

In other PAHS business, Janet Johnstone read a letter she had received from a secretary to Her Majesty the Queen in response to one she wrote describing the Royal Oak carving and its commemoration of the Royal Wedding. Janet was also thanked for the congratulations she included for the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Gary Chittick announced a mystery bus tour scheduled for June 9, and Ann Wilson encouraged those present to buy books from the PAHS library and to put in their order for spring and summer bulbs.

So many bargains!

The next meeting, on the benefits of houseplants, will be on April 18; the plant sale and auction is slated for May 16. In the meantime, be sure to follow PAHS on Facebook and go to the web-site as well at

Buy your membership today!