Almonte woodcarver creates art from a failing tree

Wood

When John Peters heard that a beautiful tree that was in a friend’s front yard garden had to be cut down, he responded to an invitation to put his skills to work and create a one of a kind wood carving out of the bottom ten feet of the tree.

Drawing on his experience in carving much smaller wood spirits, John sketched an outline of his idea – to have the spirit within the tree giving a blessing to passersby – the tree, after all, is in the front garden of a retired minister! After his son-in-law did some initial trimming and roughing out with a chain saw, John started doing the finer carving, chiseling off small chips until the wood spirit started to show through.

Of the four branches of the tree that remained after the tree was topped, one limb was removed from the front. On the central remaining limb a face was carved on each side, one facing the street and the other facing the homeowner’s front door. On the ends of each of the outside limbs, which appeared to be arms raised in blessing, John carved hands which similarly face both street and front door. Because the wood spirit faces both ways, the homeowner has named the carving “Janus” after the name of the Roman god who looks forward and backward and from which we get the name of our first month of the year, January, which also looks back at the past year and forward to the year to come.

Unlike other carvings that John has done, that were small enough to hold in his hand, this required him to work on a ladder and scaffolding and resolve a number of unique challenges. One of those challenges was working in hardwood (the tree was a maple) instead of the usual basswood or butternut. This required the use of hammer and chisel and giving the tree time to dry out a little so it would not be too “sappy”, but not dry out so much that the chisel could not dent the wood. There was also the challenge of working in public rather than in the privacy of his workshop. Fortunately, passersby would sometimes pause to offer a much appreciated word of approval and encouragement. The final challenge was how to protect it from the elements. To resolve this challenge John called on a fellow member of the Outaouais Wood Carvers, who is noted for his outdoor chain saw carvings. After the application of a cleanser and a wood sealer, three coats of the final wood finish will keep it looking lightly tanned for years to come. For anyone interested in learning about wood carving, there is a newly created group, the Mississippi Wood Carvers, comprised of folks from Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham and area who meet regularly to learn and hone their carving skills.

Anyone who passes by the carving can’t help but feel its presence and note its uniqueness. Rather than an empty space created by the felling of the tree, the front garden is now home to a unique piece of art, thanks to the craft and skill of John Peters.

Photo credits: Robert Lesser

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