Bernice Weihs-Anderson has found a new use for reclaimed wood.
Thanks to the pandemic, over the last year the Clinton artist has begun to experiment by burning designs into wood. She got started on her craft by watching an artistic German student who stayed with her for a few weeks during the opening days of the pandemic last year.
“My husband gave her a little soldering iron to finish this cartoon drawing she’d done on a piece of wood. I noticed this actually worked well. It was the idea of doing something permanent rather than something that comes off the wood,” Weihs-Anderson says.
After the student went home, Weihs-Anderson picked up the soldering iron herself. As she sketched and etched her art into wood, she says people began to like what she was doing. To give them extra appeal, she began to double up her efforts to make simple board games like cribbage on one side.
“If you purchase it and your spouse doesn’t love it, well then you say ‘Let’s just play a game’ and you take it down off the wall and spend some time with other people engaging.”
As she worked, Weihs-Anderson says she began to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic: both its horrific impact on humanity but also its positive impacts on the natural world due to less human activity. This led her to decide to portray animals that have been put at risk by human activity or have recovered thanks to environmental activism.
“Every time I look at these pieces of wood, they look back at me. They’re telling me something. There’s a knot here that’s an eye or a nose, and something going on in the wood. My husband asks ‘How do you see it?’ and I reply ‘How do you not see it?’”
Rather than use freshly cut wood for her work, Weihs-Anderson says she wanted to use reclaimed wood. This included leftover scrap spruce from West Fraser’s donations to the Clinton and District Assisted Living Facility: beetle-killed pine, fire-killed juniper, willow from a danger tree, and spruce taken from a 120-year-old tree planted by the Clinton Museum. Once she got the wood she had to make sure it was dry, to avoid it cracking, and treat each type of wood differently based on its response to heat.
Her art has proven to be popular with the community, as only six of the 42 pieces she created last year are left. Weihs-Anderson’s children even bought her a proper wood-burning kit to make more this year, which she hasn’t quite got used to yet.
“It’s almost like using a pencil, because you don’t colour. All you’ve got is the opportunity to shade, so you can go lighter, darker, thicker lines and all that,” she says.
Born in the Fraser Valley, Weihs-Anderson — a retired nurse and volunteer firefighter — has lived in Clinton for the last 11 years. She knew she wanted to live in Clinton at the age of nine, when she fell in love with the town while passing through with her father. After living in Europe and at the coast for most of her life, she and her husband settled down on a hobby farm outside Clinton.
“We try to mostly produce our own food, so we’ve got sheep, chickens, and rabbits,” Weihs-Anderson says, adding that thanks to COVID and last year’s spring conditions her garden flourished.
Her work has struck a chord with Ashcroft’s Sidewalk Gallery curator Angela Bandelli, who has offered her a slot this July to put on a show. Getting the offer was an honour, Weihs-Anderson says, especially because 2021 is the gallery’s 10th anniversary.
She’ll be giving back to the community through this show, as any pieces sold that were made using wood from the assisted living facility or the museum’s spruce tree will be donated back to their respective organizations. Weihs-Anderson also plans to donate some of the proceeds to Nature Conservancy of Canada, to help do her part to protect the animals that are her subjects.
“It could be a complete flop, I’m okay with that. It might not be a place where anything sells and that’s okay. What it will do is have people see these images and reflect. That’s the main thing.”