When Linda Madden offered to help a local artist with some carving projects 19 years ago, she didn’t expect it would become a lifetime hobby.
But less than a year after picking up the tools of the trade, the Clinton woman set out on her own, creating eagles, cougars, and other woodland animals, as well as jewellery, from mediums such as soapstone and moose antlers.
“I didn’t know if I could do it but I thought I’d like to try,” says Madden, who sells her unique carvings at the Plaza Gallery in Whistler as well as two galleries in Banff. “The finished product is always a great thing to look at and I’m always happy when it turns out right. It’s just limitless what you can do and try.”
Madden’s creations are now on prominent display at Clinton’s Free Spirit Art Gallery, which officially opened this month at 1310 Cariboo Highway. Scores of people attended the opening, including local songstress Tracy Fallstrom, who sang from her album From the Heart, and Diamond Joe Boscott. Megan Francis also sold her homemade bannock.
Madden says the idea to open the gallery was part of a vision by her husband Bill Elliott, who built a new shop for his own antler chandelier creations and realized there was ample room at the front for a gallery. Other artists featured at the gallery include the couple’s daughter Maegan Elliott, who creates glassware with a Cricut vinyl application, Valmont Boucher’s wood-crafted pieces, Jane Robertson’s paintings, and Sterling Tresierra’s photographic prints.
Pieces by Cement Decor round out the selection, although Madden says there might be room for one more artist.
“It’s a good place to set up because it’s right on the highway,” she says. “It’s going to be great. With such a good opening it’s very promising.”
Madden says it’s a great feeling to be able to create and experiment with her art. Although she enjoys the sandstone carvings because they polish up nicely, the antlers “are more of a creative outlet for me.”
The couple buy their antlers from around B.C. “We actually went shed [antler] hunting, but we’ve never come up with anything,” Madden says. She adds that the antlers allow her to play, either by using the existing shape or making something entirely different.
She does her carving gradually, taking it in each night to study it and see what else needs to be done. She can do a fair-sized eagle in a week, but says that her relief art — carving animals and other things into something like antlers — can take a few days to a few weeks. She carves in between her other pastimes, such as caring for the garden — she has created a “beautiful yard” — cleaning and cooking, and spending time with her grandchildren.
“I carve just when I have time to carve,” she says. “It’s great because I love it. Sometimes I don’t want to sell it.” She has kept three pieces for herself, including a soapstone eagle, a cougar on a lone piece of antler, and a couple of birds.
The gallery will be open weekends to start, or when there’s a lot of traffic in town during the summer tourist season.
“The town is practically full now,” says Madden. “We just need people to stop.”