Colin Williams says his carving isn’t a hobby – it’s an obsession! Why else would he spend nine hours straight in his workshop without noticing that the day has come and gone?
Williams took up wood carving in 1993 just after moving to Kamloops. His closest friend, who he grew up with in northern Ontario, was already a world class competitive carver.
“He got me into this,” says Williams. “He said, ‘You got to try this’.”
His first attempt was a large, finely carved loon. His second attempt won him a first place ribbon in an international show.
“There was other stuff in there just as good,” says Williams, “but the judges took out their magnifying glasses and could see that it wasn’t done with power tools. I did that one with a knife and sandpaper. It took over 400 hours to complete.”
He says he did three of those time-consuming ducks and he doesn’t think he’ll be doing any more. It takes too long to finish, he says.
“He’s a results person,” laughs his wife, Sandy.
“And that’s why I wished I’d been on the lathe sooner,” he says. “Now I can do that in a lot less time.”
He’s making bowls out of wood now. He points to a small bowl make of cherry wood on the table.
“I started that two mornings ago and finished it in an hour and a half,” he says.
He prefers big pieces of juniper but, he says, number one it’s a protected species in BC and hard to get a decent-sized piece of wood, and two, “it’s like working with glass.” Try to carve it too thin and it ends up in pieces all over the floor. He says the nicest piece he has is from Loon Lake.
Most of the wood stacked in his backyard is local and some of it is recycled. He salvaged a number of 2x4s a while back that someone had thrown away and carves them into little boots that he sells out at Historic Hat Creek Ranch.
But the two best woods for carving, he says, have to be special ordered through specialty shop in Kamloops. One is tupelo and the other is basswood.
“Well,” he says, “Bruce Walker was cutting a tree down two years ago in his yard and he says, ‘You got any use for linden tree?’ I said, ‘What’s a linden tree?’ and he says, ‘It’s basswood.’ ‘Really?’ I said ‘I’ll take every piece you got!’ Now I’ve got a backyard full of it.”
Every time we go to Ontario we come back with wood,” says Sandy. “This time friends of ours had five big burls.”
“White spruce burls,” corrects Williams with a grin.
He points to another bowl – a large heavy bowl with a bit of bark still attached. He made it from a big hemlock burl that was salvaged from Stanley Park over half a century ago after a storm blew down a number of trees. It was given to him by Marina Papais, whose uncle salvaged the wood and gave it to her years later.
By the time he started carving it, it was like petrified wood, says Williams.
Williams says he used to take his carvings to show his friend in Kamloops every week when he first started. He asked him “What if I mess up?” and his friend replied, “That’s why we start out with a big full bodied loon. The worst you can end up with is a hummingbird!”
Another friend back in Ontario has been carving wooden bowls for much longer. Williams would send him pictures of his work and his friend would critique it. Finally the day came when he sent pictures of his latest project, and his friend emailed him back to say “You got it, Bud! You got delicate and you got style. Now perfect it and bump your prices up!”
He says he plans to keep making bowls for now. When he makes too many, he gives them away.
“The carving – well, I still do the boots regularly,” he says. “but I don’t like to shut the door. When the novelty of this wears off, I’ll get back into carving ducks.”
He has to do something to use up his wood supply.
“He’s got so much wood outside,” offers Sandy.
“Unless somebody’s got big juniper or burl pieces, I don’t want any more wood,” he says. “I’ve got enough wood to last me until I’m 130!”
If you’re ever fortunate enough to see his bowls, ask him about Kokum!