The ice storm and his chainsaw inspired Peter Van Adrichem to turn a hobby into a full-time, growing enterprise.
The ice storm of January 1998 devastated forests and left 1.5 million households without power. A natural disaster of massive proportions, it had a lasting effect on the lives of many people.
For 45-year-old woodcarver Peter Van Adrichem it was the catalyst for a new career. With so much raw material at hand, it seemed an ideal time to turn his long-time hobby into a full-time occupation. It was also the perfect time to get creative about the tools he used.
"I had been carving by hand as a hobby for about 20 years, using chisels and other small tools," says the former employee of the local soil and water conservation authority. "But after the ice storm, there was so much wood kicking around that I thought I had better use the wood that I had gathered more quickly. I tried using a chain saw and it worked out really well."
He gestures around the converted barn at an assortment of wooden bears, some life-size, eagles, fish and other animals, each carved out of a single piece of wood. In one corner of the open studio, a snowy owl watches over a cedar castle, inspired by his daughter's interest in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. At this time of year, he adds such seasonal pieces as reindeer with red-light noses and snowmen with woolly scarves to the samples on display. On other occasions, he goes to the raw material, frequently turning a rooted tree stump into a totem pole, creating a wooden sculpture out of a disused hydro pole or carving a relief mural on the wall of a wooden building.
"With the experience of many years of hand carving, I imagine what the piece is going to look like before I get started. Then I carve with the chain saw, until I'm happy with it."
Balancing working to commission with carving "on spec" pieces, Mr. Van Adrichem estimates that he produces some 35 to 40 major works and several more small carvings a year, ranging from $10 for small hand-carved pieces to $650 for his larger chain saw items and $20 per foot for totem poles. Prices for commissioned works are negotiated separately.
"I don't count. I just keep on going," he says. "In the winter, I do hand carving in my workshop. As soon as the snow has melted, I move outside and start work on the chain-saw carvings."
When he first started in the wood sculpting business full time, he worked from home and sold his carvings through art galleries and stores. At that time, he had been laid off from his job and took the opportunity to test the market in an area of work he particularly enjoyed. Although the economy was buoyant and the timing good for his endeavour because "people had money to spend on art work", the home-to-gallery process was not entirely satisfactory, he says.
"Working in front of my house with a chain saw was not great, for the neighbours or in terms of walk-in traffic. And selling through galleries and stores meant that they would take from 30 to 50 per cent."
In August, Mr. Van Adrichem changed the way he operated his now-established business. He rented a barn on a one-acre property on a highway near Manotick. "I got it just in the nick of time," he says. "The building was supposed to be torn down, until I showed interest in renting it."
He selected this location partly because it would attract drive-by custom and partly because the low-rental property was spacious enough for outdoor displays. The combination of keeping expenses to a minimum and selling direct to his fast-growing client base just makes good business sense, he says.
The major expense in setting up the studio was the $2,000 of his savings that he spent on chain saws. His monthly operating expenses, including insurance, are under $500. As for the raw material of his art, "after the ice storm, there was plenty of wood for free."
Free wood is still the best, smiles Mr. Van Adrichem, who is regularly given unwanted timber by individuals and other businesses pruning or removing trees from their property. Tree-removal companies also offer him wood."There is an expense if I have to go into the city to pick it up, but I am always grateful for any wood," he says. "Just recently, the hydro company was cutting down trees near Manotick Station, so they offered me a lot from there."
More wood is coming his way as the word on his chain-saw art spreads. "I am beginning to get a regular, repeat clientele. Some people are starting to collect my work and have more than one piece. Last year, I did well," says Mr. Van Adrichem, whose various supply sources means that he can offer his clients items in a variety of woods. He regularly sculpts in white pine, basswood, cedar and willow and has used black walnut, black cherry and Manitoba maple for some of his pieces.
Currently, Fleetwood Studio is a one-person operation, most of the time -- Mr. Van Adrichem's four children frequently help to varnish some of his finished sculptures and his wife, Rina, prepared his web site. He is considering hiring an assistant, he says, "but I don't think I want to expand much more than that, although I do represent a few other artists and that side of the studio could grow." He also has plans for summer art exhibits and intends to invite other artists to display their works on the outside walls of the barn.
His main focus, however, is on his own work. And, his business philosophy is simple. "The trick for me is to keep expenses to a minimum, be productive in my work and sell at a reasonable price."
Fleetwood Studio can be reached at 613-258-9980 by appointment in Kemptville, Ontario.
According to legend, in early eighteenth century British Columbia, a raven clan member of the Haida tribe was inspired to carve the first totem pole after discovering an underwater village that "The art displaying various types of animals.
He then found a cedar tree, procured a homemade chisel and constructed the world’s first totem pole. With it standing tall besides the door to his abode, the native Indian proudly displayed his work of art to any passing visitors.
Today, Bill Tomlinson will bring the native history to his cottage on the St. Lawrence River. The Manotick businessman has commissioned Peter Van Adrichem, of Manotick, to custom- build a totem pole to accompany the rest of his collection of native art that will decorate the chalet.
"I just wanted something a little bit unique and it's decorated in Indian theme. I like the Indian history," said Tomlinson.
ln order to imitate Haida style, Tomlinson and Van Adrichcm researched and studied various historics and art samples of Canada's aboriginals. They decided on this particular tribe because of their values. "Haida were really gifted with some of these skills. They would live on the coast and always came back to the same villages. I sup-pose they were a peaceful band," said Tomlinson. Tomlinson wanted to model as closely as possible the original totem poles and decided to use red cedar from BC, which he found sitting in Guelph with its fate unknown. See "Totem" Page 3 ,
Totem pole to grace St. Lawrence River
The tree had originally been bought by Ottawa's local hydro company to be used as an electricity pole; however, the company decided they did not want to pay for such a large trunk. Tomlinson was able to purchase the wood for $3,000.
A red cedar is a very durable wood that will last for many decades. The totem pole will stand 80 feet high and the circumference of its base is 6 feet.
"It's the biggest pole we could get. We were looking for something that had a good breadth," said Tomlinson.
This particular wood is very durable and will not have to be varnished or painted. Van Adrichem figures the life
"The red cedar is what [the native carvers in BC] always used. And it doesn't have to be treated or anything like that.
"The raw wood will just stay intact for years and years," he said.
Van Adrichem, a professional wood carver, owns Fleetwood Studios, his personal shop situated in Kemptville, Ontario where he carves all his fine art. Although he had been wood carving since childhood, chain-saw cutting is a new feat.
"Just something I picked up. I watched a few people doing it for a few days. I just started from there;" said Van Adrichem, who uses a small chainsaw with an eight inch long blade.
Tomlinson's totem pole will display figures reminiscent of the Haida tribe and specific shapes to symbolize his family.
"Some of them are related to his family. We've got two human figures towards the bottom end which repre-sent his children. Then down at the very bottom there's the bear mother story with three human faces and each of the faces are his kids and one is his wife," said Van Adrichem..
The top of the totem pole will also feature a dragonfly to represent Tomlinson's love for speed, like fast cars and boats. There is also a human holding a salmon to represent the fish at his cottage.
Once the project is finished, Tomlinson will need an oversized trucking permit from the Ministry of Transportation to move the pole to his cottage on the St. Lawrence River. Tomlinson will not be installing the pole the traditional way by digging a hole and pulling it up with homemade ropes. '
"We're going to do it with a crane [and] it will go into granite. It won't move," he said.
Van Adrichem began the project on April 1 and plans to wrap up by the end of July. He is having an open house on July 26 and 27 to preview the totem pole to public. "We're inviting the pub-lic to come and take a look at the totem pole before it goes to its private owner," he said.
Being commissioned to create a totem pole was an honour for someone who used to carve for fun. Erin Conway-Smith reports.
Peter Van Adrichem learned to wield a chain-saw as a young boy grow-ing up on his family's dairy farm near Winchester.
In university, the self-de-scribed farm boy studied agri-culture, all the while showing a ,deft ability to carve wood - a hobby for more than 20 years.
When Mr. Van Adrichem was laid off from his job in soil and water conservation six years ago, he was forced to find new work. "I thought, well, we'll just change a hobby into a full-time and occupation and it's worked' out really well," he said.
Mr. Van Adrichem opened Fleetwood Studio and began selling his wood carvings on a full-time basis: It was during the ice storm of 1998 that he turned his chainsaw into an artist's tool.
"There was so much wood I picked up around the country-side, I thought I'd better do something with it," he said.
The 47-year-old man now us-es his chainsaw to carve pieces of Canadiana on commission: bears, beavers, wolves, Canada geese. Recently, he put his 'chainsaw to a much taller order.
Mr. Van Adrichem was com-missioned by Bill Tomlinson, a contractor who lives in Man-otick, to carve a totem pole to stand outside his cottage on the St. Lawrence River.
Mr. Tomlinson said he looked far and wide to find someone who could undertake such a large carving. He talked to wood carvers in the U.S., B.C., and across Ontario before finding Mr. Van Adrichem in his own backyard.
The two men spent last win-ter researching traditional Hai-da designs. They studied pic-tures in library books and took a trip to view the totem poles at the Museum of Civilization.
This spring, Mr. Tomlinson had a 21-metre red cedar tree trucked in from the B.C. Coast. The tree now lies on Bankfield Road near Highway 16, looking slightly out of place amidst the Manotick corn fields.
It weighed 1500 kilograms when it was shipped. When propped upright, the tree will stand twice as tall as the weath-ered old barn Mr. Van Adrichem uses as a gallery for his carvings.
Incorporated in the design are figures from traditional sto-ries of the aboriginal people who live on Canada's West Coast, Mr. Van Adrichem said.
After the design was chosen, Mr Van Adrichem sketched a scale drawing onto a ii-by-i7-inch piece of paper, and then set to work transferring the de-sign onto the tree stripped of bark, section by section, using a pencil and a sharp eye.
He divided the task of carving the tree into three main steps.
First, he used his chainsaw to carve a rough version of the de-sign into the trunk. He then smoothed the design with an electric sander and is now down to the detail work: carving fine lines and details into the tree by hand, using a chisel and mallet.
He made his first cut on April 1, and said he felt slightly intim-idated by the size of the project.
The tree proved difficult to carve at first, since Mr. Van Adrichem wasn't used to work-ing with red cedar, with its tricky variations in texture.
But red cedar weathers well, growing deeper in colour and showing the intricate grain as the wood dries out over time. The totem pole will withstand the elements of the St. Lawrence River for the decades that come.I'm sure it will last maybe 100 years:' Mr. Van Adrichem said.
He expects to finish the job on July 25, in time for a week-end open house at his studio.
Mr. Tomlinson said once the work is completed, he will drill a hole into the rock down by the river and mount the totem pole.
"It's unique and we're happy with the production," he said. "They're not something local to this part of the country."
People travel great distances to see something on a grander scale, from small to large. This item may knock your socks off, it can’t even fit in your front yard.
It is really something to see!
Wood carver, chainsaw artist, Peter Van Adrichem is working on something huge. Van Adrichem who opened Fleetwood Studio in 2000 has the rare talent to turn an ordinary piece of wood into anything your imagination can muster, from little ladybugs to seven food black bears. This year Van Adrichem is carving his largest project yet, a 70-foot Northwest Coast style totem pole, which took 4 months to complete.
The totem pole is red cedar from British Columbia weighing 3,100 pounds. This totem pole is probably the largest this side of the Rockies. The pole has a variety of Northwest Coast Haida style carvings on it, each representing a different meaning, and each has it’s own story, from flying eagles to frogs and bears to dragonflies.
The dragonfly, for example, represents speed; young Haida boys believed eating the wings of a dragonfly would increase their speed as swimmers. Van Adrichem has incorporated many of these legends into the pole; speed is a reflection of the new owner’s passion for speedboats and cars; two humans holding hands represents the owner’s children. When asked if he found the 70 foot totem pole to be one of his harder projects, he said, “Yes, but I enjoy the challenge and I have really grown to respect the Northwest Coast carvers for their ability in carving totem poles today and especially many decades ago!”
So if you are looking for quality woodwork sculpted with heart and soul, Peter Van Adrichem can be reached at 613-258-9980 by appointment in Kemptville, Ontario. Have an idea? Let him carve it for you! Sky’s the limit!
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