REVIEW: Art of the Forest and Turbulent Sea (Out of the Woods Art Book)

Out of the Woods – reviewed by Grahame Ware

Grahame Ware has written a wonderful, in-depth review of Out of the Woods – Woodcarvers along the Salish SeaThe Ormsby Review publisher/editor has generously allowed me to re-publish an excerpt on my website. Please check out the entire piece, it’s a delightful and insightful read!


Art of the forest and turbulent sea

There are trees … which in their single lives have spanned the entire history of civilized man. We woodworkers have the audacity to shape timber from these noble trees and give it a second life.  George Nakashima, from Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworker’s Reflections. Kodansha, 2012

Out of the Woods is a treat to the eyes and hearts of west coasters. This smartly designed and graphically strong digest surveys a group of 26 craftsman and artists whose “truth to material” is wood derived from the bioregion skirting the Salish Sea. Their success underlines the popular appeal of wood sourced from the forests and shores of Vancouver Island — the temples where artists worship. Wood sculpture and woodworking have always been popular on Van Isle but never more so than now. Why is that? I believe it is the result of some serious cross-pollination in our culture: Northwest Indigenous and fusion Native art are in flower, and for fifty years at least, hippie-artists have been buzzing around leaving their creative pollen on everything in their west coast gardens. Now you throw in the well-pensioned Boomers cresting on their woodworking skills in their final innings, wanting to bring a west coast soul to their homes and – voilà — it all adds up to tremendous interest in wood as a touchstone in west coast arts and crafts.

With its strong design and photography, Out of the Woods shines a welcome light on wood artisans and artists, despite its often-breezy vignettes. But no worry — this is, after all, a book looking for a coffee or kitchen table, preferably one that is both breathtaking and divine. The appropriate table for this book is a sinuous, rustic slab of hand-planed, west coast wood that would surely make George Nakashima smile.

Phoebe Dunbar: Genesis of the book

Wood Artist Phoebe Dunbar

Phoebe Dunbar. Photo by Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg

A history of Salish Sea carvers and woodworkers is long overdue. So it fell to Phoebe Dunbar, a woodworker from Sooke, to provide the wood shavings to get this fire started. The retired educator and community liaison worker came to woodcarving relatively late in life, in about 2005, and now does exquisite work creating bowls from voluptuous wood burls. Her prime creative catalysts were a love of natural history and wanting to be outside as often as possible with the al fresco experience.

Dunbar felt that her story, intermingled with those of other woodworkers and carvers in the Sooke area, would make a good foundation for a book. From Sooke, she got the project rolling from its forest roots and then steered the creative team from studio to studio, from artisan to artist. The doughty Dunbar told me:

I was very inspired by the years of being on the San Juan Ridge [an inland ridge that runs parallel to Juan de Fuca strait between Jordan River and Port Renfrew], that aligns with the Kludhahk Trail. For approximately 70 kms along this ridge, you pass through stands of old growth and subalpine forests in various states of decay. Small, twisted and disfigured trees had been shaped and “bonsaied” by years of heavy snow. I was more than fascinated… I was inspired. It was there that I learnt so much about trees, seasonal weather, climate change, landscapes, geography, and wood — especially burls, grains, grain patterns, bird’s eye, root balls, and roots.

But Dunbar was not alone in this project. Once the interest of a publisher, Heritage House, was confirmed, the team took shape. First, the camera duo of Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg came on board to do the photography. They made their names in the corporate world of Calgary, though Roth now lives in Vancouver. In business since 1993, this is their first book credit. They shoot with 50-megapixel Hasselblad H3D cameras (the company has honoured them with awards for their work), while letting out the finishing to others.

The original idea was to shoot the whole thing in black and white, but the mist-drenched, dark, often wintry skies caused them to rethink this approach. They told Applied Arts magazine in 2017 that they had to employ lighting stands and shoot in colour to show the depth, look, and colour of the wood.


This is an excerpt, used with permission of The Ormsby Review.

For Grahame Ware‘s original and complete book review, published February 3, 2019, see https://bcbooklook.com/2019/02/03/477-art-from-the-forest-and-turbulent-sea/

Grahame Ware is a writer and carver on Gabriola Island. He studied creative writing and communication studies at Simon Fraser University. As a feature writer, often under the Buzz Ware handle, he has been published in Georgia StraightVancouver MagazineTV WeekTV Guide, and Toronto Star, and he had shows on CBC radio, CKVU-TV, and CO-OP radio as a freelance broadcaster and producer. He worked with Ken Smedley in performing plays by George Ryga, Sam Sheperd, and George F. Walker in the Okanagan. He taught ornamental horticulture at Okanagan College, made a living as a landscape contractor and rare plant nurseryman, and spent three years as editor of the Alpine Garden Club of B.C. With Dan Helms, he is author of Heucheras and Heucherellas: Coral Bells and Foamy Bells (Timber Press, 2005). He has contributed articles to the International Rock GardenerThe Rock GardenThe Plantsman, and The Ormsby Review. For nearly a decade he has dedicated himself to creating gongshi sculpture with cured driftwood and dried wood as his medium. See www.phantasma.ca for his wood sculpture and related subjects.

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for serious coverage of B.C. books and authors, hosted by Simon Fraser University.