By Jennifer Thorpe
“Flight,” the newest exhibit at St. Marys Station Gallery, opened Friday, May 11th with a reception that was standing-room only. Curator Cameron Porteous welcomed the crowd and introduced the featured artists who are all residents of St. Marys. Showcasing photographer Herman Veenendaal and bird carvers Ivan Facey and Ross and Barbara Scriver, the exhibit has transformed the historic station, now in its 111th year, into a unique space to stop and appreciate a collection of extraordinary and beautiful work. VIA Rail employee, Breanne Taylor, noted that people visiting from across southwestern Ontario are now including St Marys and the Station Gallery as an art destination, noting recent visitors from Guelph.
Offering works on loan from collections and works for purchase, Porteous has arranged a show that is cleanly displayed, well-lit and tastefully accompanied by audio recordings of bird calls. This inspired combination of photographic and carving mediums highlights the attention to detail, bird and habitat knowledge and incredible patience required to master these very different arts.
This is Herman Veenendaal’s second show at the Station Gallery, a welcome return after his solo show, “Birds Of St. Marys And Vicinity,” in fall 2016. He is honoured to display his photos in “Flight” alongside Ivan and the Scrivers, saying “the carving is stunning. They have really captured the environment as well as the bird itself.”
“Flight” features forty photos of National Geographic quality that capture a range of birds from a male Bobolink in full song (St. Marys) to bright comical Puffins (Machias Seal Island Bird Sanctuary off the coast of New Brunswick). Known for his meticulous and respectful approach to nature photography, Herman’s work is a pleasure to view and often offers rare insight into the world of avian manners which are often impossible for the public to see firsthand. His wry humour can also be found in the photos of a nest of three hungry Great Horned Owl chicks entitled, “Waiting For Dinner,” and a fully ruffled and disgruntled-looking Reddish Egret in “Bad Hair Day.”
The most difficult photo to capture in the collection was the lovely but shy Least Bittern; Herman followed the sound of the bird for three days while birding in Florida, finally capturing the photo in a very short two-minute time frame. “You almost never see them,” he said.
Husband and wife team, Ross and Barbara Scriver, began carving birds together in 1991, joining the Grand Valley Wood Carver Club in Kitchener and taking many seminars and courses throughout the years. They are very involved in running the Canadian National Wood Carvers Competition in Kitchener each spring and currently study with Martin Ward in Stratford. They have competed at many World Competitions in Ocean City, Maryland, and have performed very well in their categories.
Their work is incredible. Ross, who still carves using knives in addition to power tools, shows just how world class their carving is with his American Redstart and Cedar Waxwing, both on loan from private collections for the exhibit, which are amazing in their delicate detail.
What began as a joint hobby has evolved into an artistic passion that is not without its challenges. The carvings take hundreds of hours of labour. They are made from Tupelo, a wood from Louisiana swamps, and mixed media which could be anything from natural branches to fibre optic wire. The birds are meticulously balanced and designed to perch in natural habitat, from rocky craigs to the top of a cat tail.
Barbara’s Peregrin Falcon was carved, recarved and repainted multiple times until she was satisfied that the bird was anatomically correct and in perfect proportion. “Every carving almost gets thrown in the woodpile,” she said. Each new bird is a challenge and opportunity to perfect their carving skills. Her Sharp Shin Hawk represents her return to carving following a twenty-year hiatus due to wrist injury; she won in her category when she exhibited it at the World’s.
Ivan Facey’s love of carving had its start when he was a boy. He first became interested in the beauty and character of waterfowl when he raised a pair of wild mallards who later hatched thirteen ducklings on the door of an old wood stove. He continues to be inspired by the diversity of waterfowl. “We are surrounded by so many beautiful varieites of waterfowl to study, carve or photograph in this part of Canada.” More recently, he rescued a western Grebe that was stuck in a snow bank off James Street.
He began carving in 1985 when he attended Allan Brady’s decoy carving class at Fanshawe College; he enjoyed it so much that he decided to continue for a total of four winters. His first carving was a Canvasback Duck.
Ivan uses basswood blocks for his carvings. All three carvers use Dremel power tools to carve, and a wood burner or burning pen to texture feathers. The birds are painted in acrylic after being sealed and gessoed. Many of his carvings have found a home across Canada; several were shipped to St Marys for the show.
“Flight” is on display until June 8th. For more information, visit www.stmarysstationgallery.com.