Retirees Val Hardy and Bronagh O’Hagan spent their working lives in retail. They don’t have a long CV of arts accolades.
In fact they’ve only been doing their woodworking for about four years and their cottonwood bark carving about three years.
“We were just looking for something do in retirement,” O’Hagan explained.
Their whimsical carved houses are in demand and they will be making their first appearance at the 22nd annual Arts Alive Festival this Saturday.
“No one’s as surprised as we were that we could do this,” O’Hagan quipped. “We’re not very artistic.”
But they’ve found a hobby they both enjoy and sell about 60 pieces each year.
They started with more traditional wood carving before seeing someone work with bark. Now they specifically work in cottonwood bark.
“We get some from a place in northern B.C,, some from Alaska, some from the U.S. Because we need thicker pieces of bark, it needs to come from a colder climate,” O’Hagan explained.
The Clayton couple each works on their own pieces but they both enjoy making the fun-style wood carvings.
Cottonwood is considered a weed tree and the ones they use are typically 100 years old.
“It all comes from dead trees,” she said. “It’s soft so its easy to handle.”
Hardy and O’Hagan let the piece of wood dictate the final piece.
It’s a combination of what the wood inspires and what the wood allows.
“It can be very chippy,” O’Hagan said about cottonwood bark. “It chips and cracks a lot easier than solid wood.”
The pieces are decorated with some coloured paints and varnished to preserve the works that are intended to be displayed indoors.
“There are often cracks and crevices, which are great as they can make the piece more interesting. But what can happen, which did happen yesterday, is that the piece broke in two while working on it. Now I will have two carvings,” O’Hagan said.
They’ve made pieces as small as three inches tall and as big as about 20 inches. An average piece takes 15 to 20 hours to create.
O’Hagan and Hardy have sold pieces here and in Arizona where they winter. They’ve also had the carvings take up residence in O’Hagan’s native Ireland and sold one to a person in Japan.
Now Langley will get to see their curvy, quirky creations thanks to the unique event that is Arts Alive.
“We have never been, but we’ve heard a lot of good things about it,” O’Hagan said.