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Turning disaster into art, wood carver makes sculptures from trees downed by Fiona

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Mike Palmer and his fiancé Charmaine Rozee were devastated when post-tropical storm Fiona brought down the giant poplar tree that had stood tall for nearly 90 years on their property.

“That tree was our tree,” said Rozee. A bracket that held the family nameplate had become embedded in the wood over the years.

Instead of chopping it all up for firewood, Palmer took a piece to a wood carver he came across in Peggys Cove.

“I thought it would be a really cool time to say, look, the tree is not really gone,” said Palmer.

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He asked for a sculpture of a dolphin — his fiancé’s favourite animal — and decided to surprise her with it.

Rozee said when she first laid eyes on the creation, “it dropped me to my knees.”

A man in a red shirt sits beside a woman in a grey sweater beside a wooden sculpture of a dolphin.
Mike Palmer and his wife, Charmaine Rozee, in their home with a dolphin sculpture created out of wood from the tree that collapsed on their property. (Robert Short/CBC)

The carver, Jay MacKay, runs his own wood workshop called DaVinci in Wood. He said Palmer wasn’t the only person who brought him a piece of a family tree damaged by the September storm.

MacKay said it’s the first time clients have supplied the logs he uses to carve from.

So far, he has carved three Fiona commissions with his chainsaw — a heron, a dolphin, and his latest, an owl.

“What really keeps me going is people’s reactions,” said MacKay, sitting in his wood shop surrounded by sculptures, his shoes covered in sawdust.

A wooden heron stands in front of a maple tree.
A heron stands in front of the maple tree it was carved out of. The tree held sentimental value for the family and was damaged by the storm. (Jay MacKay)

The owl was made from a piece of an elm tree that was uprooted on Kevin English’s property in New Glasgow. His father-in-law had planted it from seed when English’s daughter was a baby. His father-in-law passed away last year just before Christmas.

“When the hurricane came and blew the tree down, it’s really upset my wife,” English said. “It got completely uprooted, and there was nothing we could do.”

A wooden sculpture of an owl in a truck.
The owl was carved out of a piece of a downed tree that Kevin English had chopped up for firewood. (Jay MacKay)

English said the sculpture is a Christmas present to his wife.

“She likes owls quite a bit, so I figured it’d be nice to have something for her that her father grew,” he said.

MacKay’s father was also a carver, and a folk artist who inspired him to start carving at the age of five. A few years ago, MacKay quit his carpentry job to work as a carver full-time.

He’s created hundreds of sculptures, sentimental pieces depicting family dogs, for example, or of a beloved grandfather who was a fisher. Other pieces he’s made were used as props for television.

“For me, as an artist, well, it’s a passion,” he said.

 

N.S. wood carver makes sculptures from trees downed by Fiona

 

Jay MacKay says that after post-tropical storm Fiona hit, clients started bringing in pieces of wood from trees that held sentimental value for them that had been downed by the storm.

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