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August 14, 2009

Beautiful Burl Bowls and Birch Bark Boats

Last week I mentioned the carved wooden bowls, dishes and plates carved by Michael Mathieu.  I went to see him at his home and studio on Main Street downtown North Bay.  I have admired his work at the Art on Main art and fine crafts store many times, and had a lot of questions.

Mike told me that a burl is a bulbous growth on a tree produced by a variety of possible causes.  The tree cold be damaged, parasites could be at work, or fungus or mould could be the villain.  For details access Wikepedia under burl.

 Mike Mathieu at work on a bowl in his studio -Doug Mackey photo

Depending on the size of the burl it can be cut into boards, veneer, or can be turned or carved to bring out the beauty of the incredible grain with stunning curls, eyes and flames.

Mike originally tromped the bush for hours to find some burls and tried turning them.  He found the turning to be too mechanical and decided to carve them into shapes dictated by their natural shape and preserving more of the quality of the pieces.  Since there are no courses on the craft he learned by trial and error.

The carving is a time consuming and risky business because so many things can go wrong, but he learned quickly.  Patience is required to get the wood dry especially if from a live or recently fallen tree.    Special power tools are used and sandbags  keep the bowl  from moving (or a vice)  while he works on it.

Mike at his showcase at Art on Main in North Bay-Doug Mackey photo

 Hours of sanding by hand and machine eventually bring up the shape and finish deserved.  Special oil is applied followed by a wax finish.  The original edge of the bowl has the bark removed but remains otherwise untouched.

Some of the pieces can be held in one hand while others are much larger and used for decorative purposes or occasionally as a fruit bowl or salad bowl.

Mikeís studio has numerous burls of various sizes waiting for development.  He has begun to get commissions and he attends various craft shows such as the big One of a Kind show in Toronto.  He will attend his third show in Toronto in November where he usually sells most of the many pieces he takes.  He has shown in Ottawa and Durham events as well.  Locally Art on Main is close to home and you can meet him there if you check their schedule.  He takes his required shift as a member of the co-op.

Mikeís business is called Northwood Creations and his website is www.northwoodcreations.ca.  He is also available at 705-495-6242 or at Mikemathieu@sympatico.ca.

Building Birch Bark Canoes

I have written about the importance of the birch bark canoe in the development of Canada in its early days.  It is refreshing to see some able craftsmen, mostly aboriginal men, continuing to build these technically unique vessels using the original approach.  Google birch bark canoes for many sites, books, videos, courses, etc.

Roger Labelle and his birchbark canoe-Doug Mackey photo

While at the Voyageur Days event in Mattawa recently I met Roger Labelle a Metis Mattawa businessman and trapper.  When I was curator of the Mattawa Museum 20 years ago I approached Roger to help set up a trapping display which he did.  I have met him over the years at aboriginal events and we have talked about his connection with Daventry in Algonquin Park.

Roger suggested I drop by his house at the corner of ( 540 ) Bissett Street and the newly named Anahareo Way to see his current birchbark canoe building project.  I went and saw a gorgeous canoe nearing completion (see photo of his back yard.)

He described the process from getting the bark to harvesting the cedar and other woods for all of the parts.  The rope like strands used to bind the birch bark made from the raw leather tree were all on display.

While there several other visitors arrived and had a look and saw the making of the cedar lining and curved ribs to be inserted into the canoe.  He showed another finished canoe complete with the necessary sprucetar joints to prevent leakage.  Roger learned his canoe skills in various places including from Charlie Lebarge and _Andy Green who built the voyageur canoe at the museum at Samuel de Champlain Park.

Rogerís native instincts and pride have come through in an outstanding piece of craftsmanship.

We talked about his son Marcelís canoe making and teaching ( I spent a day on Marcelís trapline many years ago) and therein  a tale worth telling Ė but I have run out of my allotted space.  Watch this space for a story of aboriginal achievement worth hearing next week.

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