Chainsaw totems

The sound of the artist at work sounds like the set of the Red Green Show.

The sound of the artist at work sounds like the set of the Red Green Show.

Brandishing two small chainsaws, oilfield worker Darren Jones, 43, is busily carving 16 sculptures from a line of spruce trees along the eastern boundary of Pas Ka Poo Park in Rimbey.

It’s not work, it’s a challenge, said Jones. He is donating his time, with the Rimbey Historical Society covering the costs of sharpening, oil and gas for his saws, and the wood stain and oil to finish the carvings.

“They had me in mind before they started,” he said.

Park administrator Cheryl Scheie said she and the board were growing concerned for public safety because the densely-packed row of spruce trees, planted 45 years ago when the park was first opened, were starting to create a hazard. Heavy limbs would fall during high winds and there was fear that someone would be injured.

Scheie and the board were familiar with Jones’s work, including pieces in the 10-acre park and on both private and public land elsewhere in town.

Instead of cutting the trees back to little stumps, they thought it would be neat to have Jones carve the trunks into tall statues and create a new attraction.

Jones said some people might mistakenly call them totem poles.

“Totem poles are native and it’s religions. I’m not native and I’m not religious in their religion, so they’re tree sculptures.”

The historical society has assigned a theme for each tree. The first is dedicated to all the volunteers who have helped build Rimbey over the past 107 years.

Another will be dedicated to explorer Anthony Henday, whose name has a permanent link with the town, the nearby Blindman River and the park itself. (The story goes that Henday had gone snowblind one winter. Members of the Cree Nation who had been helping him started calling the area Pas Ka Poo — valley of the blind man.)

Self taught, Jones, 43, said he had started out as a painter, using an airbrush as his favourite medium.

“I broke my foot on the oil rigs in ’85 and I took up painting.”

About 12 years ago, his wife Patricia and their children bought him a chainsaw. Their idea was that he would use it to buck up firewood to heat their rural home.

Jones had other ideas.

He continued buying his firewood already split, dedicating the saw to creating sculptures.

His first work — a portrait of the Rimbey Traveller — was given to Pas Ka Poo Park, where it is still on display.

For Jones, sculpting was a natural progression from two-dimensional art and something he could take with him on jobs.

“I’m a directional driller in the oilpatch, so when I’m location, depending on where I’m at, I usually sculpt also. I take my chainsaw with me.”

“(Sculpting) is a manipulation between light and dark. I can see inside a sphere and I’m able to pick what must come off for it to come out.”

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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