Last year Nanaimo wood artist Charlie Pickard was at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria when he spotted a notice about an upcoming exhibition at Victoria’s Robert Bateman Centre.
The project, called oneTree, was returning for its third year and the gallery was seeking artists interested in creating a piece of art using a portion of wood cut from a single tree.
The tree for the 2017 edition of the exhibit was a walnut that stood in a residential Victoria neighbourhood for more than 100 years until it was felled due to safety concerns.
Pickard, who is known the handmade wooden gnome doors he places at the foot of trees in Nanaimo parks, read about oneTree and immediately knew the project would be a perfect fit.
“I came home and said, tongue-in-cheek honestly … ‘It’s an ancient tree. Gnomes have been known for over 1,000 years to live in the base of old, ancient trees. Well, to keep the tree alive I’ll introduce a gnome family to the tree,’” he said.
Although he has only been making wood art since retiring five years ago, Pickard decided to write an application for the project and sent in photographs and conceptual ideas for a whimsical gnome home built from a tree stump with windows, a door and a chimney.
He was surprised when he heard back from the gallery and learned that he would be one of the 50 artists, mostly from Vancouver Island, to take part in oneTree 2017.
“They sent me an e-mail one night and it said, ‘Charlie, you’ve been accepted,’” he said.
“I said, ‘Jesus, look, they’ve accepted my proposal … what the hell do I do now?’”
In November 2016, Pickard went down to Victoria to pick out his piece of the centenarian walnut tree. He saw a four foot tall section with two protruding knots where branches once were and he could already imagine what it was going to look like.
“As soon as I looked at it I went, ‘OK,’” he said.
“I can just see things, like, that’s a window, and that’s a side entrance. We’ll just build a section on here and we’ll have an entrance and I’ll put the main door up here.”
Pickard said it took him hundreds of hours of on-and-off work from March to November 2017 to transform his block of wood into a gnome house. Aside from carving and painting the outside, complete with decks and a landscaped walkway, he also did some interior decorating, designing a kitchen and bedrooms lit by glimmering LEDs and viewed by looking though the windows. He said it’s the largest project he’s ever made.
It is just one unique facet of the Bateman centre collaboration with Duncan-based Live Edge Design which attracted the talents of dozens of Island artitsts and craftsmen and saw the ancient tree artistically utilized through a wide variety of discipines, incuding furniture, sculptures, bowls and musical instruments.
When Pickard brought the finished piece to the gallery, he said he was impressed by the other artists’ work. He said it’s hard to explain the feeling of being a part of the exhibition. He said he’s grateful to have been chosen to share his work.
“Not everybody I don’t think can be involved in presenting whatever they do in the Robert Bateman gallery,” he said.
“To me it was just an honour to be accepted.”
The oneTree exhibit continues at the Robert Bateman Centre until Jan. 31.