Radio Canada International

Shane Wilson- Unique Artist in a Unique Medium

Arabella Magazine

Transforming the Unexpected: Artists To Collect – Shane Wilson
written by Brett Anningson

Borealis and Oreithyia - moose antlers - 52x30x18in - 2015 - Shane Wilson

Borealis and Oreithyia (detail) moose antlers – 52x30x18in – 2015

Shane Wilson works with what is already present in the unusual materials he finds. He sculpts and carves antlers, tusks and horns in a way which accentuates their natural beauty – setting them free in creative ways. “I am inspired by the inherent beauty within,” Shane explains. “Each piece is unique and forms its own natural background for my abstract design. They help to give form to my thoughts and feelings about consciousness, existence and meaning.”

He comes by his gifts naturally. His mother painted and made high-end custom dolls, while his grandmother taught him how to knit and make crafts from an early age. “Their focus on ensuring that we understood the importance of doing the job well and making sure we gave every project our best effort was a lesson that has guided my approach to all my work,” says Shane.

Dall Sheep Duality (detail - 3-4r) - dall sheep horns, skull - 16.5x23x9in - 2004 - Shane Wilson

Dall Sheep Duality – dall sheep horns, skull – 16.5x23x9in – 2004

Vacations always included trips to museums and art galleries. He recalls being captivated by magnificent original art in whatever medium.

“As a young lad of eight, I remember seeing Salvador Dali’s painting Santiago El Grande in the Beaverbrook Gallery, and being mesmerized by the scale, craftsmanship and transcendent quality of the piece, even though I may not have understand the meaning Dali was trying to convey.

At the Halifax Maritime Museum, I was enthralled by a group of men behind a glass partition who were building scale model sailing ships from scratch.

After that visit I convinced my Dad to get me a jackknife and a block of wood, so I could be a carver as well. The wooden 4″ x 4″ post my Dad provided proved a bit much for a young boy to whittle into a sailing ship, but my whistle had been whetted for the creation of carved sculpture.”

No surprise that art was Shane’s favourite class in school. And his favourite medium was papier maché. “The thought that I could create a three-dimensional object from nothing but old newspapers and paste was an eye opener,” he says. “I remember collecting old newspapers door-to-door in the neighbourhood, so I could create my own papier maché dinosaur at home.”


At Home in the Natural World

Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Shane and his family moved to the small town of Bar River near Sault St. Marie. Growing up in a largely rural area with a definite northern exposure gave Shane a deep connection to the wilderness. “It was a perfect place for my attraction to natural forms to take root, and it was here that my fascination with horns, antlers and bones was born,” he says. “Thinking back, it seems like everyone in town had a set of moose or deer antlers in their yard and, while I know that isn’t the case, there was no shortage of opportunities to study them and appreciate the beauty they held.”

The journey led Shane to the Anglican Priesthood, taking him even farther north while serving congregations in small towns in northern British Columbia and the Yukon. He retained his passion for art and continued drawing and painting, usually learning through books like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Big Horns Ram-Shatter and Melt - big horn sheep horns - 24x14x7in - 2010 - Shane Wilson

Big Horns Ram-Shatter and Melt – big horn sheep horns – 24x14x7in – 2010

“During my first posting in the mid-‘80s, I encountered antler carving for the first time in the work of renowned carver, Maureen Morris, from Atlin, BC. I was immediately taken with the beauty of her work, but also how the medium itself reaffirmed a connection to the natural world, and presented so many ways to express my own creativity. Over the next few years, I gathered the basic tools and stockpiled found antlers, then started carving. Eventually, my wife Miranda suggested I focus on carving and set the paints aside. She saw, before I did, that this was where I would have the most enjoyment and best channel my creativity.”

Shane left the priesthood in the early 1990s and worked at other jobs on and off to pay the bills, all the while continuing to carve. As his artistic reputation became known in the Yukon, commissioned opportunities presented themselves. Locally at first, then from outside the territory, and even other countries. The last 20 years have seen mostly commissions; a collaborative endeavour Shane truly enjoys.

Recently, he struck out in a different direction by creating work that was just for him, Borealis and Oreithyia. By his own admission, the process of producing this piece has brought a new energy and immediacy. Working on a project that is only for him, he can explore ideas and concepts in form that he has been thinking about for a long time. “One of the things that struck me about art while I was growing up,” Shane recalls, “was the unique world each painting or sculpture seemed to contain. A world I could imagine escaping into, inhabiting. My childhood travels and experiences growing up in small town Ontario planted the seed, but it took me several more years to realize I had the ability to create these worlds.”


The Nitty Gritty of Antler Carving

“My studio is a sanctuary,” says Shane, “a place where I can leave my left brain world behind and lose myself in right brain creativity. In the studio, I abandon myself to the creative process.”

His work is informed by the natural sculptural shapes of antlers and bones, to which Shane brings his own internal sense of duality. It is a beautiful partnership between natural form and an artist’s vision. The chosen media imposes limitations – which then present challenges!

Tundra Swan - moose antler, 10x9x4in, 2005 by Shane Wilson

Tundra Swan – moose antler, 10x9x4in, 2005

He muses, “Like many artists, I think my designs are my own and my medium helps make them unique and recognizable. I have a huge visual memory; if I’ve seen something somewhere before I won’t repeat it. Being original is very important to me. But I also think we need to be patient and absorb all the art and culture we can along the way. That would be my one bit of advice, take time to learn how to make something well, and find your voice. Keep going, persist.”

Shane tries to source materials in the most ethical way possible, so he repurposes shed antlers or gets them from sustenance hunters. A key first step is sitting back, looking at the antlers and thinking about what is below the surface. Shane designs the patterns in his head, then sketches them out. Next, he sands the surface, using coloured pencil to draw the design on the antler. As soon as it “sings” to him, he starts to carve out negative spaces with the drill and saw. The carved surface is roughed out with large carving burrs on flexible shaft grinders, then refined with smaller burrs on micro motor grinders – similar to dental drills. Lastly, the piece is sanded and finished with a protective satin acrylic spray.

“The antler medium doesn’t lend itself to hand work,” says Shane, “so I need to carve in relief using power tools. I like to think I am working to carve light and shadow. Perhaps the hardest thing is the time commitment. It can take years to work through a piece from idea to finished product and, because I believe so strongly in giving everything I have to each piece, I usually only work on one piece at a time.”


Of Themes and Life

“The north has obviously influenced me,” says Shane. “Not that I am a “northern” artist, because my work isn’t northern in the classic sense, but more the closeness to the land and the access to the natural world. The movement of northern life through the seasons; the inevitable cycles of rebirth and renewal; the legends and stories. All of this has helped me become who I am today and has guided my art.”

Canada Winter Games - Northern Torches - caribou antler - 20x32in ea - 2006 - Shane Wilson

Canada Winter Games – Northern Torches – caribou antler – 20x32in ea – 2006

As a child, Shane read the story Paddle to the Sea, about a young boy who carved a small wooden canoe and left it on a snow bank in the spring. As the snow melted, the canoe journeyed from a remote northern Ontario town, into the Great Lakes and eventually to the sea. The idea of creating something which would then have a life of its own, beyond the life of its creator, fascinated Shane.

“When Whitehorse, Yukon was awarded the 2007 Canada Winter Games, I was chosen to create a set of three caribou antler torches for the relay leading up to the Games, one for each of the northern Territories. My own ‘paddle to the sea’ experience. The torches embarked on staggering journeys totalling over 100,000 miles, by every conceivable means, visiting every community and significant landmark in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. When the torches returned to Whitehorse a year later for the Opening Ceremonies, the experience was deeply meaningful to me – my creations had ‘paddled to the sea’ and lived their own fantastic adventures.”

Duality is a central and recurring theme. Shane credits this largely to being a left-handed person in a world designed for the right-handed. That sense of duality inspires a strong attraction for working with antlers which normally have two sides, sometimes perfectly mirrored, but most often not. Much like the left brain/right brain reality in humans. “It’s unusual to find someone perfectly balanced between the two,” says Shane. “It’s not necessary for being a creative and successful person. Likewise, a set of antlers doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced to offer an opportunity for creating something beautiful or to be beautiful in their own right. I feel incredibly fortunate to be making this kind of sculpture. Like I’m firing on all cylinders, I’m fully engaged. And, it’s extremely gratifying when people appreciate the work.”

Sculptures featured: Borealis and Oreithyia, Big Horns Ram, Gaia, Tundra Swan, Yukon Seasons, Short Eared Parliament,  Duality, Seahorses, Self Portrait, Dall Sheep Duality, Wolf-Pine Beetle Galleries

Hi Fructose: The New Contemporary Art Magazine

Ornate Antler Sculptures by Shane Wilson
Shane Wilson balances beauty and severity in his ornate carvings into animal antlers
by Caro Buerman

Alces Madonna - moose antler - 24x15x6in - 2014 - Shane Wilson

Alces Madonna – moose antler – 24x15x6in – 2014

Canadian artist Shane Wilson draws his inspiration from the nature surrounding him in the north. In his artist statement, he writes, “I live through my hands and tools: transforming thick, heavy bone and bronze, meant for massive collisions, into ethereal, otherworldly creations; precious oases in the midst of life.”

Sourced ethically, his ornate carvings into animal antlers, particularly moose, are unreal. They balance the beauty of the animal with the severity and aggressive nature of the antlers’ former life.

With careful workmanship, Wilson summons peaceful scenes of Canada’s wilderness, such as Grizzly bears fishing and wolves howling in the night.

Some pieces measure over a meter high and feature more abstract patterns. For example, “Borealis and Oreithyia”, an impressive set of moose antlers, is Wilson’s curvy interpretation of the Northern Lights. Such works merge the creative imaginings of man with the natural world.

His first experimentations followed a visit to an exhibition of other antler carvings, but after a period of time, Wilson has honed in on a unique vision. Today, his pieces are commissioned all over the world, most recently on display at Museum of Post Contemporary Art, Virtual Gallery.

Sculptures featured: Gaia,  Borealis and Oreithyia, Alces Madonna, Short Eared Parliament, Yukon Seasons, Duality, Candle Ice, Candle Ice Two, Male Seahorse

Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine

featuring Short Eared Parliament 
by Kent Wilson

Short Eared Parliament - moose antlers and skull - 49x58x30in - 2013 - Shane Wilson

Short Eared Parliament – moose antlers and skull – 49x58x30in – 2013

Inspired by the North – the beauty and severity of its extremes – Vancouver Island based sculptor Shane Wilson breathes life into the discarded outer garments of arctic impermanence: antler, horn, ivory, tusk, and bone.

His signature style – the cool logic of a mathematician warmed in the guiding hands of a poet—lives in the uneasy conversation between organic and non-organic abstraction. 

Originally from Ontario, Wilson moved to northern British Columbia and then to the Yukon during the 1980s. Conversant in more traditional art forms – drawing, painting, clay sculpture – his interest in working with natural media was sparked after attending an exhibition of antler carvings, the rugged and tactile artifacts appealing to his sense of discovery.

After a short period of experimentation, Wilson honed the techniques necessary to express his unique vision while exploring the fragile limits of natural media as diverse as fossilized woolly mammoth tusk and whale baleen.

In 2012 Shane Wilson was commissioned by the internationally renowned design firm Yabu Pushelberg to create a signature showpiece for the opening of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.  His stunning Candle Ice Two double-antler sculpture graces the west lobby.

“My intention is to create beautifully original sculpture, ethically and sustainably, directly from nature in found antler, horn, ivory, bone and bronze – the carving suggestive of a way forward for our rapidly changing planet, one in which we’ll create beautifully original solutions, ethically and sustainably, directly with nature.”

Sculpture featured: Short Eared Parliament

Four Seasons Magazine

True North
The art collection at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto explores the role of nature in Canadian identity.
by Elaine Glusac

Candle Ice Two - moose antlers - 46x28x20in - 2012 - Shane Wilson

Candle Ice Two – moose antlers – 46x28x20in – 2012

When Toronto- and London-based art consultant James Robertson took on the task of curating the Four Seasons flagship, he says, Canadiana immediately came to mind as a unifying theme. “If you’re coming to Canada from abroad and staying in a downtown hotel, I felt you should get a sense of how incredible the nature is, but really as a minimalist nod,” he says. “It should be subtle and clever, evoking wilderness, but not in your face.”

Nature as a motif emerges in abstractions such as the luminous lake painted onto white gold by New York-based Paul Hunter or powerful trees done in tar by Alberta-born Attila Richard Lukacs. Sometimes the reference is more direct, as in the central installation of whole and partial dandelion seed heads dangling over the two-storey-high reception area like a statement piece of jewellery. “I think nature is a deep-seated element in the Canadian consciousness because so much of Canada is wilderness,” says Toronto artist Alissa Coe, creator of the centrepiece sculptures. “It’s part of our mythology. You can see it through all the works chosen. There’s a dreamlike, natural quality to them.”

Even the most representational pieces tap into the imagination. In the case of Candle Ice, British Columbia-based Shane Wilson carved two moose antlers in angular shards, patterned abstractly after the fragile fall and spring ice (candle ice) that forms, breaks apart and piles up. “It’s a living material,” says Wilson, who worked for 400 hours over nine months on the piece, using antlers he found in the Yukon. “I feel privileged to work with it, because it is created by life itself.”

Sculpture featured: Candle Ice Two

Branch Magazine: Wild

Branch Magazine: Wild (cover featuring Yukon Seasons)

Branch Magazine: Wild (cover featuring Yukon Seasons)

Branch Magazine is a national quarterly online magazine devoted to exploring the rifts and overlaps of visual and literary arts while showcasing emerging and professional Canadian artists and creators. Branch features contemporary literature, art and design and aims to produce a compelling panoply of art in different media. Kudos to founding editors Gillian Sze (Literary Editor) and Rob Huynh (Roberutsu – Visual Arts and Design Editor).

Guest editorial by Alison Strumberger: “When Gillian and Rob asked me to guest edit the Wild issue of Branch I was stoked. It is the Canadian Wild that makes for such a talented bunch of maple syrup-loving, toque-wearing, snowshoe-owning, campfire-building writers and artists, and we are pleased as punch to be showcasing a number of them in this issue. We are pleased to spotlight returning artist, Shane Wilson, whose intricate sculptures will astound you. We ask him about the ins-and-outs of sculpting and his relationship with his materials…


Feature Artist – Q & A with Shane Wilson

If you were an animal, which animal would you be and why? 

If I were an animal … well, I am! The thing I treasure about being a human animal is the ability to think deeply about life and to appreciate the deep thoughts of others of my species.

Humpback Breaching - moose antler - 12x18x3in - 2005 - Shane Wilson

Humpback Breaching – moose antler – 12x18x3in – 2005

However, if I were to choose to be a different animal, I think I’d choose to be one of the great whales. When I learned that US Naval tracking stations had been recording whale sounds for years, that a Blue Whale, departing from northern waters, can create a sonic pulse illuminating the entire Atlantic Basin and navigate accordingly, I just thought that was an amazingly cool thing and wanted to be one. And it goes without saying that whales think deep thoughts. After all, who can forget that brilliant treatise on existence worked out by the improbably created sperm whale as it plummeted through the atmosphere of an alien planet?

Why did you become an artist?

Like Jonah fleeing the will of God, I pursued a number of proper careers (briefly and with varying degrees of success) before being tossed overboard for the last time and swallowed body and soul by the great art leviathan.

I make art because I must. Yet still I try to avoid the making of it on a daily basis, paradoxically finding peace and well being only in the throes of creation. I like to think of this dynamic as a war between the right and left brain – the left, the everyday practical portion where I spend most of my life, does not want to relinquish control to the right, the mysterious region of creativity where ‘the everyday’, including time itself, does not exist. Perhaps the struggle finds expression in my art, in the notion of ‘Duality’. 

Aristotle said that art takes nature as its model. You model nature into art. Do you remember the first time you carved an antler? How did that begin?

Antlers, bones and skulls are natural sculptural wonders. Not just in the sense that wind and weather shape a rock or a tree, but more so. These are shapes that are sculpted and inhabited by Life. When I encountered the amazing antler art of Maureen Morris in 1985, I realized that it was possible to combine my interest in sculptural creation with these living sculptures.

What are you proudest of achieving as an artist?

A good day in the studio. 

Some sculptors say that they can see the sculpture in a piece of wood or rock. Is that the case for you?

Sure. But the sculpture seen ‘within’ the stone is usually drawn from an interaction with the sculptor’s own inner catalogue of three dimensional or relief imagery, mentally overlaid or fitted into the stone until a match is achieved, a kind of psychic superimposition. So it’s a two way street, a unique interaction between the stone and the sculptor. I especially enjoy the challenge of this process as it applies to antler, skull, horn or tusk.

Seahorses - moose antlers - 15x15in - 2007 - Shane Wilson

Seahorses – moose antlers – 15x15in – 2007

Your work is so detailed and refined. It must be a very long and painstaking process. Were you always a patient person? Do you think your art taught you to be patient?

When working there is no sense of time, hence no need of patience. Right brain territory. Patience, however, is a gift I strongly encourage in collectors and commissioners of my work.  

What inspires you?

Excellence and originality in all its manifestations. I am particularly inspired by great music played live. When the music flows over me, I see a cascading multiplicity of form. Sculptural problems resolve before my ‘eyes’.

“I realized that it was possible to combine my interest in sculptural creation with these living sculptures.” – Shane Wilson

What are you working on now?

I am currently in the process of creating a large commissioned sculpture featuring the Short Eared Owl, entitled: “Short Eared Parliament.” I’m about six months along, with another year to go. While this work progresses (I post photos and comments on my site as I go along) I’ll be thinking about my next sculpture, entitled “Integration”, which will mark a return to the completely abstract theme of ‘Duality’, weaving the angles and curves of earlier carvings into a single, unified design. The medium for this work will be a massive moose rack (152 cm wide), discovered atop a rocky Yukon mountainside.

Give us a quote by Delacroix.

In addition to posting work related updates on Twitter, I enjoy sharing pertinent quotes about life and art from artists I have been reading. Delacroix is pure gold:

“The mature artist despises everything that does not lead to a more vital expression of his thought.” 

Sculptures featured: Yukon Seasons, European Robin, Humpback Breaching, Seahorses, Dall on the Rocks, Duality, Candle Ice, Celtic Confusion, Faro Fannin

Yukon Arts Centre Gallery Blog

Artwork Wednesday: Shane Wilson

Candle Ice - moose antler - 25x33x15in - 1999 - Shane Wilson

Candle Ice – moose antler – 25x33x15in – 1999

“My intention is to create beautifully original sculpture, ethically and sustainably, directly from nature in found antler, horn, ivory, bone and bronze—the carving suggestive of a way forward for our rapidly changing planet, one in which we’ll create beautifully original solutions, ethically and sustainably, directly with nature.” – Shane Wilson


Organic and non-organic forms and materials co-exist within master carver Shane Wilson’s powerful carvings of horn, ivory, antler and bronze. The carvings are abstracted, sleek and refined, yet his materials, such as mammoth ivory, might be up to 40 000 years old and their original shape is rough.

Formerly based in the Yukon for many years, residing in Whitehorse and Faro, Wilson’s work is held in the Yukon Government Permanent Art Collection, the Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection, the Haines Junction Permanent Art Collection and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto Contemporary Art Collection amongst others.

Wilson’s signature duality is evident in the Yukon Art Centre’s Permanent Art Collection piece Candle Ice, a smooth moose antler carved into jagged triangular shapes that resemble daggers of ice like those found alongside a frozen river. The smooth precision of the carving is a transformation of the original antler, likely shed by a moose just after mating season.

Many viewers wonder if the piece is made of one solid piece of antler, or if it was created with multiple pieces of antler adhered together. Impressively, Candle Ice was carved as one individual form with geometric shapes created out of the core naturally shaped antler.

In 2012, the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto commissioned Wilson to re-create Candle Ice for the lobby of their Hotel. This video shows the incredible transformation of raw material into spectacular sculpture, and the installation in its current location.


Sculptures featured: Candle Ice, Candle Ice Two, Canada Winter Games – Yukon Torch, Shooting of Dan McGrew, Gaia, Yukon Seasons

Wildlife Art Journal

Shane Wilson: Honouring The Power of Wild Life
Canadian Artist Makes A Contemporary Statement With ‘Skullpture’
by Todd Wilkinson

Shane Wilson’s art does not conform to a known vernacular, neither within sculpture, nor carving, nor the contemporary language of found objects and mixed materials. However he is classified, Wilson’s creations stir up something deep within us—a mystery that cannot be explained easily in words. It could be the palmate shape of a moose antler that fans the inner flame of an archetypal memory, or the tusk of an Ice Age woolly mammoth, or the ivory gleam of a near-mythological narwhal inscribed with symbolism that reads like an ancient petroglyph. 

Gaia - moose antlers, bronze moose skull - 43x48x24in - 2009 - Shane Wilson

Gaia – moose antlers, bronze moose skull – 43x48x24in – 2009

Seeing them on the wall or under protective case, it is our sublime delight—and the artist’s challenge issued to us—to try and decode the hidden messages. Art and nature form a breathtaking confluence in an extraordinary, evocative portfolio “For me, the message is all about who we are as people today,” Wilson says.  “We live in a world of intriguing duality.”

Whether we dwell in a city or remote bush community; whether commuting to work in a skyscraper or making our living off the land; whether sojourning for subsistence in the wilderness or escaping into backyard woodlots, there is something ineffable about the headgear of animals that he reinterprets.

“Wilson’s work is a powerful evocation of this heritage but he goes much further in innovation and creativity. He produces stand alone objects of art that always seem fresh and surprising … words that seldom apply to the vast majority of art turned out these days.” – Robert Bateman

Under Wilson’s command, antler and ivory not only fill a room with ambiance and character; they flood an even larger space—the 21st century imagination—with a sense of adventure, compelling us to ponder our primitive connections to a distant past and our contemporary world.

Like a large landscape painting on the wall of a museum or the substantive heft exuding from a mass of bronze sculpture, Wilson’s work has a magnetic effect.  Regardless of its size, it can bestow even a great hall with a feeling of majesty.

For years, before making his home near the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island, he remained largely off the radar screen of collectors because the solace-loving artist resided in the isolated interior of the Yukon.

Wilson is making a name for himself and it is well worth our time to take notice. His transcendent blending of classical taxidermy with the fine art traditions of carving and foundry work are attracting attention from collectors and museums across the continent.  “When I think of carving, I think of the great European traditions of stone carving, and the Celtic tradition of carving in antler, wood and stone,” he says.

Celtic Confusion - moose antler - 25x33x15in - 1998 - Shane Wilson

Celtic Confusion – moose antler – 25x33x15in – 1998

The eminent Canadian nature artist Robert Bateman, who dwells on Salt Spring Island, near Vancouver, observes,  “Wilson’s work is a powerful evocation of this heritage but he goes much further in innovation and creativity. Rather than decorating a utilitarian object he produces stand alone objects of art that always seem fresh and surprising. Fresh and surprising are words that seldom apply to the vast majority of art turned out these days.”

Bateman says Wilson’s pieces should be considered within a larger context. “For tens of thousands of years the art of mankind functioned as decoration of objects – pots, paddles, canoes, weapons, dwellings and even human bodies.  The work was varied and rich and highly skilled,” he says. “This art of Neolithic and contemporary tribal peoples, to me, ranks with any art of world history.  Its inventiveness, rhythm and abstract design is as high in quality as early 20th century modernist art.  Artists such as Picasso and Modigliani acknowledge a debt to this so-called primitive art, which is not primitive at all but highly sophisticated.”

Take Wilson’s piece Gaia, for example.  The 109 X 122 X 69 centimetre sculpture brings all of Wilson’s signature elements to the fore—mixed media, ornate carving, asymmetrical design, and mesmerizing surface textures that spring from the form of a moose antler and skull.

His work defies the language of genre. Art historian David J. Wagner, author of American Wildlife Art, says Wilson’s “pure expressive design is what first hits me.”  The work, he notes, is drawn from life experience in the wild north yet informed by both Old World and New World three-dimensional masterworks that span the ages.

Grizzly 2 - bronze - 1of1 - 9x5.5x14 - 2007 - Shane Wilson

Grizzly 2 – Skullpture Series – bronze – 1of1 – 9×5.5×14 – 2007

“His designs seem to flow out of some sort of mystical connection.  Shane’s experiential aesthetic makes sense when considered in the larger comparable context of contemporaries such as William Morris (b. 1957) who, although his work clearly embodies readable iconography, also embodies a personal, anthropological twentieth-century kind of style,” he adds.

In layman’s terms, what Wagner means is that Wilson does not pander to an art market, churning out simple, pretty folk objects because he believes they will sell. 

Paradoxically, his success stems from the bold decision he has made to go his own way by pursuing substance over artifice.

Wilson explores the penetrating force that antlers, horns and ivory represent as symbols of life, death and renewal in ways that are analogous to—yet distinct from—warrior totems created by West Coast First Nations bands and the tribal masks of witch doctor and warlords, be they North American, African, Pacific island peoples or ancient Chinese.  

“As human beings, we derive a certain power in relation to the animals we hunt,” Wilson says.  “Fundamentally, it is the torch of life that is passed on.  We take a life in order to sustain our own and that of our family and community.”

Wilson’s personal journey is arguably as fascinating as the natural histories of the animals he borrows from with his found materials.

Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada in 1961, he notes that his generation coincided with the advent of the space race, which, in a few short years, would culminate with a walk on the Moon.  We all remember those first iconic pictures taken from space during the early missions, that, ironically, yielded more appreciation for the fragility and beauty of Earth.

The son of educators, current events and an appreciation for exotic cultures were infused in Wilson through osmosis.  His family, which moved several times during his childhood, always valued its access to the outdoors.

The Wilson clan witnessed firsthand what their countrywoman Joni Mitchell was lamenting in her song, “Big Yellow Taxi”, that offers the resonant lyric:  “Well, don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone, they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” 

Sportsmen, aboriginal peoples and environmentalists alike can relate to the disappearance of personal sacred places and the animals that inhabit them.  Wilson’s art helps us make sure we never forget.

“[His] carved antlers have such a redeeming quality. For me they reflect a glimpse of the deep, true nature of this planet.” – Grace de la Luna

“I remember living on the edge of development,” he says. “In Niagara Falls, the orchards behind our home and at the end of the street disappeared under bulldozer blades and houses took their place—it seemed a terrible crime to a four year old.” 

Duality (detail - close, top) - moose skull - 29x10x15in - 1997 - Shane Wilson

Duality (detail – close, top) – moose skull – 29x10x15in – 1997

At their next stop, a greenbelt in greater Toronto, the Wilsons watched the same thing happen to the fields where he and his brothers played.  This, in part, caused the family to head northwest father away from urban development. 

They landed in Sault Ste. Marie at the extreme edge of the Great Lakes, enjoying the loom of boreal wilderness that extends toward the Arctic tundra and the top of the world.

“In time, the outskirts of Sault Ste. Marie were developed and we moved again to rural Algoma.  My parents built a home on 80 acres of bush, rock and field on a bluff that was once the ancient shore of the confluence of three great lakes.”

The lesson is that Wilson, the artist, has profound empathy for those of us who long to disappear into nature whenever possible, and his art is, thus, an example of the treasure that awaits in exploration.

From those roots in Ontario, Wilson did not take a direct path to becoming a full-time carver and sculptor. Among his varied experiences, he labored on a dairy farm, became a line bottler in a brewery (for a day), served as an usher in a movie house, hustled as a door to door salesman, got hired to be an orderly in a psychiatric hospital, was a short order cook, enrolled in a military academy where he completed a year, then had a religious experience and entered a university seminary.  This, in turn, led him to the Yukon and spending a decade as an Anglican (Episcopalian) minister.

Such a resume might imply aimlessness.  It wasn’t.  Wilson simply didn’t want to settle for something trite and while away his life thinking about what might have been.

He is still spiritual, but when his time of religious mission ended, he went back to blue-collar work again in, of all places, a gritty open pit lead-zinc mine to make money for his family.  When the mine shut down, he got a job with social services as a family counsellor.

“His designs seem to flow out of some sort of mystical connection.” – David Wagner

After the mine re-opened, he returned to the grind and did not realize he was on the verge of reaching the place where he is today:  “When the mine shut down the second time, I wrote the layoff notices for everyone—including myself,” he says.   Wanting to stay in the north and searching for a way to pay the bills, he got hired as an employment counselor for a local college and traveled to the most northern settlement in the Yukon, Old Crow.

His epiphany was that, while he could relate to a wide variety of people, he needed to heed his own voice welling up inside him. A supportive family has made this possible. His wife of three decades, Miranda, recognized his gift for creating carved sculpture early on and is a steadfast pillar of encouragement. Their son Malcolm provides website advice and traveled with Wilson on a significant European tour, while daughter Ceilidh negotiated one of his first large commissions when she was only ten years old. And grandsons Douglas and Alexander love to visit their grandfather’s studio.

Shane Wilson working on Celtic Confusion, 1998

Shane Wilson working on Celtic Confusion

As a boy, a formal and informal orientation to art was nurtured by his mother, Geri, a painter, and his father, Bill, who pressed the first jackknife into his hands. “My mother taught me the rules of composition and explained the subtleties of colour theory on visits to art galleries during summer vacation trips,” he says. Seeing works by Canada’s esteemed, impressionist landscape painters, The Group of Seven, and an encounter with an enormous, surrealistic painting of the crucifixion by Salvador Dali left an indelible impression on him. 

In the Canadian West, Wilson would study at Art College and even teach carving on a campus in Alberta.  But the seeds of his fascination with antlers and horns were planted in high school when, for an art project, he mounted a cow skull that had been found in a pasture.  As with all things in Wilson’s life, it is his eclectic, eccentric background that continues to pay dividends.

“Shane has a very unique talent in his ability to envision the end result of a sculpture and then to implement it,” says collector Keith Levoir, an Alberta businessman who has commissioned work from Wilson. Levoir is an artist himself who carves avian subjects. “I have studied with other carvers that are well known in the world, but I would consider Shane to be the best I have ever seen.”

The genesis of his passion for wedding taxidermy with carving actually dates to piano lessons decades ago. “My piano teacher would disappear in the fall for a few weeks, returning to regale us with tales of his moose hunt.  Once he brought some steak knives with handles made from antler tines to show me.  I was entranced.  What power seemed to reside in the feel of those knives. After we moved to the country it was not uncommon to see moose racks affixed to outside walls above garage doors,”  he notes. “But it was not until I traveled to the Yukon and northern British Columbia, on my first assignment as a student minister, that I first encountered carved antler sculpture.”

Indeed, as Wagner notes, it is not surprising that Wilson’s work also finds appeal in Europe, for his style of skull mounts is derivative of those that still hang in the old hunting lodges that have served, for hundreds of years, as bare yet regal celebrations of quarries that have disappeared.

Wilson credits antler artist Maureen Morris as a primary inspiration and two Dene artists, Ray Ladue and Dennis Shorty, with introducing him to the more traditional, scenic form of antler carving.  Another decades-long supporting influence and mentor is his friend, artist and sculptor, Gerald Kortello who early on directed Wilson to Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

Although his natural materials are prosaic, his philosophical approach with found objects is consistent with modern sculptors whose work is displayed at major contemporary art museums.  Mary Bradshaw, Gallery Director at the Yukon Arts Centre, says categorizing Wilson as a “wildlife” or “sporting” artist is far too limiting because his pieces appeal equally to urbanites that do not hunt. “A lot excites me about Shane’s work,” Bradshaw says. “This may sound contradictory, but I love the storytelling/narrative in his abstract pieces.  I think his strongest pieces are the abstracted ones.”

Self Portrait (detail - right 3-4) - musk oxen horn, bronze wolf skull - 14x23x11in - 2009 - Shane Wilson

Self Portrait (right 3-4 view) – musk oxen horn, bronze wolf skull – 14x23x11in – 2009

Consider his exquisite portrayals of swans, breaching humpback whales, and seahorses from antlers; his surreal, brilliantly-patinated depiction of a grizzly skull in bronze (part of an extensive, head-turning “Skullpture Series”), and the bighorn sheep wall mount that glistens as if it was chiseled from a fine gemstone.

“Just as a fossil uncovered does not mean death, but is evidence of life, the Skullpture Series is meant to reflect the architecture of being alive,” Wilson says.

On the most basic of levels, we look, and then pull closer, all the while beguiled and asking ourselves:  “How did he do that?

Akin to the legendary animist Mashona carvers of Zimbabwe, who “listen” to their stones, allowing nuanced features in the rock to help shape the direction of their work, Wilson takes his cues from the physical characteristics that are innate to every antler or piece of ivory. 

Wilson says that while some may find antler, horn and ivory to be limiting media, he sees instead endless three-dimensional possibilities. With an outbuilding full of material that he has meticulously gathered over the years—much the same way that Michelangelo collected special raw slabs of Carrara marble—he spends days, weeks, and months contemplating surfaces and squaring them with ideas that have been surging through his mind. The antlers have been scavenged from across the Canadian wilderness, the mammoth ivory from gold miners who stumbled upon them in placer operations, and the ivory from walrus or narwhal from Inuit hunters in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“This may sound contradictory, but I love the storytelling/narrative in his abstract pieces. I think his strongest pieces are the abstracted ones.” – Mary Bradshaw

This means that every Wilson carved sculpture that finds its way into a trophy room is laden with multiple layers of revelation, wrapped in a statement that speaks to our time. Grace de la Luna, curator of the Illuseum Gallery in Amsterdam, Holland, speaks to the allure of Wilson’s work that transcends geography.  “[His] carved antlers have such a redeeming quality,” she says.  “For me they reflect a glimpse of the deep, true nature of this planet.”

Sculptures featured: Gaia, Celtic Confusion, Yukon Seasons, Duality, Candle Ice, Skullpture Series, Grizzly 2, Tundra Swan, Self Portrait

CBC Radio – As It Happens

Yukon Seasons - moose antlers and skull - 44x47x24in - 2003 - Shane Wilson

Yukon Seasons – moose antlers and skull – 44x47x24in – 2003

Barbara Budd, Co-Host:  Shane Wilson spent years carving the elaborately detailed sculpture of a moose skull and antlers that he called, ‘Yukon Seasons.’ He then presented the artwork as a gift to the City of Whitehorse, the community that had nurtured him as an artist. But apparently, someone wanted to nurture the sculpture itself, in private! Because last September it was stolen, in the dead of night from its home in the Canada Games Centre. Shane Wilson thought he’d never see ‘Yukon Seasons’ again. But today, the stolen antlers are back where they belong!

We reached Mr. Wilson at his home in Nanaimo, B.C.

Carol Off, Host, CBC - As It Happens

Carol Off, Host, CBC – As It Happens

Carol Off – Co-Host:  Mr. Wilson how did it feel when you found out that the RCMP had recovered your sculpture?

Shane Wilson, Sculptor:  I was totally thrilled. It was an amazing, out of the blue, kind of call. I hadn’t expected that it would ever be found. So when Laurel Parry, who’s the head of the Yukon Government Arts Branch, called to let me know that it was found I was just flabbergasted, stunned, but thrilled!

Carol Off:  Now they say that the Whitehorse Detachment of the RCMP said that a few days ago it had been brought in by an anonymous person, someone who was not involved with the theft. Do you know anything more than that?

Shane Wilson:  That’s all I know. And I’m completely grateful to whoever the anonymous person is because, without them, it would still be missing. 

Carol Off:  But the thief is still at large then?

Shane Wilson:  Well, I don’t know. I assume that that’s the case, since nothing further has been forthcoming in the news and that’s all I’ve heard.

Carol Off:  And do you know if the sculpture is intact? Was it damaged at all?

Shane Wilson:  At the time it was stolen, the thieves, when they were breaking it out of the display case, broke off one of the tines, which are the pointy bits of the moose antler, and it was left behind … and as far as Laurel can see that’s the only damage done, otherwise it’s intact.  She say it seems to be a darker colour, which means that maybe it was in a house where there was woodsmoke or cigarette smoke or maybe in a shed somewhere, I don’t know.

Carol Off:  Now it was the only thing that was stolen that day, is that correct?

Shane Wilson:  That’s what I understand, yeah.

Carol Off:  There were stealable things, I guess, that the thief or thieves could have walked away with?

Shane Wilson:  There was tons of stealable things: cash machines, art on the walls, god knows what else in the weight room … depending on what you wanted, the place was wide open!

Carol Off:  Do you think that it was targeted, that sculpture?

“Yukon Seasons is quite beautiful!” – Carol Off

Shane Wilson:  Well, that’s what they say. Unless I was able to speak with the thief myself, I wouldn’t really know, but the assumption is that it was a highly targeted theft. They understood that the window of opportunity was there, and they took it.

Carol Off:  I guess that’s kind of flattering, in a way?

Shane Wilson:  (Laugh) Yes. As I said at the time, the sense of loss was tremendous, but it was kind of a back-handed compliment. 

Carol Off:  What was your reaction when you learned that it was stolen?

Shane Wilson:  I was devastated, as anyone would be. In order to help your listeners understand, it was a carved moose antler and skull set which, if you know anything about moose, they’re the largest land animal in the Yukon, they’re huge, and the carving of it took about three years of my life. The intention was to have it displayed in perpetuity in the Yukon and that hope was dashed when the thief took off with it. So, anyone working on something for three years would be devastated if it was lost, I’m sure. 

Carol Off: The piece is called ‘Yukon Seasons’, right?

Shane Wilson: Yes.

Carol Off: Describe the imagery that’s carved into it. I’ve seen it on the internet. It’s quite beautiful!

Yukon Seasons on display - Canada Games Centre - Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Seasons on display – Canada Games Centre – Whitehorse, Yukon

Shane Wilson: Thank you. In order to understand, it’s about four feet high, but four feet wide by two feet deep and it a full moose antler and skull combination, in taxidermy terms it’s called a European mount, so the skull and antlers are all together. The entire piece is carved with the different seasons of the Yukon, represented by various animals and imagery. 

Carol Off: You’re living in Nanaimo now, you say? So are you going to go up and see Yukon Seasons, to see the sculpture and to see what happened to it?

Shane Wilson: Oh I’d love to at some point. I think I’m going back this summer and I’ll probably stop off and see it then.

Carol Off: And are you waiting to hear some news about who stole it, or do you care?

Shane Wilson: Personally, I’m just thrilled that it’s back, I mean, as an artist, when you create something, you put everything into it, you put yourself into it, and so it’s like a part of me has come back. I feel whole again. And that, for me, is the prize. The fact that it’s there for people in the Yukon and others who visit the Yukon to see, hopefully, in perpetuity. 

Carol Off: Well, it’s good news. 

Shane Wilson: Yeah it is, it’s great news!

Carol Off: Thanks for telling us about the sculpture. 

Shane Wilson: Thank you Carol, I appreciate your interest.

Carol Off: Bye Shane.

Shane Wilson: Okay, bye now.

Barbara Budd: Shane Wilson is a sculptor and we reached him at his home in Nanaimo, B.C.

 Sculpture featured: Yukon Seasons

Algonquin Art Centre Program and Interview

Feature Artist, 2011 – Shane Wilson

Black Bear Birch - bronze - 1of1 - 11x6x4in - 2011 - Shane Wilson

Silvi Skullpture Series: Black Bear Birch – bronze – 1of1 – 11x6x4in – 2011

by Joel Irwin

The Algonquin Art Centre is featuring three new works from acclaimed sculptor, Shane Wilson. Shane’s work transforms natural materials, such as skulls, antlers, horns and tusks, into complex works of art — works which express the beautiful designs contained in the natural objects themselves. “These objects inspire me by their inherent beauty and grace,” says Shane. “Each one forms a unique, ‘living’ armature upon which I create my abstracted sculptures, giving form to my thoughts and feelings about existence, consciousness, and meaning.”

Shane is quickly becoming an artist of renown in Canada and abroad. His works not only convey the visionary qualities which have defined our greatest artists, but also express a new and original understanding of art and the natural world — an understanding of particular importance for today’s world, when relations between people and their environments are being redefined, or, to put it in Shane’s terms, recast.

Algonquin Art Centre - Opening Show - Silvi Skullpture by Shane Wilson

Algonquin Art Centre – Opening Show – Silvi Skullpture by Shane Wilson

Interview with Shane Wilson

Your works transform natural objects into complex, artistic expressions. Can you explain the influence of the “natural” over your artistic designs?

I carve animal-based natural found objects: skulls, antlers, horns and tusks. These objects inspire me by their inherent beauty and grace. Each one forms a unique, ‘living’ armature  upon which I create my abstracted sculptures, giving form to my thoughts and feelings about existence, consciousness, and meaning.

In the case of the bronze ‘Silvi-Skullpture Series, 2011’, which will be displayed at the Algonquin Arts Centre, the ‘natural’ provides a very specific additional influence. It takes ‘Forests’ as its primary theme. The unique (1 of 1) bronzes employ design elements from trees native to Algonquin Park worked into animal skulls, also native to the Park, which symbolize the symbiotic relationship between the forests and much of life on this planet. 

Is the concept of metamorphosis significant for your works? If so, how?

I delight in taking found skulls, horns, antlers and bones and transforming them into fine art, expressions of the highest order, objects of rare beauty. The process of transformation from lichen covered bone to radiantly pure sculpture is pure joy and piles of work.

The poet Gillian Sze has described a magical and enchanting quality to your work. What, do you think, is the source of such a quality in your pieces?

I confess both surprise and joy at some of the unique reactions to my work. It may be a sign that the works have taken on a life of their own, creating impressions and making connections not foreseen or intended. Like children do, once away from home and out in the world.

Freeman Patterson, the great Canadian photographer, describes a childhood experience during a recent Ideas interview on CBC which may shed some light on this question. Farm life left his family little spare time for niceties, including Christmas. But, according to Sherman, his mother wanted to make the day special, so “she trimmed the Christmas Tree after I and my younger sister went to bed. God knows I don’t think she slept that night, but she would trim it with such magnificence and care that it was sheer magic when we woke up on Christmas morning. We thought Santa Claus had trimmed the tree.”

Wolf, Pine Beetle Galleries - bronze - 1of1 - 10x5.5x3in - 2011 - Shane Wilson

Wolf, Pine Beetle Galleries – bronze – 1of1 – 10×5.5x3in – 2011

I try to lavish “such magnificence and care” on my art by giving over completely to right-brain creativity, that well-spring of partly sub-conscious and mostly unconscious genius that works parallel to and apart from the left-brain logic and calculation employed in daily life. The right-brain enables a movement beyond repetition and cliche, to the creation of  something truly new.

People have admired the story-telling elements of your pieces. What role does story-telling play in the production and final product of your work?

Meaning is important to me. Original art expresses a coherent language, a language of the right-brain, whose syntax is colour, texture, form and symbol, grasped intuitively.

When we set out to translate this language into left-brain vocabulary, so much is lost. The best way I have found to communicate the meaning of my work in words is to tell its story in the snippets that are revealed to me as I create each piece. The larger, more complex works usually carry a longer, more complex story. 

Algonquin Arts Centre - Opening - Silvi Skullpture

Algonquin Arts Centre – Opening – Silvi Skullpture – 2011

Lately, I have collaborated with poet Gillian Sze and spoken word artist Cat Kidd, to layer their art upon my own in an ekphrastic, multi-media effort to communicate more completely the meaning of one of my sculptures, entitled, “Self Portrait”.

Additionally, another story element arises during the creation of each sculpture, which is documented on the ‘In Progress’ page of my website.

Invisible to the viewer of my art are the countless other stories by authors, famous and not, which accompany me as I work. Books on tape and, lately, spoken word books have entertained me hour upon hour for thousands of hours, during the creation of every sculpture I’ve made. When considering my oeuvre, I am often reminded of many of these stories.

What is it that your works are meant to convey to the viewer?

Though each of my sculptures are unique, carrying their own story and meaning, I employ common themes or design elements which function as a sculptural language.

The two basic elements of this sculptural language are the curved and the angled shapes or patterns which represent ‘duality’, the dance of polar opposites which form the basic nature of reality as experienced by the self-conscious, mortal soul.

Existence presents to us fundamentally as duality, the greatest of which is the Life/Death duality which extends to everything in our experience. It is the filter through which we perceive our lives. There are many dualities: I/Thou, Us/Them, On/Off, Light/Dark, 1/0, Creative/Rational, Liberal/Conservative, Human/Machine, Unconscious/Conscious, and so on.

The theme of duality is woven throughout my work. More obvious in the abstract pieces, the theme is also present in the realistic sculptures of wildlife. In the ‘Silvi-Skullpture Series’, the theme of duality is embedded in the design elements of tree bark, leaf, seed and nut.

Black Bear Oak - bronze - 1of1 - 11x6x4in - 2011 - Shane Wilson

Silvi Skullpture Series: Black Bear Oak – bronze – 1of1 – 11x6x4in – 2011

As the name “Skullpture Series” suggests, your work turns objects of decay, i.e. antlers, bones, etc. into objects of art. Is there a special significance for this kind of transformation?

I love the shape, power and beauty of found antlers and bones. To me a skull represents the absolute triumph of life in an incomprehensibly vast universe – a positive statement which give evidence of and celebrates existence.

The ‘Silvi-Sculpture Series, 2011’ explores the interrelationship of our forests with all other life on the planet. Just as I’ve incorporated design elements from the forest trees of Algonquin – bark, leaves, nuts, into these skulls – so too do we all incorporate the stuff of the forest into our daily lives in so many ways: shelter, food, medicine, warmth, energy, communication, and more.

What is the significance of the Canadian North for your work?

My family and I lived in the Yukon for twenty three years, moving south to Vancouver Island four years ago. Living so close to wilderness, living in the midst of wilderness, surrounded by hundreds of miles of virtually untouched, uninhabited wilderness, one comes to appreciate our place in the natural order.

The various media I have chosen for my art: antler, horn, ivory and bronze, come from that place and feel natural for me to sculpt. Not unlike our distant ancestors, who used the same bone, ivory and horn to create the objects of beauty and distinction we observe today in many museum collections.

The North was also very good, very supportive, to myself and to artists of all stripes – a great place to make a beginning or a career as an artist. As the Internet has collapsed time and space into a virtual present, the barriers separating artists and collectors have diminished and northern artists have benefited.

Have you ever been to Algonquin Park? If so, what connection do you, as an artist, feel with the Park?

I have been to Algonquin Park twice.

After criss-crossing the country’s capitals and historic sites and staying in hotels, my parents decided to try camping. They rented a tent trailer and off we struck in the summer of ’70 to explore Ontario’s parks. I was ten. The two days we spent at the Lake of Two Rivers campground was the highlight of the entire trip. My brothers and I explored, swam, built a wooden lean-to shelter, a fire or two under the watchful eyes of the massive jack pines, and we collected cans. Cans were considered disposable in those days and they made a mess of the forest, which ran counter to our pre-adolescent sensibilities. I remember wondering with amazement at my growing strength, measured by a fresh new capacity to crush the beer cans we found, bare handed.  Later we learned that these cans were no longer made of steel, but new-fangled aluminum and much easier to mangle.

After visiting Algonquin, we traveled on to Kleinburg to see the paintings of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven at the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery, many of which feature the Park. Many also featured the Agawa Canyon and shores of Lake Superior, topography familiar to us, since we were from Sault Ste. Marie. We felt a very real connection with these artists as a result, a connection which extended to Algonquin.

My second trip to Algonquin, ten years later, was as a newlywed husband, freshly minted and on honeymoon. Our one night stay in the Park was dampened by a torrential downpour, which soaked through the tent floor and into our sleeping bags. Happily, the experience did not dampen our enthusiasm for each other. We are celebrating our thirtieth anniversary this summer.

Perhaps it is time for trip number three?

Algonquin Art Centre - Opening Show, 2011

Algonquin Art Centre – Opening Show, 2011

What connections do artists in general share with Algonquin Park?

There is something very special, inspiring even, when an artist or group of artists combine with a place to create stunning new works which comes to define that place and those artists within popular culture. 

Thomson and the Group of Seven have done for Algonquin Park what others have done for other parts of Canada  and the world: Emily Carr for British Columbia, Ted Harrison for the Yukon, Ansel Adams for Yellowstone, Georgia O’Keefe for the U.S. Midwest and the Impressionists for Paris.

As those who have made pilgrimages to Paris, Florence or New York, seeking the influences and inspiration of artistic heroes, so too do wildlife and landscape artists seek out Algonquin for its rugged beauty and connection with the Canadian artistic legends who put Algonquin on the map with palette, brush, canvas and paint.

You have received much attention for your design of the 2007 Canada Winter Games Torches. Can you explain the idea behind their designs?

In 2007, Canada’s three northern territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, hosted the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. The organizing committee of the Games wanted to mount one of the most ambitious torch relays in its history, with the goal of visiting all 84 communities in the three territories – a journey of over 100,000 kilometers.

I was commissioned to create three unique torches for the Torch Relay, one for each Territory. Each torch consisted of a carved caribou antler handle and a metal receptacle for the flame. I chose caribou antler for the handle because the caribou range widely across all three territories.

Each torch was carved with the Canada Games maple leaf logo, an animal representative of the specific Territory, and a 13-part design element representing Canada’s 13 provinces and territories. The Yukon Torch featured a raven and 13 mountain tops of the boreal forest. The NWT Torch featured a polar bear leaping from an ice floe fracturing into 13 pieces. The Nunavut Torch featured a Narwhal swimming in 13 waves of the Arctic Ocean.

AAA Opening - Black Bear Birch

Algonquin Art Centre – Black Bear Birch

The amazing thing for me about this project was following the works of my own hand, my creations, as they travelled across the north via every conceivable means of transport in all conditions, enduring hardship and calamity, sharing in celebration and triumph, and touching thousands of hearts and minds along the way.

I first read the book, Paddle to the Sea, as a youngster. How wonderful, I thought, to be the maker of that little canoe and to know that my creation was out there in the world, making its way to the sea! The Canada Games Torch Relay was my ‘Paddle to the Sea’ experience.

You make an interesting distinction in your biography between the appearance of value and the apprehension of real, true value. Can you explain this distinction as it applies to your artwork?

Art reflects and interprets the world in which it is created and serves as a kind of record, going forward, of who we are. This understanding may help to explain some of the iconic contemporary art of our time, otherwise baffling to most as art, which only makes sense in the context of the dramatic excess and denial of consequence which has typified our age and about which we have been warned.

This trend is changing, however, through the efforts of millions of individuals and groups working toward a better future for the whole planet. The emphasis provided by the United Nations’ “International Year of Forests, 2011” is a case in point.

My hope is that our collective emphasis continues to shift from the spending down of our earthly inheritance to the building back of real, sustainable value into both the economy and the planet. As this shift occurs, we will produce goods and services, buildings and systems, communities and cultures that are carefully thought out, well made, durable, contribute to the world, leave a net positive benefit and are beautiful. Our great art will reflect this fundamental shift.

When I make art, I work hard to create something of value – something original, beautiful, meaningful, universal – something which I hope contributes to the human project and captures something of the spirit of those who live in a manner that leave the world a better, richer, more beautiful place.

Sculptures featured: Silvi Skullpture Series: Wolf-Pine Beetle Galleries, Black Bear-Birch, Black Bear-Oak; Gaia, Self Portrait, Canada Winter Games – Northern Torches

CBC Radio – Sounds Like Canada


Canada Winter Games - Northern Torches - caribou antler - 20x32in ea - 2006 - Shane Wilson

Yukon Torch, Northwest Territory Torch, Nunavut Torch – Canada Winter Games – caribou antler – 20x32in ea – 2006

Bill Richardson, Guest Host: Hello and good morning and welcome to Sounds Like Canada. Here for Sheila Rogers, I’m Bill Richardson. It’s to the North we’ll go to begin, where sporty things are being done neath the midnight sun by athletes who moil for gold. 

(sounds from the Games, comments from athletes)

It’s so great when Sounds Like Canada starts with the sounds of Canada! 

David Gutnick, from Montreal, did you go to Whitehorse to cover the Games themselves, to hang out with the nimble athletes? 

David Gutnick, CBC Reporter

David Gutnick, CBC Reporter

David Gutnick, Reporter: [Yes, but I also wanted to meet …] an artist who was connected to the Games. There is a fellow, Shane Wilson, who is an artist just out of town here and he sculpted the three Canada Games Torches that were carried through Nunavut, NWT and Yukon through 10 months leading up to the Opening Ceremonies, last Friday. I wanted to see the fellow, see the hands that had carved the Torches. And so I visited Shane in his studio, where he works, on the second floor of this building about 12 kms out of town, where he sits at his carving desk, surrounded by shelves of caribou and moose and elk antlers antlers and he even has, believe it or not, mammoth tusks!

Shane Wilson: I have this marvellous carving table. It is magnificent the way it allows you to manipulate your carving and clamp down so that it doesn’t move. With moose antler you need power tools, mostly, like dental tools and grinders. I’ll start with one of the smaller ones. (noise of NSK Emax turning on)

David Gutnick: It looks like a dental drill.

Shane Wilson: In fact it is a dental drill. The same company that makes dental drills makes these for artists, for carvers, mostly for wood carvers. So then I follow the pattern I’ve drawn in to the antler (sound of carving). It is the same kind of material in antler as you have in your teeth (dentin). It isn’t ivory, per se, but it is a similar substance. Different antlers have different twists and turns and consistencies and you see how the final object will come out. If you look at the tail here and see how it curves around and comes out from the body a bit, the antler had a bit of a twist that way that I could use to make it look like this is alive and not just a flat object. 

David Gutnick: It’s like stepping into another universe, I look around and you’ve got this wall of grinders, you’ve got your bird cage over there, with your African Grey, whose name is…

Shane Wilson: Jerry is his name…

David Gutnick: Jerry the Parrot. And then you’ve got a wall of antlers and horns and tusks and skulls…

Shane Wilson: It’s my universe, I guess. I’ve got enough material here to last me a lifetime. 

(insert clip of Pam Boyde introducing the inaugural Torch Relay in Alert Bay, Nunavut)

David Gutnick: When you got the commission to do the Torches for the Canada Games, you did what? You come over here, you grab your …

Shane Wilson: I’ll show you. I have a rack that just has a selection of caribou antler, accumulated over the years from various finds. People find them because the caribou shed them every year. They just drop on the ground, whether in the tundra or the forest. So I went through the inventory here and found just the right handles for the torches, ones with a nice long, narrow shaft, so that you can hold on, plus a nice broomed end just right for carving. And I found three of them; I only had three that actually worked, one for each Territory, which also worked perfectly for the designs that I was looking at.  

This is a mammoth tusk, from a Wooly Mammoth, which was dug up in Dawson a couple of years ago. 

David Gutnick: It’s about two and a half feet long and weighs about 15 pounds. 

Shane Wilson: It’s actually just part of this larger tusk you can see up here. It’s like a huge snake, with the end broken off. 

David Gutnick: And how old is that?

Shane Wilson: Oh, it’s between 15 and 40,000 years old. It looks like an old rotten tree trunk, but when you carve it, it’s nice and white under the surface.

David Gutnick: You were an Anglican Priest?

Shane Wilson: I was yes. But I retired.

David Gutnick: But you’re a young guy!

Shane Wilson:  I retired young. (laugh)

David Gutnick: Bones were calling to you, they were talking to you?

Shane Wilson:  Well, art was calling to me. I was happy being a priest in the smaller communities here in the Yukon, Faro and Ross River. But I feel more fulfilled, more satisfied working at art, and particularly, carving, for some reason. It’s a living material, bone and ivory, it’s got an energy all its own.

David Gutnick: It’s spooky in here though, isn’t it?

Shane Wilson:  (laughing) It could be considered a little macabre, with all these bones, but I see such beautiful pattern in the bones, patterns in the skulls and antlers. People think of antler carving and think of eagle heads and stuff that you see in the tourist stores, but I like to think this is different. This is taking it a bit further, if you know what I mean. 

(clip of Piers MacDonald declaring open the 2007 Canada Winter Games over sound of Shane carving)


David Gutnick: Really beautiful things that he does, Bill!

Bill Richardson: You did very well for yourself up there, David Gutnick, or rather you are doing very well…

David Gutnick: Just wandering around, you tap someone on the shoulder and say “Hey, you’ve got a story you want to tell me?”

Bill Richardson: Well, I love the sound of Shane Wilson there in his workshop, surrounded by all that stuff, and when he said, its the same kind of stuff you have in antler as you have in your teeth, then there was that kind of dental sound in the background … well, I’ll never look at an antler quite the same way again, you can count on it!

Sculpture featured: Canada Winter Games – Northern Torches (Yukon, Northwest Territory, Nunavut)

CBC Archive Tag: Sounds Like Canada