Monday, August 8, 2011

ArtTrail #3 - Home of a 1,000 Faces

Ec-cen-tric adj. 1. deviating from an established or usual pattern or style. 2. deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct, especially in odd or whimsical ways: an eccentric artist.

 Driving into town that late afternoon, something caught my attention. It was hard to miss, really.

On vacation in Canada, we had driven through miles and days of glorious scenery and a goodly number of national and provincial parks. Situated on the west side of the Continental Divide in British Columbia, Kootenay National Park extends across the valleys of the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers, touches on the Rocky Mountain Trench at Radium Hot Springs, and straddles the Main and Western Ranges of the Rockies. With some of these peaks rising to 11,000 feet, this is spectacular country.

Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada

We were now on the down side of the trip cruising into Radium Hot Springs where we would spend the night. Checking into our motel, we relaxed a bit then went in search of dinner - again passing that strange place...

After we'd eaten we asked the waitress about it. "Oh yea, that's the woodcarver's place. You should stop in; he does all sorts of carving on old logs and stuff." It was well after 6:30 and we asked if it would still be open. "Sure, he'll be there. It's worth seeing, eh?"

Approaching the place we weren't so sure. Squeezed into a corner between two well-traveled streets, the outside of this artist's abode/studio is a jumble of rough-cut wooden poles and boards, slapped-together, brightly painted wood panels and huge wooden carvings. The panels were mostly curious hand-painted signs:
  • "The home of a thousand faces''
  • "Open when I feel like it"
  • "When you scowl your face uses 80 muscles, but in smiling only 10. So why tire yourself?"
  • "Chalet Goat House"
  • "This could happen to U."
There were no other cars, no sign that anyone was around and it was difficult to know just where the entrance was, but we took our chances and finally knocked on one.

To say that the character who answered was scruffy was putting it mildly. Dressed in somewhat ragged yet brightly-colored work clothes and sporting long mangy hair and beard this was indeed the Radium Woodcarver himself. Words fail to describe him...
"We hate to bother you, but heard you might be open..." "Yea, sure - I'm having my dinner, but come on in - go ahead, look around."

He was and we did.

And so we entered another world, that of Rolf Heer, eccentric character and artist extraordinaire.

His most unusual house is smack-dab in the middle of this otherwise upscale resort town and is, in essence, a remodeled motel. Trained as a forester back in his native Switzerland, he's used his chainsaw and recycled materials to create a funky, one-of-a-kind structure resembling a tree house and filled it to the brim with over-sized chainsaw sculptures. His multitude of carvings are of faces, animals, clocks and an array of abstract figures carved into driftwood, stumps and small branches from the nearby forests. Some of the larger heads serve as planters, lovingly filled with colorful perennials. 

Interestingly, many of the sculptures resembled the woodcarver, being male with long hair and beards. A form of extra-"personal" expression, perhaps? Hard to say - he was not in a very communicative mood, so we left him alone to enjoy his meal. We did notice that he had cooked his meat (venison, he informed us.) over an open fire and was eating off of a plank of rough-cut wood. We did ask if the deer meat was easy to come by up there. "Ja, I just take my rifle up the road a bit - I know where to find 'em. Eat it year-round."

It was obvious that this man is totally self-sufficient and a consummate do-it-yourselfer. Wandering through his ground-level courtyard among some of his more whimsical works, we observed his version of a hot water heater: an old oil barrel heating over another open fire with a garden hose to carry the water inside.

Though somewhat warped, the man has a sense of humor. In one part of the courtyard, a variety of brightly colored doors carry dubious messages for those who bother to notice: 
  • "Hello Sweet, have a seat, and take a picture."
  • "No 2 or 4 leg dogs"
  • "Emergency entrance, ladies only" (on a pink door)
  • "Water Hole" (on a blue door)
The last two "doors" each had a door knob which, when turned, resulted in a quick spray of water! Practical Joker!!

Humorous, and yet utilitarian...

A nose drips water into a trough.

A "crown" holds a garden hose.

Some resemble tortured souls...

And the Chalet Goat House? The woodcarver's home rambles up three stories, more or less. His roofs hold vegetable gardens; the largest roof is covered with grass, grazing space for his beloved pet goats...

...which wander about via a system of bridges, ramps, and corridors that form a network of roadways specifically for them throughout the enclave.  

Like most of us, there is more to Rolf than meets the eye. He spends time each year abroad, traveling throughout Europe and winters in the warmer climate of Thailand. He seems to live exactly as he likes, often dressing outlandishly and dying his long hair in rainbow colors. He lives simply, enjoying what nature and the world tosses his way and devoting time to his art. I would bet he treads lightly on the earth. Compared to the way many of us live today, I can imagine him wrinkling his nose and shrugging his shoulders were we to discuss our wants and needs. Seems to me he has it all figured out.

His is only one of a thousand faces, but it makes me wonder - who's the real eccentric here?

To learn more about
the Radium Woodcarver: