Colourful Fanny Bay artist Sawchuk was 'logger doing art'
Known for his creative, unusual and juxtaposed art which he created from his property in Fanny Bay, artist, sculptor and member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, George Sawchuk passed away Thursday morning at the age of 85.
Sawchuk was best known not only within the Valley for his mixed-media art but within the British Columbia and Canadian arts communities.
The self-taught sculptor, who was born in Kenora, Ont., rejected formal education at 13 years old to begin a 38-year career as a labourer.
As a bridge constructor, his leg was crushed under collapsed steel and he was unable to work for a year, and left Sawchuk facing amputation to one of his legs. The accident left him with the time which enabled him to explore his artistic interests.
"His work is pretty inspiring," noted Brian Charlton, one of the organizers behind the Comox Valley Mayworks Festival. He added the first year the festival —which celebrates labour and the arts — was moved to the Comox Valley from Parksville, Sawchuk was honoured.
"His art fits perfectly with Mayworks. He was a logger doing art," he noted.
Sawchuk began exploring art using a chainsaw to carve nooks in trees where he placed items such as books, glass and metal.
For decades, Sawchuk created his outdoor gallery on a four-acre property in Fanny Bay. Paths through the forest allow people to view his pieces which combine metal, mirrors, glass, tools, lights and other found objects.
Charlton said the first time he went to Sawchuk's 'Wacky Woods' he was "blown away."
On his website, Sawchuk noted his perspective on art was influenced from his childhood and training at a traditional Roman Catholic school and his studying of Marx at a remote logging camp, combined with the hard realities of working class life and his daily encounters with nature.
"Sawchuk looks like he belongs on a farm rather than in an art gallery," describes Arv Olson, in his book Shingles & Shells: A History of Fanny Bay. "Yet he happens to be one of Canada's most distinguished artists in his specialty."
Charlton said a number of Sawchuk's pieces currently reside in a variety of art galleries, including those in Courtenay and Cumberland, and hopes they will be saved for years to come. He added Sawchuk once noted in an interview he hoped one day his 'Wacky Woods' would eventually "go back to the woods, back to nature."