After 40 years of whimsy, the curtain is closing on the Wacky Woods.
The popular forest-based art gallery was located on private property in Fanny Bay. It was created in the 1970s and maintained by artist George Sawchuk, who lived next to the woods with his family.
Sawchuk, who was born in Ontario but lived most of his life in B.C., passed away in 2012 at the age of 85. According to his widow, Pat Helps, dozens of his artworks were displayed in the Wacky Woods, alongside inscriptions.
“He didn’t do it for the public, he did it for himself,” said Helps. “But someone noticed it and told someone else and the next thing you know, bus tours were coming in and everything.”
A trademark of Sawchuk’s was to incorporate the natural environment into his works. One of his practices was to carve nooks in trees, where he would place wooden books filled with quotations.
As the allure of the Wacky Woods spread, the forest gallery became a popular site for visitors and locals alike. Thousands of people from around the world have visited the Fanny Bay site over the last four decades to witness Sawchuk’s unique art.
“It was just different than their own backyard, I guess,” said Helps.
Sawchuk’s works have appeared in galleries throughout Canada and the United States. In 2008, he received the honorary title of Valley Treasure from the Comox Valley Community Arts Council (CVCAC).
“You can’t get more Canadian than George,” noted CVCAC director Robert Moon when he presented Sawchuk with the inaugural Valley Treasure Award. “He spent the first half of his life cutting down trees and the second half paying homage to them with his provocative sculptures.
“He is a true Valley icon.”
Sawchuk was also elected to the Royal Academy of Arts and had sculptures in the Art Bank of the Canada Council. The Comox Valley Art Gallery created an exhibition in his name following his passing.
Helps said the decision to close the Wacky Woods stemmed from the high cost of maintaining it and the fact the forested area has become overgrown in recent years.
“I still get a lot of people coming, but it’s so overgrown and a lot of pieces are rotted and falling. It’s getting dangerous,” she said.
“I just want to let people know so they don’t drive all the way down here.”
She said she has sold the property “to a wonderful family” that has plans to build a home on the land.