Passion to carve becomes life career

Published on April 22, 2009

By Karla Kelly FOR THE DIGBY COURIER For nearly a quarter of a century, Acadian wood carver Jamie Thibault from Grosses Coques has worked with his hands to design and hand carve original pieces of art turning a passionate hobby into his life career.

Self-taught and inspired by other carvers such as local wood carver Clement Belliveau of Belliveau’s Cove, Thibault starting carving small skateboards the size of key chains with a pocket knife when he was 12. “I would go into Clement’s shop and watch him carve birds and seagulls,” said Thibault. “He did a lot of intricate work carving the wings and feathers.”

While in his teens, Thibault’s interest turned to air brushing clothes and cars and carving got put on the back burner. His passion for carving was rekindled when he took up his tools to create a shifter for his car. “To be different, I decided to carve a skeleton hand holding onto an eyeball out of soft wood as a gearshift for my car,” he said. “That one piece of work got me back into carving and it became an obsession with me.”

At first Thibault worked with soft wood to create more shifters and then later relief carvings and sculptures before turning to hard wood creations.

Many of these carvings were formed from recycled and reclaimed pieces of wood. Pine from an old bed frame was used to create early carvings.

Using bird’s eye maple that was a piece of old recycled pallet board, Thibault created ‘The Captain’, his first hardwood high relief carving.

Bird’s eye maple has a beautiful grain that adds to the design of the carving, but working with it requires patience he said. “High relief carving gives you more of a 3-D effect with the deep carvings creating the shadows,” explained Thibault. “Light relief is shallower like the eagles I carve on rifle stocks.”

Thibault said he prefers to carve with exotic grains and hardwood burls using hand tools for as much of the work as possible. “I use a dremmel tool for the hard to reach places when working for that 3-D effect and natural hemp oil for the finish.”

Thibault sculpted a deer from a solid piece of hard wood, a white birch burl that was salvaged from a pile of firewood in New Brunswick. The carving was difficult because of all the twists and turns in the burl.

A beautiful piece of red oak was salvaged from a scrap pile of boards left to rot and was turned into a high relief carving called the Spellcaster, a detailed skull carving came from the hand railing at the old Meteghan School, and bird’s eye maple from a desk was rescued from a garbage truck to create an Acadian magic wand.

Until three years ago Thibault supported his young family with a day job and worked on his carvings at night and in his spare time, but after considerable thought decided to turn his full attention to the hobby that had become his passion. “Three years ago I decided to carve full time,” he said. “I didn’t want to look back when I got older and regret not having done it.” “I have my workshop in my basement and I enjoy the freedom to carve and be around my family.”

Thibault has committed at least 35 hours a week to his work but says that it usually turns into a 50-60 hour week especially if he finds himself making progress on a particular piece of wood. “I will work in the evening after we put the boys to bed so I don’t lose that flow.”

A year ago Thibault became interested in fiddles and wanting to try his hand at creating something that could be used contacted his cousin and long-time fiddle maker and player Ewart Thibault. “Ewart learned the art of fiddle making from his father and has crafted 43 fiddles,” he said. “He is a great teacher so taking what I learned from him I have designed and carved three fiddles.”

Each of Thibault’s fiddles is unique in their own way with all three sounding clear and loud.

Thibault said the fingerboard of the Acadian Star fiddle is hand carved from pau marello wood with an Acadian star inlay; the Purple Heart fiddle has purple wood pegs, fingerboard and tailpiece; and the Eagle fiddle has an eagle’s head for a scroll on the neck of the instrument.

Western Counties Regional Library has showcased Thibault’s work through April with several musicians taking the opportunity to play the fiddles on display as part of the exhibit.

In June Thibault will join three other local artists for a month-long display at Université Sainte-Anne.

Right now Thibault is carving a piece of Norway maple burl and as he turns the wood in his hands he reflects on his future. “I am a wood carver. I don’t know where I’ll be in 20 years but I do know what I will be doing and that is carving.”