Local tree carving examined by expert

It?s transfixing gaze has impressed and entranced viewers in the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation?s Community Centre displays since their opening in 2003. It was thoughtlessly cut down in 1983 during the clearing of the Flatbed Campground, in what would nowadays be a criminal act. It was salvaged and sent to Simon Fraser University and then the museum in Fort St John, before returning ?home? to the Tumbler Ridge area.

It is, of course, the magnificent tree carving of an astonishing face, and it is about to get a lot of new and expert attention. In town recently with his wife Charlene was Michael Blackstock, forester, author of ?Faces in the Forest?, poet in his spare time, and western Canada?s expert on tree carvings.

Although the Tumbler Ridge tree carving features prominently in his book, he had not actually seen it before, and was responding to an invitation from the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation. Michael was mightily impressed by this carving, and was soon examining it with expert eyes and hands.

?Incredible…. top notch… so good it is clearly not this artist?s first work… look at the remarkable ears, almost cat-like…? were just some of the praises he heaped on this amazing work of tree art.

Michael could deduce that it was made using a metal axe, that the longitudinal crack which now distinguishes it was probably not present when the tree was carved. When asked how old he thought it was, he cautioned that more sophisticated methods were necessary to determine the age accurately.

It may be possible to photograph and analyze growth rings on the ?lobes? which grow out over the carving to work out the age.

Michael was satisfied with the respectful and sensitive way in which the carving is displayed, and the cool fluorescent lighting, constant temperatures and relatively constant humidity, which all will help prevent decay in the wood.

The good news is that Michael will be back on Tuesday 27 September at 7 p.m. in the Tumbler Ridge Public Library as part of the Museum Foundation / Library lecture series, to talk about this carving and Western Canadian tree art in general (and maybe even read a few of his wonderful poems).

The impact of this carving would be far greater if still in situ, beside its burial ground, and its loss in this sense is a tragedy. But perhaps, sooner or later, it would have been vandalized beyond recognition, being so close to a public place. At least now in the Community Centre it has a new and secure home where it, and its creator, are appropriately valued, and it is here for all British Columbians to share and appreciate.