Flights of fancy

Brodie Thomas
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South Branch man carves things with wings

Everybody needs a hobby.

For Fintain St. Croix, 74, who lives just south of South Branch in the shadow of the Table Mountains, that hobby is carving.

Mr. St. Croix said he started wood carving just as a way to keep busy.

The first carving he attempted eight or nine years ago was of an eagle. The wings were made from two moose antlers. It still sits in his front yard.

This hummingbird's beak fits snugly into the flower, making glue unnecessary to keep the carving suspended in mid-air.

Everybody needs a hobby.

For Fintain St. Croix, 74, who lives just south of South Branch in the shadow of the Table Mountains, that hobby is carving.

Mr. St. Croix said he started wood carving just as a way to keep busy.

The first carving he attempted eight or nine years ago was of an eagle. The wings were made from two moose antlers. It still sits in his front yard.

He has since done several large birds which hang around the trees on his wooded property.

Nowadays his specialty is smaller work - specifically hummingbirds, flowers and butterflies.

In a world where cheap plastic toys are mass-produced for pennies, it can be difficult to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into Mr. St. Croix's work at first glance.

His tiny butterflies fit in the palm of his hand and are feather-light. The wings are made from thin strips of wood cut with the grain. They're so thin, he says the first coat of paint will often cause the wood to warp one way.

The feet and antennae are just too thin to be carved from wood. He grins as he shares his secret for those.

"It's the chin whiskers off a moose. I started with bristles from a broom but they were too heavy," he said. "You use what you have."

He hand-paints the wing pattern on each butterfly, although he admits he has had no formal training when it comes to painting. Mr. St. Croix uses the internet to find the colour patterns from real butterfly species. He tries to do a lot of his carvings to scale.

One of his daughters brought home a picture of a large green moth she had seen in Ontario. Mr. St. Croix carved her an almost-scale model. He even managed to recreate the moth's 'furry' antennae.

He says the butterflies aren't too difficult to make. He can make two or three in a day if he sets his mind to it. His hummingbirds and flowers, on the other hand, can take several days to complete.

His hummingbird carvings show the bird in mid-flight, drinking from an elaborate flower. The bird, the flower, its stem and the base are all carved separately and assembled. The bird's beak fits snugly into the wooden flower in a delicate balancing act that seems to defy gravity.

Mr. St. Croix said he has always had a fascination with birds since he was a young boy. He remembers a professor from an American university who showed up in the valley to do some bird watching. The professor allowed the young boy to look through his identification books.

Mr. St. Croix would later go on to guide fishers and hunters around the valley.

His tool selection isn't too complicated. He gets by with a few razor-sharp knives, a dremel and a scroll saw for the most part.

His only safety equipment is a facemask to keep the wood dust out of his lungs. He said cedar dust can be especially irritating.

His material is mostly harvested from his own land or scrounged from scraps. He said he mainly uses pine and spruce, although he occasionally uses cherry and maple as well for certain things.

"It could be anything," he said.

The various bits and pieces of wood tucked away in corners of his workshop seem to affirm this.

During the summer, his workshop is in a tiny camping trailer parked next to his home. In the winter he moves his work to the basement.

While it is a hobby, he wouldn't call it a passion. Mr. St. Croix said he sometimes leaves his carvings alone for a month or more at a time.

"You've gotta be in the mood to work," he said.

At other times he will work for hours on end, losing track of time.

For him, carving is therapeutic. He said it takes his mind off any worries he might have.

While most who see his crafts are amazed, Mr. St. Croix insists anyone could do the same work if they had the time and equipment.

He doesn't sell any of his carvings. He knows his work is good enough to be in craft shops, but he doesn't like most craft shops' pricing schemes. Instead his pieces are handed out to family and friends.

reporter@gulfnews.ca

Organizations: South Branch

Geographic location: Ontario

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