Chris LaFosse was raised in Isle aux Morts by his grandparents, and then moved to Margaree after his grandfather passed away. In 1996 he left the southwest coast and went into the military. He had two posting while in the military, his first being Kingston and then Ottawa.
“Ottawa is not my home, but it is where I reside now,” said Mr. LaFosse. “Newfoundland will always been my home, I always make it a point to get back to Margaree at least two or three times a year.”
Mr. LaFosse developed an interest in carving in 2008 when he retired from the military at the age of thirty-eight due to a medical condition.
“I was sitting on the sofa and I thought, ‘I am going crazy. I have to find something to do.’
So he called his friend Denis Gour, who is a carver, and he went over to see him.
“My friend said, ‘Come over and take a look at my tools,’ so off I went,” he said. “I was immediately hooked, so I went out and bought some tools and got some basswood and I have been carving ever since.”
“I guess you can say that Mr. Gour introduced me to carving,” he said. “Today we are the best of friends and someone I look up to.”
Mr. LaFosse has been carving for four years. In the carving world that is not a long time. He utilizes the mediums of wood and soapstone to create wildlife and spiritual art.
He loves birds - especially chickadees - and now he has an interest in ducks. It was the miniature carving of his canvass back drake that gave him second place this year at the Ward World Carving Championships in Ocean City, Maryland.
“I won in the miniature division for my canvass back,” he said. “ I was surprised. You are going up against some of the best in the world. I really didn’t expect it.”
This was Mr .LaFosse’s second time in the competition. The first time he entered the competition he also came in second for his life sized carving of the Atlantic Puffin.
“I had only been carving for two years at that point,” he said.
There are four categories in the competition; novice, intermediate, advanced and masters. It takes years to build up to the masters level.
“You have to work your way up, winning two first place standings in all categories before you can enter into the masters,” he said.
Most of his carvings are of songbirds or ducks. He carves them out of basswood because the wood is soft and does not splinter. He also carves polar bears and other creatures out of soapstone, which is a rock that he gets from South America. His carvings for his wood spirits are created from cypress knee, a wood that comes from the swamps of Florida.
Mr. LaFosse did take a couple of courses in Perth, Ont. and that is where he met his instructor and mentor George MacMillan who owned his own studio.
“He has taught me everything I know.” he said. “My head is like a sponge. I am still learning. Like my instructor said, you will never know everything.”
Carving is really two art forms in one: first you need to know how to carve the bird and secondly you need to know how to paint it.
“I struggled with the painting part because I never painted before and I have to wrap my head around doing that,” he said.
“It isn’t just painting red and black and white on a bird. You have to build your layers so it looks authentic.”
Mr. LaFosse credits his instructor, Mr. MacMillan, and his wife Lisa for his success.
“My instructor has guided me along the way and given me encouragement,” he said. “My wife Lisa has been so patient with me spending countless hours in my workshop. She has been by my side at every competition, rooting me on.”
His long-term goal is to someday be in the masters and come away with a ribbon.
“I love what I do and I take great pride in my work,” he said. “ I would never want to mass produce my carvings. That would take the joy out of it.”
He is currently working on his piece for next year’s competition - a full sized canvass back.
“This is a talent I did not know I had, I love doing it and take care pride in my work,” he said.