Artists at Waskesiu show thrive making unique pieces

Paul-Emile L'Heureux (left) and Tom Gertz had their work on display at the Hawood Inn over Canada Day weekend (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Paul-Emile L’Heureux may have found woodworking kind of by accident, but that hasn’t slowed down the retired teacher, especially during those frigid winter months.

L’Heureux is an organic farmer in White Fox, Sask. In 2000, he had broken his leg, and his daughter-in-law from Sweden had given him a little cup made out of birch.

“I thought, ‘maybe I could do this,’” L’Heureux said. ‘And when I broke my leg, I needed something to do, so I started making spoons.”

From there, he moved on to toaster tongs and salad forks. He later expanded to cutting boards and saltboxes, and now, into larger objects such as tables and benches. He’s also made wooden spoons designed to be played as a musical instrument, a nod to his French Canadian heritage.

“I use Saskatchewan wood, some of it is from the farm,” he said.

“I have a sawmill where I’ll bring in the trees, saw my own lumber and let it dry, looking for the coolest stuff, Birchwood with the spalting and the bird’s eye.”

He also used apple, poplar and pine.

So far, cutting boards, saltboxes and salad forks are very popular. L’Heureux also sells a lot of bows cut out of the natural curve of the tree. As he’s moved into bigger projects, he’s found some interest in his tables and benches.

Saturday, a variety of his work, from little spoons to large tables and some plain, stained planks, was on display as a part of a three-person art show at the Hawood Inn in Waskesiu. L’Heureux was exhibiting alongside two other local artists, potter Gail Carlson and folk artist Tom Gertz.

L’Heureux found some unexpected simpatico between his work and Carlson’s. Carlson had two-dozen ceramic bison on display for $20 each. While setting up a joint display, the artists discovered that the bison looked right at home on some of the stained wood pieces L’Heureux was selling. They collaborated, selling the works together as one.

L’Heureux had some other, more experimental work on display, including some wooden tables incorporating stained glass, and a metal chair made out of discarded railway ties, a horseshoe and what appeared to be an old metal seat from a tractor. He hopes to explore more of those unique projects in the future.

“I tried to combine some stained glass in this chair,” he said, pointing to one of his creations. “I want to do more of that in the future.”

The eclectic collection made one thing clear — L’Heureux doesn’t like to do the same thing twice.

“I don’t think you’ll find too many things that are exactly the same,” he said.

“I get into making things you won’t find anywhere else. It’s fun to do that. I’ll take orders if somebody wants something, but I’d rather make it myself, and if you like it, buy it, and if you don’t, that’s fine.

L’Heureux wasn’t the only one with a row of one-of-a-kind pieces for sale. Tom Gertz takes the same approach with his folk art. He makes birdhouses out of recycled and found items.

“Even the nails I use have been recycled,” he said.

Gertz is a potter. He teaches pottery in Prince Albert at the arts centre. But he found it hard to sell fine art pottery in the prairies, so he picked up folk art. Over the last two years, he’s been making the birdhouses, over 800 have been sold, each a unique piece.

“It’s impossible for me to make the same one twice,” Gertz said.

“There’s no way I could duplicate this.”

Gertz finds materials everywhere he can, including yard sales and flea markets. The birdhouses he had on display showcased several themes, including bicycle parts, a clock and little trinkets. But he also had several that are nature themed, using pinecones and other objects from the trail, supplemented by preserved moss from the store.

“I got that idea from walking my dog in the woods,” he said. “While he was out here doing his thing, I was out there grabbing sticks, bark and whatever I could find.”

Whether he’s working with birdhouses and found objects or with clay, Gertz is happiest when he’s creating. He also refurbishes furniture and antiques, and does work as a landscape artist.

“It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I get into the zone,” he said.

“I go within the subconscious, where that huge well of creativity lies and just tap into that.

“I’m the happiest when I’m in that zone.”