Nova Scotia

With hammer and chisel, this mystery artist makes the rocks talk

Brent Reeve never trained as an artist, or even as a carver. He drove trucks. He also worked in quarries. When he looked at rocks, they looked back at him. He saw faces. Or flowers. Or suns. Or sailing boats. But he left them hidden in stone.

Former truck driver always saw faces in stones. Now he's filling Nova Scotia town with his art

Brent Reeve sits with a stone self-portrait on an ATV trail outside of Berwick, N.S. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Sometimes he'll sit in stony silence for hours, staring at the boulder. It can take weeks. But eventually, the stone talks. 

"The rock says what it is," Brent Reeve says.

That's when he gets out his chisel, hammer and grinder, and gets to work turning a little Nova Scotia town into an open-air art gallery.

The stone carver toiled alone and anonymously for years, descending from his home on the South Mountain in the Annapolis Valley, N.S., to carve an erratic rock, those boulders dropped by glaciers as they left the land. 

Reeve never trained as an artist, or even as a carver. He drove trucks. He also worked in quarries. When he looked at those rocks, they looked back at him. He saw faces. Or flowers. Or suns. Or sailing boats. But he left them hidden in stone. 

The stones change with the rise and fall of the sun, and the changing seasons. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The Ontario man worked across Canada and settled in Nova Scotia when his parents retired to the province.

Life had slung enough stones at him that he understood why some people get petrified and hide in bed all day. Eight years ago, he decided to act. 

"I decided, I've got to get out of the house. I can't keep on watching Oprah," he says, before quickly adding, "Sorry Oprah."

Reeve saw flowers blooming from this boulder. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Reeve chiselled out the hidden beauty he saw all around him. "Just to straighten my head out a little bit," he says.  The less you move out of the rock, the better.

At first, he carved alone off remote ATV trails. His ATV buddies are used to him detouring to see one of his old friends. "They think I'm nuts. They really do. And they really appreciate it."

Stone selfies

But this year, he came down off the mountain and asked the town of Berwick if they'd like a few carved stones. Well, he asked a couple other towns first, but they shot him down. 

Berwick embraced the idea and now supplies him with the raw materials and helps him place the stones about town. A new map guides visitors to the carvings and urges them to share a stone-faced selfie. 

Some of his carvings sit deep in the forest, unlikely to be seen by anyone but a passing deer. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Ty Walsh, a town councillor, loves to take his kids out for a walk to see if they can find a new carving, or one they hadn't noticed before. "As a town, it's awesome to have bragging rights to Brent's pieces of public art," he says. 

When the stones first started to appear, even Walsh didn't know the true identity of the carver. "Many people work very hard to leave a lasting impression on their community. Very few are able to set it in stone," he says. 

'The heart's a little distressed'

Reeve doesn't use computers, or social media. He didn't talk to anyone about it until a local writer tracked him down

Reeve reckons he's carved more than 100 boulders, and he's still at work. He doesn't earn a cent, but it brings him peace. 

Reeve's 100 or so boulders dot the landscape around Berwick. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"I saw this one and I knew it'd be a head," he says, wiping sweat from his brow on a sultry July day.

He moves his hand over the stone, tracing a face only he can see. "I don't really know what it is. I just follow the rock and it says what it is. Then, hopefully, you realize you're done."

He studies the cracks and crevices of another stone, seeing what's soft, what's hard. "That'd be really good for an owl. I think I might have to do that." 

Reeve saw a heart in this stone and slowly chipped away until it was revealed. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Today, he's finishing the heart rock. "The heart's a little distressed, because you know everybody's had a broken heart, but this one's a heart of stone."

He admits the faces are self-portraits. Some are peaceful, while others are terrifying. "It's a reflection of me for that day," he says. "That carving is me. It just happens to look like a sun. 

"My faces aren't stone faces. They're faces of emotion."

He likes that his stone art will outlive him. In a thousand years, a hiker may stumble across Reeve's face, hidden in a sleeping sun, and wonder how it came to be. Reeve wonders that himself.  

"It's not like you have a vision of what the completion is. You have a vision of what your start is. If you can start, then bleed away your start, you'll end up finished eventually."

He falls into a stony silence. The rock starts to talk. Reeve picks up his chisel and gets back to work.

Reeve calls this one Sunset. He doesn't usually name his carvings. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

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