Chainsaw art in Fort Qu'Appelle inspiring hope during pandemic
Douglas Lingelbach said he hopes his work inspires people
This is a feature in the Good News Saskatchewan series. You can see all the stories at cbc.ca/lovesk.
The loud buzz of a chainsaw and sound of a blowtorch echo on the streets of Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask. Instead of avoiding a work area, people walk and drive by, stopping to stare at the wood carvings being created at the Hansen-Ross House.
The new attractions are bringing in a physically-distanced crowd. The artist hopes he's giving them a bit of hope.
"It's more from my soul and it's for the people," Douglas Lingelbach said.
Lingelbach has been using a chainsaw since he was 19 years old. He started carving trees into shapes like chains, gnomes and more about 28 years ago while working for SaskPower as an arborist.
He's since competed in both wood and ice carving with a chainsaw. He had shows, competitions and more lined up this summer, then the pandemic hit Saskatchewan.
"It was kind of devastating, to tell you the truth, because I wasn't sure what to do," Lingelbach said. "So I went straight into my studio and put my head down and continued to just do what I do and that's create art."
Lingelbach isolated at his friend's farm near Asquith, Sask. He tried to work on various projects, taking any commissions and getting inspired by solitude.
At the same time, Connie Chaplin was doing the same about 350 kilometres south. Chaplin is an artist and owner of the Hansen-Ross House in Fort Qu'Appelle. When the pandemic hit, she continued on in her studio, but also wanted to give artists work during the pandemic.
The house had two large elm trees out front that had to be cut down. Instead of simply leaving stumps outside, Chaplin asked Lingelbach to carve what was left.
"I had originally seen [Lingenbach's] work in Moose Jaw at the Art Gallery and in Crescent Park," she said. "I wanted to create curiosity."
Lingelbach said he was hesitant at first but sorted out a way to travel safety and stay physically distant while in town.
He said he used to come to Fort Qu'Appelle to stay with his grandparents in the 70s and 80s.
"It was more excitement because I'm coming back to where my childhood was," he said.
"It's very, very moving. I'm seeing a lot of my family now — people I haven't seen in 30 years."
Chaplin said she wanted to show off Saskatchewan artists whose shows are cancelled or postponed during the pandemic. She said people stop to look at the carvings, then step inside and have questions.
"It's a showstopper," Chaplin said. "He's pulled that off exceptionally and it's also something that the whole community can enjoy."
Lingelbach's artist-in-residency was supposed to be 10 days long, but it was extended to allow him to have more time to work and create pieces.
"It's putting smiles on people's faces and that's what's important," Lingelbach said.
Lingelbach said with commissions people give him a topic, but he still lets the wood decide.
"They were just going to be a bison and a pelican and it turned into a story and it's very deep," he said. "It's like magic if you let your mind get into that."
Recycling diseased or dying trees into artwork
Lingelbach prefers not to kill live trees. He has focused on trees in Fort Qu'Appelle that were hit by Dutch Elm Disease or were at the end of their natural life cycle.
Lingelbach said there's a process for managing diseased trees: he strips them of the bark then burns the outside of the tree, eliminating the fungi on the tree's exterior vascular tissue.
"Then [I] repurpose it into beautiful art because elm is one of the best woods to carve in the world."
Art to help lift community spirit during pandemic
Chaplin said she has a painter hoping to be the next artist-in-residence. She feels the program gives something to the community.
"When people come in, they're just almost overwhelmed with just a feeling of goodness," Chaplin said.
"So many people have tried new things, with either cooking or painting or drawing. I think it's that time that you take just to have quietness and to develop something — to enjoy it."
Lingelbach said he hopes his pieces are more than just something nice for people to look at. He hopes they inspire.
"It's inner hope," he said. "Everything's going to be okay … It's like calming rain and smiles, it's supposed to make you smile."
Chaplin hopes to eventually have a bench by Lingelbach's carvings so people can relax and enjoy them.
"The big thing that I've noticed is the appreciation and the smiles and the hope," he said. "Life does go on."