Food for Thought

Fresh from the Farm

Where to find the Valley’s best this season.

A dolphin, doctor arcing gracefully on a silver rod mount, store
seems to have been magically turned to wood in the act of leaping out the ocean. The glowing red cedar invites touching of its curved belly as it flattens out to its flanged tail.

This piece of sculpture is the result of the passion of Wes Seeley. The dolphin is mounted on a shelf at the top of the stairwell in Seeley’s Comox home and swivels in its rod casing, website like this
supporting the illusion of being alive.

“When I get a piece of wood I look at it, turn it around, this way and that,” says Seeley. “I spend a lot of time holding it and observing it and feeling it. After a while, whatever is captured inside the wood comes to my mind and I see it. Then I start the carving.”

Seeley’s clean cut and compact being seems to vibrate with an inner delight, particularly when he speaks of his art. “Even as a kid I was always whittling at a piece of wood, making little boats for the creek and other things. I often seemed to have a piece of wood in my hands.” Perhaps in another time and place Seeley would have been able to pursue his art in a more formal fashion. As it was, however, like his father before him, he went into the logging industry when he finished high school at the age of 18.

“They were the options for boys like me,” he says with a shrug. “It was either fishing or logging.”

Seeley grew up on Quadra Island until he was 13, when he moved to nearby Campbell River with his mom and sister. “Quadra was a wonderful place for kids,” he remembers. “There was tons of bush to play in and rove about. It’s where I learned to love Mother Nature, I’m sure. Wildlife was abundant, much more than now, and we were living among it. Deer were everywhere; orcas went by frequently in those days.”

Andrew’s latest work is very ambitious—an eagle caught in the moment of take-off with a salmon in its talons. “I had to build this—it was calling to me,” he says. The body of the bird is about a foot long, its wings will be approximately five feet and they are curving downwards as the bird thrusts skyward. “The wings will support the sculpture on either side, and the salmon’s tail will form the third point of a triangle,” Seeley explains. “The whole piece will be free standing.” At the moment, the body of the eagle stands on a frame in the driveway of his home where he is working on it.

“Each feather-tip is cut with a band-saw,” he says as he turns a delicate two-inch piece of wood over in his capable fingers. The wood blends from a swirling ashy color to a slightly darker brown and is aromatic cedar. “I’m not too sure where it comes from—I must find out, it’s not from BC,” Seeley says.

“But once the varnish goes on, the colors really come alive.” He holds the piece down on top of another, showing how the small pieces overlap to give the image of feather tips. “When I go against the grain of the wood, the colors seem to all mesh together; with the grain gives two distinct colors with a line separating them. I experimented quite a bit before being satisfied with the way I was working the wood.”

Like most works of art, countless hours of painstaking work go into its creation. “I’m anticipating, oh, maybe 1,000 hours on this one,” Seeley says with a grin. “Time just flies for me when I’m working though. I come down to my workshop after supper and when I look at the clock, it’s two in the morning!”

The body of the bird is made of red cedar; the beak is also red cedar, but with a darker hue. The wing feathers are fir, before having the aromatic cedar glued on to them. “I’m going to have feathers on the underside of the wings too, as well as the tail,” Seeley says. “Because it’s free-standing, people will be able to see the underside of the eagle. I’m going to encourage people to really look closely, walk all around it, you know?”

Seeley is hoping to sell his work and make the transition from woodworking as a hobby to a full time career. “At the moment, I’m laid off—like many people in the logging industry,” he says wryly. “So it suits me well. I’m able to spend more time with my woodworking. Plus, I get to be at home with my family, which I cherish. Working away from home for two or three weeks at a time—I don’t like it. I’d much rather be here.”

Seeley still works as a boom-man. “I’m 50 years old now and I’ve worked all around the province on various contracts since I started as a teenager,” he says. “Of course there’s been some change in the logging industry during that time.

“Probably the biggest change has been in the way camps are run. There’s zero tolerance for drugs and being drunk. Accidents have gone down a lot because of that,” he adds, proudly noting that he has been sober for 23 years. “Best thing I ever did. I know that my life wouldn’t be the delight it is now if I were still drinking. I have a wonderful wife and two great children. I’m sure none of that would be possible if I still drank.

“I’d like to be able to say that logging practices have changed too,” he continues “but they haven’t. It’s still the same mentality. It can’t go on for ever, taking and taking.”

He shakes his head, then smiles, happy to have found a different way to work with wood. “I’m just so grateful I have this hobby,” he says. “It brings me into contact with other creative people, apart from bringing me lots of satisfaction for myself. I find other artists full of interesting ideas, talking about alternative ways of being, it brings inspiration.”

Seeley points to one of his earliest pieces, a one-dimensional feeding orca with a calf. The piece is about five feet long. “I did that piece about 10 years ago,” he says, noting the differences between this and his more current work. “Of course that’s what it’s all about—learning more about the woods and the creative process with each piece that I do. It’s one reason I’m so excited about the new eagle I’m currently working on.

“I did another eagle—they’re sort of a fixation with me,” he says. “But it was in flight, with its wings held aloft, unlike this one, where the wings are almost touching the ground as it takes off. That one had a wing span of over six feet and took about 400 hours of work to complete. It was bought by the owner of the airport in Port McNeil and his company is called Pacific Eagle Aviation. He thought it was perfect for the airport. It’s the first piece of art work I’ve sold, so it was very exciting for me.”

Giant eagles and leaping dolphins weren’t the first works Wes Seeley started with though. “I used to carve replicas of the boats I would see on the coast—fish boats and tug boats. The first commission I had was from my uncle, Brian McCabe of Quadra Island. He had a salmon troller fishing boat. I must have taken about 200 photographs of the inside and the outside before I started work on it,” Seeley remembers. He still has a photograph of the gaily painted replica, and even his boats seem to have a life about them.

“Other people on the coast saw my models and I did a replica of Jim Humphrey’s tug, ‘The Regent’. I probably sold about 10 of those replicas. It’s a funny thing, but I think my uncle liked the replica even more than his real boat!” He laughs, then adds: “Of course, there’s less work to do on it. The fishing boat looks a bit rusty and beat up now, but the model’s like brand new.”

As he grew older, nature’s awesome swirls, curves and perfection impinged itself more on Seeley’ consciousness. “I just became more enamored with the beauty of nature and in my own modest way wanted to replicate it,” he says.

“Eagles seem to draw me particularly and I feel a great affinity with them. I know the First Nations’ people feel that way too. To me they’re magnificent birds. I look at so many photographs of them—that’s where I got the inspiration for my latest work, the one with the salmon in its talons. I saw a photo and just knew I had to try and make one like that.”

Seeley is not without awareness of the irony of someone in the logging industry having such reverence for nature.

“I’m really conscious of the fact that despite my love for the natural world all around me, I’m part of the problem,” he says. “It’s the dilemma many people are caught in. We have to provide for our families and for me, it’s the only way I know how. My dream is that I can support us by my artwork and let go of being a boom-man, or only do that periodically, rather than the other way around, the way it is now.”

He pauses to reflect on the life’s changes, then continues. “I’ve had so much joy from my artwork and felt myself grow as a human being, expanding my horizons,” he says. “It’s wonderful. I just met a stone carver, Chris, from Quadra Island and he’s another person I’m now working with. I believe that god has given each of us a gift, and we may not know it, but it’s in there.”

Seeley doesn’t feel he has many stresses in his life, or problems he has to solve. “Being sober took away 90 per cent of my problems,” he says. “My dad died an alcoholic—he was a logger too. Naturally, he didn’t have any hobbies—most alcoholics don’t as drinking is their hobby. I didn’t meet him till I was 17 years old; my mom brought us up on her own, struggling on welfare. She did a wonderful job too. We were given such a good sense of self, of our self-esteem, all thanks to my mom.”

Perhaps it’s also thanks to his mother that Seeley has inherited an artistic talent. On the wall of his home hang two pieces of art by his mother—one is a delicate pencil drawing of a native canoe under sail that manages to express the strength and solidity of a wooden canoe cutting through the ocean. The other is a hauntingly beautiful face of a South American Indian that holds pampas grasses in the hollow head. It is made of clay and about a foot and a half long.

“I just feel so fortunate in my life,” says Seeley. “I’ve got a wonderful family and this work that inspires me and sustains me.”

Seeley is excited about the upcoming Original’s Only art show, August 9 & 10 at Marina Park in Comox. He will be working on his latest carving of the free-standing eagle at the event.

“It’s going to have its mouth open, squawking,” he says. “I’ll be working with my dremel, a work tool specifically for fine working. That’s the most common tool I work with—it has lots of little bits that can be attached, and I use it for sanding too.”

“I feel so incredible grateful to be alive,” Seeley adds, smiling. “I wish I could live for another hundred years, there are so many exciting projects I’d like to finish—or at least start.”

For more information, visit Wes Seeley’s web site.



Photo by Boomer Jerritt

The Comox Valley is one of the richest areas on Vancouver Island. Rich in outdoor activities, pulmonologist
rich in beauty provided by some of the most scenic natural sights, unhealthy
and rich in farms that provide us with some of the best local produce and fruit money can buy.

Summertime is the time of year we expect to be able to buy fresh-from-the-farm produce, here
and our local markets don’t disappoint. Every Saturday, there is a fun-for-the-entire-family Farmers’ Market on Headquarters Road in Courtenay, which sells everything from bison to emu, flowers, crafts, home baked goodies including breads, cinnamon buns and much more. And, along with the music and entertainment, there is an endless variety of fresh fruit and vegetables—all picked fresh from the farm that morning and available from 9 till noon.

If you don’t make the Saturday Farmers’ Market, on Wednesday mornings at Simms Park in Courtenay the Farmers’ Market is all set up once again with freshly picked produce, baked goods and handmade crafts from 9 till noon.

Another way to find the freshest goods is to visit the local farms directly. The following is a list of farm stands that are open to the public during the summer growing season.

Ashprington Farm

5157 North Island Highway
Open through October. U-pick raspberries through October. U-pick pumpkins in October.

Black Rooster Farm Market

2440 Hardy Road
North Courtenay
Open daily through October, from 9-5. Huge garlic, potato and tomato crop.

Berry Best Farm

2156 Coleman Road, Comox
Open Daily 10-5 through September Organic strawberries, raspberries, blueberries. Large variety of veggies from arugula to zucchini.

Devonshire Farm

5147 North Island Highway, Courtenay
Market open all year. Seasonal veggies and fruits, cukes and strawberries.

Finlay Creek Farm

2731 Rennison Rd., Courtenay
Open Friday-Sunday, 10-5
Garlic, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, beans and more. Handmade soaps and crafts.

Good Earth Farms

7636 Island Highway, Black Creek
250-337-2261 (by appt.)
Uncertified organic produce, free range eggs, strawberries, apples, cherries, arugula, spinach, carrots, beets, Jerusalem artichoke, broccoli, beans, peas, squash, seeds, garlic and more.

Nature’s Way Farm

4905 Darcy Road, Courtenay
Open daily June to September, 10-6. Blueberries, salad greens.

Pattison Farms

2124 Dzini Road, Black Creek
Open daily through October
Certified Organic. Tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, carrots, beans, beets, greens, summer and winter squash. Also apples and pears.

Sieffert Farm Market

720 Knight Road, Comox
Open daily through mid-November, 10-6
Wide variety of in-season vegetables. Tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, fresh corn, onions, garlic, Okanagan and local fruit, beets, carrots, cucumbers and more.

Snapdragon Acres

8668 Lory Road, Black Creek
Certified Organic. Beans, broccoli, carrots, cukes, kale, lettuce, peas, summer and winter squash, tomatoes and more. Free range eggs.

Watrin Orchard

1507 Philmonte Road, Comox
Open daily through November from 10-5.
Uncertified organic. Produce and high quality fruit and vegetables. Apples, cherries, pears, plums and from own own orchards – 100% natural apple juice.