Woodcarver heads to world championships

By Angelica Ingram

Published April 12 2016

Greg Gillespie isn’t considered a master carver yet but he hopes to one day be one.

A retired fish and wildlife specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources Gillespie has taken home dozens of ribbons from Canadian and international woodcarving competitions and he is hoping for a similar result next week when he heads to Maryland to compete in the Ward World Championships.

Gillespie 62 has been working on his craft for more than 30 years creating his first carving when he lived between Dorset and Baysville.

“I always loved the art form” he said. “I saw some exhibitions here and there by some pretty well known Canadian carvers namely Pat Godin who is still one of the best of the world and I just thought wow that’s so neat. That’s so beautiful.”

During his time living between Dorset and Baysville Gillespie had a neighbour who was a bird carver and taught him a lot about the craft.

“He really became a mentor to me and helped me here and there” said Gillespie. “He was a tremendous help.”

Gillespie began his carving with decoys and has since expanded to do creative paddles songbirds and interpretive wood sculptures the latter a new joy for the artist.

“There’s many different categories in wildfowl carving that you can get into. I like to compete with songbirds because you have to make all the habitat and I really like that. Coming up with an artistic presentation is kind of challenging but also rewarding when you do it right.”

The artist not only carves the creations but paints them as well making it an intensive project from beginning to end. He typically works off of pictures or photographs that inspire him.

“You start with a pattern” he said. “But when you’re up at the level I’m at you’re supposed to use your own pattern.”

Apart from patterns Gillespie turns to a collection of bird specimens belonging to the Royal Ontario Museum called study skins that can be loaned out.

“You can take measurements off them and match paint colours. You can get them for a period of two months.”

While songbirds are meant to look realistic and exactly like the original interpretive sculptures are meant to be a more abstract and artistic.

Many of Gillespie’s creations are made out of basswood a common wood for this area which is nice to carve with he said.

Although Gillespie began carving and entering competitions a few decades ago he took a break from the hobby as life got busier with kids and work. Now he is back at it spending hundreds of hours every winter creating entries for competitions.

“They are really time consuming.”

This past March he headed to the Canadian National Wildfowl Carving Championships where he took home a second and third place prize for two songbird entries in the advanced category.

When he heads to Maryland next week for the World Championships he will also be entering an interpretive bird.

“It’s really exciting to enter into the competitions and it wasn’t always that way” he said. “When you do do well and win a ribbon it’s pretty exciting.”

There are many skill levels at the competitions starting with beginner and ending at master. While Gillespie has worked his way up to the third rung he hopes to eventually compete at the highest level.

Originally from Toronto Gillespie and his wife moved to Haliburton village just over two years ago but were already familiar with the Highlands as they had spent half a century at the family cottage on Kennisis Lake.

“Gail and I inherited the cottage” said Gillespie. “When we were living in North Bay it was a bit of a long commute and we loved coming to Haliburton to the cottage so we knew when we both retired we were going to retire down here … now we have a 30-minute commute to the cottage.”

The Highlands also holds a special place in the couple’s heart as they met while working at the Frost Centre a number of years ago.

Aside from carving Gillespie fills his days with a variety of hobbies including fishing and camping.

“I like to spend a lot of time outside.”

The carver has taken courses at the Haliburton School of Art and Design (formerly Haliburton School of the Arts) and belongs to a carving club that meets weekly at the Lochlin Community Centre.

The birds and paddles Gillespie creates are for sale locally and can be found at Rails End Gallery or the Ethel Curry Gallery.

While carving is a time consuming hobby it gives Gillespie a great sense of pride and is a good outlet for his creativity he says.

“I really get a great sense of satisfaction building things with my hands. This was a perfect outlet for that urge to do that.”