How to get a head in the art world
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How to get a head in the art world

Bill Manson with one of his creations, which he began making after he retired. [Bill Atwood]

If you’re taking a walk along the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs you might come across the work of Bill Manson, a woodcarver who has taken it upon himself to hide the caricatures he makes along the path in a weekly effort to bring joy to others.

“I like to say I tried to put a smile on faces – human and wooden – and I hope I succeed,” said Manson, who lives in Kitchener.

The carvings range from Olaf from the movie Frozen to hockey players with missing teeth.

“I was going to retire soon, so I was thinking I need a hobby. I was up in Kincardine and I saw these little carvings – it was a pipe band, actually. There were about 20 of them, and I thought that they’re brilliant,” he explained of the origins of his handiwork.

Manson, who previously did watercolours as a hobby, is unsure of where his artistic talent came from. Before retirement he worked for Bell installing phones.

“I was never a great artist at school. I wish I had started carving when I was a teenager but of course you’re in high jinks then,” said Manson.

“I’m rather more to that artistic side. I think the watercolours, they helped me paint because when I carve I’m not good enough to not carve a head. I think you’ll see all the mistakes. You can paint around the mistakes, but my knowledge of watercolours certainly helps me do my paint jobs because there’s nothing worse than a nice carving with a hellish paint job on it,” he said.

While he said he doesn’t know how he comes up with the ideas for what to carve, Manson draws a least some inspiration from real-life events: one of the largest carvings (not currently hidden on the trail) depicts a CNN reporter hanging to a light post while covering a hurricane.

“I always thought it was ridiculous watching TV when there’s a hurricane [and CNN is there] so this is what I came up with. It’s just stupid things that pop in my head when I try to make some,” he said.

Manson has resisted the idea of selling his creations, however.

“When I do something, it takes me so long and people want to buy them and I say “I want 50 bucks” and they say ‘get away with you.’ It takes me five hours to do them – people don’t appreciate that,” he said.

“Most people don’t realize the effort that goes into making a piece of art. But they want it for nothing. That’s why I don’t do any shows or anything like that, and that’s why I don’t sell many,” he added.

While he hopes to cheer up kids, he has elicited response from parents.

“I’m getting some nice notes from the parents saying ‘my boy can’t wait for Tuesday to find out what you’re going to be hiding,’” he said.

Some of his carvings do have a practical use. He has also made pens and shot glasses.

“Some of them have a use for them but not most of them. Some of them are just purely to put a smile on somebody’s face,” he said.

It is with that end goal that he tries to put some fun into his carvings.

“There’s supposed to be a lot of humour in my carvings. I consider myself a bit humorous – not all people think so,” he laughed.

“In this life you either laugh or you cry. You’re better off laughing,” Manson added.

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