With discussion about upgrading the West Montrose covered bridge continuing at the region, a Kitchener resident has found a way to immortalize the bridge as it currently stands. Rob Silverson, who also has a trailer at the West Montrose Family Camp, has completed a mural of the bridge on the fence beside the trailer.
“I always admired that we had a camp that was close to something historical like that. I like living in the Elmira community with the Mennonites and the Old World stuff that’s still here. And I like that it’s been preserved for all these years,” Silverson said.
The mural was something he had wanted to do for a long time.
“I started coming out here 30 years ago with my wife and kids. I’ve been divorced, and my kids have grown up since – I just wanted to do the things that I planned to do and complete the projects I wanted to complete. Having the bridge at the other end of the camp, I don’t have the view that the other folks down there do, so I wanted to have the view of it here myself,” he explained.
Silverson first got into art in high school, where he completed his first oil painting.
“I discovered I had a talent that I didn’t know I had, even though I hadn’t been great at art or anything up until that point. I did an oil painting when I was 17, and it’s still hanging on my wall at home,” he said, adding that painting has become a great diversion from the workaday world.
“It’s a way to vent myself, for my peace of mind. It’s something I’ll go home at night and just start working on it to take the load off the day off. It’s my stress relief,”
While he has been doing woodworking for decades, two years ago Silverson took up the art of intarsia, which dates back to the middle ages. Intarsia is a form of wood inlaying that involves taking different species of wood – selected for their colour and grain – and shaping them together to make a mosaic-like picture. There is no painting involved, although each intarsia project receives several coats of satin finish.
Silverson has completed dozens of intarsia projects, most of animals, including of the cat he had growing up and his dog that recently had to be put down.
“When you go to the vet, they’ll sell you $1,000 worth of stuff, paw prints, and all these different things, I guess to remember your dog by or whatever. Well, I couldn’t really afford to do that. I ended up making my own dog for myself,” he explained.
While Silverson has done some intarsia projects for others, and he does sell some of them, he is not trying to convey a message through his art.
“It makes me feel good. It’s just my therapy. It almost feels like I’m finally doing what I should have been doing all along that the talents come out. This is where I’m meant to be, this is what I’m meant to do,” he explained.
Not only is the bridge mural the first he’s ever done, it’s the largest project he has ever completed, Silverson said. Taking around 120 hours to complete, the project saw Silverson paint the sky, water and land in the mural and used a carved piece of wood for the bridge. Silverson improvised to make where the bridge was attached to the fence less noticeable.
“Where I’ve got the vents on the bridge, that’s where my screws are that hold it onto the fence so you don’t see them. They’re all covered with the covers I made that are exactly the same as what you’ll see on the bridge,” he explained.
Debbie Reed, owner of West Montrose Family Camp, has encouraged tourists to take in the mural.
“People that come here from far away come to camp here because they are interested in the culture here, like the German culture. They like the covered bridge and St. Jacobs. So I send them all down for a walk to look at his painting, just to say, ‘hey, look what this guy did,’” she explained.
The mural helps highlight the importance of the bridge, she added.
“I just think [the bridge is] the greatest thing and it’s the only one around. It’s so great because it’s right in our backyard,” she said.
The bridge’s history was one of the reasons Silverson did his mural.
“People put their sweat into making it. The people that helped to build it are still carrying on today with their traditions,” he said.
“My painting is not going to last that long, not like this bridge has. Look what it’s held up against it’s been hundreds of years of floods and ice and everything else and it’s still here. It deserves to be here. It should be here for the Mennonites for as long as they’re here,” Silverson added.