Wielding a power saw that seems almost as heavy as she is, Watch Lake resident Liz McMann is literally carving a name for herself in the art world.
A camping trip in the late ’90s to 70 Mile House convinced McMann to pull up stakes in Vancouver with her three boys and settle on the shores of Watch Lake. Confessing that while living on the Lower Mainland, McMann never envisioned doing what she’s doing now, she did grow up in an artistic environment. Artists were regulars at her father’s Vancouver restaurant and McMann says she and her brother were really creative, spending hours together drawing.
“My mother was really into jewelry, but I liked sculptures and porcelains and started collecting them when I was 13. The outdoor influence came from my grandparents.”
The idea to start carving with a chainsaw came from the firewood she was getting.
“I was getting some real nice wood from the log yard for firewood, and figured if I could get past my fear of the saw I could make some stuff with it.”
McMann bought the smallest Stihl power saw, a 125, all the protective gear, and set to work. In one day, she made three pieces and sent pictures of her work to the president of Stihl Canada.
That was on a Monday, and by Thursday of the same week she had a sponsorship. The sponsorship lasted for a few years, and resulted in two chainsaws (a 361 and a MS200T) and a lot of safety gear.
McMann has been carving since 2005.
“There’s a different reaction to a chick with a power saw,” she says with a laugh.
“When a guy is carving, people think ‘oh.’ But when a woman is carving with a chainsaw, they stop to watch.”
Over the years, McMann has done several shows, including at the Calgary Stampede in 2006, where she did two 20-minute shows for six days.
“I was put between the Budweiser and GMC tents. I got their autographs, and they wanted mine.”
Most of her work is freehand, although she admits to using a stencil for some things, such as the maple leaf.
A carving may take two days, from slab to finished product. This includes sanding and using a blow torch and wire brush to deepen the grain and blow out the sawdust. Grinding and drying are also part of the process.
Typically, she draws, carves, sands, uses the blowtorch and wire brush, and then applies a coat of polyurethane. Pieces may be hand painted as well.
Nature and Canada are McMann’s heaviest influences, with bears, eagles and birds predominant in her art.
“You might think you know what you want and it changes. You have to watch for knots and how the wood goes. Sometimes it might surprise you.”