Artistry in wood

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Bob Rockwell with one of his favourite works – a carving of a team of horses in a pulling competition. This is another of his many carvings he’s kept for himself. - Ed Coleman photo

By Ed Coleman

Special to TC•Media


Bob Rockwell always worked with his hands – he spent 25 years with the Department of National Defence as a general handyman, doing carpentry work and painting – but he never figured he had any talent for woodcarving. 

“I didn’t think I was artistic enough,” he says.

However, he was inspired to try it when his wife presented him with a “wood spirit,” an 18-inch log with a mystical face carved in it. 

“She suggested I try carving something like it,” Rockwell said. “But I didn’t think I could.”

That was some 16 years ago, around the time he retired, but the Waterville, Kings County, native still recalls the wood spirit inspiring him to taking a wood carving course. There were a few stops and starts before he learned how to carve, Rockwell says, and while attending carving classes in Kentville and Middleton, he soon became discouraged when he didn’t progress much. 

It wasn’t until Rockwell found a South Waterville carver willing to give lessons and pass on his expertise that he really learned how to work with wood. 

“Victor Martens got me underway,” Rockwell says, crediting Martens with teaching him the basics and much more. “He’s a pretty good carver, a professional, and he was willing to share his ideas. Anything he knew, anything new that came along he passed on. This helped me get started.”

Under Martens’ tutelage, Rockwell found he enjoyed carving and had a talent for it.

“I guess I was more artistic than I thought,” he says

An avid hunter, trapper and houndsman for over 60 years, it was natural that the first piece Rockwell carved was an eight-inch tall man with a gun and a cider jug. Many of his future carvings would have outdoors themes, but Rockwell found he liked to carve heads and reliefs more than anything. 

“I call them portraits in wood,” he says. “I work from photographs, from pictures I clip from magazines. If I like a picture, I trace it on a piece of wood, get my chisels out and go from there.”

While he found he liked carving heads and concentrated on them for quite a while, Rockwell soon branched out into carving reliefs (carvings in which the design stands out from the surface) and experimenting with creating busts, wild and domestic animals, walking poles, canes, woods spirits and human figures. Working from photographs, he’s produced carvings of brides and grooms as wedding mementos. He’s even done carvings on live trees, usually something with a spiritual or native theme.  

Wood, any kind of wood, is Rockwell’s medium – native woods as well as imported woods like cottonwood and cypress roots – and he says it doesn’t matter what size it is. 

“Any kind of wood, big or small pieces, suit me. Right now I’m looking at working on a couple of eight-foot logs I’ll probably carve bears and such on.” 

With larger pieces, Rockwell sometimes works with a chain saw at the start, finishing up the carving with chisels made especially for working with wood. 

Many of his carvings ended up in the homes of friends and family.  Rockwell doesn’t go out of his way to market his work, but some of his pieces might be for sale if you can persuade him to part with them. 

“With me it’s just a hobby,” Rockwell explains.

And by the way - remember the first piece Rockwell carved – the miniature hunter carrying a gun and cider jug? He still has it. It’s on a shelf in his workshop, along with many other cherished carvings he’s created. 

“Some of them I just like to keep,” he says.

Organizations: Department of National Defence

Geographic location: Kings, Kentville, South Waterville

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