Transforming wood into art

Errington artist Francois Mongeau has created large structures, murals and more

Errington wood carver Francois Mongeau

A massive door created by Errington wood carver Francois Mongeau now graces a home on Bowen Island.

The stunning 12 by 12 foot structure made of old growth natural grain fir that was in the works for six months was dismantled last weekend and installed this week.

Featuring an Arbutus tree with many intricately carved leafs, the door even has a wooden branch that cleverly covers the door handle and the key hole has been made to look like a natural knot in the wood.

“I always try to camouflage handles into the carving so it looks like a branch,” he explained.

Mongeau has been creating artwork out of wood for almost 40 years now but it is the demand for his functional pieces that keep the world class carver very busy these days.

The family that commissioned the Arbutus tree door has also ordered another piece from Mongeau.

“It is five orcas representing their family with a mother and father breaching out of the water and underneath the water are three little whales swimming around,” he described.

Mongeau is passionate about wood and transforming the medium into functional art pieces which he ships all over the world.

Carving full time since 1982, Mongeau started out with Robert Davidson, a well known Haida carver who was apprenticing with Bill Reid at the time.

“He needed a shop built and I agreed to work with him.  I was a painter at the time but I could not survive on that so I picked up any kind of work I could get my hands on.

I ended up doing construction and carpentry work, tree planting … but always working with wood.  I knew that was the medium I wanted to work in.”

Mongeau said there is something about trees that inspires him and for as long as he can remember he has felt the energy in the forest.

“I came to this coast from Montreal.  As a kid we used to go to this lake and there was a lot of forest there and I always have that feeling.  We only went there in the summer on holidays so those are my good memories and when I came to the coast I thought it was beautiful.”

Mongeau came to B.C. in the 1970’s and since then many of his creations have been commissioned for private and public buildings.

The Qualicum Beach Civic Centre is home to a 16-foot wooden mural Mongeau was commissioned to create in 1987.

Another large project includes a mural 24 feet by 6 feet in Port Hardy that represents all the industries in the area.

“It has the natives, fishermen, loggers and miners and at the end of the mural there is a bear going up stream with salmon jumping.  I have family in Bella Coola so I often stop by and look at it on my way there.”

Mongeau isn’t the only one inspired by his surroundings.  His two sons, Beau and Galen also work out of the studio in Errington and both played a role in creating the Arbutus door.

“Beau and Galen helped with the project.  Galen does refined cabinet work and he is more into furniture.  Beau is more into the carving and he helped me out a lot on this door because there are so many leaves on this one.”

At 67 years old, Mongeau has no desire to slow down.  These days he has also been casting bronze and he admitted there is one project he would like to complete before he opens any more doors.

“I have a couple of little projects I am working on right now.  One is a bowl and it is an otter on its back.  I carved this one for me and it has been on the go for a year now and I have not had a chance to finish it.”