Art @ The Wickanninish
It is a long, twisty drive or a 45 minute flight from Vancouver. But, the trip to Tofino and the pristine Clayoquot Sound is well worth some slog. The beaches, like Chesterman, are endless. The surfers are out in their wet suits, rain or shine. Dogs are leaping for balls, otters are splashing in coves and eagles are lording above it all.
The town holds tight to its hippy surfer vibe. The food is fresh, innovative and so often served in the simplest of settings. As you wander around town, you also get a deep sense of the First Nations heritage behind this spirited place.
If you walk down Chesterman beach, you will spy the Carving Shed. For over twenty years, it was a studio for carver Henry Nolla, whose work can be seen throughout the town. Nolla passed away in 2004, but many of his tools and carvings are just as he left them.
Nolla’s hands are seen throughout the beautiful Wickanninish Inn. He hand-notched the beams that you see as you walk from one end of this Relais & Chateaux designated hotel to the other. Nolla carved the imposing yellow cedar entrance doors, the fireplace mantels and the totem that rests in The Pointe Restaurant.
Nolla was a great mentor to local artists and much of their work is also featured at the inn. Lyne Des Rosiers was born in Montreal, studied Fine Arts at the Joliette cegep and moved to the West Coast to pick fruit and live in a teepee. On a quest to the hardware store to find the right tools to create cedar wind chimes, she happened to meet Nolla. She ended up apprenticing with him then working alongside him at the shed.
Back in the Carving Shed, you’ll now find Feather George Yearsley, who is quick to mention Henry and to defer to the quality of Nolla’s work. Yet, Feather George has developed his own devoted following. He carves beautiful wooden eagle feathers. When we visit, he is experimenting with dipping the top edge of the feather in gold leaf. “Do you like it?” he polls people as they wander in and out of the shed. Resoundingly, yes.
Feather George also carves beautiful cedar boxes with treasures and jewels embedded atop.
Tofino is unique in its natural beauty and in its creative roots. Whether you come for the raging winter storms or the summer surfing, you should leave feeling inspired. Until next time, Tofino.
Writing & Photos by Elizabeth Newton