Give Dean Gilpin a chainsaw and he can carve just about anything.
Last week at 100 Mile Elementary school, it was a bear, an eagle and a Christmas tree.
“The kids, they’re not judgmental. They’re happy, they’re playful and they’re curious,” said Gilpin, a Williams Lake artist known artistically as Spirit Carver Dean. “I enjoyed the energy of the children, and the interest they had in chainsaw artwork.”
Gilpin was invited to the school by Penny Reid, the First Nations classroom support worker, who wanted students to both witness his work and give Indigenous students a role model. Students from Eliza Archie Memorial School were also at the school to witness him carving cedar logs into works of art.
Classes were rotated throughout the day to watch Gilpin turn the several pieces of wood, donated by Pioneer Log Homes, into sculptures. The students laughed and pointed as the pile of sawdust grew and the sculptures took form.
Grade 5 student Ty Williams said it was his class who gave Gilpin the idea to turn the largest block of wood into a bear holding a salmon.
“It looks really good, I like it a lot,” Ty said. “I’ve never seen chainsaw carving before but it looks really cool and sounds like a fun idea to try.”
Originally from Redstone Reserve near Puntzi Lake, Gilpin got his start in woodworking with Pioneer Log Homes 20 years ago, though he didn’t start carving until 2016. One day while walking through the Pioneer lumber yard he noticed a piece of cast-off wood. Gilpin thought it looked like a large feather and, using his chainsaw, he shaped it into one before gifting it to his grandfather.
From then on, he was hooked.
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Gilpin said he’d always been artistic growing up. He started off pencil sketching on paper before graduating to paint. He found his perfect medium, however, with wood.
“It’s all about the wood for me. I started building at Pioneer and then when I saw the wood they were using I saw so many possibilities with it,” Gilpin said. “I call myself Spirit Carver Dean because I have no formal training in any kind of way. I feel that there are so many messages through the wood and I rely on spirit (to bring them to life). How we develop our spirit and creativity is super important.”
Gilpin said he begins his carvings with a chainsaw to shape the raw logs. After adding details, he refines them at home using various tools to give them a smooth finish.
Reid said the students “are just in awe of what he’s doing.
“Everybody is just in awe of his talent,” she said. “The kids will take away that if they put their minds to something they can pretty much do whatever they want.”
The sculptures Gilpin created, after being finished in his Williams Lake home, were donated to both Eliza Archie Memorial School and 100 Mile Elementary. One of the pieces will go on display in the school, Reid said, while another will be auctioned off at the school’s Indigenous Art Show in June.
For Gilpin, the most rewarding part of carving comes when his work is shared with other people. He loves hearing their feedback and seeing how they connect to the piece in ways he never considered while making it.
“I’m heading to the big leagues, one day,” Gilpin said. “Making the wood speak is my logo.”