Bernice Weihs-Anderson has found a new use for reclaimed wood.
Over the last year, thanks to the pandemic, the Clinton artist has begun to experiment by burning designs into wood. She got started on her craft by watching an artistic German student who stayed with her for a few weeks during the opening days of the pandemic last year.
“My husband gave her a little sodering iron to finish this little cartoon drawing she’d done on a piece of wood. I noticed this actually worked good because it was the idea of doing something permanent rather than something that comes off the wood,” Weihs-Anderson said.
After the student went home, Weihs-Anderson picked up the sodering iron herself. As she sketched and etched her art into wood, she said people began to like what she was doing so to give them extra appeal she began to double up her efforts to make simple board games like cribbage on one side.
“If you purchase it and your spouse doesn’t love it, well then you say ‘let’s just play a game’ and you take it down off the wall and spend some time with other people engaging.”
As she worked, Weihs-Anderson said she began to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, both its horrific impact on humanity but also its positive impacts on the natural world due to less human activity. This led her to decide to portray animals that have been put at risk by human activity or have recovered thanks to environmental activism.
“Every time I look at these pieces of wood, they look back at me they’re telling me something. There’s a knot here that’s an eye or a nose and something going on in the wood. My husband asks ‘how do you see it?’ and I reply ‘how do you not see it?’”
Rather than use freshly cut wood for her work, Weihs-Anderson said she wanted to use reclaimed wood. This included leftover scrap spruce from West Fraser’s donations to the Clinton Assisted Living Facility – beetle-killed pine, fire-killed juniper, willow from a danger tree, and some spruce taken from a 120-year-old tree planted by the Clinton Museum. Once she got the wood she had to make sure it was dry to avoid it cracking and had to treat each type of wood differently based on their response to heat.
Her art has proven to be popular with the community as only six of the 42 pieces she created last year are left. Weihs-Anderson’s children even bought her a proper wood burning kit to make more this year, which she hasn’t quite gotten used to yet.
“It’s almost like using a pencil because you don’t colour. All you got is the opportunity to shade so you can go lighter, darker, thicker lines and all that,” Weihs-Anderson said.
Weihs-Anderson’s work also struck a chord with Ashcroft’s Sidewalk Gallery curator Angela Bandelli who offered her a slot this July to put on a show. Getting the offer was an honour, Weihs-Anderson said, especially because 2021 is the gallery’s 10th anniversary.
She’ll be giving back to the community through this show, as any pieces sold made using wood from the assisted living facility or from the museum’s spruce tree will be donated back to their respective organizations. Weihs-Anderson also plans to donate some of the proceeds to Nature Conservancy of Canada to help do her part to protect the animals that are her subjects.
“It could be a complete flop, I’m ok with that. It might not be a place where anything sells and that’s ok. What it will do is have people see these images and reflect, that’s the main thing.”
Born in the Fraser Valley, Weihs-Anderson, a retired nurse and volunteer firefighter, has lived in Clinton for the last 11 years. She knew she wanted to live in Clinton at the age of nine when she fell in love with the town when passing through with her father. After living in Europe and at the coast for most of her life, she and her husband settled down on a hobby farm outside of Clinton.
“We try to mostly produce our own food, my husband and myself, so we got sheep, chickens and rabbits,” Weihs-Anderson said, adding that thanks to COVID and last year’s spring conditions her garden flourished.