Portrait of the Artist with Eric Sparling
The stake I fashioned in Cap Pele. The Hulk is there because he’s awesome.
All it took was one look at Peter Blanchard’s wood work and I could tell.
“See, this guy gets it,” I said to Ted Evans, another one of the artists whose work is displayed at the Amherst Train Station Artisans’ Gallery. “He knows The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.”
I can’t say specifically what it was about his cutting boards and spatulas that told me he was a diehard fan of Boba Fett, but I was intrigued enough to make the drive all the way to another province, New Brunswick, to interview Blanchard.
Peter’s family background is Acadian, so I decided I would speak French for the entire visit to his place in Cap Pele.
“Bonjour Peter! La fenetre dans la fromage. Livre ce soir!” I said as I stepped out of the car.
“It’s OK Eric,” said my host, “English is my first language.”
Phew, that was a relief. My skills in French are much better than my Grade Eleven mark in that language would indicate. Still, journalism is about accuracy, and communicating in English would ensure there would be no mistakes.
Blanchard spent most of his adult life working as a scaffolder in the “tar sands” of Alberta, where he became staunchly pro-union. He left the oil patch, moving to an island in BC to do woodworking, but found it too expensive on the west coast. He and his wife moved back to the Maritimes.
Blanchard took me to his workshop by his parents’ home. He’s in the process of building a new facility and plans to open a craft gallery in Shediac next spring. His products, marketed under the name Maritime Maple Works, are now carried in about a dozen places in the region, including the Amherst Curling Club. (By the way, it’s not as strange as you might think that the train station gallery is located at the curling club; the first curling stones were actually discarded iron wheels from locomotive engines. I’m sure I heard that somewhere.)
Our project for the morning was a spurtle, a weapon traditionally used by the Scottish to slay a haggis on the first full moon of February.
“It’s a stick,” I said when Peter showed me an example we’d be copying.
Actually, it was a pleasingly-curved stick polished with beeswax. Peter secured a squared length of maple in the lathe and switched on the machine. Apparently we were skipping breakfast beers and getting right to work. He used a slim chisel braced on an iron guard to turn a square into a cylinder and then began selectively shaping the wood.
When he finished, it was my turn to copy the master. I had something a little more useful in mind, however.
“What is it?” he asked when I was finally done.
“It’s a stake for killing vampires,” I said. “You never know when the undead will rise from their graves to drink the blood of the living.”
Peter laughed and said he was safe: Coming from a family of carpenters, the only thing he had running in his veins was sawdust.
I assured him it was no laughing matter and admonished him in the language of his forefathers.
“Tu es les ordinateur avec cahier. Extra sensass!”
Tagline: Portrait of the Artist is mostly a pack of lies. The weekly column profiles artists at the Amherst Train Station Artisans’ Gallery and Farmers’ Market.
SIDEBAR: It’s ‘Celebrate Gil Collicott’ week at the gallery. Come in to see or bid on (there’s a silent auction) newly uncovered paintings and sketches by the well-known local artist.