Paul Edgar Unwin is a man on a mission. Having lived in Sooke many years ago, he sold his Noble House Coffee and Teas, and made his way North to Port Hardy and Quatsino to live a simple and remote life. He travelled the world, and eventually came back to Vancouver Island with renewed vision.
Unwin received a set of carving knives for Christmas one year and he set about carving his first piece. As with any original artist, his first piece was an entry point which set him on the road to a higher calling.
Teaching himself the art of chainsaw carvings was an evolution in his craftsmanship and he took up the challenge with gusto.
After a stint in Port Hardy, under the mentorship of master chainsaw carver Terry McKinnon, Unwin wanted to “see what his art could do.” Passing on certain carvers’ secrets and techniques, McKinnon impressed upon Unwin not to join speedy chainsaw competitions, or art shows, but to focus on the magical process of the art itself.
The apprenticeship emboldened Unwin in his vision to transform people through the power of his art. And Sooke, he felt, was a place in dire need of public art and beautification. So he returned with the dream to inspire people in the town thatbeckoned him back with its natural beauty and community spirit.
Unwin’s tools consist of several chainsaws of varying sizes for rough cuts to highly detailed slices. His pieces, which are found all over the world speak of a primal nature that is expressed in bold and nuanced flow.
“You have to be able to draw before you carve. Leaving the face and getting to the general outlines in the front first. Then I move to the side and back of the figure… and lastly I return to the eyes, which is where the deepest expression takes place,” Unwin said.
Looking closely at his carving of Angry Salmon it is easy to see how true this statement is. The two salmon seem to carry a chiselled determination to make their way back upstream to spawn unto death.
His work is a menagerie of wild animals frozen in life-like moments of fluid grace and contemplative stillness. From towering, larger-than-life bears, to majestic eagles and playful otters, Unwin is deeply inspired by the surrounding nature of the island he calls home.
The power of the Northwest Coast totem poles have been a source of inspiration for his art as well, with his style marrying the traditional native craft with the wildness of British Columbia’s animal life.
His hope is to create a monumental piece in the centre of Sooke: a town clock gushing with a ‘frozen’ waterfall and a host of wild creatures to draw attention to the relentless power of art and nature in a kinetic fusion of vision, power and beauty.
“I have an idea and I want to commit to it: to transform people through my art,” Unwin said. His art can be found in Sooke at Maple Ave for Eve Grove sub-division and a carving on the covered bridge at the end of the road, as well as an eagle carving in the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce office.