Steve Van Vugt with one of his salvaged logs made into a bench

Flights of fancy and other wood art

Driftwood artist discovers new life through fire and flame

According to Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird cyclically reborn, by obtaining new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

So it is with Steve Van Vugt.

When a fire destroyed his home on Hornby Island, it destroyed much of what he had created and gathered for his retirement. He had spent 28 years as owner and operator of White Rock Antiques. His antiques and precious objects became ashes, his plans vapourized.

Of course he was devastated, but he soon realized that this might be the opportunity he was seeking — a new life without any of the trappings of the past. In many ways he said he felt he brought this misfortune on himself, so it stands to reason that he turned it around.

“Sometimes, some of us need to let go of something before we can allow something new to enter our lives,” said Van Vugt.

He went from the fine finished woods in antiques to the rough, natural shapes and forms of driftwood. He became Driftwood Steve.

On Hornby he had discovered the wealth of raw material in discarded wood. He became Slab Master where he spent three years cutting table tops up to four feet wide and 12 feet long from logs salvaged from the beach,

“And so began my new pursuit to make a living with what was remaining… my wood,” he said.

He travelled to Germany and began creating temporary sculptures out of sand and snow. He calls himself a conceptual artist.

He now resides part-time in Canada and part-time in Germany. In Germany he found Europeans had a very real appreciation for the cast offs from our logging industry.

Sooke became his Canadian transition from Hornby Island. It is here that he finds some of the most amazing driftwood.

“My love for driftwood — that’s why I live here,” he said. “The driftwood here is spirit wood,” he said. “We have such an abundance here. The waste is beyond me.”

He lives on Whiffin Spit Road on a large property which affords him the space to create his works for Art by Nature.  His bread and butter are the driftwood birds scattered around his property. Call them flights of fancy, because that is exactly what they are. He enjoys making these and never names what type of bird they are.

“I leave it to the imagination,” he said. “Interpretation allows others to see things and only the wood speaks out.” He also said children have been his best teachers.

Scattered around his home are various objects made from reclaimed wood, some sculpted only slightly and some fashioned into organic benches, tables and seats. Outside are eco-friendly Christmas trees made from driftwood. He also has some of his “trees” at the Sooke Harbour House.

He is holding an Art by Nature open house on Dec. 15 from 11 a.m. to about 7 p.m. at 1564 Whiffen Spit Road. He will have hot chocolate, homemade chai and gluk wein available.

And, he says, watch for some surprise temporary art on Whiffin Spit between Christmas and New Years.

For more information: artbynaturesteve@gmail.com or call 250-642-7522 and leave a message for Van Vugt.

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