O’Regan and Dan Kangas are modern-day harvesters. Conel collects
dead and wind fallen trees from the forest and Dan gathers wood
from beaches and the bottom of lake. Last summer, these two
friends and artistic colleagues spent some time salvaging old barn
lumber and old-fashioned pieces of farm equipment.
combined the found wood with forgotten farm implements from years
gone by to create furniture and sculptures for their upcoming
exhibition at the Chapel Gallery. Like the early ancestors who
first tamed and transformed the forests into farmland, Conel and
Dan’s exhibition is about resourcefulness and imagination.
the Muskoka forest that surrounds his Rocksborough home studio,
Conel uses maple, red oak, beech, ironwood, pine and hemlock as
well as reclaimed barn timber from the area to make his furniture.
With the goal of creating as little waste as possible, Conel cross
cuts and mills logs by freehand to make the table and bench tops
with tree branches becoming legs that are reminiscent of tangled
woodlands. To accentuate the wood knots and scars, colourful
paints are sometimes added.
sparked Conel’s interest in making furniture from salvage wood.
“One day I was splitting firewood and marveled at some of the
beautiful wood grains that were revealed. I saved a few pieces of
wood from the fate of the woodstove and cut some rounds. Around
the same time, I would often hike in the local forests and would
come across deadfall branches on the trail and the idea of using
them as table legs was born,” says Conel whose ancestors came
from Ireland in the 1800s. “The two O’Regan brothers were
coopers. They opened a barrel-making factory in Oshawa and I like
to think I am channeling some of their woodworking skills. I also
work with some of the tools they brought with them when they
the past six years, Conel has been teaching himself how to work
with wood. “Wood is a living thing and it never stops moving,”
Conel explains. “From cracking and warping, it dictates how I am
going to work with it. This is both a challenge and a need to
respect the wood. I like to let it do what it wants as it dries
and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Much of other furniture
making is about conquering the wood at perfect ninety-degree
angles. I like to leave it in its more nature state as I piece it
the brief time Conel has been building his furniture, his work has
developed into pieces that are more intricate. “Trying to level
the first four legged piece I ever made took forever,” admits
Conel who now makes benches and stools with over sixteen twisted
and interlocking legs.
hope to be a wood whisperer by the time I am 80,” says Conel.
“I have learned so much from the people within the Muskoka arts
community. The smartest thing I did upon moving to Muskoka five
years ago was to join Muskoka Arts & Crafts. It has provided
me opportunities to display my work and always provides great
his sculptures, Dan says he “just assembles” his art.
“Mother Nature does most of the work for me,” remarks the
artist who graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design
in 1984 in industrial design. After working for more than 30 years
as an illustrator, about five years ago, Dan turned his artistic
hand to making found object wall and freestanding sculptures. “I
get great inspiration from creating something new from something
old,” says Dan who gathers driftwood and rusty odds and ends and
fits them together, like a puzzle, into something that makes sense
to him such as fish, butterflies, dragonflies, moose antlers and
Dan, his art is all about observing and arranging the raw
materials. “I get great inspiration from creating something new
from something old,” says Dan as door knobs become eyes, saw
blades become jawbones and old roofing becomes tail fins. “I
have a farmer down the road that likes to bring me old stuff from
his farm and he always has some interesting stories about some of
the pieces,” explains Dan. “His great grandfather settled on
the property and his family still runs the farm today so it’s
interesting to be using these historic items that have a great
history behind them.”
any artist, Dan starts with a blank canvas. “I don’t always
know where I’m going, but I just start.” Some of Dan’s
creative ingenuity has been inherited from his family. Dan’s
Finish grandfather could build anything with very few resources.
His father taught his children how to use tool at a young age.
Dan’s mother painted. The family lived on a farm in Prince
Edward County where Dan and his siblings played with all kinds of
old stuff. “The farm was a great memory for me. I remember the
old things that were well built by smart hard-working people and I
have great respect for them. I like to think that I am keeping
part of what they created alive in my art.”
their upcoming exhibition, Dan remarks, “I want visitors to walk
out of the gallery thinking that they have never seen anything
like our art before. What is interesting about this comment is
that most people have seen all our materials before but never
assembled in the way we do it. I hope they take away a memory that
says those two guys basically find all that stuff laying around,
forgotten, ignored and transform it into stunning works of art. I
want them to see something in the art that reminds them of
something from their past, something that they can connect to.”
Salvage Forest & Farm Collective begins on Saturday, September
15 and continues at the Chapel Gallery until October 6.