September 15 - October 6

Conel 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.  

They 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.  

From 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.  

Happenstance 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 settled here.”  

For 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 together.”  

Over 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.    

“I 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 support.”  

About 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 leaves.  

For 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.”  

Like 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.”  

About 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.”  

The Salvage Forest & Farm Collective begins on Saturday, September 15 and continues at the Chapel Gallery until October 6.  

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please send an e-mail with your request including your full name and e-mail address.

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