A craft of necessity – Upcycled wood artist’s pieces stand test of time

Michelle Maule at home in one of her custom made rocking chairs. Photo SPIN.

When you drive past Michelle Maule’s Whitecroft home you would never know that just down the driveway is a fairytale-like oasis.

Handmade mobiles and tribal masks hang over plush benches covered in sheepskin and strewn with colourful pillows. Felt appliques line the walls and handwoven baskets hang in a line from the ceiling.

It’s cool out of the summer heat and it gives Maule and me a place to sit and talk about her artwork that surrounds us.

She hasn’t always been a creator; she studied political science and english at Upper Cariboo College (now Thompson Rivers University) in Kamloops and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. But she moved back to Whitecroft to ski Tod Mountain and open a bed and breakfast.

Short on cash, through trial and error she taught herself to make furniture needed for the B & B. Beds, tables, bars, chairs and more were carved out of timber from an old bridge in Pritchard, B.C.

She learned hospitality wasn’t for her.

Maule’s home oasis where she creates her artwork. Photo SPIN.

“I don’t really like housekeeping and making beds and cooking,” Maule said.

But guests passing through fell in love with her work, asking to buy pieces from the home and submitting requests for custom work.

Now, nearly 30 years later, she has outfitted entire homes at Sun Peaks, created unique pieces for local businesses and sent her work north to Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing’s lodge in Blue River, B.C.

“I had no idea (it would come this far),” Maule said. “I just started making furniture because I couldn’t afford to buy it and I had all this wood.”

The pieces have character. Maule has to dry, grind, cut, sand and oil the wood, often a few times, to make her imagination come to life.

“Every piece of wood is an individual and it tells you what to do with it,” she said.

Felt appliques are another self-taught craft of Maule’s. Photo SPIN.

Custom rocking chairs are one of her favourites, she said. They can mix up to seven types of wood to create a piece unique to the person who will use it. Maule also likes to incorporate antlers and bone and use marbles to fill small holes. It adds even more character to the work. Mutations or burls on the tree are crafted into large bowls.

Woodworking is her summer project, and when I visited it was clear she was in full swing with projects scattered around her large yard.

But when the days are cooler and shorter she heads inside to weave baskets, create felt appliques and write short stories.

It’s another case of teaching herself a craft.

“My mother told me a long time ago you can learn how to do anything if you know how
to read.”

Handmade pine needle baskets feature antlers and bone. Photo SPIN.

Her baskets are woven from long ponderosa pine needles and feature antler and bone handles. The appliques are detailed and colourful featuring loons, herons and bears.

One that portrays Sun Peaks features flowers planted under the Burfield chairlift from the phantom gardener, the famous red fox and the family of bears who are the namesake of Three Bears run on Sundance Mountain.

Her newest project is a book of short stories, inspired by creative writing classes, which a friend wants to publish.

She isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, she said. Throughout the winter she can still be found racing in the Friday Race Series with her daughter and she spends six months of the year travelling the world.

“I still think I have a lot of energy and it’s nice to be able to work from home.”

Maule can be contacted at [email protected]

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