Chiseling life from stone and bone

Carver takes intuitive approach to his art

There is a train of thought behind exquisite detail in the work of Barnhartvale carver Dennis Cound.

For years, Cound worked as a CP Rail engineer. Driving freight trains between Revelstoke and Field in Yoho National Park - a route that runs through the longest and most treacherous tunnels in the Americas - gave him a front-row seat on wildlife and Rocky Mountain landscapes.

"You'd come out of a nine-mile tunnel wondering if you were going to be able to stop," he recalled of the steep grades.

"The beauty was blinding, it affected me so much."

The wildlife encounters left an indelible impression on Cound, who comes from an artistic family. He'd been an artist all his life - "Every facet of art kind of intrigues me" - but took up carving only eight years ago.

"It all started in Revelstoke, when I saw an artist carving a bear. I thought I might give it a try."

The late Bob Cameron, a soapstone carver in Revelstoke, used to toss his discards down the hill. Cound picked up a piece one day, took it home and started experimenting.

Now, after relocating to Kamloops with his family three years ago, he's rapidly building a reputation across Western Canada as a respected carver. Even First Nations have sought him out for workshop instruction, which he finds flattering. He has smaller carvings for sale at Kamloops Art Gallery's Gallery Store.

At the same time, Cound has branched out into "sheds," or antlers.

At last winter's Federation of Canadian Artists juried show, two of his carvings earned honourable mentions. One of his works that wowed visitors at the Old Courthouse show is called Hummingbird, a moose antler from which hummingbirds seem to spring to life.

Working out of a small shed behind his Barnhartvale home, Cound has developed to the point where he sees images within stone and bone. When a friend offered to sell him a boulder-sized piece of soapstone, Cound's imagination ran wild.

"Every time I'd drive by it, I'd get this image." A woman was emerging from the stone, an image he would have called Chrysalis. "It's eerie. It just looked like a rock, but that's what I saw."

Alas, the stone went elsewhere, but there are plenty of sources out there, whether from suppliers or people at the recent Art in the Park.

"I had a lot of people telling me they have antlers for me."

Cound takes an intuitive approach rather than superimposing designs on his materials. Brazilian soapstone, alabaster and serpentine yield fish, bears and birds in abundance.

"It just kind of pops out at me. It's whatever it wants to be and things just sort of transform."

A walrus in one case started as a bear, then became a bobcat before it became a sea mammal.

He uses Dremel and Fordom rotary tools to work the stone and bone, although most of his soapstone carving is done by hand using only three tools - his grandfather's chisel, a rifler file and a rasp. He finishes the stone pieces, sanding with wet/dry sandpaper seven times, working his way from 80- to 2,000-grit. Then the pieces are "baked" in the kitchen oven before he finishes them with linseed oil or Minwax.

Many of his stone carvings appear to be mounted on bases but are, Cound revealed, rendered from one piece with different tooling and finishing to give the same stone two different looks.

Cound is flattered when people purchase his work, but it's a love of the work itself that keeps him carving. The artistry overtakes him.

"That's one thing any artist can attest to, that they get lost. I get absorbed by it. It's almost like a drug."

Martial art, acting and voice-over are among Cound's other artistic pursuits. He worked as an extra on the film Flicka II, which was shot on the Spiyu7ullucw Ranch. He served as a stand-in for actors Patrick Warburton (Elaine's boyfriend on Seinfeld at one point) and Clint Black. He also provided a couple of carvings for the set.

"Patrick was funny," Cound recalled, launching into an imitation of the actor's baritone voice. Warburton had spied the carvings.

"Yo, Dennis," he said. "Did you actually carve those things? Well, are they for sale?"

The actor happily purchased the piece.

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