The carver's way

November 2016

When Confederation College was removing the stumps of old spruce trees from their grounds the head of security contacted Stuart Mooney, who knew that Mooney could give the stump a new ‘life’-as art. He told Mooney that if he could load the stumps on his trailer he could take it away. Problem was – this stump was about 13 feet long and weighed 400 pounds! But Mooney saw the potential and hauled the stump to his property where five years and 500 hours of carving later, “Jazzmin” emerged.

For Stuart Mooney, who works with the Ministry of Health And Long Term Care’s Emergency Health Services, carving is comfort. Out in his workshop he can manage the demand of career and day to day stress by what he calls “free-style carving”. “I like carving with no rules. Working on a dragon-like creation like Jazzmin, is very freeing,” says Mooney. “If you carve a blue heron or a horse, the finished product is supposed to look like a blue heron or a horse, but with a mythical character such as a dragon, the finished vision is in the eye of the artist.”

When Mooney started carving Jazzmin he didn’t pull an image of the finished product out of the wood like some carvers do. Instead he worked with the roots and continually adapted his vision based on the character of the wood, including the knots, and the position of the roots in the stump. As an accomplished carver, he started with Jazzmin’s head, using the lead roots then created a spine to shape the body. Just like the human body, a spine holds the pieces together and in Mooney’s words the carving design for Jazzmin flowed “from the spine down.” After first using a chain saw, the finer work for Jazzmin was roughed out with a Galahad saw, a 5-inch disc that Mooney used to shape out the overall form. When working with his vision, Mooney realized that Jazzmin would be missing wood for one foot so he instead carved a lead wing in the place where a foot would be. He was able to add the second wing to the back of the carving because, as he said, “thankfully I hadn’t cut off that limb and I was able to carve it into Jazzmin’s second wing.”

The detail on Jazzmin’s body is remarkable. The 2,000 scales on her body create a suit of armor. This blanket of scales are shaped to fall over each other and are undercut to create texture and to accept the wood stain in a uniform manner. Even though the process of carving these scales was repetitive, Mooney enjoyed the process. He compared it to playing a game of golf where you’re chasing a white ball around a course. The process of carving the scales was both meditative and therapeutic. When the scales were completed and it was time to move onto another part of the carving, Mooney admitted that he was a little sad to be finished that part of the process. Using human musculature for the body, Mooney wanted to make the “hands” cool. He created knobby hands similar to the feet on an iguana. For claws, he used shed deer antlers and slid them into slots on the wooden toes.

Even when carving a mythical character, Mooney says, “if you screw up the eyes, it will never look right.” Jazzmin’s green eyes stand out from the caramel background. Just as a painter signs his name to a masterpiece when completed, Mooney carves S. Mooney somewhere into the piece. In Jazzmin’s case, he carved her name into the work as well. She lives at his property in Kaministiquia but may someday move to another location. In the meantime, Mooney has done many smaller projects that have homes throughout the district. One such project is located on Paquette Road in Thunder Bay. The former owner was an older gentleman with a dying poplar tree in his front yard. After the tree was cut down, Mooney went to work and carved a mother bear and baby bear in the tree stump. The owner was very proud to display that carving. Although the house has a new owner, the Mooney carving is still in the front yard for all to appreciate. Mooney takes photos of the journey the wood takes from stump to finished product and for many who marvel at the process, this photo journey is as important as the finished piece.

Mooney is very proud of his work. He says, “People tend to look at the final product and see artwork – to me the final product isn’t the art. The process from conception to realization is far more complex, exciting and rewarding then the finished piece.” He enjoys seeing his work come to life in front of him. “An artist puts much of himself/herself in their artwork. The process is exciting to me, I find it a huge relief from the complications of work and the pressures of the world. It’s simplicity, I know the image I want to create, I see it in the wood, it just takes time and patience to pull it out.”
He hopes to branch out into rock carving some day. He just has to figure out how to get those 1,000-pound granite chunks to his yard! If only he could harness the hidden power of that dragon to make it happen!

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at

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