MAY 2018



If you ever notice that the Alberta plates on Brian Widahl’s dark grey GMC Sierra are riding a little low to the road something spectacular is about to happen. Brian is a chainsaw sculptor – a “carver” – and the owner of Widahl Woodcraft in Cochrane, Alberta and when you see a fresh log of White or Black Spruce or Jack Pine or Douglas Fir or Cedar anchored in the bed of his truck it means someone’s vision is becoming a reality. Since a lull in the residential construction industry in Southern Alberta in 2015 Brian, a carpenter by trade, has been busy taking orders for wooden replicas of taxidermied prize fish, custom home décor like nature-themed silhouettes and hanging signs, garden ornaments, gate posts, mail boxes, storefront mascots, and a little guy who only ever says “I am Groot” (ask your kids) among other things. If you’re one of the thousands of proud owners of one of Brian’s hand-sculpted artworks – and his patrons are widespread across North America and Western Europe – you might be surprised to learn that Widahl Woodcraft is a small family-run business. “It’s basically just me and my wife,” Brian explained with a matter-of-fact pride in his voice when he spoke with Spotlight on Business in late April. “I do the carving and my wife’s the real artist behind the scenes. She does all the painting and fine details like trimming. We never overthink a project; we stick to our skillsets and we just create.”

By David MacDonald I t turns out that chainsaws and charity go well together. Just ask Brian. Quite a crowd came out to the Global Pet Foods in Cochrane this February to watch him create a large sculpture. The ticket-only event saw all proceeds go to the Cochrane & Area Humane Society and it “inspired people,” Brian said. “I’m getting out there for these kinds of events more and more. The older you get, the more per- spective you get on life. Everybody has to go through a bit of a selfish stage in life to really figure out what’s important. What’s important for me is putting more value in people and seeking happiness in every interaction. Getting out there and doing demonstrations gives me an opportunity to do just that and I get to help worthy causes. I love when people come up to me and ask questions.” “We never overthink a project; we stick to our skillsets and we just create.” “Just a month or so ago I met a guy who had actually come to a demonstration just to talk to me,” he said. “He was there because a friend of his couldn’t make it. He was so amped to be there for his friend and pick my brain. She’s in her mid-for- ties and for the last 20 years she’s dreamed of carving. She’s watched videos and read books and she just wants to reach out to people involved in the craft, in the art, before she tries it. I gave him my contact info to pass along because it’s something I really believe in. If you have a dream, if you have the mindset and the determination, it’s all possible.” One of the more frequent questions Brian answers is “How do you start?”

would-be carvers is the fact that he carved his very first artwork only three years ago.

“When I was growing up my father built log homes with one of the local builders, Moose Mountain Log Homes, who happen to be one of my strongest suppliers today. They always had carvers – and I admired what those guys could do with raw aggressive tools and come up with this magical, clean-looking piece – but I had never thought to try it myself. When work slowed down inDecember of 2015 it hit me. I saw one of my dad’s old saws that he used to build houses with sitting there so I started carving a bear. It took me a few hours and it wasn’t a nice bear but I was proud of it. The whole three or four-hour experience felt like five minutes. I turned off the world and focused and enjoyed – I just did my thing. I remember a friend of mine came over and said ‘Hey, you tried it!’ like it was something I was bound to do and that stuck with me. The next day I woke up and put that bear aside and I made three more. I’ve had some awesome support from a couple of friends who are just the type who are always hoping you succeed and they took those bears off my hands for a few bucks – that really pushed me right there.” “Initially I gave myself five years to make a realistic piece; I’ve already done that. But I’m always determined to do better and give more of myself to the craft – that’s the goal, to stay persistent. My first piece, the bear, every- thing is straight and square on it. I was just trying to get that rough image. An ongoing goal for me, a big goal for me, is to just work on movement. I want to keep the movement in the piece, make it look natural. It’s really nice when a piece catches your eye and you look at it in Another “push factor” for Brian has been setting goals to develop his craftsmanship.

What makes Brian’s story even more inspirational to



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insignia as a sort of stamp on the beavers. It’s great to interact with people and hear their story. Almost every client that I meet tells me their story because it’s linked to the piece. It becomes another personal relationship. I do a lot of memorial stuff, too, and that hits home for me.” Widahl Woodcraft also offers an extensive selection of non-cus- tom pieces created by Brian and his wife. Most of his catalogue customers, particularly those hailing from overseas, prefer Canadian motifs. “They just love Canada,” Brian explained. “They love everything that depicts culture or nature in Alberta, in Canada. I’ve shipped eagles overseas and I’ve shipped cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and an outpost – just stuff that screams Alberta. You can make anything out of a block of wood.” “But I’m always determined to do better and give more of myself to the craft – that’s the goal, to stay persistent.” As fate would have it, Brian recently met some of his overseas patrons at a conference of the International Log Builders Asso- ciation. “I donated some time on a piece for the conference and I met these phenomenal log builders from Germany who knew my work. They were very excited to take a few pieces back home from their first trip to Canada. Everyone I met at the conference was so knowledgeable and just a great group of people. You never know who you can meet at networking events like these: it could be the best client you’ll ever have or it could be a mentor. I definitely plan on making it an annual trip.” For more information about custom work or national or international orders, please visit woodcraft.

a different way every time like it’s moved.”

Moose Mountain Log Homes has been a lifeline for Widahl Woodcraft in many ways, Brian explained. “The business arrangement I have with those guys is absolutely phenom- enal. They allow me to use their equipment down there to move these massive logs onto my truck. These things are thousands of pounds and I couldn’t do it without them. It’s really tightened my relationship with them even more,” he said. It’s also given Brian an opportunity he never thought possible: to be one of those very carvers he admired as a kid at work with his dad. “If you have a dream, if you have the mindset and the determination, it’s all possible.” “I’m the first phone call for any house carvings with Moose Mountain. They love to give their clients an added personal touch whether it’s a smaller or a larger home. Recently we did amassive theme gate for a home they built for a husband and wife – she’s from Eastern Asia and he’s from Alberta. For their main gate we did two six-foot beavers that look like they’ve chewed off the tops of the gate itself and on the header of the gate there are two 12-foot dragons. The beavers held a lot of meaning for the husband because he’s an engineer himself. We also included the engineer’s

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320 1st West Cochrane | 403.932.3132


Get AIR MILES! ®TM Trademarks ofAIRMILES International TradingB.V.Used under licenseby LoyaltyOne, Co. andGlobalPet FoodsStore Inc.

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Located in Historic Downtown Cochrane!


(403) 703-2964

as spotlighted in the MAY 2018 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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