Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One Man's Unique Hobby

I wrote this profile of my neighbour, Ed McQueen, for a piece I was writing while at Sheridan two years ago. I recently uncovered it again and thought I might post it here. Ed's a great guy - still lives a few doors down and keeps up with his odd hobby. I loved interviewing him for this article. Enjoy! :)

           The beady black eyes of the beast seem to peer into one’s soul. Its fangs glisten as it widely grins, sinister and plotting on its long wooden perch, waiting for the perfect soul to steal.

Without warning, the ominous ambiance generated by the gargoyle is broken by the soft chuckle of Edward McQueen, the man who carved the little terror out of a weathered piece of driftwood found floating in a river.

“He’s a creepy little bugger, ain’t he?” asks McQueen as he shyly grins. “One of my Halloween-themed creations. My daughter adores him, but my wife can’t stand the sight of him… he gives her the chills.”

Thankfully, the menacing gargoyle is the only object producing chills in McQueen’s otherwise warm and inviting pale pink workroom. A floral pattern blooms along the walls, and bright yellow curtains edged with lace, hint at a woman’s touch. While the room is rather dainty, McQueen does not appear too out of place wearing faded light blue jeans and a dark green sweater with Canadian geese on it, suspended in flight.

Surrounded by many pictures of family and friends in this modest workroom, McQueen appears as amiable as the room itself. However, one can’t help but notice the only objects that seem out of place in the room – a large bin of wooden walking canes, with the gargoyle fiercely peering out amongst the others.

Since McQueen was a teenager, living with his parents in a small cottage in Bracebridge, Ontario, he has developed quite a strong fascination with wood, and the many objects he has learned to construct from it.

Today, at the ripe age of 46, this fascination continues. One need only take a quick look around McQueen’s house to view an assortment of wooden birdhouses, dolls, train sets, spice racks, and various other knick-knacks that testify to McQueen’s interest in all things wood.

Encircled by such an array of trinkets, it becomes easy to imagine McQueen hunched over his workbench, donning a furry red and white suit and hat, while hastily carving away at his latest wooden toy on Christmas Eve night. A comparable Santa Claus on the small street of Galloway Crescent in Mississauga where he now lives with his wife Mary and teenage daughter Jill, McQueen admits that he enjoys making playthings for his nieces and nephews, along with some other young children on the block.

“When I was young my parents couldn’t afford to buy my brother and I a lot of toys for the holidays,” says McQueen. “My dad would end up making most of our gifts. He would spend many nights hand-carving toy boats and cars for us that we would open as presents. I really admired that about him, and I guess I am trying to be the same type of person for others.”

McQueen’s youngest daughter, 19-year-old Jill, certainly appreciates her dad’s hobby, even if it may seem peculiar at times.

“None of my other friends have a father who hides away in his workroom for hours on end and comes out with odd looking trinkets made out of wood,” says Jill. “It’s cool though, some of the things he comes up with are really interesting and the kids on our street always love receiving free toys around the Christmas holidays. I especially like the walking canes he makes. I know those are his favourite.”

Not only are McQueen’s walking canes his favourite item to carve from wood, but they are also what he’s most well known for within his neighbourhood.

“I met Ed many years ago when he held a garage sale where he was selling some of his wooden canes,” recalls Brian Jones, who lives several houses down from McQueen. “Right away I was impressed by his wood work and I decided to buy a cane for my grandfather who had been searching for one. What struck me about Ed’s canes, though, were the weird figures he carved onto the top of them; some had gargoyles, while others had woodland animals or gnomes. They were really interesting and became a hit with other people in the neighbourhood who wanted one of their own.”

As word of mouth soon spread, the demand for McQueen’s peculiar wooden walking canes increased.

“I would have people I didn’t even know come up to me while I was watering the lawn, asking if my husband could make them one of his canes,” says Mary McQueen. “Ed just couldn’t say no, and over time he began to get quite a long waiting list of people who wanted one.”

It was around this time, with an alleviated demand for his now popular canes, that McQueen conjured up a plan to combine two of his favourite hobbies – woodcarving and skiing.

“I began to charge $10 per cane. With the money I saved from my work, I was soon able to afford a ski trip to Vermont with my family – something I have always wanted to do, but could never really justify spending the money on before,” says McQueen as he proudly grins and retrieves a photo album full of snapshots taken during his ski vacation. “It was a vacation I’ll never forget.”

McQueen attributes both his talent and success with his canes to his ability of seeing normal, everyday objects as creations of art waiting to be imbued with life and personality. While one person may disregard a drab piece of driftwood carelessly floating down stream, McQueen instead discovers a potential walking cane waiting to be retrieved and carved.

This unique way of viewing the world carries on to his woodwork as well. For instance, while people might cringe in fear from the forbidding gargoyles perched atop several of McQueen’s walking canes, he views them in a much more comical light.

“I never intend for them to come off looking mean – but maybe they’re just scowling to scare away any termites,” says McQueen with a large smile on his face. What a great way to think.

- Jennie Nickerson

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