Carving ‘from the soul’
Clyde Drew’s intricate work has developed a world-wide following
Clyde Drew credits his Conne River roots for the inspiration behind many of his sought-after carvings.
Created mainly from moose antler and wood, his pieces can be found in private collections and are showcased in galleries and exhibitions throughout the world.
Drew is a proud Mi’kmaq carver who moved from Conne River to St. Alban’s –also in Bay d’Espoir – at age 12.
He chose his first piece of wood in the early 1970s.
“I used a chainsaw and chisel back then,” he said of his first carving tools.
A couple of years later, Drew switched to antler carvings.
“Most of my artwork is Mi’kmaq-influenced. And I started getting into wildlife a couple of years back,” he said.
Eagles, moose, wolves, fish, fishermen and other people have made their way into Drew’s carvings.
While he sometimes draws images before he starts, most of the time Drew said, he “carves from the soul.”
“I take the wood or antler into my hands and I size it up until I see something. If it’s an aboriginal, I start by carving the nose on its face. Once I do the face first, I’ll revolve everything around that... it could be eagles or bears but that all comes afterwards,” the 66-year-old said.
Asked if he has a favourite carving, Drew said one he found hard to sell was of an Indigenous woman giving a bear a feather as a sign of peace.
Drew has taken his work to craft shows as far away as Arizona, England and Norway.
“I’ve learned a lot and some of the biggest carvers in the world, their work was there,” he said of some exhibitions.
When it comes to getting antlers for carvings, Drew often relies on the barter system.
“I’ll carve them something with one and they’ll give me the other antler,” he said.
While he enjoys working with moose antler and wood, Drew has also used whalebone for his carvings. He has made a living at it for the past 28 years – Drew’s Carvings – and continues to be contacted by those who know his work and have their own requests.
A man contacted him recently, he said, asking if he could carve a helicopter.
“I’m going to do that,” he said, always ready to take on a new challenge.
Drew’s carvings have been bought by well known people including singer Anne Murray and late businessman Craig Dobbin. The time it takes to complete a carving varies, he said. While he doesn’t keep track of his hours, it could be days or even weeks, depending on the carving.
On May 28, 2017, the Mealy Mountain Gallery (www. mealymountaingallery.com) noted the beauty and powerful imagery of Drew’s work comes from the songs and stories of his people which he learned from childhood in his home town of Conne River.
“Clyde creates a three-dimensional world of spirits and natural forms that have captivated both Canadian and international collectors. The intricate detail in his carvings is absolutely amazing,” the website noted.
Some of Drew’s work is exhibited at the Art of Man Gallery in Victoria, B.C., the website continued.
“The gallery, located in the historic Empress Hotel, carries one of North America’s most extensive displays of Canada’s finest native art,” the website. Memories of Conne River Drew has carved many realistic-looking animals, including fish and dogs.
Sharing memories of his boyhood in Conne River, he recalled fishing off the point, close to where his family lived.
Dogs have also found their place in Drew’s carvings.
He has a fond memory of his own beloved dog, King, left behind when his family, initially, moved off the reserve.
“The dog stayed on the bank looking out at the water, waiting for our return. We came back in two weeks and he was still on the bank waiting. We brought him home with us. That’s one thing I will never forget.”
In a Facebook page dated March 21, 2018 about Drew’s work, the Newfoundland Weavery described him as a “master self-taught carver,
whose work sells internationally and are on display in galleries across Canada.”
“Clyde captures the Mi’kmaq culture, history and tradition in his hauntingly beautiful carvings,” the page noted.
Contacted by phone about Drew’s work, Newfoundland Weavery manager Patty Godden said his carvings have been a fixture in the store since long before she joined the staff, about two decades ago.
Those who already have his carvings in their collections often call the store to find out what new pieces they have from him, Godden said.
“We have tourists here from all over the world... they walk around our store and they see Clyde’s carvings and they can’t believe how intricate his work is. You’ve got hands and faces and animals, they are all just so beautiful,” she said.
When he’s not busy in his workshop, Drew gives back to his community by sharing his talent as a songwriter and musician, often supporting fundraisers for various causes.
He’s also battled some serious health issues over the years, he said, including open-heart surgery and throat cancer.
Drew has some advice for anyone interested in taking up carving.
Carve from the soul, he said, and attend craft shows to learn from other carvers.
“Just remember there is always someone out there that’s better than you. The key is to learn from them not to steal their ideas. It will make you a better carver. It did for me.”
Looking back on his nearly three decades of experience as a carver, Drew said, while it is hard getting started, the key to success is to never give up.
“It will come, down the road, it will pay off in the end, if you stay at it long enough,” he said.
For more information on Drew’s work visit Clyde Drew on Facebook.
I take the wood or antler into my hands and I size it up until I see something. If it’s an aboriginal, I start by carving the nose on its face. Once I do the face first, I’ll revolve everything around that... it could be eagles or bears but that all comes afterwards.”
According to Clyde Drew, learning from others, will help make you a better carver and the key to success is to never give up.
One of the pieces Clyde Drew found most difficult to sell, because it meant so much, was of an Indigenous woman giving a bear a feather as a sign of peace.