For this month, the Winnipeg River Arts Council features wood carver, Cliff Zarecki, who grew up in the Lee River area on his parents’ homestead and went to school in Lac du Bonnet.
Before the cottagers got there, the Lee River was a much quieter wilderness. Spending time close to nature made Zarecki passionate about it. When he was younger, he did a lot of hunting, gathering, and fishing, but soon grew more interested in creating birds and animals through wood carving. He uses basswood, a local wood, but also works with harder-to-find woods such as walnut, butternut, and a southern USA swamp wood called Tupelo.
During a caribou hunting trip in Northern Manitoba, his friend, Ron Jackson, got him started. “Ron gave classes which I took for years and enjoyed. He also encouraged everyone to enter the Prairie Canada Carvers competition held every spring in Winnipeg,” Zarecki said.
At these lessons, Zarecki met world class carvers. One of them, Larry Vanderhyde, agreed to mentor him. Later, he took courses from many elite carvers throughout Canada and the United States. For several years, he has instructed six young people in Lac du Bonnet. He tells them he won’t charge for materials but they must promise to enter the kids’ competition at the Prairie Canada event. He said, “Several have won prizes. I sponsor the kids’ section. They can win $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third so I joke that I pay the kids to take my class.”
As well as Prairie Canada, Zarecki has entered the Eastman Judged Art Exhibits and the Southwestern Florida Woodcarving competitions, which has more than 600 entries. In both Winnipeg and Florida, he has won “Best of Show” awards at novice, intermediate and advanced levels. Presently, he competes in the masters’ group, and has won several “Best of Division” awards. But “Best of Show” in this category still eludes him.
Before retirement, he worked as an engineer. He got interested in art because he thinks it is so much harder to learn. Although he still enjoys wildlife photography, he finds he doesn’t have enough time to get really good, so he focuses on his carving.
“Making high quality work requires hard work and patience, and it sometimes drives my spouse nuts when I spend too much time on a project. The problem is – I’m totally hooked! To be successful one needs to focus on minute details, right from the initial planning stage.”