Sitting in a log structure, originally constructed in the 1940s as a boat house, Gus Galbraith overlooks a section of the Cowichan River and listens to the water lap the pilings below while he carves, by hand, a soap stone bird.
He says he is not quite sure what kind of bird it will be yet, but the basic shape is starting to manifest under experienced hands which have been carving and sculpting as a full time hobby for the past 35 years.
His studio is lined with work benches and workspace covered on one side with chunks of stone and on the other with tools. He uses mostly chisels and rasps and other sanding tools to shape his creations.
Galbraith lost his leg in Scotland playing professional hockey when he was a young man.
“I stayed over there and finished my education,” he says. “I got on a student exchange and went over to Paris to go the Sorbonne, just for experience, and I went to the Louvre and it just blew me away, the sculpture especially. I had been sort of interested in painting. My first wife and her mom painted a lot so I was exposed to that part but two dimensional just didn’t turn me on, but three dimensional did.”
Galbraith has dabbled in both wood carving and clay sculpture, but he always finds himself being drawn back to the stone.
Galbraith’s wife, Sonia, carves in stone as well, but she says she uses harder stone such as alabaster, marble, and kissi stone.
“I use grinding tools mostly,” she says. “And I do finishing with rasps and other things, but I don’t have the strength in my arms for chiseling. And I have tendonitis (and) carpel tunnel in my arms so I can’t do that sort of thing. So I learned how to use power tools.”
Sonia’s studio is an open, covered structure just feet away from her husband’s, nestled in the trees on the side of the path. Her inspiration comes from human anatomy. Sitting on her work bench is an alabaster woman kneeling down, her spine a long graceful line, and the shapes of her hips and shoulders just starting to emerge.
The couple’s property, just over six acres in Lake Cowichan, is home to many of Gus’s works from over the years: eagles carved out of wood, cement sculptures of frogs and herons, and even a totem pole with a raven perched on top and snakes and frogs winding up around the base.
The house too, is full of works by both of the Galbraiths. Sonia holds up a moth carved out of South African argillite which she carved on a camping trip. Taking chunks of stone on camping trips has become one of the couple’s past times, however they also have been known to collect clay and find inspirational pieces of driftwood to shape as they sit around the campfire at night.
Neither of these artists is in the arts for the money.
“It’s a good thing we both worked and got a pension,” says Sonia.
She says that neither of them have the heart or the drive for marketing, though they do have some of their pieces on display at Imagine That in Duncan, as well as at the gallery at the Chemainus Theatre.
“Angus’s first wife had a wonderful talent for marketing,” explains Sonia. “She did a lot of marketing, and he sold all over the place.” At the time Gus’s work sold in California and Arizona.
Since then, Gus has given workshops to local high school students, and both artists donate regularly to local fundraising events and causes.
“We’ve always done it for the love of doing it,” says Gus. “But it is nice if we can pay for the stone.”
The Galbraith’s works range in price from $400-$2,000. If you would like to see examples of what they do, Gus’s website is gusgalbraith-sculptor.com, and Sonia’s website can be found at members.shaw.ca/sonia-gal.