iN Focus: Meet the Kamloops carver who brings out the mysterious faces of trees - InfoNews

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iN Focus: Meet the Kamloops carver who brings out the mysterious faces of trees

Kelly Taylor has been carving for 18 years and has taken to the trees on the streets to share his work.
July 06, 2020 - 5:30 AM

Last week, published a story about some faces that look over passersby from a tree in Riverside Park.

Mellissa Hubbard noticed them while visiting the park with her twin daughters, and felt a strong connection to the carved faces - because they looked exactly like the ones her father makes. She had wondered about who carved them, and why.

That person is Kelly Taylor.

“I carved all the faces in that tree. Someone else tried to carve a face in the tree, it looks like a Walmart version of my faces, but I carved five faces in those trees,” Taylor says. “The tree has grown quite a bit since I carved them.”

Hubbard isn’t the only one who felt a paternal connection to the carvings, as it was a trade that was passed down to Taylor from his own father.

“Each piece that I have is numbered, and I still have my number one piece hanging on my wall at home. My dad made it to almost 6,000 pieces before he passed away. I’m up to about 4,400 pieces now,” Taylor says.

Taylor began carving in 2002, a few years after his dad began. The two would spend time together learning new techniques, creating new features and expressions, and experimented with carving lighthouses, castle towers, fairy cottages and more.

“With the two of us, it really helped us develop. I’d come up with a new type of eye and I’d show my dad and he’d take that and modify it,” Taylor says. “When I started, most of my faces looked angry but I’m working on making them look happier, more interested. My style has changed a lot over the years.”

Taylor can look back at his progress simply by visiting the tree in Riverside Park and looking up. His first piece on that tree was two faces side by side which he carved 12 years ago.

“The first ones were mostly for something to do,” Taylor says. “Then eventually it became I was going to do one a year, but I didn’t get that far. My health has been bad, I’ve been battling cancer for the last two years. So the last one I did was that lowest one on the tree.”

This is one of the faces carved into a cottonwood tree in Kamloops. This tree can be found in Riverside Park by the Japanese gardens.
This is one of the faces carved into a cottonwood tree in Kamloops. This tree can be found in Riverside Park by the Japanese gardens.

Two years ago, Taylor was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

“I had a tumour as large as the palm of my hand growing behind my nose,” Taylor says. “For eight months they kept putting me off because they thought I was looking for drugs. One day, I was coming back from the farmers’ market at Sun Peaks and everything went into double vision… as soon as I said I had double vision, they let me see a neurologist.”

Taylor immediately was off work and underwent surgery and treatment. He went from being able to carve two faces per day to struggling to finish one in two days. Despite the difficulties, he continued working the wood and says he’ll continue for as long as he can.

“I may be all right, but I don’t know. You know how people have a five-year plan or a three-year plan? I’m on a six-month plan for the rest of my life. Every six months I go in for another MRI.”

Despite the situation, Taylor sets up shop at the Kamloops Farmers’ Market every week where he sells carvings made by him and his father.

He made the carvings in the tree as a way to give back and create a little magic. If you want to check out some of Taylor’s carvings in living trees, you can wander around the North Shore or Pine Park and look for cottonwood trees. Taylor says there aren’t many of the trees in Kamloops as the City has cut many down since they often have branches fall off, but they’re perfect for carving.

“There was one on Shubert Drive but the city cut it down because it wasn’t very good, but somebody told me that they had seen a city worker cutting my face out of the tree when they cut the tree down,” Taylor says. “That’s all I carve on, cottonwood. The bark is thick enough that I can carve just in the bark, I don’t have to go in the tree and make it bleed, so to speak… it doesn’t harm the tree.”

Taylor says there’s a tree with carvings along the Rivers Trail by the Royal Avenue entrance and another near the beginning of the path at Pine Park. The one in Pine Park nearly cost him $500, but luckily the ranger who showed up to ticket him liked the artwork.

“It was so quiet. I’m sitting there in the ladder, I don’t use power tools so I could hear the field mice running through the grass, there’d be bugs crawling across my hands… I kind of felt like that scene from Snow White where she’s got all the birds floating around her, but there was no dress involved. It was so serene, but someone reported to the park that somebody was vandalizing the trees, so the park ranger came out looking for me, found me and told me he would charge me $500 if he caught me carving in his trees again, and then asked me where he could buy one.”

You can buy your own carvings by visiting Taylor’s stand More Bark Than Bite at the Kamloops Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. or by visiting his Facebook page.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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