School ties help spruce up Strategic

Chainsaw carver creates new sculpture for Strategic's offices.

PORT McNEILL—Strategic Group owner Jon Lok invited an old school friend to hang out here last weekend.

As a result, Strategic will have a spiffy, six-foot eagle sculpture hanging in its new offices for the foreseeable future.

Jesse Toso, who attended Simon Fraser University with Lok, spent the weekend using chainsaw and sandpaper to turn a Sitka spruce log into a soaring eagle, clutching a fresh-caught salmon in its talons.

“I’m amazed at the way he can look at a log and see the final creation in it,” said Lok. “I look at a log, and I see a log.”

Toso carved and finished the eagle sculpture, from a log donated by Western Forest Products, between Saturday and Monday last week, starting during the annual Port McNeill Logger Sports competition in a vacant lot adjacent to the logger sport grounds.

On Sunday, the carving was moved to Strategic’s warehouse on Cedar Street, where Toso turned to finishing tools and sandpaper to complete the big raptor’s look. The final touch came Monday afternoon, when he torched the wings to turn them black and lacquered the entire carving.

“My style is to get things really smooth, so I do a lot of sanding,” Toso said, running his hand across the sculpture. “In terms of time, it’s probably one-third sawing and two-thirds sanding.”

Toso, who now lives in Vancouver, first took up chainsaw carving nine years ago when he entered the Tranformations on the Shore chainsaw carving competition in his native Campbell River. Despite never having run a chainsaw before, Toso won the amateur division with his depiction of a Phoenix rising from the ashes. He has returned each year to continue competing, and has turned his chainsaw carving into a year-round avocation.

“I learned a lot that first year, and I’ve learned more every year since,” said Toso, who came into chainsaw carving knowing a little something about working with wood, as his ‘day job’ is finishing carpentry and cabinet-making.

Lok, his old university chum, has become a sponsor of Toso, and paid his way to the Carva-Palooza in Highgate, Ont., earlier this year. Lok also invited Toso north to Port McNeill following this year’s Transformations show in Campbell River, with the idea of creating a carving for the new Strategic offices on Broughton Boulevard. That the trip coincided with the logger sports show on Port McNeill’s waterfront was an added bonus for Toso, who had a steady stream of visitors during his first day of carving.

“Quite a few people came by to watch,” said Toso, whose work can be found at stumpartist.com. “I gave out a lot of (business) cards.”

The eagle design proved an interesting choice for Toso, who often drew the raptors and even created one in clay as a young art student in high school. But in his nine years of chainsaw carving, he had never before done an eagle.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do when I came up (to Port McNeill),” Toso said. “I kept looking up, and there were eagles everywhere. It was great, because I’d reach a point in the carving where I’d wonder, ‘how does the wing go?’ And I’d look up and see exactly what I was looking for.”

The finished project was exactly what Lok was looking for to place in the office of his company, a consulting business specializing in natural resource development. It will be hung from wire in the building to greet employees and visitors.

“To see that evolution over a couple of days is incredible,” Lok said with a nod toward the spruce eagle. “I like to think it’s fitting — Jesse can look at the raw material, see a vision and create optimized value from it. That’s how we see our business.”