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Immortalizing a community

by Alex Hutchins September 25, 2018
Immortalizing a community

NDG jack of all trades wants to create unique public spaces

“I guess I’m technically a jack of all trades,” said Ralph Olynyk, a local Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) artist, as well as former theatre design and film animation student at Concordia. “Artistically, I dabble in everything,” he said.

I first met Olynyk one morning in August, doodling at the coffee bar in Le Maison Coop Verte on Sherbrooke St. W. We got to talking about artistic expression and muses, then about half an hour later, found ourselves tag-team drawing fusilli pasta on the outside of a bucket. All the while, Olynyk was telling me about one of his latest art projects: carving the faces of dogs into a tree stump in Girouard Park’s off-leash dog zone.

A week ago, I met Olynyk in the off-leash area, next to the stump, to chat more about his project. “Meet my newest customer,” he said, scratching behind the ears of a lovely poodle mix named Annie. Olynyk is looking to immortalize the faces of dogs like Annie who live in NDG on this stump that is approximately 4.9 m in diameter and 2.7 m tall. Why? Simply because he wants to. “I don’t care [to be paid],” he said. “This is not something where I’m in it for the money.”

The stump Olynyk wants to carve is approximately 4.9 m in diameter and 2.7 m tall. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Olynyk explained that he’s been interested in the idea of carving trees for a while. But in regards to carving stumps found in the city’s public spaces, his inspiration came after the microburst thunderstorm that decimated Girouard Park last August. The brief storm left multiple fallen trees throughout the park, “and now, I’m just noticing stumps everywhere,” Olynyk said with a smile.

However, bringing this project from concept into practice is proving to be more difficult than he initially anticipated, for multiple reasons. “It’s been a very eye-opening experience,” Olynyk said. “Like, how does a citizen actually do things?” He spoke about the struggle of trying to navigate the slew of legal permits and legislative restrictions that stand between him and simply enhancing a public area.

Thankfully, Olynyk is in the process of trying to arrange getting the necessary permits with help from affiliates on the board of NDG Arts Week. “The idea would be me fitting under the umbrella of [NDG] Arts Week,” he said. Olynyk also explained that, because he was already planning to begin carving the stump in the spring, “[his] goal would be to have it unveiled in its finality during [that] week.”

On top of navigating legal parameters, the logistical side of carving the dogs’ faces into this particular stump isn’t as simple as it may seem. Olynyk described a rather complicated process that involved pulling off the bark and scanning the stump, creating multiple 3D designs on his computer, followed by some trial and error experiments with 3D printing. All of this is merely preparation for the actual carving of the dog faces come springtime, which will pose its own set of challenges.

“My idea [is] to have it like a spiral,” he said. Olynyk has multiple carving plans that he hopes to create silicone castings of which, he explained, will be used for referencing the dog’s faces when shaping the stump. Last winter, Olynyk made a Facebook group that now has 22 members who have submitted photos of their dogs to be included in the project. But realistically, Olynyk has to wait until he can actually start carving to see what the grain of the stump will allow him to do. “I may follow [the grain] and go, ‘oh there’s a chihuahua here, and there’s a pug here,’” he explained.

Last winter, Olynyk made a Facebook group that now has 22 members who have submitted photos of their dogs to be included in the project. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

The unique idea of carving familiar dog faces has begun to spread from one canine owner to another in NDG. “I was looking for a chisel at the Réno-Dépôt in [NDG], and it was hilarious because I was talking to the worker, and he [was showing] me all the different kinds of chisels,” said Olynyk. “And I started to explain what I needed it for—and it’s carving this tree stump. And [the worker] goes, ‘so you’re the guy!’”

Olynyk said that when he receives comments like that, it does two things for him: it calms him—sort of reassures him that he’s on the right track—and it motivates him. “It gives me that extra, ‘being stoked’ feeling,” he said. Even though Olynyk is still navigating how to get the right permits and figuring out what safety precautions are necessary, he remains optimistic. “Yes, this is a big project,” said Olynyk. “But for some reason, I feel comfortably committed to it.”

Feature image by Alex Hutchins

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