The art of transforming 'a chunk of wood' into a duck

In 1987, The National introduced viewers to the wood carving work of Jim Harkness of Stayner, Ont.

The National introduced viewers to the much-in-demand wood carvings of Jim Harkness in 1987

Jim Harkness and his sculptures

37 years ago
Duration 3:03
In April 1987, The National's Dan Bjarnason profiled the work of Jim Harkness of Stayner, Ont.

Knowlton Nash was talking to everybody at home who wasn't especially handy — or at least, that's what his choice of words would suggest.

"When most of us see a chunk of wood, we see, well, a chunk of wood," Nash told viewers on The National, as he introduced a piece on an Ontario woodcarver in April of 1987. 

"But [reporter] Dan Bjarnason found a man who sees a lot more than that. He found a man who sees the beginning of a work of art."

It was up to Bjarnason to introduce viewers to Jim Harkness, the man who took ordinary "slabs of wood" and turned them into "pieces of enchantment."

Two wood carvings of ducks and a carving of a cat
In 1987, The National showed viewers some examples of the intricate wood carvings designed by Jim Harkness of Stayner, Ont. (The National/CBC Archives)

On a farm in Stayner, Ont., Harkness and a small group of his employees made Canada geese, ducks and all sorts of other birds, as well as cats, out of wood.

And those animals found homes in places around the world, yet Harkness said he was not trying to build a fortune from the demand for these handicrafts — despite selling 90,000 over the previous 10 years.

"I'm not a particularly good businessman, though, because I'm not that interested in money," said Harkness, when talking to The National about his work.

At that point, Harkness said most of the money that came in went into the pockets of his employees, who Bjarnason said were paid "more than double" the minimum wage.

"I get mainly satisfaction out of it," Harkness said.

Man in plaid shirt
Jim Harkness told The National in 1987 that he wasn't very interested in money, despite the money that could be generated by the demand for his wood carvings. (The National/CBC Archives)

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