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Teaching the art of intarsia

Decker Colony teacher shares woodworking passion with this mosaic wood art

Elias Wipf, a member of the Decker Colony and teacher at the school, has always been fascinated by the natural appearance of wood. This led him to the perfect hands-on craft — intarsia wood art — a mosaic of different types of lumber.

“All of the different pieces of wood have their natural colours and no stain or paint is applied,” Wipf said. He has shared his artistic talents as a teacher at the Decker Colony School for 22 years.

Intarsia is the making of decorative and pictorial mosaics by laying precious, exotic woods onto groundwork of solid wood. Works like these are seen in the histories of Ancient Egypt, Rome, Persia, Japan, Germany and Italy. It is an artwork that has almost been forgotten, although now it’s gradually coming back with artists doing work on a large- or small-scale basis.

Wood pieces of the creation are separately, delicately and carefully cut, then shaped and sanded. The shaped pieces are then assembled into a beautiful mosaic, fixed onto a solid back, finished with a semi-lustre varnish, and displayed.

“Every piece of intarsia has unique features and every piece is special to me,” said Wipf. “Once it has reached its final stage, it’s just an awesome reward, and I take great pleasure in sharing a number of rewards with those interested on and off the colony.”

Sharing his expertise for this type of artwork now includes five high school students from the Oak River Colony, which is part of the Rolling River School Division, along with a group of students from the Decker Colony, which is among communities within the Park West School Division.

While Wipf may sell some of the intarsia pieces to people who directly approach him or to those who see the work done at the local level such as in his classroom, it’s not all about the money.

“I cherish giving such projects as gifts to loved ones or elderly people who would otherwise never have a chance of having such unique work of their own,” said Wipf. “In reality, paying for the wood and the time that goes into the making of this type of art is priceless. Unless one has created, people don’t truly understand the hours it takes to bring forth a creation.”

Wipf’s teachings go beyond intarsia, as students also gain in-depth instruction in such arts and crafts as basket and wheat weaving, pottery and wood burning.

“At the end of the school year, usually the second-last day, a celebration of learning is staged where students display work they produced over the year,” Wipf said. “Everyone is invited to come to this classroom celebration, a wonderful display of art brought forth by a unique group of creative minds and hands.”

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