Artist Werner Streicek of Harrison Hot Springs stood a few feet below the 9-foot height of his towering, multi-faceted Thanksgiving stone statue, admiring his many hours of handiwork and running a work-worn hand over the smooth black surface.
“You go up there and you hold your two hands on here,” the Austria-born sculptor said, putting his hands on that of the carved woman’s. “and thank the Mother for a pleasant journey, and then if you have any wishes, you go around in a circle and go to the raven.”
He moved to the other side of the sculpture, where a raven’s face emerged from the the back of the woman’s head. “And you ask the raven to take your message to the Great Spirit. In [First Nations] culture, if you wanted to take a message to the Great Spirit, you ask the raven to take it there.”
“Some people’s hair stands up when they touch it,” he added. “Maybe that’s why I can live to be 100 because I had a lot of dust from that stone!”
Her back was draped in smooth, black feathers. There was also a frog at her feet in the back and an eagle at the front with the face of a child near her waist.
“The frog represents the water energy,” Streicek added. “It would look super set up on the beach!”
Streicek is hoping to have some of his pieces to be considered for the upcoming art walk in Harrison Hot Spring’s near future. Plans at this point are still rather preliminary as the village council only recently voted to acquire public art in hopes of creating yet another tourist attraction. The village previously allocated approximately $200,000 for art acquisition for this project.
“I’m ready to part with [some of my work] and show it off,” he said. “I don’t want it hidden away in some rich person’s backyard. I want people to enjoy it.”
Streicek has more than 200 carvings to his name, many of which are decorative and made of stone, wood or a combination of both. While decorative sculptures dominate his modest, open-air workspace, he has also worked on everything from fire braziers to furniture to musical instruments.
Streicek’s multi-cultural approach likely stems from his travels all over the world as a 17-year-old Merchant Marine, journeying down the St. Lawrence River to the United Kingdom, Portugal, West Africa, Madagascar, Chile, and beyond. His adventures in mining for gold and precious gems brought him to Australia and all across Canada. He considers himself semi-retired and is a father to six daughters and grandchildren.
His art ranges from deeply symbolic of his love for other cultures and general zest for life and adventure to whimsical wordplay taken form.
Arguably his most famous work is Big Woody, an “anatomically correct” Sasquatch seated with his arm outstretched to welcome visitors to the village.
“I had a write-up in [a bigger newspaper] that the old ladies shouldn’t go and see it;it’s obscene,” he recalled, laughing. “Of course, all the old ladies wanted to go and see it!”
He has also done work for Brett Wilson of Dragon’s Den fame, carving a 5-foot dragon for him.
He said he got into carving based on his love for whittling as a little boy.
“We would build steam engines and electric motors, scale model houses,” Streicek said. “Usually on the weekends we had a hobby afternoon. We’d make plans and then put it together. It gives you a lot of confidence when you do that. It served me well later on in life.”
He enjoys the challenge carving – particularly stone carving – continues to provide for him.
“It takes patience, yeah?” Streicek added.
His art career now spans more than 25 years, taking off after a workplace accident severely injured his leg, making so he couldn’t continue his career as a stonemason.
“I always said God said ‘Werner, you’re running too fast, I’m going to slow you down,’ so He took one of my legs,” Streicek said, laughing it off.
Despite his life moving off-course after the accident, Streicek doesn’t seem to have lost his stride.
“Life has been an incredible journey,” he said.