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New Brunswick artist uses driftwood to bring vision to life


When you step inside Kenneth Allain’s workshop in Neguac, N.B., there isn’t a free wall, shelf or table because every inch is filled with his one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

Focusing on his woodwork, Allain uses driftwood, and now hardwood as well, to bring his visions to life.

“I just started putting the pieces away and letting them dry, and then one day, when I came in and I started working on the piece, it just took over me and it was just one piece after the other,” he said.

He started collecting wood back in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he really sat down and put his skills to the test.

“When I started examining the driftwood pieces on the beach and when I started looking at them, I’m going, ‘My god, is this what I’m going to turn this piece of wood into?’ I could start seeing all my animals, my creatures. They were all there,” he said.

“All I had to do was let them dry and get to work and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

Artist Kenneth Allain of Neguac, N.B. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

While it’s a skill he picked up later in life, it is one that he’s always been around.

“It’s been in my blood because my dad was a wood carver himself. He didn’t pick up driftwood back then, but he made canoes and he made them back starting in the 50s. He made ones in the 1960s and '65,” he said.

“Then he made his last one in 1970, and that last one he made was the first time that he had made one with a native sitting in it with the ore in the boat and everything, and I knew once I started that that’s where my passion came from.”

To this day, a picture of Allain’s dad sits front and centre in his shop, alongside the last canoe he ever made.

He said his dad has always been an inspiration and now those two items help serve as a reminder every time he sits down to create something new.

“He seen stuff in pieces of wood that I see, and if he would be alive today, it would be magical,” he said.

A picture of Kenneth Allain’s dad sits front and centre in his woodworking shop in Neguac, N.B., alongside the last canoe he ever made. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

“He knew one day I was going to fall on that same path that he would have done and it’s an honour for me to.”

According to Allain, he has completed close to 140 pieces in just 13 years, with at least another 1,500 waiting to be carved.

“It thrills me. It’s one of the best feelings that there is when I finish a piece and see what I just created,” he said.

Every piece of wood he uses comes from the ocean, so over the last few years, Allain decided to cover the base with the rocks and shells that were collected in the same place.

While his dad serves as a big inspiration to the overall task, when it comes to individual pieces, Allain said he draws inspiration from one of his favourite movies — Jurassic Park.

“I’m making my own creatures that could have lived back with the dinosaurs or could be living in the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Fish that we’ve never seen yet, that’s what I’m trying to create.”

Artist Kenneth Allain says this is his favourite woodworking piece. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

Each sculpture is made mostly by hand, using a lot of little tools, a lot of sand paper and just a few small electric tools to help grind away the old dirt and sand.

However, since the wood is so fragile once it dries, using bigger tools just isn’t an option.

“There’s pieces (that take) maybe two weeks depending on the size, some of them four, some of them six and longer,” he said.

“I’ve got three or four (pieces) that are going to take me at least a year to finish those three pieces.”

While his talent speaks for itself, it was Allain’s niece who made sure his artwork was shared with a broader audience.

“Last week, she just said to herself, ‘Well, I’m going to sneak into his shop…’ So she came in, took out my pieces that I had on my counter, never told me. She wrote this beautiful message and then when she told me that she contacted (CTV News)… I was floored,” he said.

“I cried like a baby.”

Examples of Kenneth Allain's woodworking pieces. (Alana Pickrell/CTV Atlantic)

Allain said he’s going to make Megan a special piece since she helped give him the push to put his artwork out there and because she just means so much to him.

He spends hours in his shop when inspiration hits and has a lot of exciting projects that he hopes to bring forward in the future.

“I’ll do this now until I can’t move my fingers and I can’t do it no more.”

Click here to see a photo gallery of Kenneth Allain's art.

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