Joey Fortin is a wizard in his Westholme Wonder Works workshop, creating whimsical and wonderful items from ordinary pieces of reclaimed or recycled wood.
Like Santa’s workshop, Fortin’s been extra busy the last several weeks preparing for the holiday season, making sure there’s a large enough stock to handle the demand from the numerous Christmas markets he’s attended.
Seeing is believing with his art and regulars to the Duncan Farmer’s Market know all about it.
“He is an amazingly talented carver and woodworker with a style I’ve never seen before,” noted friend and Farmer’s Market vendor Shannon Peck.
“Joey can take a wheelbarrow full of wood and turn it into incredible art.”
Fortin, 61, who was born in Duncan and lived in Westholme 27 years, comes by his talents naturally.
“The first thing I used to do is make fairy houses when I was 6-7 years old,” he explained.
“I built boats when I was nine and 10, and I drew a little bit.”
Fortin is actually colourblind so he doesn’t see the complete beauty in his art that the beholder does. That always caused him problems in school art classes.
“I can only see three colours in a rainbow – blue, white and yellow,” he indicated. “I don’t even know if it’s white to be truthful.”
Fortin doesn’t pick up the differences at all when colours are blended.
It’s all a very ironic scenario to his talents and hasn’t hindered him in the least. In fact, Fortin even once worked as a paint salesman in a hardware store, learning how to read people to determine if the colours were right rather than necessarily relying on the exact mix.
“People were wanting to come back to me all the time because I was doing perfect colour combinations for them,” he noted.
Fortin was always carving in his spare time and went into landscaping for a while, as he continually sought an occupation that suited him.
“I need to be stimulated,” he pointed out. “I get really bored.
“Every time I built something, I would do a signature carving – on a barn, a fence or a house.”
Fortin started setting up as a vendor in Chemainus seven years ago during the regular Wednesday markets. A friend wanted him to build a birdhouse and his crafty products soon captured the imagination of people.
“I got asked to make a fairy house, I got commissioned to build a mushroom house,” Fortin explained. “It took off from there.”
Magic wands are even in his repertoire of creations, but not like the Harry Potter type, he said.
“I still make magic wands. It has to come from my heart and spirit.
“There’s always love in the work I do. The desire calls me. (The wands) have to fit very comfortably in your hand. It’s not a stick with a jewel in it.”
Fortin said he gets little hints about what types of birdhouses to make. His teardrop style is especially popular.
Fortin actually started Westholme Wonder Works as a handyman service in 1991 before moving in a different direction, but staying put. He no longer attends the Chemainus market, but has become a mainstay in Duncan Saturdays and Cedar Sundays.
“You become family,” Fortin pointed out. “A lot of these vendors I blend with in other markets.”
He’s also the music director for both markets.
It’s naturally been hectic at markets around the Island leading up to Christmas. Fortin set up during November at the Kris Kringle Craft Fair in Nanaimo, the Winter Fest in Qualicum and a Touch of Salt Spring that’s actually held in Sidney/North Saanich in addition to his regular spots.
His holiday crafts even include mangers. “A lot of my stuff works really well for nativity,” Fortin pointed out.
And then there’s the Christmas trees in the style of Tim Burton or Dr. Seuss depending on your point of view. “I love animation,” he said.
With that, like Santa, Fortin goes back to his workshop to carve out some more holiday magic.