I'd like to introduce you to my father, Merle Gardner, and his lovely wife Dorothy. This vibrant couple resides in the Canadian town of Chilliwack, BC, located 50 miles east of Vancouver, and just north of the Washington state border. Nestled in the fertile Frasier River Valley, and surrounded by the majestic Canadian Rockies, Merle finds plenty of natural beauty to inspire his creativity, and create he does!
As you can see, my 91 year old father is a very happy guy. He loves sharing his zest for life and considerable talents with others. An accomplished woodworker and carver, Dad's creations encompass a variety of art forms, many of which have their roots in a talent he discovered as a young man when he carved a cameo from the bone handle of a pocket knife! The result is this beautiful necklace pictured here, which he engraved and presented to my mother in 1945. Around this same time, Dad also carved a matching cameo which he mounted in a ring and still wears today. Although the original cameos were carved by Dad over 65 years ago, he recently commemorated this important family event by creating three more cameo necklaces, one for each of the ladies in his life...his second wife Dorothy, my sister Diane, and me! We lucky Gardner girls will always cherish these treasured family pieces created by our loving and talented husband and father!
Dad's first foray into three-dimensional wood carving (approximately 1985) included this amusing collection of Ozark-inspired figurines. (I suspect that the bow-legged dude in the center may have actually been somewhat of a "self-portrait"!) Shortly thereafter Dad began carving themed custom chess sets. If you've been visiting Estes Park for a number of years, you may have seen one of these unique sets displayed in the Church Shops at Hugh and Merry Bechham's Creativity in Wood store. Each set came in a hand-made box with a dove-tailed storage drawer for storing the pieces, and an inlaid wood game board built into the top. They were (and are) beautiful!
When Paul and I first opened the B&B in 2005, we knew we wanted a very special sign to guide our guests to their "Mountain Valley Home" away from home. We needed to look no further than my dad to find the perfect creator of such a sign. He was more than happy to help, and immediately went to work hand carving the two-sided sign with our name and logo in relief on both sides! The project took 5 months to complete, as it was carved entirely by hand using no power tools whatsoever. This prominent piece of artistry remains proudly displayed in front of the Inn today and bids "Welcome" to all our guests.
Dad continues to evolve and embrace new and challenging hand-crafted projects. Some years ago he decided that he'd like to make violins. So he did! The one pictured here is his third, which I managed to procure for our guests to admire and even play if they are so inclined. Pictured are several of our talented violin-playing guests, one of which happened to also be a violin maker himself visiting us from Japan. (Do let us know if you would like to try your hand at coaxing some beautiful music from Dad's equally beautiful violin!). Dad has now finished a fourth violin and even gone back and RE-finished his first!
Merle's artistic abilities are as varied as they are impressive! Growing up I recall him doing leather carvings. Several decades ago (after my mother passed away), Dad took a summer job in Michigan's Huron National Forest as a campground host. To busy himself he decided to try whitling a miniature replica of the nearby life-sized Lumberman's Monument, where he drew crowds of interested tourists asking questions about his work. That summer Dad carved two wooden miniature replicas of the monument, plus another in wax which was used to make bronze castings of the monument. The castings are still being sold at the monument's gift shop today. More recently Dad has also taken up the art of scrimshaw, which involves scratching a design on ivory or bone, and staining the design with ink. If that's not enough, he also designed and built the house in which I grew up!
Looking back it is clear how very influential my dad has been in my life. By example he taught me to go for it, no matter what "it" was (such as becoming an innkeeper)! I am so grateful to him for showing me the way! Thanks Dad.
So, when you arrive for your romantic getaway at Mountain Valley Home, be sure to look for Dad's beautiful sign, as well as his other achievements proudly displayed at the Inn! And watch this space for updates on Dad's newest artistic adventures. He always has something new and wonderful to share with the world!