“I’m working on one right now and I can send you a picture of him,” Faron Young speaks into the phone at his home in Springhill. “It’s a nice one.”
But the woman on the other end of the line has something specific in mind, as a Christmas gift for her husband, so Faron gestures to me to follow him down to the basement.
He leads me past the laundry room and into a larger room with a kitchenette which is covered in small bottles of paint and containers of paint brushes. Alongside this work space is a wide set of shelves covered in brightly-painted carvings.
As Faron continues to converse with the woman on the phone, he plucks several Santas off the shelves and sets them aside.
Although retired from the armed forces where he worked as an aero engine tech (mechanic) for the Buffalo search-and-rescue planes, carving is not a hobby for Faron; he’s been doing most of his adult life.
“When we were stationed in Summerside, in 1986, I started making boats, that was the first thing,” Faron explains once we’ve returned to the living room. “I did boats and clocks then I started doing birds.”
He kept his early carvings, they’re there on a smaller separate shelf, and they include the first duck he carved.
“I keep that because when I go to a show and people say, ‘I can’t make that,’ I say, ‘Yeah, you probably can’t make this but you can make this’,” he tells them and shows them that first duck.
“We have some really ugly handmade ornaments from the early days,” his wife Joyce adds, joining us with tea and fresh blueberry muffins. “When the girls are here [they have two grown daughters], he tells them they can’t put those up but they say ‘Oh, yes, we can’. It’s so much fun to see them.”
Being in the military, the family moved around the country. Their daughters were born in PEI and the family lived in Ontario as well as BC. Faron retired while stationed in Comox and they returned to Belleville, near the Trenton air base where Faron had worked for five years, so that Joyce could return to her job as a high school teacher until her own retirement.
The first Santa Faron ever carved was for Joyce.
“He’s not too bad,” Faron says. “When I was in Ontario, I was doing a lot of ducks and birds and doing a lot of competitions. If you’re in a competition and you’re doing a duck or a bird, everything has to be correct. The wing grouping and the feathers. The judges will actually count the number of feathers in the wing and the number of barbs. So you’re concentrating the whole time. When I started with the Santas, it was just like sitting back and relaxing,” he explains. “If you make a cut, it’s just another wrinkle or hair.”
Faron says his interest in carving came from his grandfathers when he was growing up in Newfoundland. When he was ten, his family moved to a mining town in northeastern Quebec.
And that is how Joyce Weatherbee of Springhill, Nova Scotia, came to meet open-pit miner Faron Young of Schefferville, Quebec.
When Joyce graduated from teachers’ college, there were no jobs in Nova Scotia so she accepted a position with the Eastern Quebec Regional School Board and was posted to Schefferville.
“I actually taught Faron’s brother and sister,” she laughs (Faron is the oldest of six). “It was a small town, half-English and half-French, and everyone hung around with each other.”
In the late seventies, the Quebec government closed down the mines and the town’s population scattered. Faron joined the armed forces at the age of 21 and a year later, Joyce and Faron married. They’ll celebrate 35 years together next June.
Serendipity seems to be the hallmark of their relationship. During a trip to Nova Scotia in 2007 for a daughter’s graduation from Dalhousie University, they were visiting Joyce’s family in Springhill when an opportunity presented itself that Joyce could not ignore.
“Faron wanted to get out of Ontario because of his asthma so we knew we were going to move east,” Joyce says. “We hadn’t planned on Springhill but we saw this house. I lived in the other end of town growing up but my grandparents lived out here and we’d drive by and I always liked this house. One morning, I said, ‘Does anyone want to go for a walk?’ and Faron said yes so we parked the truck uptown and walked around this way and here was a For Sale By Owner sign and the owner in the driveway.”
Eight years along, Faron now has his own workshop next door where his tools and raw materials and shavings can be spread out. Joyce paints the carvings in the basement of the house.
They work year-round but rarely in January and February since they’re worn out by Christmas.
“We get a lot of last minute calls before Christmas,” Joyce says.
After years of carving Santas big and small, one stands out as this couple’s favourite.
“We are probably best known for doing the Stick Santa but I like doing the Cypress Santa,” he says. “The wood comes out of Louisiana, mostly, and it’s a tree root. You carve what you see into it. There’s no pattern. I have the roots set up in my shop and one day, I’ll look up and there’s nothing. Another day I’ll look up and he’s looking right at me. I’ll do a couple little sketch marks on it and he’ll stay. I like doing those.”
Sometimes he simply has to turn a root for the Santa to reveal himself.
“I had one, I had it sketched to be drawn one way and one day when I put it back another way, there was a totally different face looking at me,” Faron says. “The beard was already in there; it wasn’t until I laid it down this way that the head was tilted and here was the beard just flowing naturally.”
Joyce wouldn’t let Faron sell that particular Santa so the carving stands on one of the steps leading up to the living room.
“They are so unique,” she says of the root carvings. “Some of the Santas he does are very similar but those Cypress Santas are unique.”
As Faron said, however, his Stick Santas are the most popular. They are carved out of alder branches, many of which he and Joyce still gather when they are in Newfoundland to visit his family. When someone buys a Stick Santa at a market or festival, Faron tells a story.
“Most of my carvings are European-based and so are my wood spirits. You carve the wood green and as the wood dries and cracks, that’s a spirit coming into your household. It’s supposed to bring you good luck, health and fortune.”
|Joyce holds the very first Santa Faron carved.|