A mysterious carving pops up along Highway 14
Local carver Ryan Cook is behind this art piece, and more
Ryan Cook, an Island local and well-known carver, is the artist behind the new carving residents have been spotting while driving along Highway 14 past Sooke and towards Shirley. Cook was staying in Shirley when he was inspired by this eight-foot stump off Highway 14.
He took a gamble, double-checked with his wife, and then decided to grab his tools out of his trunk and transform the stump into a piece of art.
“It was almost on top of a cliff and very dangerous, my chain broke and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, but I just kept going because it just felt like it was gonna be something,” says Cook. “There's something that drove me to it and I just think it was very fun, exhilarating and the response has been amazing.”
While Cook loves the artistry in wood-work, it’s the thrill of it all that drives his passion. The carving along Highway 14 was Cook’s second “impulsive-project” with his first in Squamish where he is based.
“I always drive by [this dead stump], and it just was a beautiful cedar, and I drove past it for years until I finally made the decision that I was going to carve it,” says Cook. “I envisioned this big face in it because it was a broken tree and had an open face, and I just thought to myself ‘I'm gonna make something of this whether I get in trouble or not’ because that is always the risk.”
Cook quickly went to work, but not without consequence. Despite the beautiful piece, the carver didn’t ask permission which prompted a disagreement between him and the city.
“The ministry showed up and she was ready to ticket me,” says Cook. “She then found out I was on Indigenous land and it was a little scary at first, but luckily, you know, I grew up in the Squamish nation playing sports and I made a few calls to the First Nation’s group in the area and they actually blessed the carving.”
“They explained to me something that changed carving in me forever, which was that if a tree is dead and you breathe onto the tree, you breathe life back into the tree,” continued Cook. “That resonated so deeply that they taught me how to say it in their language.”
Where the carving journey began
Cook got his start in carving in an untraditional way. He auditioned for a TV show called Saw Dogs which aired in 2012—despite never having touched carving tools in his life. The reality show was looking for an apprentice, and Cook decided to sign-up. The newcomer became a much hated character quickly; with a stacked-cast of expert artists, Cook’s lack of knowledge put him at a disadvantage.
“I was the bumbling fool and had no idea what carving was, but by the end of the show, I kind of fell in love with what these guys were doing,” says Cook. “It was like a master class in carving; there were 19 of the best carvers in the world at that time, and I got to learn from them.”
Despite the backlash, and the show’s cancellation, the new carver decided to continue his journey.
“Chris Boltzee, a buddy on the show who was my mentor and now one of my best friends, he said ‘stick with it’ and he always said I would be the face of chainsaw carving, we need you; I always thought that was such a narcissistic or an inappropriate way to say things about carving,” jokes Cook. “So three years later, I carved and carved and then I went to a competition in Campbell River and everything changed.”
Winning first, the accomplished artist would go on to be invited across the world to star in more shows, competitions, and events. Cook was a lead player in the show Carver Kings in 2015, and most recently A Cut Above in 2022. The wood-worker has a company he named Saw Valley Carving—despite being known as the ‘Carving BC guy’ for a while, the artist has settled on the name Ryan Cook Carvin.
Now with two impulsive roadside carvings under his belt, Islanders have caught wind of Cook’s sculptures, and he is now completely booked with other projects and partnerships.
“I have a great job and I make a great living and it's a cool way of life that is not your everyday thing,” says Cook. “I always say to kids that as you grow, art is everywhere and life is not just what you have to do in school–it's anything you want it to be as long as you work hard for it.”