CARRY THE KETTLE, Sask. — It started with a knife handle.
In search of a strong material to replace a broken handle, Stan Sugar reached for a moose horn. At age 37, the farm worker had never carved before, but that first foray into shaping a horn lit a fire that has burned bright in Sugar’s creative soul for the last 17 years.
At age 54, Sugar has created about 200 carvings in moose, deer and elk horns. He brings to life whatever happens to be brewing in his creative subconscious on any given day.
“I sit down here at the table and all of a sudden I look down at my paper and something starts kicking in my mind and away I go,” said the accomplished carver.
Sugar will often sketch out his ideas before he picks up his grinder and Dremel tool, but the horn itself will sometimes tell the tale of what it is to become.
“Sometimes the image is there in the horn already and you just have to bring it out,” said Sugar.
What started out as a hobby shared with friends and family has turned into a career featuring spectacular carvings that sell from $300 and up. With some moose-horn carvings measuring more than a metre in length, the broad canvas allows Sugar to create entire scenes from hunting camps to forest settings for elk, moose and bear.
“When someone tells me what they want, a moose or a bear or a deer, I always ask, ‘what do you want it doing?’ ” said Sugar, explaining that the creative spark in his mind is always fanned by exploring the setting surrounding the main carving and embedding that outlying scene with surprises like feathers, eagles and wildlife.
A recent project involved the carving of a pair of giant moose horns brought in by a Saskatchewan hunter. The hunter requested an outfitting scene on one paddle for himself and a second scene on the matching horn for his dad. Sugar said the resulting works of art left the client in a state of disbelief.
“When they look at what I’ve created, they kind of go into shock because they’ve been there in this scene and they can’t believe that they’re seeing it again.”
Sugar said it’s not uncommon for clients to get emotional when he unveils a carving. He recalls a recent work featuring the deceased police dog of a former Regina City Police officer.
“When he saw it, he got so emotional that he had to take a moment,” said Sugar.
The reactions are what makes the weeks and weeks of work worth it for the Saskatchewan carver. He spends about four hours each day working with a grinder and then a fine-tipped Dremel to extract 3-D images of natural scenes and First Nations settings and symbols.
Sugar works on all types of horns but prefers those that have been dropped in the wild from a moose as they have the least soft marrow and the highest amount of hardened outer shell. Most of his horns come to him for free or for trade from northern First Nations friends and from hunters.
Sugar’s carvings have gone across the country with two going all the way to Ottawa — one for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and one for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Sugar said several of his small carvings have been appraised at approximately $300. However, Sugar considers his talent a gift to be given away so he often entertains trades when he knows that price is an issue.
“I’ll do a carving for whatever someone can offer me because if it’s something that they’ve wanted and it will make them happy, then I’m going to do it,” said Sugar.