Strength of Line
Profile by Jane Ledwell
There’s a real strength in line you don’t get with a lot of other arts,” says master woodworker Diane Gaudreau of her craft. Her strong and graceful design has led to pieces selected for the Cheoungju International Biennale in South Korea and the 2010 Cultural Olympiad—and for commissions such as the Northern Lights Award.
Diane says, “You embrace the grain, and if there’s a gift in the wood, you accept it. You have to be open to things speaking to you, and you can’t always go in the direction you think you ought to go. You have to know when to u-turn,” she smiles.
Diane and her husband, Jacques Gaudreau, her partner from the age of 18, lived as life and business partners, parents, and owners of Gaudreau’s Fine Woodworking in Rustico. Jacques died of cancer 17 months ago, leaving Diane to ask: “Can I function in this world by myself? Who is this person who is by herself now?
“We had a 365-days-a-year partnership, and with that came a lot of skills that went beyond the business: creativity, problem-solving, compromise. I had a lot of gifts from that intense relationship,” Diane says. “These are the same skills to move your self through loss. I flat-lined my life—and have chosen what to put back in.”
Last year, she says, “Biking was my saving grace.” Over more than 5,000 kms, “I laid my grief down on the bike path. I learned cadence, and basic maintenance, and preventive maintenance—taking care of things so you don’t have problems.”
She followed biking with solo international travel and discovery. “You have to have a soul to be a creative person. If you lose your soul, you have to put it back in first,” Diane reflects.
“At the end of the soul-searching, I discovered I was the same 18-year-old who walked into this business and the training and the marriage. After a life-altering experience, I have come full circle. I’m back at the beginning, physically in the same space, but building a new foundation.”
Of living a creative life here, she says, “You have to be open-minded to combine your lifestyle with your work… I don’t think there are many challenges one couldn’t overcome without hard work, and following the line.
“Creativity is not when you’re making physical products. There’s a lot more to it—even when it is a physical object or functional product in the end. We get way too hung up on that part.” Fine craft is part of a whole life. “An unhappy potter will make unhappy pots… You have to throw your good energy into it, or not at all.”
As a creative person, “so much of your life is your responsibility. You can’t complain much—because it was always your design. To be a creative person is not just a job.”
Diane confesses, “I’m in a philosophical, reflective place right now, and rightfully so… If you take reflective time, you can be much more productive. Sometimes pushing it through is not the answer.”
Among other profound insights about widowhood, Diane comments, “Widows aren’t viewed as individual people any more. They are seen as leftover remnants of a marriage.” Diane is rebuilding her individuality and creativity as a woodworker and as a woman.
“It’s one hell of a shock, though,” she says. “Nothing moves unless you move it.
“I’ve been in and out of the (woodworking) studio,” Diane says. Before he died, Jacques unloaded 2 tons—4,000 pounds—of bird’s-eye maple. “We knew there was a possibility he might not be alive to utilize that wood,” Diane remembers.
Now, she says, “I’m looking at that wood. It’s my responsibility now. It’s one of Jacques’ last gifts. Psychologically, it is a big load. But I walk by it now, and it whispers to me. It’s starting to speak to me. I’ll see what kind of conversation we have.
“It’s beautiful wood. I’m not in a rush to cut, but I know the work will be smaller and more detailed, and it will create a lot of line,” she says.