The Hands and Mind of George Sawchuck
It was my luck to move to the Comox Valley and find George Sawchuck living just down the
highway in Fanny Bay. It was only after he died that I began to think about the role he played in our
lives. George was, for many who knew him, a priest without dogma or church. He simply functioned
like a priest; he ministered to us. From his principled, benevolent belief in the potential of humanity he
offered a rational critique of the 20th Century with an alternative perspective. From this coherent
world-view came the social, political, historical and spiritual base for the sculpture, his art.
We were drawn to him and he always gave us something to take away; an idea, a possibility.
Always inspiration. He was openly happy to see us all, see everyone, anytime. He welcomed all to the
sculpture garden, his cathedral in the bush, the swamp. That is where you went to contemplate or
laugh at the tragedy or humour in the yard works.
Grant Schilling has dedicated a large part of his life to the art work and legacy of George
Sawchuck. The exhibition he put together at the Comox Valley Art gallery was a fine tribute to the man.
Sadly, it will be the last time many of us will see George’s large sculptures. The garden in Fanny Bay is
fading away, claimed by the rainforest. Some who visited the garden called it the “Wakky Woods”
because delight, surprise and puzzlement were the common reactions. People were experiencing art
that differs from the dullness, abstraction and pretence to relevance of most modern art.
George Sawchuck’s sculptures are about the universals that haunt or elevate our spirits: religion,
war, work, and the history that clouds our present and predetermines our future. The theme behind
every Sawchuck creation is authority and power, two enemies that hit on the individual and oppress
A small boy’s childhood Catholicism locked him into a hopeless attempt to exorcise religion from
his being. When at 14 he punched a nun and walked away, forever, from school, he began his life of
labour in logging, fishing and construction. All this would, many years later, be summed up and
objectified in his art.
I had three teachers who determined the course of my life: Dean Stevenson and Jack Howich,
who taught me woodwork and boat building. And George Sawchuck who, through example, taught that
it is absurd and pointless to equate the work of one’s hands with dollars. He said that to make art for
dollars is to work for the master: the market. The work of the mind through the hands must be free.
My personal view is that George Sawchuck’s sculptures are a summation and end-piece for the
20th Century as Western “civilization” begins its slow descent into self-destruction. George Sawchuck
would not agree. He believed in a collective solution and that good people, in solidarity, would find a
way around our self-destructive ways.