With the grain Placing their wood
creations on judges blocks has carved Michele Forrester
and Hans Wesselius solid confidence
Reprinted from the Sault Star
By Patricia Baker
Earth, air, fire and water are the four elements of antiquity.
These mystical entities have had a profound influence on the
ancient peoples and their philosophies.
For millennia, they believed everything came from the elements,
making us one with all.
Aether, the fifth element, is a space "where everything
happens," says Michele Forrester, who partners with Hans
Wesselius in a very unique wood art enterprise in Desbarats,
called It's in the Wood.
"Things comes back to you," she says, because even
with the advent of modern science, many artists consistently
borrow inspiration from the elements in order to connect with
the world's "abstract personality."
The pair works with the wood rather than against it in their
functional and visual creations because "the wood's the
boss, it's personality is ingrained," Forrester said in
a recent interview.
"You can't make it do what it doesn't want to do."
Wood in various stages of decay is called spalted wood. When
it's cut into lengths and sliced like a loaf of bread, the imagery
within the grain is a visual playground for the eyes of the beholder
Aniline dye is used on curly maple to enhance the grain "to
create its own effects," said Wesselius. Results are a natural
work of art that interacts with the senses to come back as eye
"Spalted wood and curly maple make you want to see something,"
Visitors who frequent multimedia art shows throughout the
Algoma district may or may not yet be familiar with the distinctive
style of It's in the Wood creations. Spirit brings life to their
wall art, plaques and 3-D pieces while the essence of what the
work is saying is unique.
The artistic partnership they enjoy has evolved over many
What began as an employer-employee relationship continues
to flourish. But wood art has become an integral part of their
Their functional art, such as candle holders and serving boards,
"has to be more than functional," Forrester said, "it
has to inspire."
In the early 1970s, Forrester, a Sault Ste. Marie native,
joined the first women to work in the mills at Algoma Steel since
The Second World War. When layoffs came, she relocated to Toronto,
attended George Brown College and earned her diploma as a metal
Forrester taught technical trades after graduation, but by
the early 1990s, she was in search of work again.
Forrester and her son, Jesse, moved back to the Sault, and
as fate would have it, Wesselius was looking for an assistant
to help out at his Pine Island Wood Products moulding operation
"I was in a crunch," Wesselius said in a recent
interview at his home on Mill Road.
"I needed someone who could work in the shop, sharpen
the knives and set the moulder for wood profiles."
Forrester's skill as a machinist allowed her to carry out
the technical chores around the mill and she became comfortable
overseeing operations when Hans was off site.
Wesselius makes all the executive decisions regarding his
business and Forrester's contributions have continued to grow
as a result of the learning curves she'd inherited with the job.
"I preferred working with wood rather than metal,"
said Forrester, "so I became an employee of Pine Island
But her creative side was never far from the surface as she
envisioned all sorts of images and possibilities in the wood
she was processing. Wesselius, a self-taught artist in his own
right knew the look when she'd make a find.
"Let it go, Michele," he'd say, "just let it
Even though he's owned Pine Island Wood Products since 1978,
Wesselius has worked with trees and experienced the magic of
wood for years.
Originally from southern Ontario, he came to the Sault in
1972 to take the forestry course at Sault College. He's logged,
climbed trees for the City of Sault Ste. Marie, landscaped and
researched Dutch elm disease.
Wesselius had a portable sawmill he'd take around the countryside.
"I started making knick-knacks and carving and giving
them to family."
His first wood art creation was a rocking horse for his son,
"Hans is a positive and optimistic guy," said Forrester.
"He likes challenges and takes them on."
These include the well-planned ones that can and do end up
in the proverbial toilet.
Wesselius christens the work, because he's more visual.
"Names kind of pop into my head," he said.
Forrester, on the other hand, thinks in a methodical way,
and she's honing her abilities to spontaneously fast-track the
ideas that come her way when she sees things in wood.
Usually, the things she picks up on when the wood is going
through the milling process are defects and would normally be
used for kindling.
"You could go through a thousand board feet or more before
seeing something unusual," Wesselius said. "These small
and uncommon finds are put aside for art projects."
The pair collaborates before, during and after projects, a
connection that has evolved over time in order to fine-tune the
The wood art continued to grow on them and they started making
things that weren't part of Hans' Pine Island Wood Business.
Gifts for friends and family became symbolic accomplishments
for the journey they'd started, while the trials and tribulations
kept them focussed.
It's in the Wood was born and is a separate entity from Pine
Island Wood Products.
Their first official showing was at the 2006 Festival of the
Arts in Sault Ste. Marie, and Wesselius's son, Gene, now a graphic
artist, also exhibited.
"It was nice for Hans to be in the show with his son,
who won an award for computer art," Forrester said.
The jurying for the show was a nerve-wracking experience.
"You are putting your work out there for criticism,"
Wesselius said, "but you know your stuff."
Talking to people about creations gives confidence.
"They want to touch it and get a feel for it," Forrester
said, " and we encourage that."
It's in the Wood survived its first showing, and the pair
became much more comfortable interacting with visitors who like
to ask questions and discuss technique.
They both agree that when you use dyes or polish to bring
out the wood's grain, many are naturally curious about how it's
done and are drawn to touch it.
People look at a piece and see shapes and lines, and often
a different perspective, but they want to know "how did
you put that in there?"
"We wanted to get really serious," said Wesselius,
"so we needed a name."
It was the same answer every time: "It's in the wood."
During last year's Arts at the Dock, in Hilton Beach, a small
girl was curious about one of the pieces Wesselius and Forrester
displayed. It was of abstract orientation with bright yellows
and oranges running through the darker accented grains in the
wood like ghostly plumes of smoke.
The girl said, "Oh, oh. Fire."
"Wow, this little one gets it," said Forrester.
"That's just the best."
After their successful debut into the art world, 2007 followed
with more shows and recognition, including the Bon Soo Art Show.
Sylvan Circle, Wabi Sabi and Arts at the Dock expressed interest
in the pair's creative endeavours. Inspiration has brought them
a long way and opportunity has not been wasted on lost time.
Wesselius and Forrester applied for these juried shows and
It's in the Wood has excelled in visual and custom design, including
functionally artistic entrance doors.
Their latest creation adorns the entrance to the recently
opened Wacky Wings Restaurant on Great Northern Road in the Sault.
Owner Craig Burgess chose the more artistic design out of the
three he was given.
The design, construction, carving and finishing, were dictated
by time constraints but the end result is timeless.
The inspiration had taken them beyond borders as they created
something that had never been seen before.
"We had taken on one thing and added something else,"
Forrester said. "Creating is the fun part."
Wesselius remembers the teak door that Pine Island Wood Products
was contracted to construct a few years ago.
That experience has set the stage for success.
"Teak contains silica," Wesselius said. "It's
corrosive and dulls the knives." It was so bad that after
cutting six to nine metres, the machine just stopped.
This slowed milling down considerably for the heavy door that
was four by eight feet. After the sections were glued and clamped
on all four corners, they still moved and separated from each
other like they were on marbles.
The challenge was to keep the sections aligned until the glue,
which they had never used before, finally set. Forrester and
Wesselius worked like one person to overcome the glue's challenging
"The team works in silent precision," Wesselius
The pair is preparing for a summer of shows along the North
Shore and have become much more at ease with their artisan accomplishments.
"We talked about things," Wesselius said, and a
series of events in progression got them to where they are now.
The pair compares it to a circle in which sometimes something
"It's not just a coincidence," Forrester said.
"All things are dropping into place like they were supposed