Woodwork front and centre to Gerald Regnitter’s post-retirement life

Tyler Clarke
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In many ways, woodworking found Gerald Regnitter, who’d never dreamed that his post-retirement life would be filled with the art form.


Approaching retirement age about 26 years ago, the former St. Mary High School principal found himself drawn to a property located a few kilomtres north of the Christopher Lake turnoff.

“The idea of retiring in the city was not exactly my ideal,” he said, noting that he’s since found his 120 acres of forest land to be a his own personal “piece of heaven.”

“It’s special any time of the year -- all seasons -- and I think anyone who lives out here will tell you the same thing about their place,” he said.

The practicality of building a house quickly lent itself to a more artful focus.

“I built the house first, and then I started to build furniture for the house,” he explained.

“When people started seeing what I was making for myself, I started getting requests to make other things, and that sort of got out of hand.”

As a retired individual who does not depend on a living wage, his artistry has been a break-even enterprise.

“When you do one-of-a-kind work, you don’t realize the benefits of production work,” he said. “You don’t have the efficiencies of production work and you don’t make money. But, if I were doing production work it’d kill my spirit.”

Specialized projects he finds challenging grab his attention, and any custom projects that don’t strike his fancy are turned down.

One interesting project that sticks out for him is a baby box he constructed for a couple in Calgary.

It was their first child and they wanted a special memory box to hold various keepsakes.

The couple was ecstatic over the finished product -- an achievement Regnitter proudly looks back on.

Another specialty of Regnitter’s are wooden bowls, which he carves using a lathe and local wood, which he nurtures certain patterns into.

“If you let a birch log … naturally begin to decay, you start getting these patterns,” he explained, pointing to some darker pigments within a bowl he’d handcrafted.

When you do one-of-a-kind work, you don’t realize the benefits of production work. You don’t have the efficiencies of production work and you don’t make money. But, if I were doing production work it’d kill my spirit. Gerald Regnitter

If you leave a log on one side for too long it will rot and get punky on one side, but if you rotate it throughout the year, beautiful patterns can emerge throughout the log.

“You don’t know what you have until you open up a log, but you will find some really incredible colours and patterns that will develop,” he said. “That’s part of the excitement -- you experiment.”

Making full use of his boreal forest setting, Regnitter buys birch wood from his neighbour, who cuts wood from the area for him into three-inch slabs.

He’s gone through between 12,000 and 13,000 board feet so far and has another seven or eight thousands feet to go.

“That’ll probably outlast my ability to work,” he said, noting that his increasing problem with arthritis has started to slow him down.

Although he’s had to pace himself more in recent years, Regnitter plans on woodworking for as long as he’s able to.

Over the weekend, Regnitter participated in the 263 Art Studio Tour, during which his home-based studio was the first of several stops for the self-guided tour of Christopher Lake area artists.

With the tour intended to help visitors understand how artists draw inspiration from the world around them, Regnitter’s densely forested property was an obvious match for his art form.

Looking out at a large pond that backs onto his home, Regnitter pointed out another woodworker who’s built his own home on the property.

The resident beaver’s creations are less well-received than Regnitter’s, with the human woodworker charged with taking apart the beaver’s dam every morning in order to prevent his property from flooding. 

Organizations: Mary High School

Geographic location: Christopher Lake, Calgary

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Recent comments

    July 29, 2014 - 05:01

    I adore is art work and i am his friend as well. He has a wonderful personality and a caring man with sense and sensibility.