All in the details

Brodie Thomas
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Port aux Basques man creates amazing folk art

If you’ve never seen Gerald Collier’s artwork before, it is probably only because of where he lives.

Gerald Collier stands besides his largest creation, Scarface, which stands eight feet tall.
— Photos by Brodie Thomas/The Gulf News

His home is out of the way, at the end of Hilltop Lane in Port aux Basques. Not many people make it out to see the creations in his yard. Once you’re there, they are difficult to miss.

Like many homes, he has a miniature lighthouse in his front yard. However, Collier’s lighthouse goes above and beyond the basic lawn ornament into the realm of folk art thanks to the tiny details he adds.

A carved wooden man is suspended from the side of the lighthouse with a paintbrush in his hand.

The man is wearing a woolen sweater and jeans.

“I had to glue his clothes together, says Collier. “I don’t know how to sew.”

Beside the lighthouse is a two-storey fishing stage.

Peek in the fishing stage window and you’ll see eggs cooking in a frying pan on the stove, a daybed and a wallet-sized photo of Collier’s late wife framed on the wall.

“I had to put wire over the windows,” he says. “The kids were firing stones into them.”

While his work contains tiny details, he’s also capable of large works too. Across the yard is “Scarface,” a wooden man who stands eight-feet high.

Collier calls him Scarface because in joining two pieces of wood for the man’s face, he left a visible seam.

Scarface towers over the slight 77-year-old artist who created the statue. Collier also constructed a small roof over Scarface to keep him out of the rain. In the winter, the giant finds a space in the porch of Collier’s home.

There are other folk-art pieces scattered about the yard. A plywood man holding binoculars peaks over the fence.

Collier notes that he copied the plans for the binocular man from someone else, but he always tries to go the extra distance in making his creations unique. Where others might have simply painted a face on, Collier has added hand-carved eyebrows and a moustache, as well as a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Seagulls are perched around the yard, too — some with caplin in their beaks.

Inside his home, Collier keeps some of his more detailed work. Walking into his kitchen there is a wooden roasted turkey resting on a platter. It’s an appropriate piece of art for a man who made his living as a cook.

“That was a piece of driftwood,” he says. “I took one look at it on the beach and I said, ‘I think I could make a turkey out of that.’”

There’s a carved man, about eight-inches high, wearing a blue woolen sweater and a salt-and-pepper cap. Collier says he carved it to look like his father.

Collier has also crafted a scale model fishing boat. He copied the plans for the vessel from a neighbour.

Scale model fishing boats aren’t all that uncommon around Newfoundland, but his is unlike any other, however, because it is populated with folk-art people.

A fisherman fillets a cod on deck, next to another fisherman who is dealing with a shark.

A cook in a white hat carries a stick of Sunrise bologna into the mess.

There’s a tiny wooden turkey on the counter in the mess, along with a silver propane tank, a chair and a table, just to name some of the larger details.

Although he has lots of chisels, Collier’s tool of choice is a cheap utility knife with disposable blades. He shows a bandage on his right hand to prove it.

He said one night he couldn’t sleep, so he got up to carve. He ended up at the hospital around 5:30 in the morning for stitches.

Collier figures there are lots of artists out there better than him.

“If I had taken a course, I’d probably be better,” he says somewhat dismissive of his creations. “There’s so much talent around here. I’m nothing compared to some, but a lot of people wouldn’t do this, you know. It’s out of the ordinary.”

The Gulf News

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, Newfoundland

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