ART ON THE EDGE
BY HEATHER PEDEN
ASTROPHYSICIST. Woodworker. At first glance these two things seem almost incongruous, opposite ends of a very large spectrum. But look a little closer, there is a definite connection. Just consider Cory Bagdon.
Bagdon, creator of Port Arthur Woodcraft, embodies the link between art and science. “Everything,” he says, “works in ways that follow the laws of physics.” And when you’re working with wood, a medium that used to be a living, growing, photosynthesizing being, it helps to have some knowledge of the workings of the universe and all things in it.
Standing in his months-new workshop just outside Thunder Bay, Bagdon equally lights up when talking about the nuances of a piece of wood and when describing how a mathematical equation explains why music can be pleasing to the ear.
“I love math,” says Bagdon, who studied astrophysics at Queens University and taught high school math in Ignace for a year. “My students used to laugh at how much I love math.”
Bagdon’s scope of knowledge of math and science has informed his work in the woodshop. Whether designing custom cabinetry or creating a one-of-a-kind piece of fine wood furniture, Bagdon explains, “The skills I learned apply directly to the design process.”
Of course his ability to see the creative possibilities in a piece of wood is just as integral. The not knowing how the wood is going to change when it’s cut or planed is an exciting part of the process. “You have to listen to what the wood is saying and it will tell you what to do with it,” Bagdon says, explaining that how a tree grows will impact how its wood will react when it is being worked in the shop, how it will bend or twist.
Bagdon’s interest in woodworking began years ago when he took a class in high school and spent summers playing around in his grandfather’s workshop making things. But he focused more on academics in school and followed his interest in physics to university. Once there, though, he realized something was missing.
“Astrophysicists write down equations, give them to astronomers and they go look for things,” explains Bagdon. “Or the other way around, astronomers find things bring them to astrophysicists and they try to explain them. There was nothing tangible. You literally sit there and look at pictures.”
Not too encouraging for someone who enjoys working with his hands. So, after teacher’s college, Bagdon headed to trade school, attending Selkirk College in British Columbia where he spent his days in the shop building one of a kind pieces of furniture.
Port Arthur Woodcraft was created in 2014 as part of the Summer Company Program through the Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre. “It went well,” says Bagdon of that first summer. But then he was offered a teaching contract in Ignace, so it was another year before he returned to Thunder Bay and jumped in full-time.
In the corner of his workshop is a stack of wood waiting for just the right project. There are planks of oak from out of town, but also local birch and sugar maple. “I do the best I can to use locally sourced material,” says Bagdon, and explains his working relationship with Rutter Urban Forestry. “They take down trees that need to come down for some reason and I use the wood.
“I like the idea of using local wood,” he says. “If an ash tree has to come down because it’s growing into the power lines or something, cut it up and use it, turn it into something like a dining table.”
Bagdon’s vision for the future is to see a lot more of that sort of thing, creating pieces from local woods like birch and poplar, and even designing production pieces, “that are made locally, made in Canada from Canadian resources, sold in stores across Canada and the States. Something that would benefit our local economy.”
In the meantime Bagdon is kept busy with his one-man operation, designing, building and installing custom cabinetry and sneaking some time here and there to “play” in the shop to create remarkable one of a kind pieces. His work is a process that is both precise and creatively fluid, a perfect combination of art and science.
Heather Peden is a local nature photographer and writer. Peden will be filling in for Duncan Weller.