When Mike Neufeld was just 15 years old and heading off to his first job as a logger for Alaska Pine, “you were out of work as long as it took you to get to the next camp,” he recalls.
Today, at 79, Neufeld, the artist, is out of work because of global economic forces and international currency fluctuations over which he has zero control.
Neufeld is best known around Campbell River for his second career as a “turner,” a master craftsman whose artistry on the lathe has produced intricate vases of BC maple, African ebony, Mexican coca bola and Chilean blood wood that have fetched more than $2,600 a piece in the finest galleries.
That was in the glory days when the Canadian dollar was languishing in the 60 cent range against the U.S. dollar.
“I could barely keep up with demand,” Neufeld says.
His pieces sold like hotcakes in galleries in Chemainus, Tofino, Granville Island and at the Delmar Fair in San Diego.
Even though he tried to sell locally, a piece worth $1,600 could sit unsold in a local gallery for six months and then sell in a day for $2,100 in a gallery in Vancouver.
Today, in the world of Loonie parity that $2,600 vase, that takes a week to make and contains wood that costs as much as $100 a board foot, is worth maybe $1,300.
“The margins became smaller and smaller,” Neufeld says. “I was already giving 45 per cent to the galleries.”
After all, this was more than a hobby. It was virtually a second career quite in keeping with his first.
Neufeld was destined to spend his life around wood.
When he was just 15 his logger dad said: “You really don’t want to go to school do you? I’ll get you a job in the woods.”
When Neufeld retired from forestry in 1993 he was a market logger managing his own timber sales.
In 1996 his brother-in-law Walter intervened.
“He saw I had nothing to do and told me to go out and buy a lathe. Once I turned it on I never looked back.”
That $250 lathe became a $10,000 investment over the years that paid significant dividends, like a brand new truck.
Neufeld looked at it this way:
“If it’s just a hobby you get tired of it.”
Neufeld has sold his lathe, but he still has dozens of beautiful pieces for sale, pieces that already qualify as one-of-a-kind collector’s items thanks to the strong Loonie.