Marcel Van Rompaey is no stranger to woodwork. He has run a sawmill on his farm by East Fawcett Lake for years. He built his own home and has done carpentry. Since 2006, he has been making wood inlay art, called intarsia.

“I try to make everything as true to life as I can with wood,” he says. “It’s pretty tough to do with some stuff.”

People are the hardest to make lifelike, he adds.

Van Rompaey also makes animals, fantasy, seasonal items, and landscapes, such as windmills and lighthouses.

“Projects, depending on how complex they are, for me, take from 10 to 12 hours to 30,” he says.

Van Rompaey has taught intarsia at Smith School for six years, with a break for COVID. He also taught it for two years at Grassland School.

He says, “the biggest thing I try to impart to the kids is take your time, don’t rush it.”

He’s also sold or given his art away to family members and friends. He has projects in Mexico, Holland, Belgium, Florida, and all across Canada. Occasionally, he puts a piece in the Smith-Hondo Fall Fair bench show, but in general doesn’t show his work.

This is changing. Mid-April, Van Rompaey started showing his intarsia on the art wall in the Rotary Club of Slave Lake Public Library. This will be up for around a month. He also plans to have a booth at the Smith Fall Fair market this year, which is Labour Day weekend.

Van Rompaey has had people many people compliment him on the details of his work. He attributes this to his focus on choosing the right piece of wood.

“Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until you do the shaving,” he says.

“With the sawmill,” he says, “you see the potential of each piece when I saw (cut) it. The grain of the wood – it kind of speaks to you.”

Van Rompaey doesn’t stain his wood. He uses the natural colour of different types of wood for the colours. Cedar and aspen are the primary woods he uses. These are augmented with more exotic wood, which can be quite expensive. Van Rompaey makes his own aspen boards with his sawmill.

Intarsia is based on patterns. Van Rompaey buys most of his patterns, but he has tweaked some and made a few of his own.

“You start like a puzzle,” he says. “You check your fits. Then all the shaping is done and the contouring. After that they are fine sanded. Then they are assembled, and two coats of oil are applied prior to backing. The backing is integral to the strength of the project.”

The reason is that Baltic plywood has five to seven layers instead of two to three in most types of plywood.

A couple walking away. The lady’s skirt in this one has many intricate strips of wood.
People, like this cowboy, are the most difficult intarsia patterns to make lifelike, says Marcel Van Rompaey.
Marcel Van Romaey with his intarsia woodwork art on the Slave Lake Library art wall. It went up in mid-April and will be on display for about a month.

by Pearl Lorentzen

May 11, 2023

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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