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Press Release

JULY 14, 2001

By MAGGIE WILLIS

Special to The Star

GORDON LAKE

In the Ore Mountains of Germany, when 17th - century miners completed the last shift of the year - before they went home for Christmas, and as long as there hadn't been any fatalities that year - the miners placed their candle lanterns on the iron arch of the mine entrance.

From this tradition an art form was devised, known as schwibbogen. Originally, the artwork was constructed with iron, and later with wood.

When Dieter Heller retired about 10 years ago after almost 3 years of management service with the Frankfort Airport Authority, his wife encouraged him to take up schwibbogen.

So, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Heller travelled to an old store in East Germany and bought original plans for these traditional German Christmas window-sill ornaments.

In 1994, Dieter spent three months creating his first yardhigh centrepiece.

He hasn't stopped since, other than to immigrate to Canada two years ago after buying the Three Oak Tourist Resort oh Gordon Lake.

The Bruce Mines area is rather like the Ore Mountain area of Germany with its early mining history, and "there's a lot of Germanic back culture around here," explained Heller.

One obstacle in Canada that he has managed to overcome is obtaining softwood plywood. Only hardwoods, which splinter easily, are available.

Heller searched the Internet without finding a supplier that could deliver thin poplar sheets. But Birchland Veneer in Thessalon accommodated him by adjusting its machines to produce enough sheets to keep him busy for two years.

He still traces with the old patterns but has reproduced and designed new ones, still with the traditional flavour but designed for today's North American market.

Heller's masterpieces vary greatly in size and number of assembled pieces.

Because few people have window süls these days, a great number of his new designs can be hung in windows (like suncatchers and dream catchers), hung on Christmas trees, and used as lamps or table centrepieces.

They are remarkably reasonably priced considering the amount of time and talent that goes into each handmade piece.

Even if they are cut from the same pattern, Heller ensures that some of the fine details are unique to each piece.

Though the tradition leaves the wood 'unfinished' to naturally colour with age, Heller does add brilliant colours to some items.

He meticulously paints both sides of carved birds with fine strokes of a toothpick.

He uses coloured paper or paints plastic inserts to dramatize cutout figures on lampshades.

Heller's art has become his full-time winter career but he says he'll only do it as long as he enjoys crafting and creating new pieces.

And he'll put down his coping saw to make time for fly fishing at his lakefront property.

Despite the intricacy of the detailed filigree work, Heller doesn't consider himself a perfectionist.

"People say I am a perfectionist," says Heller; "I just want my next piece to be a little finer."

Not only is he adding many smaller pieces to his retail shop this summer, he's readying for assembly his largestever traditional design, complete with candles and moving parts.

In addition to local craft bazaars, Heller's one-of-a-kind pieces retail from his craft shop on scenic Gordon Lake.

American tourists are attracted to his handiwork, and some special-order it because it reminds them of their war service time spent in Germany.

Three Oak Crafts is a studio stop on the Sept. 15 Sylvan Circle Artist Tour.

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