By MAGGIE WILLIS
Special to The Star
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
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
He hasn't stopped since, other than to immigrate to Canada
two years ago after buying the Three Oak Tourist Resort oh Gordon
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
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
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
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