Dramatic driftwood

WORDS Georgia Chennells PHOTOS Woodshack and Fathima Kathrada

These startlingly animated animals are made of driftwood and nails by Bryan Cusack and Natasha Deary of Woodshack in Durban. Inspired by the horse creations of Heather Jansch, the pair have taken driftwood sculptures to the next level, producing larger-than-life figures out of discarded material.

Bryan and Natasha were working together on a project at Umgazi River Bungalows on the Wild Coast when they realised they were onto something quite unique. Bryan, a master carpenter, and Natasha, an interior designer, were building a new spa and had come across much excess driftwood on the beaches below. Noting that this wood had no further use than being burnt or discarded, they sought to include it in their designs, artfully reconstructing dry limbs into balustrades, chandeliers, door handles and such accessories. Bryan also played around and constructed small animals such as snails out of the leftovers.

After the project, both returned to their separate businesses in Durban. They continued to work on several projects together, and started realising more and more the impact their travels to far-away sites was having on the environment. Soon the decision was made between them both to make a conscious effort to become as eco-friendly as possible. This mission included keeping their work local by strictly limiting their projects undertaken to a 100km radius as far as possible, and using only materials that had been used before. Quite a commitment! “It was enormously beneficial to us,” says Bryan. “It focused us.”

While their foremost aim was to step back from the mainstream woodwork industry and become more creative in what they produced, they aspired to create unique, well-made pieces that were affordable to the average person with a minimal environmental impact. “Some of the ways we do this are through using locally sourced, reclaimed and repurposed material,” adds Natasha.

A walk around their workshop reveals old expo showstands becoming tables, pallets becoming benches and a zoo of driftwood animals. Somewhere along the way Bryan had started experimenting with full-scale animal constructions out of driftwood. A family of rhinos came to life, perfectly rigid and held together with only nails between triangulated driftwood elements. The main rhino was sold with proceeds going to support Project Rhino in KwaZulu-Natal and, as the animal travelled to various exhibitions, the interest in the driftwood animals grew. 

Bryan has since constructed horses, pigs, deer, fish, buffalo, flamingos, giant people and more, while Natasha handles the logistics, marketing and management of the business.

Each individually crafted piece seems to take on a personality of its own. Driftwood branches of various sizes are arranged in such a way as to convey movement, muscle and a latent energy while still holding the basic structure of the sculpture. Each sculpture can take weeks as the right pieces come together to give life to each element of the body. Bryan is a perfectionist: “That rhino took me about five weeks from start to finish. It took me ages to find the right piece for the eye!”

A pile of driftwood sits 2m-high in the corner of the workshop, where nine artisans, all trained in-house, are employed for various Woodshack projects (they also make furniture, sundecks and film sets). The local communities of the Wild Coast still supply truck-loads of driftwood on a regular basis. Similarly, communities on the North Coast of KZN now also supply their excess driftwood and benefit through job creation.

It seems the second life of these materials is having some very positive effects on the lives of others too. 

For more info: www.thewoodshack.co.za