Artists Disguised as Carpenters

Ogilvie General Contracting is a small company; Graydon Keenan is it. And he and his long time friend Jona Barr took his first big project together. It wasn’t just any job. This was for their friend Elijah Stick’s mom, Jan.

“I knew I wanted to make it special for Jan,” he says. “She’s like family to me, many sleepovers, we go way back.” Keenan started working in construction in 2000 and started his apprenticeship in 2004. “I didn’t rush through my apprenticeship, I took the time to get real experience. I spent half that time working on commercial sites and half working residential. I wanted to see it all.”

He likes residential best. “(It’s) more flexible, there is more of a design component.” He calls them loving touches; those things that help a homeowner choose the details to make a finished project their own.

Barr is an apprentice carpenter. “A good one,” says Keenan. “But he is an artist, a musician first.” Barr is a member of the band Old Cabin, and is currently working as a facilitator for Whitehorse’s new youth art space, Splintered Craft.

I ask Keenan if he also has an artistic background. “No, nothing, this is my first,” he says. “My company is aiming for something special, to get a feel for people and be able to create something unique for them,” explains Keenan. “The house, the idea, and the general theme was a collaboration between me and Jan.”

The special touch, however, was a surprise. It seems the work was almost done, “but they had left these two blank spots under the windows,” says Stick. Stick was wondering what was going on, and finally the day before she was to leave for vacation, Keenan and Barr picked her up at work and said, “We have a surprise for you.”

The cedar shake panels under the window were Barr’s idea, and once he and Keenan did some research they realized that they could do something really special with them. Their friend Elijah’s dad had died a couple of years before and the young men decided to incorporate a subtle memorial into the design. The image of a crow and a salmon were woven into the pattern under one window, representing Ed and Jan, and two more salmon were swimming under the second window, represented their children, Elijah and Jessie.

When Stick saw the finished work? “I burst into tears. It was just so beautiful. A beautiful gift, a beautiful piece of art. “It’s amazing now, to watch people walk by my home. They stop and look. It makes my house stand out as one-of-a-kind.”

To take it even one step further, Barr took the old cedar siding they removed from the house and brought it down to Splintered Craft, and used it there to beautify that space as well. “Another cool thing,” says Stick. 

Keenan is proud that the job turned out so well and that his client, his friend, is happy. He is getting ready to start on a second cedar shake art project for someone who admired the first one.

Keenan can be reached at [email protected] 

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