Nii Addico sat at his grandfather’s feet, playing with the wood chips falling from the sculptor’s chisel. “If he didn’t want me to interrupt, he would give me the sandpaper,” Addico recalls.
Then Addico carefully sanded the statues his grandfather carved from blocks of wood, his small hands tracing the traditional shapes. All the while, his grandfather told stories “about Africa, about the continent, about the land.”
Addico’s traditional childhood in a small Ghanaian village inspired him to pick up a chisel as a teenager. As an adult, his determination to honour his African heritage infuses the carving he does today in his newly adopted homeland.
“It really connects me to my roots,” he says.
Addico’s heart brought him to Canada in 2005 after he met and married Canadian-born Bronwyn Erion while she was travelling in Africa. Together, they run Creation Africa, a gallery in their home in Waterloo, to showcase Addico’s woodcarving (creationafrica.com).
Once Addico started carving, about age 12, the craft became an inseparable part of his being. When he is not carving, “I feel like something is leaving me.”
Addico learned the basics of carving at a vocational college where he also did an apprenticeship at a national culture centre. A five-year apprenticeship earned him the title of master craftsman.
But Addico emerged into the field at a time of upheaval. A ban on ebony, which was a popular wood for carving because of its deep colour and density, drove many from the trade.
Addico, instead, found a different direction. He returned to his family’s village and set out for a walk in the woods. There he saw the fallen trees and all the life in the forest. It was a turning point. He started carving again with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas.
He abandoned the usual route of finishing work with varnish and strong chemicals. To echo warm earth tones, he coloured his masks with natural plant dyes and riverbed clay. And he incorporated into his designs antique brass marriage bowls collected in Ghana.
He works in a makeshift, cramped, basement workshop using tools he’s made by hand. Along with his traditional masks, Addico carves decorative wall pieces, sculptures, drums and stools out of maple, walnut and ash.
Life in Waterloo has been an adjustment. “Everything is just different,” he says.
But there is one big perk of his new home: “Canada,” he says, “is so blessed with a lot of wood.”