Paul Lewis is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Local Hero as Arts Advocate of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)

Paul Lewis is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Local Hero as Arts Advocate of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)

West Shore driftwood sculptor inspired by Esquimalt Lagoon

Paul Lewis is the 2021 Arts Advocate of the Year

If you’ve spent time at Esquimalt Lagoon, you may have noticed the driftwood sculptures of animals and birds that line the beach. For Paul Lewis, the artist behind many of those creations, the natural world is both his medium and muse.

A resident of Greater Victoria for 49 years, Lewis takes his inspiration from the outdoors and the creatures we share the coastline with. From kayak encounters with sea lions, to rescuing baby otters, to catching glimpses of bears and orcas, he’s been up close and personal with almost all the iconic animals of the Pacific Northwest.

“That’s what it’s all about. I live on the ocean here. This is my thing,” Lewis said.

Inspiration for the driftwood sculptures struck him in spring of 2018. April 6, to be exact. At the time, Alex Whitcomb’s driftwood sculpture, McGnarly the Beach Ent, already graced the beach. While drinking a coffee and watching the birds at the lagoon, something clicked for Lewis.

He went and grabbed his brother’s screw gun and a handful of screws, and set to work creating an eagle.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I took white shells to do the head – I must have broken 10 shells for every one that I could actually drill through,” he said. “I was like, ‘never again,’ but people loved it.”

He’s made a number of pieces since then, so many he’s lost count. After the eagle came a raven, an owl, a goose and a heron, to name a few.

“I always love the birds down here. I usually walk the beach, clean up all the garbage that I see. Especially around my birds. I kind of take responsibility for this area.”

READ MORE: Local Heroes shine on the West Shore

This year, when the weather warms up, he plans on revamping the area by taking out seven existing pieces and creating new ones from scratch. His style has progressed quite a bit since those early days. He’s netted quite a few paying customers, too, including a commission from the City of Colwood to make their driftwood sign at the intersection of Veterans Memorial Parkway and Kelly Road. He’s also the artist behind the huge sasquatch outside the East Sooke grocery store.

Lewis has become a local fixture at Esquimalt Lagoon, soaking up the enjoyment of passersby who marvel at his work.

“I love doing the public stuff for people. Watching so many people come down and take pictures,” he said.

He doesn’t always tell people who he is, even when they ask if he knows the artist.

“I just smile and say, ‘yeah I know who did ‘em,’” he said with a laugh.

He takes a special joy in mentoring children too. He connected with a young autistic boy and his mother at the beach one day. He stayed in touch and went to visit him when he was recovering from an illness.

“The day he got out of the hospital, I went over to his house and spent some time with him. I bought him some Play-Doh, we painted rocks up like ladybugs and bees,” Lewis said.

A year after that he ran into the mother and son again. He found the young boy creating a massive beach art installation of his own, a giant sea turtle made of rocks.

“I was just amazed at his ability to construct this, and have that vision,” Lewis said.

His life hasn’t been all beach sculptures and mentoring children. He spent eight years in prison after a series of armed robberies. He describes that period as a rough time in his life.

“Some of us, it’s a way of learning. And I learned the hard way every time.”

The time in jail came with a mixed blessing. It was there that he really dove into his art practice. It began as a way of filling time and wound up being incredibly therapeutic. On 23-hour lockdowns in his cell, he would pore over drawings, first in pencil, then in black ink.

“I’d save up my pennies … working on the range, sweeping the range, you’d get your $30 every two weeks. My family and stuff would put money in my account so I could buy art supplies. That’s how it all started,” Lewis recalled.

He sees his driftwood sculptures as a labour of love and a way for him to give back to society. “Everything happens for a reason, too. I had to go through that to become who I am today. I love who I am today. I absolutely love myself now,” he said.

Paul Lewis is the 2021 Arts Advocate of the Year.

Nominations for the 2022 Local Hero Awards West Shore open on Feb. 25. To learn more, go to hero.goldstreamgazette.com.

-Emily Vance/Contributor

READ MORE: 2021 Local Hero Awards West Shore


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Local Hero Awards

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sooke plans to begin construction of the $4.9-million Church Road corridor project this summer. (Kevin Laird - Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke hopes to start Church Road Corridor project this summer

Road upgrade includes a roundabout, sidewalks, bike lanes and boulevards

Pacific Institution in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media file photo)
Inmate with ties to Victoria dies in Abbotsford institution

Brodie Bingley, who was sentenced for aggravated assault in Maple Ridge died April 13

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

An online panel discussion on April 16 is set to discuss the benefits of advance care planning. (Black Press Media file photo)
Online panel to discuss planning for death with Greater Victoria residents

Advance care planning allows people’s wishes to be respected even if they can’t speak for themselves

The site of the proposed rental housing development at 2197 Otter Point Rd. (District of Sooke)
District of Sooke approves development with 77 rental units

New parking lot for John Phillips Memorial Park included in project

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The District of Sooke will continue to flower with Communities in Bloom. (Pixabay)
Sooke will bud but not bloom in provincial competition

Council scales back participation in Communities in Bloom

An armed officer walks outside Cerwydden Care on Cowichan Lake Road near Skinner Road Wednesday, April 14 around 5:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Hwy. 4 was shut down in both directions for 10 hours on March 23 as a rock bluff was blasted as part of Kennedy Hill’s ongoing construction. Commuters can expect five more 10 hour closures on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning April 28. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Five 10-hour Pacific Rim highway closures planned in the next 6 weeks

Closures needed for rock blasting as part of the Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

Bulldogs forward Stephen Castagna flips the puck into the Clippers zone during a game on Oct. 24. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Island BCHL game postponed due to ‘potential positive’ COVID-19 test

Nanaimo Clippers team suspends activities, players isolating pending further test results

Most Read