Former Williams Lake Tribune reporter Pirjo Raits shines a light on West Coast woodworkers with her new book Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea.
Raits first cut her writing teeth in Williams Lake 25 years ago and has worked as a reporter and editor ever since.
Before working for the Tribune, Raits also worked for Laketown News and the Williams Lake Advocate before leaving lakecity for the Coast.
While here, Raits said she really refined her interviewing skills, learning how to make interviews comfortable while maximizing the information she got from her sources by a gaining true insight into who they are.
For the last 10 years of her career, Raits has been the editor of the Black Press paper the Sooke News Mirror on Vancouver Island. It was through this position the seed that would germinate into her new book was planted.
Two years ago, Raits was approached by Pheobe Dunbar a local woodcarver about a feature story about herself and some other local woodworkers for the paper.
As she began, however, Raits came to believe these stories would work better in a more permanent medium.
“I said you know what? A newspaper lasts a week, a magazine lasts a month and a book lasts forever so let’s go for a book if we’re going to do all this work,” Raits explained.
As the book began to take shape the Heritage House Publishing Company showed interest in the project and ultimately published it. Heritage House’s advice, however, was to expand the scope of the book from the local Sooke area to all along the coast of the Salish Sea.
“It was the best thing that we did. It made the book more marketable for one thing but also gave us a more diverse group of woodworkers, so that was really a great idea,” Raits said. “We’ve got everything from First Nation’s carvers to guitar makers, a boat builder, furniture makers it’s got everything.”
Consequently, Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea is a “coffee table book” made up of 26 feature stories on woodworkers and carvers from all along Vancouver Island’s coast, from Sooke to Port McNeil. This also includes small islands in between said Raits including Salt Spring Island and Denman Island.
The one common thread that binds all these artists together, according to Raits, is their passion in their respective fields and choice to use wood as their medium.
“It’s a really nice publication in that it’s really heavy and good quality, it’s not just sort of an inexpensive colour book, it’s really nice,” Raits said. “They’re short profiles 600 to 800 words on each of the woodworkers.”
The photos to accompany each profile were taken by Calgary and Vancouver based professional photographers, Dale Roth and Michel Ramberg.
The pair would head out to each woodworkers’ studio, shed or shop and shoot on location, beautifully illustrating Raits’ stories.
All the hard work has paid off as Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea has remained on the B.C. Bestsellers list for the last three consecutive weeks since its initial release on Oct. 30, 2018. Indeed Raits said those who have read the book thus far have said it’s helped them realize that “you don’t have to be an artist to create with wood, you just have to be passionate about this medium you’re using for your own creative impression.”
For herself, Raits sees this book as a culmination of her writing career and who she is as a person, combing her skills as a journalist, editor and her own art background.
Raits also said she feels that the stories about these inspiring “down to earth, amazing people” will particularly connect with lakecity’s community across the board.
“I mean, who doesn’t deal with wood in Williams Lake?” Raits joked.
Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Coast is available now at The Open Book and The Station House Gallery in town, or online at Amazon.ca.