Lars Baggenstos is a German-born illustrator and sculptor who now lives in Rossland, British Columbia. His latest body of work is a series of mythology fables and tales set in BC.
Earlier this year we published “The Hut Keeper’s List” a poem by Tyler Bradley who is the hut keeper and tail guide at Valhalla Mountain Touring and other lodges in the Kootenays. To illustrate Tyler’s great poem, we featured the watercolour work of Lars Baggenstos and were so impressed by it, we delved a little more into his work as an illustrator and sculptor. Serendipitously, filmmaker Derek Frankowski, one of the visionaries behind the Life Cycles movie, had just completed a movie about Lars called “In My Nature,” which we’ve included in this article.
After some back and forth, Lars agreed to an interview with us about his unique creations. Below is the Q&A.
Hey Lars! How does Rossland compare to where you grew up in Europe?
I grew up in northern Germany for the first four years of my life. It was right at the coast and completely flat and a lot of agriculture. Most of my life I grew up in Langenthal, Switzerland, and the biggest difference to Rossland is the density of people, old architecture and lots and lots of dairy farms. Nowadays more and more large centres sprawl over the countryside. Switzerland is 3.5 hectares smaller than the Kootenay region but 8.3 million people live in it compared to around 56,000 people in the Kootenays. That makes for very busy place and it is hard to get away from people. What I always was seeking in my life was to live somewhere with space and room to breath.
You come from an artistic family. Did you ever consider becoming anything but an artist?
Since I was small, I was drawing and working with different materials like beeswax, clay and so forth. For a long time I thought I would go into forestry, but then I saw the “Slaves” statues in Florence carved of marble by Michelangelo. The sense of strength these half-finished figures had deeply impressed me and I thought for the first time I could venture in that direction. Then, shortly after high school, I came across the Woodcarving School — the combination of art and woodworking thrilled me and I declined an apprenticeship in a forestry company.
What motivates you?
Well, works by other artists like Javier Marin and Aron Demetz. In general, though, I’m motivated by driven and inspired people and nature, especially how wildlife and humans co-exist. Most of all the tension between the two.
How do you decide when to do a sculpture or when to do an illustration?
Very early on. Pretty much the moment I have an idea I know if it is going to be a 2D or 3D piece. Some ideas just work as pictures and and some almost demand the third dimension.
What’s a recent piece of work you’re really proud of?
Two things come to mind. For sculpture, a life-sized black bear that I just finished before Christmas. It turned out almost exactly like I wanted and technically it has been my best work so far. I finally managed to stop at the right moment, it still has the freshness of a sketch and I’m quite happy of how I managed to bring together fine details and bold rough hewn cuts. And for illustration, I’m currently working on a series called Neo Fables, where I explore mythology moods and narration. The goal is that the viewer can’t resist but to grab the thread that I left and finish a new fable in his imagination. Myself and Tyler Austin Bradley are now working on a whole series of fables and tales that are set here in BC. I’m really excited about this collaboration.
Your wife’s Canadian. Is she from Rossland? How did you meet?
Twelve years ago I came skiing to BC and I met Hannah in the ski rental store at Red Mountain. She moved with her whole family from Saskatoon to Rossland a few years before I met her.
What are some other new projects you’re working on?
At the moment I want to move my sculptural work in a bit of a new direction, exploring the tension and problems between civilization and large animals are going to be the main focus of the next series. Everything I learned on the bear carving will flow into this but I add to it an architectural component, which means it is not going to be a solid block of wood but a patchwork of connected wood pieces. And I’m just starting to think of a series that focuses on the salmon and its absence in the Columbia River system, which could take some time to develop.