Quadriplegic artist uses the sun to create works of art

Hockey has always been Norman Shewchuk’s game. 

Growing up in Manitoba, he played hockey until age 16 when an on-ice accident sent him headfirst into the boards, leaving him quadriplegic. It didn’t stop his passion for the sport. 

The hardcore hockey fan, who has no control of his fingers and limited use of his hands, uses a magnifying glass and the sun to carefully burn detailed images into wood, with some pieces taking more than 60 hours. His favourite subject is hockey and, in particular, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

“You’d think that someone who got hurt playing hockey wouldn’t be such a big fan, but it's the total opposite for Norman. He’s always been such a big fan,” says his sister Pat Willock. 

The 52-year-old resident of Mundare’s Mary Immaculate Care Centre is leaving two Connor boards unfinished with the hope that the hockey star will sign them. 

“He is pure class," says Norman. "Even when he is interviewed, there are never any bad words, and it’s never him, him, him—it’s always his teammates and coaches.” 

Norman’s family hope Connor will sign the artwork. 

“When we first mentioned it to him like, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool if Connor McDavid signed that for you,’ he just went silent with a big smile on his face just thinking about it,” says Norman's sister. “I would imagine he would be talking about that for the rest of his life.”

The stages behind Norman's Connor McDavid board. Norman posts regular art updates on his Twitter account, @Burner1966.

Norman often makes art for his family and friends, even creating name plaques for the other residents at Mary Immaculate.

“It’s just relaxing; it’s like a therapy for me. It's quiet, outdoors in the warm sun,” says Norman. “I start burning away and time flies."

Norman, who first began wood burning when he was about 19 years old, says there are challenges to wood burning. He faces issues such as smoke blowing in his face and eyes, birds and clouds getting in the way of the sun's rays and the possibility of one mistake ruining the whole board. 

“The stuff he’s done with just a magnifying glass is just incredible. He takes on challenges that I am just wondering how he’s going to do it, but he always manages to do it,” says Pat. 

Staff and residents are amazed by Norman’s work, says Margo Sanders-Callihoo, Healthcare Aide at Mary Immaculate.

“When I first saw his work, I assumed he had a wood-burning pen,” says Margo. “It blows you away when you see how much work goes into it.” 

The process takes many hours. First, Norman finds an image and fine-tunes it in Photoshop. 

“The longest part would probably be the computer work,” explains Norman. He spends most of his time on the computer during the winter so he can burn in the summer.

After his image is ready, he takes a hard copy and carefully traces it onto a wooden board. 

“The challenging part is to get out there when it's warm enough. It has to be warm enough so I can sit outside and then, of course, there can't be any clouds because if there is no sun, you can't burn.” 

It’s slow-going work. Norman spent 18 hours burning one of his Connor pieces. 

Norman says he plans to keep burning for as long as he can and hopes to create more Connor masterpieces.  

Norman's artwork shows his passion for the game with the Humboldt Broncos and Winnipeg Jets logos.

Contribute to The Vital Beat

Have a story to share about health care? An idea for an article? We value all contributions.

Submit an idea