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His work, crafted from a Nova Scotia red oak downed by the storm that made landfall Sept. 24, 2022, is up for auction at a starting bid of $30,000. It is one of three artistic creations the United Way is selling to raise money for storm victims.

While artists may not be able to provide large cash donations to people whose homes and lands were damaged, they can offer their time and skills, Otter said in an interview Thursday.

"A year on (from a disaster), if we don't have the help and support we've needed we can feel alone, forgotten and depressed. But if someone comes to us in that situation, even with the smallest of gestures, it lifts us up and we forge on," he said.

"I keep that in my mind. If we keep that cycle of kindness and concern going, it will come back to us."

The fundraising auction, organized by footwear manufacturer Timberland Canada and creative agency King Ursa, is also selling a hand-carved wood sculpture by Adam McNamara, and an ink-and-water colour print of a tree ring by Kalen Roblee. Like Otter's chair, the sculpture and print are made of trees knocked down by Fiona.

The money raised will go into a Fiona relief fund operated by the United Way, to help communities that the charity says are least equipped for recovery.

The storm was the costliest extreme weather event in the East Coast's history, destroying 100 houses in southwestern Newfoundland, and damaging woodlands, farms, businesses and homes across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Insured losses alone have been estimated at $800 million. 

Otter said the woodlands he grew up in on his parents' farm in central Nova Scotia were flattened by Fiona's winds.

He said the chair — which he named "solace" — is carved to evoke whipped-up waves by hurricane-force winds; the upholstery is meant to comfort sitters and remind them of how neighbours help one another amid the damage.

The 51-year-old designer, who is now based in Cork, Ireland, estimated he spent about 300 hours crafting the chair.

He said that after the piece was commissioned, he started making extensive notes on potential themes. “The phrase I went back to over and over again was ‘Outside is the hurricane and inside we are calm,’ and that phrase became the seed for this design,” he said.

“The idea was that when a hurricane is blowing, it can be a frightening experience, but if we know … we’ll have support and help, we can transcend the storm a little bit and achieve a little bit of calm.”

The designer said he sought a red oak tree because of its dark and rich texture, and asked his brother, Ben, to collect one that was downed by Fiona in woodlands.

The work itself required a highly detailed model, which he used to guide him in making the full-scale chair. Though some of the initial work was done by power tools, the joining was done by hand and the finer work with rasps and sandpaper, he said. 

Otter said the three artists' creations are suggestive of "kindness and resilience," both of which, he said, will be in high demand as climate emergencies are likely to continue around the world. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly said Fiona landed on Feb. 24, 2022.

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The Canadian Press

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