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Time in a bottle

Rae McIntyre, 88, talks about his foray into woodcarving and the challenges of creating vignettes in a bottle.

One steady hand gripped the carving knife as the other held the solid block of wood that will soon be transformed into a compelling piece of art.

Head bent low, concentration lines are etched in the lived-in face focused on crafting what 88-year-old Rae McIntyre said is one of the last projects he will ever do.

His interest in woodcarving began when he discovered the history of the unique art of creating a ship in a bottle.

“My interest and fascination was with the ships in bottles that were created by the old sea-going sailors who had nothing to do during their long voyages and their superb craftsmanship,” McIntyre said.

“Those bottles were long-necked and the sailors had to carve their ships outside the bottle bearing in mind that they had to get them in the bottle and consequently they had to make the whole carving small enough to slide it into the bottle and they had it all arranged so that when they pulled a string all the masts would stand up and then they had all the inside of the bottle prefinished.”

McIntyre said people must consider the skill involved while using the very primitive tools they had.

“They had little more than a carving knife while I’ve got Dremel tools and all of the latest technology as far as wood carving is concerned,” McIntyre explained.

“That’s how I got started.”

His first piece was created in 1993.

It was a classic ship in a bottle and it took him about three months to put it all together.

Then about 29 years later he picked up the Dremel again. The twist for McIntyre's artwork was the ship wasn’t at sea but rather showcased in a landlocked snow scene called Winter Refit.

He revisited his wood-carving hobby in 2021 to whittle away time during his retirement.

“I had already carved the golfers but I didn’t have a bottle, and I didn’t know what to do with them and then one day it occurred to me to put them in a bottle and that’s what’s happened,” Rae explained.

McIntyre decided he would create vignettes in a bottle that reflected moments in life that depicted some of his favourite memories.

He dedicated his next two bottles to his sons. The Aberdeen Glen golf course vignette is dedicated to his son Ken.

McIntyre created a scene at Aberdeen Glen golf course on Hole 18 that was completed in 2022.

“The golfers – the driver and the chipper – I could get in the bottle as you see them, but the putter, who is squatting down – that was very difficult because I had to cut him in half and had a real bad time because it’s such a long reach from the bottle’s neck to the bottom of the bottle to get him first of all glued back together and then to get him upright – I don’t know what I was doing wrong but it took a while to get him to sit up,” McIntyre said.

The next scene in a bottle, called Cornfield Morning, featuring a hunter with his loyal dog pointing to a pheasant, is dedicated to his son Gary.

“With Cornfield Morning the difficulty I had was getting the hunter in the right position.”

That piece of artwork took 14 months and two days to make. Yes, McIntyre was counting.

McIntyre has specifically chosen short-necked, rectangular bottles for easy access.

“The short neck is really critical because I have to have the manoeuvrability with my tools when I am reaching in there,” McIntyre said.

The next project is an out-of-the-bottle creation that is already entitled Morris River Steelhead that will feature a fisher catching his salmon from the clear blue river in front of him.

The Morris River piece is dedicated to his grandson Connor who has recently developed a love for fishing.

McIntyre said his final project will be the most poignant of his vignettes, his wedding to beloved wife Elaine, who passed away in 2014.

“That will be a long project because I have to carve five individuals to go into the bottle,” McIntyre said.

“It will include bridesmaid, bride, the minister, me and my best man so I need a good-sized bottle and I already have it selected,” McIntyre smiled.

“You know what’s interesting is that men are interested in the boat, golfers and hunters but when I tell women I’m going to do my wedding, oh their ears perk up,” Rae laughed.

“It may be the last project I ever do and it will take a long time.”