Dentists and Goddesses

by: Patrick Langston
Article published September 2nd, 2007
Appeared in the Orleans Star

Like most of us, Dr. Shaukat Chaney, a Cumberland dentist turned stone and bronze sculptor, used to see shapes in clouds when he was a child. The difference between him and us is that he’s gone right on seeing shapes, although he’s shifted his attention to more solid objects. “I have a dialogue with the stone,” he says, his words sounding not the least New Age-y. “I see objects, I see figures in the stone. If I try putting it on paper, it stops, so I keep the pattern in my head.” And there he keeps it until the sculpture – a reclining earth goddess, a twisting hand, a semi-abstract bison that seems to shed its winter fur before your eyes – is finished.

Dr. Chaney, whose WaterWalks Studio you can visit on-line or in person, developed the technique of visualizing and holding a pattern in his head while working as a craniofacial specialist at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Dentistry some 30 years ago.

When creating craniofacial prostheses for trauma and cancer patients, he says, “You had to visualize how they would look when you were finished.”

Chaney, a native of Pune, India, first learned of the connection between dentistry and art as a student at the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Dentistry in 1974. The program included oil painting to heighten students’ understanding of colours used in dentistry.

So taken was Chaney with the relevance of art to dentistry that he introduced portrait sculpture to the program while teaching at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Sometimes as a dentist, you can get too involved with the teeth and forget there’s a person around the teeth,” he says. “When you sculpt that clay, you learn to see the subtle differences of shapes on a face.”

Dr. Shaukat Chaney is a retired dentist who has set up a successful business as a scupltor. Photo by Darren Brown

Chaney moved to Ottawa with his family in the mid-1980s. He continued to practice dentistry while enrolling in stone and wood carving courses at the Ottawa School of Art. Retiring from dentistry in 1993, Chaney turned to full-time stone and bronze sculpting and painting, although painting has since taken a back seat to sculpting.

“Each sculpture tells a story,” he says, giving as an example a piece he’s currently working on that depicts a woman grieving her own death and the sadness it’s caused her loved ones. “I like to make people think, ‘What is the artist saying?’ Maybe their interpretation is different from mine, but that’s OK.”

Chaney says one reason sculpture doesn’t have the market appeal of painting is that people often don’t know where to put it. His services include advising buyers on where to best place a piece in their home.

He also encourages people to become comfortable with sculpture, which is not usually part of our daily lives, by visiting galleries and museums. After a while, he says, you’ll start to see patterns emerge and learn to enjoy the art.

And for stress relief, sculpting is tough to beat. “It’s very calming and meditative,” Chaney says, “especially cutting stone. Just the tap-tap-tap on the stone becomes like a meditation.”

WaterWalks Studio is located at 2975 Quillivan Dr. in Cumberland.
Call 613-833-0157 or e-mail