Material world

Joan Sullivan
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The art of precious metal and fine fabric

For pure lyric fusion of form and function, there’s not much that beats a silver bowl. The shape is both organic and geometric, the matter a gleaming solid that seems to remember it was once fluently poured, and you can put stuff in it — green apples, your great-aunt’s topaz rings.

“It’s fine art really, it really is,” said Wesley Harris, the creator behind one aspect of the duet exhibitions “Rare Reflections.”

Harris has worked as a jeweler and metalsmith for about 40 years, “and always wanted to do a gallery show of large-scale metal work.” That’s called hollowware, and means vases, vessels, water pitchers and candleholders, objects that shine from cases and pedestals around Harris as his show opens.

“There’s a functional quality, of course. That labels it fine craft. But I’ve tried to create works of art, things that could stand on their own, without having to be used if it didn’t want to.”

Works like these take time. Harris, a stay-at-home dad for many years, waited until his children were in university before embarking on this artistic route.

“I’ve had all these ideas in the back burner on my mind. But the processes involved in hollowware are very slow and time-consuming, so finally I’ve been able to focus full-time on the show.”

It’s the size of the works that takes so much time.

“The hollowware has to be either worked with hammers or anvil-like tools towards a very slow, gradual approximation towards a hollow form, or constructed, like the water pitcher, which has been built out of separate strands of wire, 241 wires.”

At one or two wires a day, it takes a while to put together something like that.

The art is mostly sterling silver. Harris loves working in gold, and there’s one example here, a pendant in yellow, green, pink and white gold. Gold is easier than silver as “gold is so inert,” but it’s expensive now — not that sterling silver is far behind. Still, silver has its challenges.

“Sterling silver is in some ways more difficult to work than gold. Because in the alloy there’s 7 1/2 per cent copper, so it’s 92 and 1/2 per cent pure, and 7 1/2 per cent copper in sterling gives it a toughness, a resistance to bending and so on, but it also causes the tarnish.”

Sometimes, for artistic purposes, Harris leaves that tarnish on, as in a “Dolphin Bowl,” where it suggests waves and subaquatic currents flowing under the cut-out dolphin shapes.

But otherwise these pieces are all shine — the lustrous rose bowls, a vase for tall grasses (in red bronze), a letter opener inset with amethyst. A set of votive candles — each took 40 hours to produce — make luminous assembly. And there are other pieces in mokume gane, “the Japanese word for woodgrain metal, the colours look like woodgrain when you expose the internal layers as you smith it and carve into it,” Harris explained.

These tones mottle and bloom along stems and rims.

The delicacy and heft of Harris’s work is nicely set off by Hilary Rice’s segment of “Rare Reflections,” panels of multi-media textiles that are aloft and spiraling with theme and imagery.

Rice manipulates her material, often hand-painted cotton and hand-dyed silk that also have surface techniques applied.

“The work is very much informed by the materials themselves,” Rice explained at her opening, concurrent to Harris’s.

“I always know what a piece is about, but I don’t necessarily have a picture in my mind. When I’m working so close to the materials, I feel a sense of guidance.”

The “pictures” emerge through her methods and her detailing with stitching and accents of metal, like pewter, foil or beads. She also often includes texts, either as overt messages or hidden clues.

“This particular exhibit expresses the idea of thin places, that the veil between our world and the beyond is thin,” said Rice.

“It’s about the times we feel close to the holy. As in giving birth to an idea.”

In works like “Touching The Face of the Stars,” and “Prayers Rise Like Incense,” there is a creamy volume and rhythm in mesh and line. “Strands of If” is shot with streams of red, while “A Quiet Hunger for Beauty” is more bluely muted, centred on a cresting wave.

Throughout, the colours and fixtures combine in engaging skims and scrims and webs of tone, hue and fabric.

“Rare Reflections, The Art of Wesley Harris, and the Art of Hilary Rice” continues at the Craft Council Gallery until April 24.

Harris’s exhibition will also be seen at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College from June 23-Sept 10.

For more on Rice’s work, visit

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Craft Council Gallery

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