Art. Work.

Tara Bradbury
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Four artisans open their studios to the public this weekend, giving art lovers a chance to see the birth of beauty


All that glitters is not gold — in some cases, it might be silver, brass, copper, pottery, printed paper or even chocolate.                Under a starry theme, four St. John’s artisans are opening their studios to the public for a free Christmas event this weekend, featuring displays, demonstrations, hands-on activities, chocolate-tasting and free twinkling gifts.

The four women, Susan Lee Stephen, Alexis Templeton, Isabella St. John and Marnie Parsons, are all long-time craftspeople with small, intimate studios around the downtown area; studios that are normally reserved as sanctuaries where they work alone. The work they each create is unique, and they’re each well-established in the local arts community.

In a community that is increasingly interested in buying local products and curious about the way handmade objects are created, the ladies organized the tour as a way to let the public in, behind the scenes, to experience it first-hand and try some work themselves.

“We are doing this as a part of building a community of art appreciators,” St. John explained.

Susan Lee Stephen

Susan Lee Studio, 116 Bond Street

Tour hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Stephen is a jewellery artist who works in metal, leather, clay and bones, and even with photographs.

She got her start in jewelry-making while a student in College of the North Atlantic’s Textiles Studies program, having done a workshop in silverworking in Mexico, and went on to study at Ontario’s Haliburton School of the Arts. She made jewelry part-time for eight or nine years, selling her pieces through the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council, before setting up a studio in the last year or so. Her pieces are available online and at locations around town, including Model Citizens and Johnny Ruth.

“I started working in sterling silver,” Stephen explains. “Sterling silver has been climbing in price like everything else, so I’ve been incorporating a lot of copper, bronze and brass in my work, which allows me to add colour.”

Stephen’s themes range from the natural — like trees, birds and landscapes — to the abstract. She often uses silhouettes in her work to suggest shadows or moments caught in time.

Stephen has a line of jewellery with potter Alexis Templeton — incorporating crystalline-glazed pottery and silver — and a line of pieces inspired by Stephen’s own photography.

“The photo-etched pieces just allow me to add another element that’s personal,” Stephen says. “I etch the photograph right on the metal and from there I can manipulate that into pieces of jewellery.”

For this weekend’s tour, Stephen will demonstrate work on her bronze and copper earrings and etched sheep pins. She’ll give a starry copper charm as a gift to each purchaser.

Alexis Templeton

Alexis Templeton Studio, 75 Quidi Vidi Road

Tour hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Templeton is a potter, best known for her functional pieces and special, distinctive glazes.

“Usually when you see shots of people making pottery, you see them on the wheel,” Templeton says. “I like that part, but I think I’ve actually graduated to liking the glazing better.”

Templeton’s signature is her crystalline glaze, where frost-like pansies form in the glass, starting off as rods and fanning out as the piece cools in the kiln.

Templeton has been a potter for more than 20 years, moving her studio to its current location in 2004. She often draws on ocean themes, and some of her popular pieces include imprints of starfish and sea urchins, or are adorned with dried cod.

Templeton also describes herself as “a chocolate collector,” and sells unique chocolate in her studio.

“I research and I find chocolate that’s won awards or is interesting for some reason, then I find a Canadian distributor and import it,” she says. “I think there’s a link between pottery and food.”

For this weekend’s tour, Templeton will show visitors how to make snowflakes, and will give each customer a star ornament.

Isabella St. John

Blue Moon Pottery, 17 Outer Battery Road

Tour hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Isabella St. John is perhaps one of the best-known potters in the province, having celebrated in September her 41st anniversary of ever having touched clay.

“I think this happens to most potters: the first time you touch clay you fall in love with it. That definitely happened to me,” St. John says.

St. John had done a pottery course at the community college in Corner Brook but had no art experience whatsoever, she says — but the idea of creating something functional was irresistible to her. She opened Blue Moon Pottery in 1985.

“Being able to create something that you could use, your friends could use, your community could use, really appealed to me, and the idea of self-sufficiency and doing things for yourself and anti-commercialism,” she says.

St. John remains partial to functional pottery, especially after visiting Japan and Korea a couple years ago (“it was like making a pilgrimage; the birth of ceramics is in those countries,” she says), and many of her most recent pieces are Asian-inspired. She uses natural tones and emphasizes carved and faceted work in her pieces, giving them a more architectural feel. She has been experiencing with wooden stamps: one of them, bought in a cooking store in Japan, was meant for cookies, another, with a star-shaped design, is a butter stamp that belonged to her grandmother.

St. John’s studio, with a view of the Narrows at every window, is generally a special, solitary place, St. John says; tranquil and inspiring for her work, which is often inspired by nature or architecture.

For this weekend’s tour, St. John will demonstrate how her carved vases, lanterns and star ornaments are made.

Marnie Parsons

Running the Goat Press, 8 Mullock Street

Tour Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Stepping into Parsons’ studio is like stepping back in time. She runs a micro-press, specializing in chapbooks (small books of less than 48 pages), poetry, essays and broadsides by Newfoundlanders and Newfoundland-based writers.

The centrepiece of her studio is a 180-year-old cast-iron hand press, weighing almost a ton and brought over from England, with all its original pieces. Parsons sets the type on the press — each word, letter by letter and each line, word by word — and inks it by hand before pressing her paper.

“It’s a fairly labour-intensive process, but it’s a lot of fun,” she says, smiling.

Parsons owns thousands of type: lead and wood letters, from tiny 10 point right up to poster-size 72 point.

“There’s something almost zen-like about setting type and putting type away,” she says.

Parsons, who studied English literature and worked in libraries and bookstores for years, began printing after being encouraged by local artist Tara Bryan, who invited her to visit her printshop. Parson set and printed her first poem in July 2000, and eventually started working out of Bryan’s printshop before establishing one of her own.

“For me, it was the idea of having a relationship with a text in a very organized and tactile way,” she says. “For me a lot of the print is about the text and how I can find a way to serve the text, sometimes playfully and sometimes very quietly. It’s always about giving the words a form, at least in my view.”

For the studio tour, Parsons will show visitors how to use her presses, and they will be able to try their hand at printing bookplates. Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Haliburton School of the Arts, Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council Blue Moon Narrows Goat Press

Geographic location: Mexico, Ontario, Japan Corner Brook Korea England

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