Creative commerce

Tara Bradbury
Published on November 11, 2011
Northeastern Folk Art’s raku sheep (top) won the Craft Council’s award for Best New Product; Wendy Shirran (above) adds handles to freshly turned mugs at the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council booth; a tiny landscape of hand-dyed thread (below left) is part of the Crafty Privateers Silver and Silk line; singer Teresa Ennis and partner Joel Hunt have sewed up a yaffle of cushy logs (below) and plush stones for the Newfoundland Soft Rock Co. — Photos by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

What event blurs the already fine line between art and craft?

The Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council’s annual Christmas Craft Fair.

Paintings, prints, photography and pottery sculptures are being displayed side-by-side with handknit sweaters, silver jewelry, chocolates and throw pillows at the fair, taking place at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

The dozens of exhibitors, mainly local artists and artisans with a handful from the mainland, are each showing how crafts can indeed be original pieces of artistic expression.

Rosalind Ford, one half of the Crafty Privateers with partner Jason Holley, is blending her love of metal work with tapestry with her latest line of jewelry, Silver and Silk.

On a base of silver, Ford forms a framework of fine silver wire through which she uses a tapestry needle and silk thread to weave designs in shades of blue, green and pink. The silver is prepared by Ford in her studio, as is the silk, which is coloured with natural dyes made from indigo, goldenrod, and, in the case of the pink shades, Newfoundland lichens.

“It’s called mollyfodge, which is in the Newfoundland dictionary,” Ford said of the lichen dye. Mollyfodge, she explained, was traditionally one of the few colours available to rural communities.

Ford’s Silver and Silk line contains necklaces and earrings, the silk woven in spiral patterns or featuring tiny landscapes.

“I find it quite soothing, stitch after stitch,” she explained.

Charlottetown, P.E.I., artisan Rilla Marshall of Marshall Arts also works in silk, as well as cotton and merino wool, which she dyes and weaves on a home loom into brightly coloured, tightly patterned scarves and shawls.

“Silk is a great insulator. It keeps you warm in the winter and doesn’t overheat you in the summer,” Marshall explained. Some of the scarves contain woolen elements that Marshall weaves at double her usual length, then felts — washes in hot water, causing it to tighten and shrink, making for a denser, warmer finished product.

Local songstress Teresa Ennis is debuting her new business with partner Joel Hunt, called Newfoundland Soft Rock Co. The pair make quilted cushions as well as throw pillows from fleece and cotton that look like quartz veined beach rocks and junks of wood.

This is their first-ever craft show, and they’ll be showing again at the One of a Kind craft fair in Toronto at the end of the month.

Hunt said he previously had a similar type of business, and Teresa, who quilts, liked making pillows, too.

“It seemed like a natural thing for us to do,” he explained.

Hunt made a styrofoam sculpture of the log in order to come up with a pattern, then uses silk-screened cotton to sew the cushion. The beach rocks are more or less fashioned as they go, with Ennis doing much of the company’s sewing, he said. The pillows sell for $40 a piece.

Many of the artisans have drawn inspiration from their natural surroundings for their pieces, some incorporating them more subtly than others. Florence Donaway of Donaway Pottery hand-builds her decorative pieces, which range from tables shaped like tree trunks to bowls inspired by parsnips. A fashion collection includes shoe sculptures in vibrant colours which, when examined closely, contain shapes of dried cod.

“I like experimenting with shape and colour, and I just keep moving,” Donaway said of her designs. “It’s part of the pleasure.”

Erin McArthur and Mike Gillan of Northeastern Folk Art were presented with the Craft Council’s award for Best New Product: raku ceramic sheep ornaments from their “Rams and Ewes” line. Though McArthur cast an original mould for the ornaments, each sheep is finished individually and fired with a different glass, leaving some of them black, some white, and some copperish.

“They were inspired by my friends, who are knitters,” McArthur explained.

Other Northeastern Folk Art products include ornaments inspired by leaves, shells, starfish, partridges, mermaids and angels, as well as brooches, vases and candle doubters.

“Living in this place inspires most artists, I think,” McArthur said. “It’s inevitable, really.”

The Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council Christmas Craft Fair runs today from noon-9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday 10-5 p.m.