Fine craft in this province is varied, in terms of media, technique and theme. Some artists take traditional approaches, while others prefer the contemporary. Materials like wool, pottery, wood and metals appear side by side — or combined — to form pieces that are functional or purely decorative.
One thing, however, has remained with the passage of time and ties local craftspeople together like salty twine, and that’s an artistic inspiration drawn from the ocean.
“I don’t think you can ignore the seascape and the landscape in this province,” explains Sharon LeRiche, co-ordinator of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Gallery in St. John’s. “People are going beyond the obvious inspiration to make it more personal, more about things that inspire them (in particular).”
This is evident in the gallery’s current exhibit, its annual members show. Each year, a call is made to craft council members for submissions, and a three-member jury selects a certain number to participate. This year there are 43 craftspeople represented, from all around the province.
“The jury members are looking for works that are trying some new ideas, that certainly have the mark of their maker, so that it’s not duplicating other things, and that are finely crafted. Most importantly, it’s about the uniqueness of the idea, I think,” LeRiche says.
The participating artists represent all stages of careers, from first-time exhibitor Cheryl Shirran’s Sweet Pea necklace in felted wool, to veteran potter Isabella St. John’s three porcelain vases. Most of the pieces represent some aspect of the natural world, and many depict facets of traditional Newfoundland and Labrador culture, from Carolyn Morgan’s art doll, “Great-Great Grandmother Making Fish’ to Kelly Bruton’s series of appliqué and embroidery pieces. Each of the three pieces, sewn in vintage kitchen cotton and other textiles, shows a different outport kitchen; a result, LeRiche says, of Bruton having spent some time around the bay hosting design workshops.
Two artists chose to create mermaid pieces: Veselina Tomova presents a pottery dish called “Mermaid With Shrimp,” while Janet Peter is showing two stunning hand-felted sculptures. “Olga” is a bare-chested beauty created in a purple and blue palette, while “Catfish” is a mermaid sitting on a rock, whiskered orange fish in her hands. Peter has captured the foam and movement of the ocean swirling around the rock — not an easy task when using wool roving and a barbed needle as sculpting tools.
“I’ve actually poked myself so many times, I don’t think I even bleed anymore,” Peter says, laughing.
Peter, who often creates work with mermaid themes in papier mâché as well, says it’s a theme to which she feels particularly close.
“It might be really cheesy, but living here and being next to the ocean, I feel it’s part of the culture and folklore,” she explains. “Also, I really like working with that form.”
Bonnie Johnstone also chose to create a needle-felted figurine, “Elf and Dog,” a tiny garden gnome-type creature with his arm around a golden puppy, both of them resting on a piece of driftwood.
A number of artists chose to incorporate beach glass and pebbles into their work, notably Terry Nicholls’ masterpiece “The Arches,” a large hanging mosaic completed with marble, granite, pebbles, stained glass, unglazed porcelain and glass beads.
Christine Koch’s “The Narrows — Starry Night” linocut and Alexis Templeton’s crystalline glazed ceramics are immediately recognizable as their own, bearing their signature style.
Of the pieces on display, a second jury selects winners for three of the craft council’s Awards for Excellence in Craft. The awards have been presented for the past 13 years, recognizing exceptional achievement, technical excellence and innovation in craft.
St. John’s ceramist Stefanie Smith received the Award for Innovation and Design for her piece, “Red Owl Box #15,” a smoke-fired and burnished functional ceramic box with a delicate puzzle-fit cover, embossed with owl designs.
The West Award for Personal Expression went to Nicola Hawkins of Admiral’s Cove for “Newfoundland Bound,” a stained glass and copper foil piece with a personal perspective on immigration.
“It is inspired by the patchwork windows that were created from broken medieval glass after the destruction of the English Civil War,” Hawkins said in her artist statement, adding that it combines two methods: the medieval technique of painting and firing pieces of glass and the 19th century copper foil assembly process.
The Juror’s Choice Award went to Murray Swantee for “Rustic High Back Arm Chair,” which craft council director Anne Manuel describes as “both organic and geometric and exceedingly comfortable.”
As well, four awards were selected among the craftspeople nominated by members of the council and the public: Smith was presented with the Award for Exceptional Achievement by a Young Craftsperson, knitter Christine LeGrow received the Award for Interpretation of Provincial History, Heather White received the Award for the Preservation of Traditional Craft Skills, and Mabel Manuel won the Award for Outstanding Achievement.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council’s 2013 annual members’ exhibit runs at the craft council gallery, 59 Duckworth St., until Aug. 24.
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