Sandy Christensen’s Clayful Characters

Sandy Christensen’s Clayful Characters

"Old Age and Beauty"

As we traveled south along highway #2 towards Watrous, Saskatchewan for our interview with ceramic artist Sandy Christensen, the sheen of Little Manitou Lake came into view as the gentle relief of land gave way to its shores. It was inevitable that we would visit these therapeutic mineral rich waters for a soak and a float, known as the “Dead Sea of Canada” and one of only three such bodies of water in the world. It was there at Manitou Beach that we also learned the history of Danceland, a 5000 square foot horse hair dance floor that has been around since 1928. Our spontaneous tour of this historic building came from 85 year old Ken Mackie, a veteran dance participant walking laps around the perimeter of the expansive dance floor at about 5 miles per day. Ken has a sharp wit, is humourous, and is an interesting fellow with many stories to tell. It is ironic that we met Ken before Sandy not knowing that he could have been the subject of inspiration for one of Sandy’s creative clay characters.

arts-quest-sandy-christensen-2

Sandy Christensen has always had an affinity for clay, even as a young girl making mud pies. So it was serendipitous that when a woman who had moved back to the area and began teaching pottery lessons that Sandy jumped in and didn’t look back. Without this turn of events she notes that she may have done any number of other activities and never truly found the love for clay. Sandy soon discovered that even though she enjoyed making pots on the turning wheel, what she really loved was hand-building.

"Coffeetime"

“Coffeetime”

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Sandy loves to create ceramic characters and the stories they tell. In her completed works you will see playful youngsters doing what they typically do, familiar sibling interactions, and one little girl taking a stubborn stand against her father to protest…(insert your imagination here). But above all you will see what Sandy loves to create most, the venerable elders such as Ken, with their character lines and endless stories as she catches the essence of these “real” people in their daily lives.

"The Grass is Always Greener..."

“The Grass is Always Greener…”

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Many times Sandy will get commission statues to do for a member of someone’s family, and if that family truly knows the subject; how they dress, hobbies and especially funny quirks or memorable past situations, then Sandy will strive to capture that in her piece. She knows she has nailed it when the unveiling of the characterization evokes fits of laughter. So true to character is Sandy’s interpretation that families occasionally display pieces at funerals as fond remembrances of their loved ones.

"The Conversation"

“The Conversation”

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Sandy reveals that one of her favourite past-times is people watching, and so it makes sense that many of her ideas comes from observing how people look, what they say and what they are doing. She has noticed that if you look at people from a certain region, maybe from a certain occupation or of a certain advanced age, they tend to look very much alike. She notes that as we get older many of us will acquire a similar body shape, the greying hair and usually prescription glasses, revealing a stereotype that she enjoys incorporating into her art work. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. For Sandy’s pieces it is the face that is the window to the character. Although everything is important and must be in proportion, Sandy spends the most time on the face, trying to get the accurate likeness of the person and evoking the desired expression. What matters to Sandy is that these little clay characters make you smile.

Enjoy our interview with Sandy and please feel free to share her interview on social media and email. Comments are welcome too!

Get Wildcrafting with Mixed Media Artist Don Elzer

Get Wildcrafting with Mixed Media Artist Don Elzer

"Greystokes Cottonwoods"

“Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting and using wild materials for food, medicine, construction, art and craft. Whether it’s a wild botanical like devils club, shed antlers, pine cones or mushrooms, the gathering of found materials provides wildcrafters a means to generate a living direct from nature.” ~Don Elzer~

Don Elzer at his Wildcraft Forest

Don Elzer at his Wildcraft Forest

The above quote from Don Elzer therein lies the first clue to the life he leads. It is one of stewardship to the lands he roams, loves and protects, collecting materials for his own use and commerce but like all healthy relationships his connection to the Earth is one of give and take, and then give some more. Through permaculture principles he advocates for, and engages in responsible harvesting practices of plant species; tread lightly, take only what you need, replenish and propagate, then repeat.

"The Prophecy" - full and detail

“The Prophecy” – full and detail

We met up with mixed media artist Don Elzer at his Wildcraft Forest Wild Tea Plantation thirty minutes east of Vernon along Highway 6 in the Monashee region of British Columbia. We had already been following Don’s initiatives on Facebook for quite awhile now, but when we sat down to chat with him we were amazed by all of the wildcrafting irons that he had in the fire.

"Tree Whisper" and "The Tone"

“Tree Whisper” and “The Tone”

Don’s art work is one extension of his wildcrafting. Found materials such as antlers, birch bark, feathers and naturally harvested clay are just a few items that lend themselves to Don’s sculptures in symbolic, spiritual and storied interpretations. His paintings may be a mix of acrylic paint, pastels and crayons which seems to create an almost 3d effect through the contrast of glossy and matte finishes. They depict memorable scenes, places once been and of stories yet to unfold.

"Monashee Moon #1"

“Monashee Moon #1”

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If wildcrafting is the hub of Don Elzer’s wheel of life, then the many spokes borne from that are not only his art work, but also initiatives such as:

-Teaching Permaculture Design and Wildcrafting Courses at his Wildcraft Forest.
-Offering wild tea blends, herbs and potions at the Wildcraft Forest Apothecaeri.
-Social enterprise through his Watershed Intelligence Network.
– The Shelter Revolution. Tiny House building, sales and workshops with off-the-grid applications.
Author and Publisher

Don may wear many hats but through all of these labours of love lies a common thread: a deep connection, appreciation and relationship to nature.

"Dreams of the New Sacred Land"

“Dreams of the New Sacred Land”

So you see, it matters not whether you are looking to appreciate nature through a sculpture, a painting, a soothing and medicinal tea, or a hands-on practical education in wildcrafting to further your stewardship on Earth, a visit to Don Elzer’s Wildcraft Forest will awaken your senses.

Enjoy our interview with Don Elzer as you peruse his art work! Comments and sharing through social media and email are encouraged and welcome!

Fibre Artist Ann Harmer Puts Another Feather in the Mushroom Cap

Fibre Artist Ann Harmer Puts Another Feather in the Mushroom Cap

Lobster Mushroom

The more I learn about mushrooms the more I love them! Fortunately for Gary and I our trip to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia would lead us to the doorstep of fibre artist and mushroomist Ann Harmer and her world of the magnificent mushroom. Ann lives with her husband Rick and their two friendly pooches on a parcel of land near Katherine Lake where we had camped the night before. They moved from Burnaby about a decade ago after falling in love with the area. Rick says it was Katherine Lake that pulled them there. Outside their door is a rainforest which harbours all the right conditions for mushroom life. Before moving to this area, Ann had decided she wanted to learn all about mushrooms not realizing this endeavour would lead her into a creative realm using the humble fungi.

Ann Harmer Wearing One of Her Crocheted Scarves Coloured with Various Mushroom Dyes

Ann Harmer Wearing One of Her Crocheted Scarves Coloured with Various Mushroom Dyes

I was curious to find out if using the mushroom to make dyes was some sort of ancient art form. As Ann explained it only began when a woman in California was creating a dyepot out of flowers, and merely out of curiosity happened to throw in some little yellow mushrooms. It turns out she got a beautiful yellow dye and the rest is history. Now people all over the world forage for pigment mushrooms. They even get together once every two years for a pigment mushroom symposium to discuss all things fungi.

Range of Colours From Pigment Mushrooms

Range of Colours From Pigment Mushrooms

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Typical mushroom hunting season on the coast begins in July and goes into November. During that time Ann can be found out in the forest with her two dogs on the hunt for pigment mushrooms. Only a fraction of all mushroom species contain a pigment that is suitable for dyeing. I must say I was astounded at the colour palette; everything from earthy browns and greens to pinks, blues, and orange hues. Most of the mushrooms Ann hunts for are not edible but there is the lobster mushroom that she and Rick share. The lobster is a deep orange colour on the outside with a white fleshy inside. Ann peels the outside for her colour palette and Rick uses the tasty inside for his palate.

Beautiful Earthy Tones on Handspun Wool Art Yarn

Beautiful Earthy Tones on Handspun Wool Art Yarn

Mushroom Paper Bowls

Mushroom Paper Bowls

Some of Ann’s mushroom hunting involves locating a species that contains chitin. Chitin is the substance that helps to create the hard shell for arthropods such as insects, lobsters, and spiders. In the case of the mushroom, Ann can make a strong paper-like fibre which she turns into bowls, beads for jewellery and sculpture pieces such as hats and shoes (future project).

Turkey Tail Pendant and Mushroom Paper Beads

Turkey Tail Pendant and Mushroom Paper Beads

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The humble mushroom is an incredibly versatile species. It has been used in bioremediation as well as making a material that could replace plastic one day and not to mention they are wonderful to eat. And now as we have learned, it earns a noble place in the world of the visual arts. Before we left Ann and Rick that day we spent some time chatting over a cup of Earl Grey tea and some Candy Cap shortbread cookies that Ann had made. Candy Caps are a mushroom that taste and smell a bit like maple syrup. Even Gary couldn’t resist them!

To find out more about Ann Harmer please click here to get to her website.

Join us as Ann talks about the process of using mushrooms as dyes. We always love your comments and please help us spread the word about Ann on social media and through email. Thanks!

Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Team Yukon Canada wins first place at the International Carnaval de Quebec 2014 including Public Choice and Volunteer Choice Awards

What does it mean to follow your dreams? For Whitehorse, Yukon snow carver and sculptor Donald Watt it started at age ten, wishing someday to carve snow at the famous Quebec Winter Carnival. He recalls as a young boy watching the promo film for the Carnival on television with his father and proclaiming his aspirations. His father’s reply was that he was capable of doing anything he wanted. That stuck with him, and when Quebec invited Yukon to form a team for its national sculpture competition, he jumped at the chance. Donald not only lived his dream of carving in Quebec but has also seen victory as captain of Team Yukon, winning numerous times at the National and International Championships. Sadly, his father never got to see him carve in Quebec but Donald always pays homage to him by building an inukshuk from the initial chunks of snow removed as the carving begins to take shape. His father’s presence is now with him at every event watching him carve. Now, with over 30 years of carving, numerous awards from around the world and doing 6-8 carvings per year, that adds up to a lot of carvings, a lot of experience, and a testament to the power of his passion.

Donald Watt

Donald Watt

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture - Quebec 2013

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture – Quebec 2013

Snow carving is unlike any other art form; its closest relatives being ice and sand carving. It is a medium that requires a great deal of planning because it is not only dependent upon ones carving skills, but the carver must adhere to the laws of physics and nature. With a starting block of snow typically weighing 20-40 tons, it is not uncommon for a suspended portion of snow to weigh a ton or more. So if the structural design pushes load-bearing limits, combined with challenging weather conditions such as rain, the sculpture could collapse and end up in a pile before it is even judged. Other considerations are working against the clock as well as observing the criteria that the judges are looking for. These include creativity and artistic merit, technical difficulties as well as adherence to the original design. The appreciation and awe of a completed snow sculpture is fleeting; a live in the moment type of art work that not long after leaves its legacy in the photographs, memories and a marred footprint of where it once stood.

1st Place - San Vigilio, Italy 2013

1st Place – San Vigilio, Italy 2013

2nd Place - San Candido, Italy 2013

2nd Place – San Candido, Italy 2013

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The process for completing a sculpture is always a team effort, and each team mate will lend their strengths to complement the whole. The 2014 World Tour team for Yukon is comprised of Donald, Michael Lane and Ken Anderson. Donald is the three dimensional specialist and will guide the team in the initial stages to taking away the major chunks and getting the sculpture to an impressionistic stage. Michael is the idea guy and detailed carver who will advise on the fine particulars, and Ken is a skilled first nations carver that will also lend the knowledge and detail required for the traditional northern and west coast first nations themes.

Breckenridge, USA 2013

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When he isn’t carving snow Donald is still active in the arts. Formally trained in sculpture and printmaking, he enjoys helping out with three dimensional design; building and designing sets for the local theater groups as well as hiring himself out to the art department to design sets for movies that are filmed in the area. He also creates clay sculptures that he refers to as “fairies with attitude.” These aren’t your cutesy, pixie-like Tinkerbell fairies mind you; these have a personality all their own. Donald says that the idea for these fairies came from his Irish grandmother. She would always say, “Donald, you don’t go in the back of the garden because that’s where the fairies live, and they’re not always nice!” So he decided to create these not-so-friendly looking fairies and give them some chutzpah. Why do people connect with Donald’s fairies? Maybe they represent nonconformity; a rebellious free-spirit that doesn’t care what people think of them or how they look. Maybe they depict the balance between the dark and the light; good and bad. Or, maybe they’re just a whole lot of fun!

The Lady's Not For Sale

The Lady’s Not For Sale

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For many artists there is the piéce de résistance that lingers in the back of their mind; the ultimate work or challenge that pushes them to their outer limit. Having traveled the world carving snow sculptures Donald’s ultimate vision now is to go to Antarctica to carve the Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen expeditions. He wants to do a carving at Scott’s Antarctica landing spot, showing him leaving for the South Pole heavily laden with all of his supplies. Then he will fly to the South Pole and do another carving showing Amundsen’s arrival there with his sled dogs and planting the Norwegian flag, the first expedition to do so and beating Scott by thirty-four days. It is an enormous undertaking; requiring a lot of planning, permissions, safety logistics and funding, but having seen the journey and accomplishments of a wide-eyed young boy to where he is today, we don’t doubt that Donald Watt can make it happen. Keep following the magnificent snow sculptures of Donald and his Team Yukon through his linked website Snowcarver.ca… and maybe leave a little room on your nightstand for a fairy to watch over you.

Learn more about the art and science of snow sculpture during our interview with Donald Watt, and we always welcome Comments and Sharing on social media:

Shelley Hakonson Turns Art On Its Ear

Shelley Hakonson Turns Art On Its Ear

“Lucille's chameleon-like behaviour mystified her friends, she was never the same way twice.”

When we first arrived in Dawson City, Yukon on September 19 it was cold and snowing. Unfortunately we had just fried our electric heater the night before and had no choice but to find a store to purchase a new one. I was expecting to have to rob the nearest bank in order to pay for it but surprisingly the price was reasonable. We settled in for a cozy evening in Arty with anticipation of meeting visual mixed media artist Shelley Hakonson the next day. As I prefer to do with all the artists we interview, I went looking for some information about Shelley so I could come up with my own unique never-been-asked-before questions. I perused through her website, www.shelleyhakonson.com and found it to be most intriguing. Interestingly enough, after looking at Shelley’s work and reading about her, I thought I was headed into a deep philosophical journey and pictured myself way over my head in Shelley’s art arena. As I would come to find out my assumptions were unfounded.

Shelley in front of one of her hand-stitched pieces

Shelley in front of one of her hand-stitched pieces

Part of the Heart Series - "The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts....``

Part of the Heart Series – “The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts….“

More from the Heart Series. Click the thumbnail for a larger image and caption.

Dawson City is saturated with the past; clay roads, wooden board walks, surrounding gold mines and signs of the once bustling gold rush town lingering all around. It is basically open in the summer and closed in the winter. The mines shut down, tourists have retreated home, most merchants close up and the locals gather at Bombay Peggy’s (a former brothel) for one last pint or two before the great migration, usually to some place warm. Shelley and her husband Greg participate in this exodus every year, traveling to places such as Russia and Italy. She packs along a sketchpad and notebook and as they travel gathers her inspiration for the following year’s upcoming pieces.

Part of the Zoomorphic Series - “Since Chuck got the big promotion, he's been the Cock of the Walk", said Bob enviously... "but just wait until he finds out about that wife of his...”

Part of the Zoomorphic Series – “Since Chuck got the big promotion, he’s been the Cock of the Walk”, said Bob enviously… “but just wait until he finds out about that wife of his…”

From the Zoomorphic Series. Click the thumbnail for a larger image and caption.

What do Gary Larson of The Far Side fame and Indiana Jones have in common? Shelley Hakonson, of course! Shelley’s interests are far reaching and a bit on the far side one might say. She is an avid reader and many of her ideas come from the English language. Her love of words, phrases and idioms are the subject of most of her work. For example, phrases become images and images become her art. In her Zoomorphics series she has taken a phrase like “fish out of water” and painted the body of a human with the head of the animal in reference. In this case her waggish imagination conjured up a woman’s body with a fish head posing awkwardly in her dress and high heels. Although the painting might leave you scratching your head, Shelley provides us with a little more insight into where this oddity might have come from by giving us clues with an accompanying one liner caption. The rest of the story, she says, is for us to figure out however we like. It is her hope that the viewer will have fun and share in some of her lightheartedness.

Titled - Raven Wife

Titled – Raven Wife

From the Artefact Series. Click thumbnail for a larger image.

Shelley is also an ardent lover of different cultures and the mystery and intrigue that surrounds them. Before she became an acrylic painter much of what she did was mixed media textile art. When you walk into her home there are remnants of these pieces all around such as the Mongol Shaman Bag and the alien spacesuit pulled from a burning rubbish bin near Roswell and they all have a story associated with them. What is incredible is that her work is all hand stitched and is so intricate and detailed that some of the Artefacts, as she calls them, have fooled people into thinking that she and Greg had engaged in some archaeological discovery during their travels and brought back real artifacts. Remarkably, it is all Shelley; she finds something that interests her, does some research on the subject and then sets out to create her interpretation of it. Although based on facts, Shelley says she allows herself a liberal amount of creative freedom.

Titled - Drowning

Titled – Drowning

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Demeter from the Sacred and Profane Series

Demeter from the Sacred and Profane Series

The imagination and creativity of Shelley’s work is endless. On the one hand she enjoys making people smile and laugh at her witty high jinks with preposterous portraits of common phrases and idioms we can all relate to, and on the other hand some of her work is passionately serious. There are many things in life that need to be brought to our attention and make us think. We are all inquisitive by nature and I believe Shelley really knows how to access that curiosity. She certainly did that for me.

Be sure to get to know Shelley as she shares with us her fun loving spirit expressed through her art. We love comments and please help us spread the word about Shelley by sharing/liking on social media. Thank you!

A Moment in Time with Sculptor Sandra Grace Storey

A Moment in Time with Sculptor Sandra Grace Storey

Swimming Caribou by Sandra Grace Storey

Our trip to the Yukon was certainly made pleasurable by the many talented and personable artists we met, but was also heightened by the expectation of glimpsing some of its local wildlife; possibly a wolf, a grizzly bear, or even that native northern ungulate, the caribou. What is the excitement, the awe, the breath quickly drawn in that we feel as we become aware of each others presence? Is there a bond or commonality that we humans share with these beasts? Are there subtle communications between us borne from ancient interactions with one another? What messages and stories are being sent to us that warrant reflection, and future action? Clay sculptor Sandra Grace Storey shares with us her exploration into some of these questions through her narrative art work.

Sculptor Sandra Grace Storey

Sculptor Sandra Grace Storey

Born and raised in the Yukon, Sandra has always had a connection to nature and its wild inhabitants. She notes that encounters with wildlife and meeting them eye to eye is a humbling experience and always invokes a feeling of wonder and awe. It is also a world that differs greatly from her early childhood when she suffered from asthma and was confined to an oxygen tent for great lengths of time. It was a sensory deprived environment that dissociated Sandra from the “outside” world. There was not much else for her to do but read to pass the time and so she indulged in tales of folklore, fables and Greek mythology. Ironically it was reading about these stories that was a catalyst to her current passion for exploring, creating stories and mythologizing her clay sculptures.

Messenger Snowy Owl

Messenger Snowy Owl

Using human and animal figures, Sandra’s sculptures are metaphors for various aspects of life where she seeks to capture a moment in time of a particular story or happening, possibly with one of the many animals she has encountered during her lifetime. With unspoken communication Sandra celebrates this “gift” that these animals have given her by memorializing them in clay. The protagonist of her story may well be a raven, an owl, a rabbit or a bear; appearing as shamans and donning cloaks to hide their true power. Sandra believes that stories make us who we are, and we are all a culmination of our own life’s events. In essence, the stories are about what has already happened, the communication and messages we receive from our environment and how we respond to them helps to build the next chapter in our life.

I Am

I Am

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We asked Sandra why she likes to work with clay and her answer was quite profound. Besides the soft, tactile pleasure of handling the clay, she finds it soothing; almost meditative. Despite whatever emotions she may bring to the start of a piece, working with the clay seems to have a poultice effect, taking that energy from her and releasing it, allowing her to shape the piece with a clear and calm mind. In the end the piece almost always expresses a compassionate and calm demeanor, a reflection of her own emotional transformation. It’s almost mystical, as if the clay itself had intention.

Pompous Rabbit Shaman

Pompous Rabbit Shaman


Sandra’s clay works are intriguing. Sometimes they answer questions we may have about our own lives, and sometimes they lead to more questions. They stimulate our imagination and curiosity and help to strengthen our bonds with nature. They are loving and caring and certainly enjoyable to look at.

Enjoy our interview with Sandra below. We welcome Comments and Sharing on social media.

Owl’s Well with Stone Carver Beate Marquardt

Owl’s Well with Stone Carver Beate Marquardt

Half-Owl carved of Indian Soapstone

Stone; the fascination that humans have had with this material goes back 3.4 million years during the Stone Age when the first evidence of shaped tools and weapons were found. Throughout the ensuing ages further clues have been left to reveal its uses. Prehistoric Stonehenge, with its still undetermined raison d’etre demonstrates the relative permanence of stone and the symbol it was to represent. More recently, the carving of four 60 foot high heads into a granite mountain over a fourteen year period was considered a worthwhile endeavour to draw tourist activity. The result was the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Bringing us to present day, this story is about Beate Marquardt who shares with us the artistic realm of her carved stone!

Beate in front of one of her Emily Carr tree pieces at the Lakes Artisan Centre

Beate in front of one of her Emily Carr tree pieces at the Lakes Artisan Centre

As we rolled into Burns Lake we looked forward to our meeting with Beate at our rendezvous location, the Lakes Artisan Centre, where numerous artisans including Beate display and sell their works of art. It was here that we would film most of Beate’s pieces which we were eager to see. It is one thing to look at a photograph of a sculpted, three dimensional carved piece of stone, but yet another to see the vibrant colours in person, walk around it, and feel its smooth surfaces and lines. It comes alive!

Fishcolour Fish

“Fishcolour Fish” – Brazilian soapstone on local shale

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From the gallery we traveled to Beate’s home which is surrounded by a wilderness setting, the likes of which invites even roaming moose and their young to take pause. She used to live in a much more rural area south of Burns Lake, living off-grid and requiring a ferry to get there, but once her Down syndrome son Wolf graduated she knew that he would get bored and so she moved closer to town where there are more programs for him to participate in such as the Special Olympics. I think Wolf was wondering who these two strangers were at first but soon he warmed up to us and sat down next to us as we all ate our cookies. A noticeable feature as we walked through Beate’s home was that we saw owls everywhere. Not only does she love owls, but these are a symbol of the nickname her parents have called her since infancy, and appropriately lending itself to the name of her website Owl’s Stone Carving.

"Alabaster Buddha" - U.S. Alabaster

“Alabaster Buddha” – U.S. Alabaster

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Stones have always been a part of our lives and I’ll bet there is nary a child that hasn’t picked up a stone to toss, feel and observe its shape, or just to skip it across the pond. There is an inherent connection between us and the earth, and it is evident from Beate’s carvings that she deeply understands the interconnectedness between all living things. Beate’s passion for carving stone took off in 2007 after receiving her first chunk of soapstone from her eldest son Peter the previous Christmas. She hasn’t looked back from that point and with only seven years of carving it is amazing how fine her work is. Beate notes that she does not pre-plan her carvings, but rather that the stone itself has a plan, and it’s just a matter of time before it reveals it to her.

"Green Woman of the Lakes" - Indian soapstone

“Green Woman of the Lakes” – Indian soapstone

"The Threat"

“The Threat” – Photograph by Jean-Philippe Marquis

Looking at the various carvings that Beate has done I can see that her subject matter has meaning; whether meaningful because of family association, symbols of nurturing, spirituality or cause. Above you will see “The Threat,” a beautiful piece that Beate carved in red Pyrophyllite and Black Chlorite. It is a message of protest to Enbridge who plans to put their pipeline directly through the town of Burns Lake. The sculpture depicts a salmon enveloped in a wave of black oil.

"Mother Earth Raped by Pipeline"

“Mother Earth Raped by Pipeline”-Brazilian soapstone and 2 painted drill cores

Above is another carving with a compelling message; Beate describes it as follows:
“My mother Earth is depicted as a voluptuous woman with big nurturing breasts and a pregnant front. Her hands are missing to show her defencelessness while suffering the brutal attack by the double pipeline carrying toxic bitumen.
The difference in surface treatment of polished breasts/abdomen and rough carved face/hair has this meaning: Just like the raw sexual interest of a rapist usually concentrates on breasts and abdomen and eclipses the beauty of the abused person as a whole so does the predominantly economic interest of the pipeline supporters neglect the importance of the unique beauty and balanced harmony of Mother Earth as a whole.”

Please join us with Beate as she talks more about her love of stone. We thank you for taking the time to comment and share on social media!

Joe ~The Carver~ Ratushniak

Joe ~The Carver~ Ratushniak

Our journey to the rolling hills north of Merritt, B.C. brought us to a sprawling five thousand acre ranch where a guy named Joe Ratushniak carves wood for a living. When he is not carving, Joe and his partner Julia help out on the ranch with the cattle, the haying operations, general ranch chores and some riding. It is a breathtaking drive into the ranch with endless hay fields and heavy forestation all around. Ironically this environment is a bit of a conundrum for Joe. The peaceful surroundings and fresh mountain air makes an idyllic setting for him to work and yet he sometimes feels too secluded; sequestered away from the hustle and bustle and interaction with others which can be an important part of promoting your art and developing yourself.

arts-quest-joe-ratushniak-buffalo-jump
Click on the images below for a closer look at the full carving above:

Joe started out working for a log home builder utilizing his skills to make other people’s home living dreams a reality. The builder’s specialty would also include a carving of some sort as a signatory complement to the new home. One day the usual carver wasn’t available and so Joe was asked to do the carving. It was at this point in his life that carving wood for a living began. He has been carving for twenty years and is still giving life to people’s dreams but now it is in the form of commissioned pieces that range from sports bar tables, animals, masks and totem poles to name just a few. Joe figures that ninety percent of his work is commissioned by customers and the rest is from his own creative initiatives.

arts-quest-joe-ratushniak-portrait1

When we first started talking with Joe we felt as if we were sitting in the office of an engineer or an architectural designer, not in the studio of an artist. He used words like blue print, proposal and give it some flair. It was at that point we realized we weren’t talking to someone who thinks of himself as an artist. Joe says so himself. He describes himself as a “journeyman” and although he does remarkable carvings they are still just jobs to him. As the conversation carried on Joe’s own transformation, not unlike the wood he carves, was taking place before us. His body language, his tone of voice and the words he used started to reveal an artist. His voice became louder and he sounded passionate and excited about stepping away from the journeyman and towards the artist. He used terms like spontaneity, something undefinable, draws you in and open to interpretation. Joe has about six solid ideas for his own art pieces which he is ready to pursue. He informed us that although he still has mixed feelings about art he knows that this is where he wants to be. Having said that, Joe’s art will still maintain a functionality to it, as he says, “to justify its existence in the first place”. What we observed was that Joe’s humble nature belies the fact that the amazing detail and imagination that he puts into his carvings is most assuredly art and certainly fine craft.

arts-quest-joe-ratushniak-owl

The photographs throughout this blog show the remarkable work that Joe has done, and the video pans during his interview showing the degree of detail of these pieces will blow you away even more. On Joe’s latest commissioned piece he created a sports bar table supported by a Stanley Cup shaped pedestal base with the carved table top represented by a jersey in such detail that it appears as if it was a real jersey thrown on top of the table! Don’t miss it and be sure to check out our interview with Joe. We love comments and please share on social media!

This Guy’s Got Mettle! Artistic Metal Fabricator James Rackstraw

This Guy’s Got Mettle! Artistic Metal Fabricator James Rackstraw

Creativity in the form of art is a wondrous thing. It can bring beauty into one’s life. It can add appreciation for other people, places and nature on the tiniest or grandest of scales . It helps us to become aware of whom we are and give us an awareness of other people and other things. It can provide an awakening and it can heal.

James Rackstraw is a young artist in terms of age and in terms of his art career. He is one such person who has found creativity and art to give him everything I have described and more. His story is quite remarkable. He has faced extreme adversity from an early age as a child. Spinal meningitis left him with the inability to communicate effectively. When we met James we could tell that determination was his companion and has walked with him side by side, enabling him to change his life and become the person he is today. He has been the passenger in twelve car accidents and broken almost every bone in his body and he had his hand almost completely severed when three thugs broke into his home with intentions of robbery. He has been up, living a comfortable life, and he has been down, at times living on the streets. James doesn’t mention these things because he wanted us to feel sorry for him, but rather because the experiences have brought him to where he is today. He notes that without those experiences and the understanding he gained that he wouldn’t be James Rackstraw, artistic metal fabricator.

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James’ work reminds me of a mixture of Edward Scissor Hands, with a dash of Old England and a sprig of Steam Punk. He loves to take found items that may be leftover scraps, old antiques or just someone’s junk and piece them together and create a new functional item like an Old English lamp post or a jewellery stand. It could also be something more abstract like a warrior sculpture or a robot. The irony of James’ art is that he breathes new life into something that would otherwise be discarded and his art breathes new life into him, a person who many people doubted and metaphorically discarded.

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Although James loves working on his own he says one of the best parts about being an artist is connecting with people. He told us that having spinal meningitis as a child gave him an innate ability to read people. His struggle to communicate forced James to learn through observation. He spent a lot of time watching. Oddly enough this skill that was acquired out of a disability is something he now uses to give himself a better understanding and insight into what he creates for someone. He gets great satisfaction out of creating not only the art but a connection to the art for the new owner of the piece.

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James is an inspiring person. He is a great example of what the human spirit is capable of. Whether we have hardships to the extreme like in James’ case or we don’t, it is uplifting to be reminded that humans are extraordinary and that gives us the ability to make our lives and our world a better place through the creative process.

We invite you to watch James speak candidly about his life and his art. Please feel free to leave a comment and post on social media. Thanks!

Norma Jackson Lives a Creative Life

Norma Jackson Lives a Creative Life

When we planned a trip to Vancouver Island in April our intention was to meet with some of the artists we didn’t catch up with the first time around. One of those artists was Norma Jackson. Norma lives in Duncan, B.C. with her husband Rodney and their cute little pooch. She is an award winning, eclectic, acrylic painter who often incorporates sculpture into her pieces. When she is not working on her own projects she spends time sharing her knowledge and inspiring others to discover their creative potential in various workshops she holds in her studio or takes on the road.

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It was wonderful talking with Norma as she reminded me that when you have an intention for your life you must pursue it no matter how scary it may seem at first. Norma started out like many of us, myself included, speeding down the life long job highway only to discover; “this is not for me!” Not to say that a job doesn’t serve a financial purpose and is even sometimes fulfilling, but this route, from beginning to end, doesn’t suit everyone. I can’t say exactly how Norma came to this crossroads in her life, but perhaps it happened because she was open to the possibilities of what might, and did, cross her path. One day she found herself playing the role of a business executive with little opportunity for creative potential, and the next she was living a creative life painting and sculpting for a marionette company. With the help of a wonderful lady who became her mentor, Norma discovered many things that lay dormant within her and so put herself through many firsts such as painting, sculpting, set design, public speaking, puppeteering, writing, directing and performing to name just a few.

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Eventually Norma found herself in the field of healing, and she discovered the healing properties of creativity, whether from creating for oneself or sharing one’s creativity with others. Norma discovered that it doesn’t matter if we are at the beginning of our life or coming to its end, the power of creativity can heal the smallest or biggest wounds. Her experience and her desire to help others led her and her band of marionette’s to visit people in hospice care, and later she developed a highly effective marionette program for youth contemplating suicide. In her video interview Norma shared with us some heart wrenching stories that left a lump in my throat.

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Often we think of art and creativity in such a limited way; something to be admired or something that only people with excess disposable income can enjoy, either to pay for art school, lessons or just to purchase someone’s creative accomplishments. Norma is one artist, of many I’m sure, who have taken the merits of art to another dimension in society and as Norma says, “art is the life’s blood of our society.” Although her hospice work and the youth suicide program have been dismantled because of government funding cuts, her creative endeavours have changed the path of those who were dying by giving them comfort and peace, and to those who wanted to die by giving them a reason to live.

Today, Norma works on her own art and with great insight and a deep connection to her surroundings wherever she finds herself and with whomever she meets. She is interested in people, rituals, nature, abstract and just about anything that her open mind welcomes in. I was fascinated to hear her story and what led her to where she is today. These are the stories that keep me going in my life when the demon of doubt sometimes shows up unexpectedly. Perhaps they may do the same for you.

Please join us as Norma shares her journey by way of living a creative life. We love to hear from you so please leave a comment and share on social media. Thanks.