“Renaissance Man” Artist Jeff Morris

“Renaissance Man” Artist Jeff Morris

"Kayak"

You know the type, a guy that seems to be able to do it all; fix anything, create anything, with the only limitations being that of his own imagination. Meet artist Jeff Morris of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, a man with a vast imagination and seemingly no limitations to his creativity. When we arrived at his studio and gallery a few miles north of town we thought we were interviewing Jeff Morris the artist, but what we found in addition to that was also an inventor and explorer; a Renaissance man of sorts.

arts-quest-jeff-morris

Jeff Morris has always liked to create things, starting off as a youngster with the basics of a hammer, some wood and some ideas. It seemed like a logical choice then that he go into carpentry after high school, giving him the satisfaction of building functional wood structures and earning a living. And although he enjoyed it, he wasn’t able to unleash the creativity that was brewing inside of him, so he decided to transfer his wood construction skills into his artistic side and put the fun back into functional. The result has been not only beautiful and innovative wood pieces, but also Jeff’s expansion of creativity into other mediums.

"Lava Table" - wood construction

“Lava Table” – wood construction

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When we spoke with Jeff about what drives his art he kept coming back to his thirst for learning and discovery. Always experimenting with different techniques and having no shortage of new ideas, his curiosity is endless and is reflected in the variety of media he has his hands in such as concrete, wood, photography, painting and pottery. While he was giving us a tour of his spacious studio and workshop he also pointed out other inventive projects, such as the drum set he made from used propane cylinders; see video HERE, as well as the new musical instrument he made from the inner workings of a piano. If whiskey and slide guitar are more your style then check out the whiskey tumbler and glass slide that Jeff made from a whiskey bottle; see video HERE.

"Raver" - Assiniboine clay

“Raver” – Assiniboine clay

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Jeff admits that his projects are not based on the path of least resistance principle, and he likes it that way. Rather his methods are based more on his quest to satisfy his curiosity and the inherent challenges that come with it. For instance, buying clay for pottery is not too costly, but his discovery of a clay source along the Assiniboine River while he was out kayaking led him to hand dig and haul out a lifetime supply of clay; an enormous physical task. After testing out the initial few hundred pounds of clay with a couple of local potters and then researching the correct combination of additives to make successful pots, he now uses only the Assiniboine clay for all of his pieces.

Collaboration piece with Fred Acoby

Collaboration piece with Fred Acoby

One of the great messages that we took away from our visit with Jeff was that creating art, or any other project, does not have to involve expensive supplies that can stop you before you begin. If a person has a creative urge just waiting to burst from within them, just a little extra work using re-purposed or scrap items or even paints from a building supply store (Jeff’s not-so-secret supply), can get anyone started. In many cases Jeff’s creativity and innovation has lent itself to just providing the materials themselves for the project before the work on the artistic piece has even begun. Although the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” may apply to finding a solution through lack of financial means, for Jeff it means a necessity for trying new, unconventional, or historical methods that stoke his curiosity and that gives him a satisfaction of having taken the road less traveled to discovery. When asked if there were other mediums that he would to like to explore Jeff mentioned glass blowing but that it is quite a pricey endeavour. We don’t doubt that one day, somehow, Jeff will find a way.

Enjoy our interview with Jeff and this glimpse into his artistic life. Feel free to share his story on social media and email, with nice comments submitted below always welcome.

Jim and Eileen Jones – Working Wonders With Wood

Jim and Eileen Jones – Working Wonders With Wood

Alberta

I still remember back in April of 1985 as a young man from British Columbia traveling to Alberta for a new career and a new life. I had never been east of the Rocky Mountains and as the last glimpse of the rolling foothills disappeared in my rear view mirror I was shocked by the naked landscape opening up before me; these sweeping prairies which at the time seemed devoid of life. Having grown up in the lush greenery of the west coast I didn’t realize at the time that these austere surroundings where I would work for twenty years would reveal their own natural wonders; a wildness mixed with a spacious beauty beckoned by the Alberta wild roses, echoed by the howling coyotes, and pointed out by the prickly cacti. It was also within the western reaches of these vast plains that we would come upon the rural acreage of Jim and Eileen Jones of Jones’ Woodworks who would give us a measure of the prairie oasis they call home, and share the exquisite woodworking that is their passion and livelihood.

Eileen, Jim and Daisy in their Morris chair

Eileen, Jim and Daisy in their Morris chair

Jim and Eileen have a long history of working with wood, having spent the last 35 years taking on roles as students, teachers and practitioners of this fine craft. For Jim, he started out with a friend building and selling furniture after leaving the public school system, realizing that his dream of being a lifelong physical education teacher wasn’t in the cards. He furthered his skills by becoming a journeyman cabinet-maker where he then took his knowledge back to teaching students once again, this time learning how to build something with their hands. At the same time, Eileen took up refinishing antiques as a sideline, also broadening her knowledge by reading extensively on the finer points of repair and finishing. She would experiment with many different finishes and decide on the most appropriate choice to accent a piece. As Jim notes, “I am the creator and Eileen is the ultimate repairer,” and asserts that a mediocre piece of furniture can look great if finished properly, but a nice piece can be diminished by poor finishing. It is this collaboration of their individual skills that lends itself well to achieving the most pristine form, function and visual appeal of each piece they create.

Bubinga Table and Bench

Bubinga Table and Bench

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Mellow Mood

Mellow Mood

Over the years Jim and Eileen have seen a shift in the buying trends for wood craftsmanship. Jim says that in the booming early years there were more affluent clients willing to purchase high-end hand-crafted furniture than the more prudent clients they have today in this uncertain economic climate. By happenstance, their woodworking repertoire took a turn when Jim starting turning wood on a lathe to create another form of art and income. It was actually Eileen that was given an old lathe from a good friend, and once Jim had fixed it up to working condition she gave it a try, only to quickly realize that it was not her cup of tea. Jim on the other hand started playing around with it, took lessons from other teachers and eventually became a professional wood-turner, turning out his own beautifully functional and artistic pieces. Eileen would then finish the piece, first figuring out the most suitable oil, varathane, polyurethane or wax, depending on the function of the piece. For Eileen the most important part of finishing is that it still shows the wood, and enhances the look rather than changes it. She says that it has to be super smooth and feel nice to the touch in addition to retaining its natural look. She will also paint on some of the pieces, creating impressions of figures influenced by the natural world outside their door.

Buffet

Buffet

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Jim and Eileen have learned a lot over the years. In addition to the changing buyers market they have also become aware of important factors such as where their wood is sourced as well as the finishing substances they use. With large companies willing to clear-cut forests to make profits and in the process causing environmental destruction and habitat loss to many animals and indigenous peoples, they have learned of the sustainable sources for their wood. Eileen has also learned to avoid using toxic finishes such as lacquer which requires special spraying booths for application, preferring instead to use more environmentally friendly substances which do not leave particles in the air.

Ocean Floor

Ocean Floor

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For Jim and Eileen their woodworking is more than just a business to earn income, it is an enjoyable lifestyle with many rewards. These include the many satisfied customers, the generous community of wood-turners, hosting retreat workshops, the peacefulness of their environment and to the time they can call their own. Each day manifests itself by how they want to live their life and who they spend time with; mostly each other.

To see more of Jim and Eileen’s work and to learn more about their process please click here.

Join us with woodworkers Jim and Eileen Jones, and feel free to leave comments below and share on social media and email:

The Grumpy Goat Gallery – Art and Antics

The Grumpy Goat Gallery – Art and Antics

“…then wind your way along a cliff-side road that drops precipitously down to the Atlantic Ocean, take a few more hair pin turns, and then just as you are about to go flying off into oblivion turn left at the yellow vehicle into the driveway of the lime green house and park in front of the yellow piano!” Huh? Yesiree, I definitely embellished the directions from that email, but that (more or less) was one of our first introductions to Cara and Pam and a glimpse into their world of colour and whimsy. Truth be told, it is a scenic route to The Grumpy Goat Gallery that overlooks the vast Atlantic Ocean with breathtaking views that have caught not only whales and porpoises cruising by but also ice bergs at one time or another, all to be seen from their panoramic porch.

After our loud Arty Farty van pulled up in front of the yellow piano, we got out and strode up their front porch expecting to see them. They were nowhere to be seen. Hmmm, what’s this sign? “Hi! Please Honk the Horn For the Studio” So we did. Honk! Honk! And then like magic, there they appeared! I can’t help but feel that we were the lab rats of the day, observing us to see if we would go back to our vehicle to honk Arty’s horn. Preposterous you say? It is a fate befallen by more than one unsuspecting gallery visitor as you will read in Cara’s blog (play dark and scary music).

I will let you in on a little secret! Maybe this shouldn’t get out! Am I jeopardizing their business? Well, here it goes anyway! We found absolutely NO grumpiness at The Grumpy Goat Gallery in Upper Island Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador! Gasp! There, I said it! On the contrary, although we did meet their pygmy goats Rose and Sophia (and they aren’t grumpy either!), our meeting with affable artists Cara and Pam was filled with laughs, puns and hilarious stories of the lovely people that they encounter coming through the doors of their gallery. As a matter of fact, most of the gallery visitors are incited to smile, chuckle, or outright laugh as they notice the colourful and creative creations with often comical connotations displayed on the walls, floors, tables, or hanging from the ceiling. You don’t have to take my word for it though. Peruse the blog stories for The Grumpy Goat Gallery and you will see not only their wonderful mixed media creations, but also the creative comedic writing that is another forte complimenting the award winning mixed media work of Cara and Pam.

Cara is the self-taught artist that walks hand-in-hand with the child within her, looking at life with the curiousity, wonder and humour of a little girl and expressing it in her paintings. This gives her the gift of uninhibited expression. Pam is the self-taught carver and woodworker extraordinaire. We were stunned to learn that not only was she an incredible carver, but also built the woodworking shop, painting studio, goat barn and the house extension for the gallery all without a stick of training. The colourful fusion of the union between Cara’s historical and whimsical look at Newfoundland’s people, places and events and the three dimensional effect of Pam’s woodworking is nothing less than magical.

Click on the images below for a full view:

Join us with the voices of Cara and Pam as they tell us their story. Don’t be shy to leave a comment!

Maurice Gamblin – One Good Turn After Another!

Maurice Gamblin – One Good Turn After Another!

I believe that many people could learn a thing or two from Maurice Gamblin’s view of life. You see, Maurice “retired” from his construction company business at the age of 41 to pursue an income resulting from doing what he loves to do, turning wood to create bowls, vessels and other decorative pieces. He saw other people continue with dissatisfying careers and were miserable, making him realize that there is more to life than the illusion of security and happiness by doing something you dislike, just for the purpose of earning a living. The fact that he has been creating and selling his wood pieces for the last 25 years is not only a testament to the dedication and commitment he has put forth to his true calling in life, but also to the fine craftsmanship that he delivers to each one of his satisfied customers.

Beside Maurice’s home are his workshop and gallery where he showed us the ropes of what it takes to start with a raw piece of wood and take it through the steps of turning, sanding and finishing it to create a beautiful and functional piece of art. Maurice is a soft spoken man, but his work on the other hand speaks volumes of the passion he has for creating one of a kind pieces that speak to you, such as the largest bowl he has turned to date, 52 inches in diameter! Maurice’s long relationship with wood has given him a lot of insight and experience into the process and artistic creation of each piece. For instance, he uses green wood when he turns a new piece because it is much easier on his hands and his tools to work with than dry, hard wood. The usual challenge with this is that the green wood drys too fast and then the wood cracks. Maurice found that by putting wax on the outside of the turned piece that it will dry slower, from the inside out, eliminating the cracking. Prior to this method there was 25% loss in his work and after utilizing the wax method that he developed it improved to less than 1%. Because of this innovation Maurice jokingly says that he doesn’t have to work as hard now!

Maurice has a passion for the arts and art education. In addition to starting a wood turners club in Newfoundland consisting of about 60 members to date, he is also the president and organizer of the Tobique Fiddle Camp, where I’m certain that Maurice’s great people skills, amiable nature and quick sense of humour have contributed greatly to the success and fun learning at these events. There are many accomplished fiddlers that show up for these events, such as J.J. Guy from Lintlaw, Saskatchewan, that have come to teach the students and pass on their invaluable experience. Just us Maurice has encouraged others to turn wood, so has he also encouraged others to pursue the fiddle, including his granddaughter Kimije. Wow, are we glad that he did! While visiting Maurice and his wife Shirley in the house that he had built and completed back in 1978, Kimije performed three songs for us and I’m sure the drop in our jaws was perceptible! She beautifully played a traditional Maritime song, a classical song, and a Celtic song.

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Our visit with Maurice was not only inspirational and educational, but it reaffirmed the philosophy that we also wish to live by: Do what you love, hopefully make a living at it, but at the very least discard an unfulfilling career that does not enrich your life.

Enjoy our interview with Maurice as he turns us on to turning wood:

Maurice Gamblin from Corinne and Gary Funk on Vimeo.