The elements of art: Interviews with natural element artists

It's no secret that Revelstoke attracts creativity. Many artists devote their inspiration to the natural world, and this little mountain town is teeming with artistic outlets. So we set out to find artists and crafters working with earth, fire, fibre, jewel, metal, and wood as a medium to explore how the natural elements manifest in Revelstoke.

Element icons by Emma Graham

This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s September 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:

It’s no secret that Revelstoke attracts creativity. Many artists devote their inspiration to the natural world, and this little mountain town is teeming with artistic outlets. So we set out to find artists and crafters working with earth, fire, fibre, jewel, metal, and wood as a medium to explore how the natural elements manifest in Revelstoke.

Nora Hughes interviewed some of Revelstoke’s craftsmen and women for a window into artistic elements that aren’t the traditional pen and paper. The elements of art highlight artists and crafters working with raw, natural materials (some sourced from around town) and sharing their creations with the community. Hughes discusses the artists’ relationship to their element and their story of where passion meets paycheck.

Fibre: The Mimo Yarn Co. – An interview with fibre artist, Molly Plummer

Molly Plummer, fibre artist, pictured among fibre dye products. Photo contributed by Molly Plummer

Molly Plummer, founder of The Mimo Yarn Co., works with fibres. You may have seen her booth on Saturday mornings, a regular at the farmer’s market in downtown Revelstoke. She hand-dyes colourful yarn for knitting and crocheting. The booth is decorated with Plummer’s infectious smile and a rainbow of vibrant coloured yarn skeins with quirky names. The Mimo Yarn Co. is a product of Plummer’s passion. The yarn for Mimo Yarn Co. comes from Peru, and the dyes from a United States company.

Plummer got her start working for a Vancouver company, Sweet Georgia Yarns, while on a working holiday visa from the U.K., where she learned to dye yarn as a studio assistant. She’d been a knitter for many years but was new to the process behind fibre art and dyeing yarn.

Little did she know that working with this element — an extension of a craft she already loved — would be an outlet for creativity and connection.

“I enjoyed the process of watching a blank canvas come to life with colours and science,” she told me in an email. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and I enjoy being creative. My tagline is bright, bold, and colourful, and that goes for the yarn and myself.”

Plummer is studying business management and intends to make her business full-time. She says fibre crafts go beyond an artistic medium, it connects and has created a community for her. “I love how it connects me with other crafters and seeing what they create when they purchase yarn from me,” Plummer says.

When asked what inspires her, Plummer says anything from pictures, music, or foods. The bottom line is bright colours bring her joy, and she isn’t interested in delivering products that wouldn’t evoke the same sensation in her patrons. “I could do more muted colours, but that really isn’t my brand or what I wish to be selling,” she says.

You can find The Mimo Yarn Co. at the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative Market running from May to October. You can also find the fun yarn through @themimoyarnco on social media and themimoyarnco.com.

Wood: Corin Flood Bowl Making — An interview with woodturner, Corin Flood

Corin Flood wood turning. Photo provided by Corin Flood

 

After a career in studio and commercial furniture making, Corin Flood started making high-quality bowls. He wanted a transition from retail development work, so Flood decided to take his production turning skills and use them to make quality items that add value to his customers’ meals.

Flood says his parents are to blame for the lifelong relationship he shares with woodworking. They gifted him woodworking tools, and he has led a life as a craftsman ever since. He’s had bouts with other mediums, such as pottery, but always returned to woodworking.

He finds inspiration in the historical uses of the element. “Wood is the thing that humans have eaten off the longest,” he explains. “It’s a renewable, naturally occurring material, which you can say the same for some other materials, but when you look at what we eat off, what we serve food off, they’re all more energy intensive.”

Having worked in the trade for so long, Flood says he’s inspired by making an income off his creations but admits that the work can be fun.

“It’s one of the few crafts which very much requires muscle memory,” he says. “You’re making a complex movement with the gouge and the lathe; there’s a certain pleasure in the physicality of it.”

Flood says he’d wanted to source materials regionally to produce something useful to the community. So he uses trees felled for home clearing or hazard tree removal in his craft. He explains that most of the trees are birch — a wood he feels fortunate to work with because it doesn’t have “bad habits.” “Trees are nice. I try not to look at trees as bowls,” he says comically. “I think by using them thoughtfully, you sort of honour the trees.”

Flood says he’s been part of many weddings by proxy through the bowls. “I produce something that people enjoy, and it enhances their enjoyment of gathering around meals,” he says. “That’s the reward.”

You can find Flood’s handmade bowls at the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative farmer’s market, on his website, corinflood.ca, and social media page @corinflood.

Jewel: Kat Cadegan Jewellery — An interview with Jeweller, Kat Cadegan

Kat Cadegan at work in the studio. Photo: Kerri Knapp

 

Kat Cadegan is a mom, wife, entrepreneur and jeweller.

Cadegan has a never-ending love affair with gems and owns Kat Cadegan Jewellery Inc in downtown Revelstoke. “Gemstones are the base of much of our work; they’re the foundation and inspiration behind what we do,” she says in an email.

She says the decision to make this passion a career “wasn’t 100% black and white.” Cadegan says the love affair began with six months of collecting gems and attending a jewellery school in India. It was perpetuated by two years studying silversmithing in Mexico, a diploma in Nelson, and two artist residencies.

Cadegan says she moved to Revelstoke for a studio space opportunity but was also a hardcore ski bum, eager to dip her toe into the town’s world-renowned skiing. “I called it a disease for a long time where [skiing] was the number one and everything else was number two, but now it’s different,” she tells me in a phone conversation.

Cadegan decided to make the leap into a retail space once COVID hit. “There were no shows, and I couldn’t travel,” she says. “That’s how I made my living, and all the shows completely and abruptly stopped.”

A store was on her mind for a while, so she jumped at the opportunity when Revelstoke Florist offered to split their retail space.

The gemstones used at her Revelstoke location are ethically sourced from a select group of trusted suppliers, Cadegan says. In addition, the metals used are recycled. “100% of our gold is recycled,” she says. “We recycle our silver endlessly in the studio, but we’ve not yet got a 100% recycled source for new silver — I’m always on the hunt.”

Revelstoke’s nature is still a massive source of inspiration for Cadegan’s work. She finds colour, texture, and kindness in the nature surrounding her. “I think it’s really important for me, and for my creative process to be able, you take my daughter and hop right onto the greenbelt and be out in the woods — amongst the trees,” Cadegan says.

You can find Cadegan’s jewellery and more at her shop on MacKenzie Avenue in downtown Revelstoke, on her website katcadegan.com, or on social media, @katcadegan.

Metal: Mind Metal Forge — An interview with blacksmith, Kyle Thornley

Photo: Katie Langmuir

Kyle Thornley is a metal artist/fabricator focusing on forge work.

Walking around Revelstoke, his work is prominent, from “A Simple Joy,” the downtown public art installation, to the repurposed railway spikes used as coat hangers in Revelstoke businesses. He works with reclaimed metal from resale yards and fresh material from Kamloops. Inspired by the fine metal work on shows like Monster Garage and American Choppers as a kid, Thornley knew he was destined to work with metal in a unique way.

He was presented with an opportunity to work with metal creatively and fell down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities of what he could do with his metal work.

“I enjoy taking details in nature and just really blowing them up,” he tells me, gesturing to a massive metal flower sitting near the entry to his studio. The basket-shaped structure with petals reaching outward looks delicate and symmetrical as if it could’ve grown in nature. The flower is Thornley’s unique take on a fire pit and, upon further inspection, is a strong and heavy piece of artwork lacking the fragility of nature.

As an artist, Thornley says he feeds off Revelstoke’s creative energy. He relishes in the opportunities this town presents for artists and is connected to the wilderness around it. Many of Thornley’s customers commission artwork, and he says that sparks an immediate connection with people.

Thornley’s metalwork can be found at the Revelstoke Art First! Gallery, online at MindMetalForge.com, and on social media @mindmetalforge.

Earth: Barbara Maye Fine Art — An interview with soapstone carver, Barbara Maye

Barbara with Lioness. Photo: contributed by Barbara Maye

Barbara Maye discovered her passion for art in her 30s and, before that, describes herself as very “left-brained.” Maye is a multimedia artist. She carves soapstone, creating her iconic flipstone sculptures, but also paints, draws, woodworks, and makes other types of sculpture.

“Once I found that side of myself and learned the language of speaking in art — which is so universal — it became this really powerful expression for me,” she said in an interview. Flipstones are Maye’s innovative, multi-position sculptures that invite contact. The stone is the size of a volleyball with curves, edges, and holes shaped by Maye that encourage the handler to move and balance the stone on its many facets.

Maye says she has a powerful connection with the stone she works with and that relationship begins with harvesting the stone ethically. She looks for soapstone around Revelstoke almost exclusively to make her sculptures. Her mentor taught her to harvest soapstone where tectonic plates come together and about the earth processes that form the stone.

“When I’m carving, I feel like [the stones] want to express themselves in a different form,” Maye says. “It’s like Mother Nature wants us to connect, and that’s what I’m trying to facilitate — to remind us that all parts of the earth are alive.”

When Maye goes to carve the stone, she says she approaches the stone with no intent. The sculptures take on beautiful earthy hues that are smooth and polished. Maye says she encourages people to touch, move and connect with her sculptures when they’re in a gallery.

“Soapstone is like gemstones because it’s been through a big process of change,” she says. “It has healing properties relating to change, which we can connect to, and so I encourage people to touch the work.”

You can find Maye’s sculpture and multimedia work at travelling galleries in Kimberly, Art First! Gallery in Revelstoke, Studio Connexion Art Gallery in Nakusp, and the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. Maye’s work is also available for purchase on her website Barbaramayefineart.ca. You can also see her work on her social media, @barbaramaye_fineart.

Fire: Big Eddy Glass Works — An interview with owner Leah Allison and manager Hunter Haig

The Big Eddy Glassworks team: Jared Last, Ariel Hill, Leah Allison, Hunter Haig, Ella Carmichael, and Tyler Kathol. Photo: contributed by Hunter Haig

When you walk into Big Eddy Glass Works, the palpable heat tells a story behind the glimmering glasswork lining every inch of the shop. The colourful swirl in every glass cup is in sync with the intensity of the fire pulsing in the background. “It’s only a certain type of people that really dig it,” says Leah Allison, owner, glassblower, and flame worker at Big Eddy Glass Works, regarding working with fire. A lot of work goes into this artwork by a team of fire-wielding badasses.

Allison says that the close-knit staff work with fire as part of what they do at the shop. She explains that it’s hard to interview just one person because all the artists work with glass in their own way — an integral part of what makes the shop unique.

One of the shop’s motos is “everything tastes better out of a handmade cup, and everything looks better under handmade lights.”

“There’s six of us that work here,” Allison tells the Mountaineer in an interview. In addition to owner Leah Allison, the forces behind the shop’s colourful glasswork are Jared Last, Ariel Hill, Tyler Kathol, Ella Carmichael, and Hunter Haig, manager and apprentice glassblower.

Most of the team started at Big Eddy Glass Works, including Haig. “I’m a crafter by nature. I saw that they posted on their Instagram that there was an open spot in a flameworking workshop,” she says. “So I just signed up on a whim, and I never stopped coming.”

“I feel like my whole life, people told me I had a fiery personality,” Haig continues. “It just kind of felt fitting once I tried it.”

Allison says she made one bead, and it changed her whole life. She can’t speak for the rest of the staff members but says, “Usually, if you’re into glass, you figure it out right away that you’re into it. And most people then just try to figure out how to do it more.” Allison and Haig agree that the heat is purposeful when asked about their relationship to the natural element of fire that they work with daily.

“Because of the heat in the shop, I think it really shows people what we do and how sweaty and hot it is and how extreme it can be,” Allison explains. When customers pick up a piece of glass in the shop, they can feel how much work went into it just by standing in the hot room, creating a different kind of experience for visitors, she says.

Allison’s favourite part about working with fire is the necessity of being around it and how she has learned not to think about it despite its extreme environment. Haig sums it up, “It just makes you feel like a badass.”

“I, as a crafter, had never experienced making something that you can’t actually touch,” she continues. “While you’re making it, you can’t get that close to it. It’s very extreme, but it also makes it worth it.”

Despite the intensity of the craft, she says that they’re always using the products of their labour and encourage customers to think of the glass not as fragile art pieces but as tangible tools. “We try to encourage people to really celebrate that we’ve made it by hand, and that’s by using it.”

You can find glass products made by the Big Eddy Glass Works team online at bigeddyglassworks.ca, on social media @bigeddyglassworks, at their twice-annual market, or at their location in the Big Eddy neighbourhood.

Nora Hughes is a recent graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Interdisciplinary Program, where she combined her passions for Adventure Tourism, Communications and Journalism. With a strong interest in community news, Nora is passionate about giving a voice and face to the people of Revelstoke through storytelling.