Even die-hard Vancouverites like to escape the city now and then. The Gulf Islands are close and offer easy access to gorgeous, isolated beaches. If you do happen to run into strangers, they may be combing through piles of smooth stones, looking for beach glass.
Artist Kate Wood grew up in Richmond. She took off to Gabriola for a two year silversmithing program, fell in love with the island lifestyle and decided to stay. She too can be spotted gathering beach glass, but Wood will spend more time than most inspecting her finds.
“I look on the beaches for nicely-shaped beach glass and I design jewellery around that. It makes for a unique ring if the glass has an odd shape. I think of the jewellery as practical sculpture. It needs to be wearable and sturdy.” Wood is particularly happy when she finds rare blue and green shards. “And sometimes you find pieces with lettering on them.” She won’t manipulate or polish the glass finish. “I use it as is.”
Wood always knew that she would be an artist. “I never had any doubts.” She did a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Emily Carr University with a major in painting. After graduating, she thought that making silver jewellery might be a nice way to both live artistically and make enough money to pay her bills . She heard about Lindsay Stocking Godfrey’s Mudge School of Silversmithing on Gabriola and decided to enrol.
“One of our first projects was making hollow silver beads. We had to make many, many beads. It covers so many of the skills you need. You learn to hammer, file, pierce, solder the two domed pieces together, file the joins down and polish. When you do that over and over, you get a handle on the fundamentals.”
“Lindsay also taught us to make handmade chains, which was more unusual. I do that still.” Along with beach glass, Wood’s jewels featured garnets, amethysts, pottery fragments and even glass marbles. “I would set the marbles in silver rings, so they would be these unusual shapes.”
Through school and after, Wood sold her jewellery at the Artworks Gallery, farmers’ markets and other stores on Vancouver Island. “But in 2010, the economy had a big slump. People weren’t buying as much handmade jewellery and the price of silver skyrocketed to $50 something an ounce.”
For a while, Wood considered studying horticulture. Romance brought her to England and she became artistically re-invigorated by visiting London galleries and museums. “Especially the Victoria and Albert Museum. All the beautiful handmade things, all the different mediums were incredible. I fell in love with the ceramics department and the historical porcelain.”
Wood was particularly entranced by the Staffordshire Pottery of the 18th Century. “It was really folksy and rough.” She decided she would take on more ceramics when she returned to Gabriola. “Mariko Paterson was teaching ceramics classes at Feedlot Studios, so I started going there. I would go through Christie’s catalogues for ideas, then make modern day scenarios of historical porcelain scenes. One of my first ones is about long distance romance. A girl is sitting on the bench with her laptop open and there is a knife through a heart on the bench beside her.”
Two years ago, Wood decided to try silver carving. “I made animal head necklaces – a raven’s head, a black bear head, deer antlers.” Wood carved her designs into wax – “it’s called ‘lost wax casting” – then sent them off to Harry J. Sarber in Vancouver to be cast into silver molds.
The silver animal heads came back rough, ready for Wood’s finishing touches. “You file it down, polish it on the buffing wheel, make it pretty. Then it is ready to be hung on chains.” Wood is looking forward to making a new series using these carving techniques.
A strong advocate for local artisans, Wood recently organized a pop-up shop in Gabriola’s Folklife Village Mall. “It was thrilling. It needed to happen because of Artworks being shut down and there is no venue for local artists to share their work. It was the first busy weekend on the island where people who have weekend homes or summer cottages came out for the Easter weekend.”
Wood could see herself doing more pop-up stores in the future. She is also looking forward to going to the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson for a ten-month ceramics program that starts in September. “They teach you the business side as well as wheel throwing, glaze technology, kiln technology. It’s exciting. I’ll have hours and hours in the studio to play and make.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos courtesy of Kate Wood