Now age 63, I began creating silver work 47 years ago in Ontario under the guidance of my high school art teacher, Mr. Arthur Brecken. My current touring exhibition — Mentor & Metalsmith — is a tribute to this gentleman. In 1981, I earned my MFA in Metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, then worked as a commercial silver designer in Massachusetts, USA. In 1986, I returned to Canada, married, and began my career as a self-employed jewellery artist and silversmith.
For the next 20 years, I also became the stay-at-home Dad for our two daughters, while continuing to create my metalwork part-time. In 2003, I received a Canada Council for the Arts grant to research a Japanese lamination technique called mokume gane (woodgrain metal) — my Bonsai Bowl in the Mentor & Metalsmith exhibit is one of the pieces created through this assistance. In 2015, I was honoured to be inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).
I enjoy the challenge of working in metal. It is a resistant material, yet, also surprisingly malleable. When smithing pieces, it excites me to gradually flow the metal as a plastic solid. Metal is also a precise material. Jewellery-making satisfies me immensely due to the accuracy that can be achieved in soldered construction and stone setting. I often cut and polish my own stones to match the precision of the metal work.
I also enjoy the challenge of functional design. The purpose of a piece, its human overtones, its operational requirements are all starting points for a host of creative solutions. I strive for a fusion of form and function. As in nature, beauty of form is often synonymous with ability to function. I try to create designs that read clearly by reducing and simplifying, and by using smooth flowing lines that the eye can follow with ease.
Your Inspiration For Becoming An Artist:
I actually wanted to become a professional musician and, after high school, studied violin at University of Toronto. During those years, I also made jewellery as a side-line source of income. I realized how much more comfortable I felt creating finished products in the privacy of my studio rather than re-creating musical performances on stage. My high school art teacher, Mr. Arthur Brecken, was totally supportive of my interests and directions as they unfolded. For me, he was a facilitator and a patron as much as a teacher, and he remained my true friend for the last 30 years of his life. I had always enjoyed working with my hands, and the creative possibilities of precious metal and gems definitely resonated with me, but I think it was Arthur’s example and support that led me to become an artist.
How Do You Want Audiences To Respond To Your Work?
When people see and interact with my work, they respond to several things at once. They feel the physical weight of the pieces, they sense the integrity of the hand-made processes involved, they respond to the clarity and directness of the designs, and they relate to the flowing lines and contours in my work.
Photo: Wesley Harris in his work space