From Aug, 13 to 14, artists, artisans and purveyors of culture and heritage had their doors open for the Columbia Basin Culture Tour. The Free Press visited Fernie’s Eye of the Needle gallery to speak with Sandra and David Barrett, who own and operate Fernie Forge and Eye of the Needle Studio, about how the tour was and what it is like to combine the hard shapes of steel through five generations of smithing know-how with the soft organic forms and textures of felting.
The Barrett’s have participated in every Columbia Basin Culture Tour since its inception eight years ago and this year they had 112 visitors over the two day self-guided tour making it the highest turn out year yet.
“Sixty-five attended on Saturday; 47 on Sunday. Best year ever for number of people coming in the eight times we’ve participated. Six came for Katherine Russell’s glass making talk,” said Sandra. “I loved the unexpected visit on Saturday afternoon from the excited bachelorette party of nine, wearing matching t-shirts and knickers over their shorts. A lady from Lethbridge visited on Saturday morning and returned late on Sunday afternoon, as she was so interested to see how the planet was progressing. Favourable comments from everyone except the lady who refused to sign the visitors’ book because she ‘didn’t take the tour’, perhaps she didn’t realize it’s a free self guided tour.”
The planet that Barrett was referring to is for her submission in a collaborative felt installation that aims to bring felters from across Canada together for an exhibit and symposium.
“‘Stella Motus’ is a Canada wide collaborative felt installation to be exhibited at the felt::feutre Symposium in Penticton, B.C. at the Okanagan School of the Arts Shatford Centre. All contributions, including mine, will be hung together as a community constellation next month,” she said “Thanks to a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust, administered by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance, I will be attending this national symposium. A solo exhibition of new work learned will be mounted at the Eye of the Needle at the end of February next year, to coincide with the Griz Days Winter Festival in Fernie.”
Sandra works in more than one medium, using, steel, copper, bronze, wool, alpaca fibre, and glass to create her work.
“David has been working with metal all his life. He is a qualified engineer. I became interested in blacksmithing after David inherited the family business from his father. We both trained in the UK at the National School of Blacksmithing in Hereford,” she said. “My first felt picture was made in England 24 years ago.”
Over the almost two and a half decades, Sandra has combined her passion for smithing and fibre artistry to create multimedia art.
“I do not know any other blacksmiths that make felt. I thought it would be a unique way to showcase what I am making. I also use glass, sometimes I fuse glass into my forge work on the hearth itself, I do it to get colour into something that is basically black. The fibre is a perfect foil for the frame,” she said. “Steel can be made different colours with heat, rainbows and blues, but it is a very limited colour pallet. Felt and glass bring it to life in a very different ways that I have not seen before. I have been getting commissions to do pictures and it is a wonderful opportunity to talk to people and ask them what is important in their lives and relate that to a piece of art that will stay with them the rest of their lives.”
Aside from Eye of the Needle and Fernie Forge, Sandra’s work can be seen this October at the annual exhibit of the Fernie Spinners and Weavers Guild.
The couple split their time between The Eye of the Needle, where they can be found Thursdays and Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the Fernie Forge, located on Highway 3 in Hosmer where tours and showings can be arranged over the phone.
More information for Eye of the Needle Studio and Fernie Forge can be found online at Fernieforge.ca and they can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or over the phone through 250-423-2671.