The Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair struggles a bit with stereotyping: some people hear the name and imagine a draughty hall full of all-natural, home-spun wares that hearken back to a simpler time, or perhaps to the 70s—macrame plant hangers spring to mind. While those adjectives could describe much of what’s there (although you might not find macrame plant hangers); the world of craft today is highly sophisticated, and a visit to the Denman Craft Fair is a full-on artistic experience. There are plenty of examples of old traditions exquisitely maintained, but also works that are highly contemporary and creatively innovative.
Glass artist John Harned, who’s been an exhibitor at the Denman fair since its inception in 1981, is a case in point. His glass tableware spans an aesthetic palette stretching from bold, abstract geometric patterns to floral and leaf motifs; with colour schemes ranging from cool black-and-white to vibrant rainbow hues, and deep velvety textures contrasting with metallic sparkle.
Harned says that ideas about what a ‘craft’ is have evolved over the decades. “I didn’t think of myself as an artist when I started, but along the way people starting telling me that’s what I was. It’s something that’s been debated over the years—the line between craft and art. These days there is no division.”
Working in his idyllic Denman Island studio, with the ocean close by and the forest all around, Harned is inspired by nature, but also by art both old and new, and all types of design. “I’m sort of a magazine freak,” he says. “I have quite a collection: anything to do with interior decorating, architecture, painting and print making. I’m interested in pattern so I research all the other disciplines that have to do with pattern, such as tapestries, fabrics, and graphic design. Also, I have many books of art imagery throughout the centuries which I use as reference and inspiration.”
Harned didn’t start out as a visual artist, but rather as a classical musician. While studying for a music degree from prestigious Oberlin College, he also took courses in drawing, painting and art history. Years later, living on Denman Island, he discovered glass work while recuperating from an injury. He began with stained glass and then in the 80s discovered kiln-fired fused glasswork. This relatively-unknown technology offered exciting new design possibilities.
He began teaching himself through trial and error, and then in the 1990s he took a course on fused glass at the Pilchuck International Glass School, which, he says, literally transformed his life. “I had all this new information, inspiration and motivation. There is so much to explore, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Harned is one of a handful of Denman Island artisans that have been exhibiting at the Denman Craft Fair since its inception. Over the decades, he’s seen it grow from a local get-together to an iconic regional event. He’s attended many other fairs, but the Denman one is always a highlight.
“The Denman fair is rich with character. I get to see what my peers and doing and discover new artists. There are always people emerging out of the woodwork who have great skills and who are taking their work seriously.”
You’ll find John Harned and over 80 other artisans at the Denman Island Craft Fair, Dec 1 & 2, 10 – 4:00 pm, at the Denman Community Hall and Activity Centre. It’s free, and there’s a shuttle from the Denman West ferry terminal, so you can park at Buckley Bay and walk on to the ferry. As usual, a variety of delicious lunches and snacks will be available, created by local cooks and farmers.
Photos by McKinnon Photography