Susan Cain’s puppets straddle worlds. They are toys, and they are art. They are whimsical bundles of feathers and sequins, and they are archetypal figures, seeming to emerge magically from the numinous world of fairy tales. For a psychologist, they are therapeutic tools; for a teacher, educational aids. They are 100% artifice, but if you look at them for long, it might occur to you that they are creatures of the wild.
“When I’m making them,” says Cain, “I can’t just crank them out. I have to wait for them to come alive. And that’s what attracts people to them. They’re alive. They have soul.”
Cain, who lives on Hornby Island, fell in love with puppets during a stint as a member of a puppet theatre troupe in San Francisco in 1980. She has been making them ever since. She also creates paintings, drawings and mixed media sculpture. Holiday shoppers can find her work at the Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair (see below for dates and more info) where her table has been a favourite for over ten years.
Animals have always been Cain’s greatest inspiration, she says. “Animals have inspired many myths and fables and with my puppets and sculptures, I celebrate this life force.
“On Hornby, animals are woven into our everyday life, from the frogs and herring in the spring, the fawns that wander by with their mothers, and all of the amazing birds, from the eagles to the hummingbirds, that are all nesting and raising their young. Insects are everywhere you look, foraging and pollinating.”
Cain is also inspired by materials. Her studio is chock full of bags and baskets of fabrics, buttons, beads, trim, fringe, shells, bones, rocks, wool, and mysterious objects that don’t yet have a purpose, but will some day. There are bags of silvery painted faux feathers that someone gave her, and bundles of particularly well-shaped twigs from a pruning job. The space is a treasure trove.
Since moving to BC, Cain has enjoyed a successful artistic career. Her work has appeared in several dozen solo and group exhibitions in Canada and the United States and has sold all over the world.
Cain’s colourful Craft Fair table offers the chance to buy a major art work, such as a wire mesh cougar sculpture, or pick up smaller items such as baby bat finger puppets or shiny Christmas tree ornaments, which make great stocking stuffers.
Visit Susan Cain and over 80 other local artisans at this year’s Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair, NOv 30 & Dec 1, 2019, 10 – 4:00. 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.