Nurturing Young Artists: Craft Fair Kids Grow Up


The kids’ table at the Denman Christmas Craft Fair is always a busy place—full of creativity, young talent, great deals and, well, cuteness. It’s also a training ground for Denman’s next generation of professional artisans.

Lily H
Bags by fabric artist Lily Harned

This year, there are three (at least) adult vendors who got their start as kids at the fair. Looking back, they say their experience as young participants brought them inspiration and confidence, honed their art skills, and taught them basic entrepreneurial attitudes and know-how.

“I grew up at craft fairs,” says fabric artist Lily Harned, who sells pouches, bags and fabric baskets. Her mother, ceramic artist Patti Willis, and her father, glass artist John Harned, were part of the original fair 37 years ago and are still selling at the fair in 2018.

“I have so many great memories,” she says. “Not just of the Denman fair, where I sold jewelry as a teenager, but also many others that my parents took me to: the renaissance fair in Courtenay, early Circle Craft in Vancouver, and I remember one at the Empress in Victoria—it was so much fun!

“I was lucky to grow up in a culture of people making things by hand—not just my parents, but also all my neighbours were potters and weavers and what not. On Denman, it’s just part of the culture. I took it for granted but now I realize how special it is. Of course, there are makers everywhere but not such a concentration of them.”

Craft Fair regulars know Megan Rose Babb as the Denman Island artisan who sells beautiful jewelry made from recycled bicycle parts and inner tires. Now 36, she started out at the fair as a creative 10-year-old.

Megan Babb necklace
Megan Rose created this necklace from recycled bicycle inner tubes

“There’s a funny story about my first year. I was selling beaded earrings that were the same style as ones LeeAndra Jacobs [a long-term Denman Craft Fair vendor] makes—a big mix of different colours that LeeAndra calls Jambalaya. I’d seen the ones she made and just copied them! LeeAndra was very gracious about it. I still sometimes see [Denman ceramic artist] Bev Severn wearing the pair she bought from me back then,” says Megan.

As she grew up, Megan moved into other adventures such as making music, living in Montreal and London, and travelling across Canada by bike. When she returned to Denman six years ago, she had already established herself as an artisan with a line of jewelry that she sold on-line and in various outlets. She returned to the fair with these products, adding home-made organic chocolate-hazelnut spread to sweeten the deal.

“This fair is really well organized and attended, with a really high caliber of artisans, and it’s so fun and festive. Everyone on the island seems really happy; we get to see each other, make money, and get beautiful gifts, helping neighbours do their thing and supporting the local economy,” says Megan.

Elishka Hajek creates digital illustrations, such as this one, on a graphics tablet

Elishka Hajek has been creating art since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She still draws, but her main genre is digital painting and illustration. She started vending at the fair when she was in grade five at Denman Elementary School, selling photography cards and pinwheel cookies.

“I loved the atmosphere, the busyness. And I really liked talking to people about my art,” says Elishka. The fair became an annual highlight. It was mostly about sharing her art and having fun, but it also provided an education. “I learned how to explain my techniques. Also I learned how to sell my products—to think about how to set up a display, and how to be organized.”

This year, Elishka is 18 and a grade 12 student at G.P. Vanier, and will be having her own table for the first time, selling greeting cards, prints and stickers. “I’m looking forward to having more space and having complete control over that space, and to being taken more seriously as an adult artist—not that we don’t take the kids seriously; they are good artists. But it feels different having my own table.”

Like Lily and Megan, Elishka says Denman provides a nurturing environment for a young artist. “It’s such a supportive community, and being surrounded by nature has really influenced me.” Next year, Elishka plans to go to college to study art and animation.

Copper Creations: Metalwork artist Mary Hicks plays with light

Mary Hicks
Mary Hicks

Denman Island metalwork artist Mary Hicks traces her inspiration all the way back to King Tut. Or more specifically, to the renowned international exhibition called The Treasures of Tutankhamun, which toured the world from 1972 to 1979, sparking global interest in the life and culture of this Egyptian Pharoah, who ruled 3000 years ago.

At the time, Mary Hicks was a pre-teen living in Chicago. Already a lover of art, Mary spent much of her spare time visiting the city’s many museums, galleries and sculpture gardens. When the King Tut exhibit came to the Chicago Natural History Museum in 1977, Hicks braved the long line-ups, and was not disappointed.

“I remember maneuvering through the crowds to get to the front of the showcases and being so struck by the beautiful metalwork, the brilliance of it, the play of light and the enduring quality of it. These things had been created so incredibly long ago and still remained. For me, that was the start of wanting to create objects of beauty that will arouse emotion or intrigue.”

Mary Hicks

It took a couple of decades, however, before Hicks began working with metal. In her formative years she attended California Institute of Arts, and was an art photographer/mixed media artist for over 30 years prior to becoming a sculptor.

It was literally a search for light that led Hicks to metalwork. She wanted a wall sconce for a bedside light, and decided to make it herself, out of copper foil. “When it was done, there was something about the quality of light when it hit the metal. It was so warm, so vibrant, so alive. I was completely captivated, and while photography will always be one of my main passions I have worked primarily with metal ever since.”

Metal offered the opportunity to move beyond the two-dimensional realm. Hicks began creating sculptural pieces, exploring weaving, grids and multi-layered patterns.

Mary Hicks necklace cropped

“I’ve always been drawn to abstraction,” says Hicks. “In my photography, I’m often shooting the innards of flowers. It’s the patterns of things and the quality of light—that’s what has always fascinated me.”

Hicks also makes art jewelry. “People started asking me to make jewelry. They’d see my sculptures and say, ‘I’d wear that if it I could.’” says Hicks. “I have woven copper jewelry pieces, pendants, earrings and hair barrettes.”

The jewelry will be the main feature at Hicks’ table at the Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair, along with small sculptures, ornaments, and photography. Hicks has been vending at the Denman fair for 10 years, and says the event is a highlight of the season.

“I’m honoured to be part of this community of incredible artists. I’ve attended several fairs and this is one of the best,” she says. You can see Mary Hicks’ artwork at

Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair

Nov 30 & Dec 1, 2018, 10 – 4

Free shuttle from the ferry, so you can walk on at Buckley Bay.

Home-made meals and treats available all day.

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Art You Can Play With: Celebrating The Life Force With Susan Cain

Cain flying bird sculpture

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.

Cain cat sculpture close up

“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.

Susan Cane

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.

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Glass Art Shines at Denman Craft Fair

Denman Island Craft Fair Glass artist John Harned
Denman Island Craft Fair Glass artist John Harned

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.”

Denman Island Craft Fair artist John Harned

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.”

Denman Island Craft Fair artist John Harned

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