Nova Scotia Craft: Cape Breton Island

May 26, 2016

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Beautiful Cape Breton, the last leg of my Nova Scotia tour (check out part one and two here).

I went around the trail counter clockwise, spending my first night in Baddeck at the loveliest Bed & Breakfast (complete with cuddly golden doodle and an epic farm fresh breakfast). I got chatting with the onwers, Jan and Glen, about craft in the area and Jan jumped in with, “Oh I was just fiddling with all those girls this afternoon! They’re not open yet but I’ll give them a ring and I’m sure they’d be happy to have you…” Jan got on the phone right away and called up Wendy, the owner of Glass Artisans, “Hey Wendy! I’ve got a girl here passing through, loves craft, are you around tomorrow? Show her the shop?”

And just like that I had my very own craft tour. When I got to Wendy’s I was to call Sarah at Wildfire Pottery, and so on and so on up the trail. In true east coast fashion, there was a lot of, “if I’m not in yet the door will be unlocked so make yourself some tea and poke around until I get there!”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, many shops weren’t open for the season yet, so I was I really thankful these women made the effort to show me around. I’m telling you, this trip was filled with a lot of those ‘meant to be’ moments.

Above: blown glass ornaments by Curtis Dionne (I think). I didn’t do a great job of taking photos or keeping track of artists names around the Cabot Trail (I know, I know…). I went into it thinking ‘document everything!’ but once I was there I found myself pretty absorbed by my surroundings and taking out my camera just didn’t always feel right, you know? I needed to be fully present, and for me that meant letting go of capturing everything and just enjoying the moment. But here are a few favourites…

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My first stop of the day (after getting a flat tire repaired… Oops) was Wendy’s Glass Artisans Studio. Such a beautiful shop and I’d certainly recommend stopping in if you’re going around the Cabot Trail. She carries glass artists from across Canada. Some of them fly in for a week of the summer to do demos and such — so cool!

I was really interested by the differences I saw between Cape Breton artists and ones I’ve met in Toronto. The lifestyle and attitude felt totally different. I’m not saying one is good and one is bad, or trying to knock anyone, I’m just observing a difference and sharing it with you as a generalization.

There’s a stress, hustle, and pressure to sell in Toronto that’s palpable. You can feel it as soon as you meet someone sometimes. The environment here was much more relaxed (duh, you could say, you’re living in Atlantic paradise) but it was more than that. Sure, there’s the obvious lifestyle differences like real estate prices ($60K for a home versus $1 million in Toronto) and it’s far less consumer oriented, but I realized I was talking to people who were genuinely happy with their lives. They weren’t wanting for more (money, exposure, etc) and there was no where else they’d rather live. Isn’t that neat? I wish I could better explain it, but it’s a feeling that’s really stuck with me and got me thinking about my own life.

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Blown glass flowers, also by Curtis Dionne. They looked very sweet displayed individually or together in a vase.

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Creamer and sugar set, also I think by Curtis?

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This was my favourite piece in the shop — test tube glass vase by Ingo & Julie Deutsch. The colours, concept, weight… I just loved it. They used to be chemists, can you tell?

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Another sweet piece by Ingo & Julie Doetsch.

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From there Wendy sent me over to Sarah at Wildfire Pottery, who was allegedly doing her taxes that day and welcomed a distraction. Sarah was so lovely to chat with, and I felt quite special knowing she turned over the open sign just for me!

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Most of her work is raku ware.

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I went home with one of these little vases…

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In addition to selling her pottery, Sarah also sells used books and music (love it). Her husband is a very talented composer and producer (is that what it’s called?) and they’re both fiddlers.

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Such a sweet place. She was just opening for the season so things are still getting organized and cleaned up. But I had to share a photo of the back as I think it shows how warm and inviting the place felt. Look at her music out ready for a practice break!

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Sew Inclined was the one place along the trail I really wanted to see but wasn’t able to. Sarah tried calling the owner, Barbara, a few times (home, shop) but no luck. She’s known as the mad hatter of Cape Breton and does some really cool work.

A few women in my family, included my Mum and Aunt, have been and have stunning hats to show for it. Apparently as soon as you walk in Barbara greets you with, “Oh, I have the hat for you!” and has the ability to turn even the most skeptical customer into a hat lover.

So really, the only part of me thankful she wasn’t open is my wallet. Sigh…

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Around the other side of the trail I stopped in Cheticamp to check out Proud to be Hookers (the marketing potential alone…). This little town is full of hookers and rug shops. Lola, the owner, said if you live in Cheticamp you’re either a hooker or a fishermen.

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Lola wasn’t actually open, but I guess she saw my nose pressed against the window and decided I looked harmless enough to let in while she was doing paperwork. She was even kind enough to give me a demonstration! She’s been using that same hook since she started 42 years ago — can you imagine?! I wish I had a video of her working, it was mesmerizing. craft-cape-breton-proud-to-be-hookers-2

Very traditional work. Everything is hooked by women in the area aged 50-90. It’s a dying art form. Literally, dying.

Too far? Not funny? Should have stopped at hooker jokes?

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I picked up this little guy as a thank you gift for family I stayed with in Halifax.

Again, if you want any more information on my trip — where I stayed, what that time of year is like, solo travel on a budget etc. just send me an email and we can chat! I made an effort not to overload these posts but there’s a lot more I can talk about.

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You can also check out photos from my trip on my Flickr.

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