The stunning vistas of Howe Sound and the rock it skirts up against inspires a plethora of residents and visitors alike, but it is our local artists who lay claim to the lion’s share of that seemingly divine influence. Squamish is rife with creatives, including several of B.C.’s most highly sought-after jewelry designers: Martin Vseticka, Effie Baker, and Caroline Miller. While custom commissions are often their bread and butter, the trio dominates when it comes to landing prime, curated markets and art fairs like Whistler’s Farmers Market, and Vancouver’s Circle Craft or Shiny, Muddy, Fuzzy.
A goldsmith of 17 years, Martin Vseticka apprenticed in the German tradition with Jürgen Schönheit (Forge and Form, Granville Island), before moving to Squamish in 2001. Now he has a studio in the old industrial area at the end of Mamquam Road where he makes all manners of wearable jewelry – as well as gorgeous fishing flies of silver, gold, and gemstones.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing or even making the style I’m doing if it weren’t for living here in Squamish. We moved here before the Olympics when it was still a mill town. It was mainly a quiet place in a beautiful valley and one of my passions happens to be fishing. I do a lot of fishhooks,” said Vseticka with a chuckle, adding that they are primarily ornamental.
“They are forged, you can use them — they are totally fishable — but they are too nice really, you wouldn’t want to lose one.
”On Vseticka’s website, you’ll find something of a fisherman’s manifesto. The former wilderness guide turned goldsmith is passionate about preserving salmon stocks and working closely with the spirits that guide First Nations peoples.
In an effort to make an impact, he launched the Squamish Salmon Embassy.
“Its purpose is to promote awareness and action for this cause, and to encourage others to make it a priority in their public voice,” he writes on a webpage dedicated to the cause.
“I began creating a series of pieces which evoke the theme of fishing and the spirit of wholeness in nature. In the tradition of First Nations beliefs that animals and people are all one with nature, my silver hooks were forged under a cold [December full] moon to ensure they will hook the powerful members of the salmon people.
”Working in Squamish is what brings all of this home for Vseticka, he says being able to go for a hike or a mountain bike ride when the urge strikes to get ideas or clean one’s head is imperative. “As an artist that’s important — to be in a place that inspires you and just little things like working and going for a bike ride right off your doorstep is critical. It’s about keeping that flow going. I
wouldn’t be able to do that in the city.
“I get a lot of my good ideas when I’m out playing; I always carry a little sketchpad so I can jot down my ideas when they strike. I’m glad we have such a harsh winter – otherwise, I wouldn’t get a lot of work done,” he said with a laugh.
Baker, also a former outdoor guide is equally fuelled by the great outdoors where she says she finds inspiration in animals like the bears that frolic outside her Paradise Valley studio from time to time.
“I love the fact that in Squamish we are so lucky to see amazing wildlife every day. We take it for granted. When bears wander by my window, it’s super exciting and beautiful. I always imagine them humming to themselves – a bit like Winnie-the-Pooh muttering,” she said, adding her view of the confluence of the Cheakamus and Culliton rivers provides plenty of riches for wildlife.
“I love animals. I feel more in tune with them than people sometimes.
”This influence finds its way into her unpretentious works of metal and stone, evoking a very tangible sense of the earth and all its elements. Everything is handmade, and no two pieces are exactly alike.
Baker likes to use a variety of materials in her jewelry. In addition to silver and gold, she incorporates materials such as clay, resin, pearls, semiprecious stones, shell, leather and sea glass. Her hallmark pieces include beach pebbles.
“I like that I can find a piece of nature and make people feel a connection to our natural world and feel sentimental about it. I want to create jewellery pieces that make people feel good,” she said, adding that she doesn’t wear much jewelry herself.
“I like things that are simple, and not fussy. I want my pieces to be easy to wear, throw on with either jeans or a fancy dress.”
Miller, a metalsmith as well as an avid mountain biker and surfer, creates unique objects d’art for an extensive clientele. “The techniques of metalsmithing that have evolved for generations form the basis of my work,” said Miller, who has been commissioned to create the mountain-laced grad rings for Quest University Canada since 2014.
Miller explains that her work revolves around two distinct techniques – forging and construction. She’s also perfecting traditional methods such as raising, repoussé, and blacksmithing to create modern forms and sculpture – pieces that range from small intricate moulded to larger copper hollowware vessels. “Many of my pieces are narrative, where others are simply aesthetic and perhaps more simply classical in style,” she said.
Many of her smaller pieces appear to come from two different designers but are tied together aesthetically by material and technique: Some designs are edgy, quirky and require a lot of chutzpah to pull off, while others are simple and sleek for a more tailored look.
It’s not unusual to find small bird skulls, or other skeletally inspired forms, amongst her collections – sort of like miniature taxidermy sculptures made into wearable art.
“What I aim to do is to create pieces that hold meaning as peculiar as the individual that may wear, look, or touch them.”
“In one sense my work is a microscopic study of the world we live in, in another it is simply part of the world we live in.”Find Vseticka’s website at whistlercustomjewellery.com, Baker’s at effiebakerdesigns.com, and Miller’s at carolinemiller.ca. •