Margaux Wosk makes pins, magnets, necklaces and other items. (photo from the artist)
Last year’s Affordable Art Show at the Zack was such a success that the gallery is repeating it in 2022, just in time for the winter holidays. Gallery director Hope Forstenzer hopes it will become an annual tradition.
Everything in the show is less than $250, and the selection is wide enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. The participating artists are a mix of repeat appearances and newcomers. Some of the newcomers have exhibited in Zack group shows before. For the others, this is their first event at the gallery.
Margaux Wosk is one of the new artists. Their company, Retrophiliac, produces pins, magnets, necklaces and other items, many of which are priced below $20.
“I’m an autistic, self-taught artist, designer, writer, entrepreneur and disability advocate,” Wosk said. “I have been a ‘retrophiliac’ for a long time. I am inspired by retro and vintage styles, but I also want to celebrate neurodiversity.”
In addition to their company’s distinct merchandise, Wosk creates vibrant, retro-inspired paintings and mixed media work. “I hope to break down barriers and eliminate the stigma of neurodiversity,” they said. “With my art, I want to open a dialogue about what autistic and disabled people are capable of.”
Aimee Promislow, another new artist, works with glass. Her company, Glass Sipper, produces reusable drinking straws. “I met Hope [Forstenzer] a number of years ago,” she told the Independent. “We were both members of the same glass co-op. When she joined the Zack Gallery, she began reaching out to me for various events and shows. Last year, I participated in the Hanukkah show here. I’m excited to be part of the Affordable Art Show this year.”
Promislow summed up her creative path and why she chose it. “I have always, since a young age, dabbled in art,” she said. “My mother is an artist, Nomi Kaplan. She had introduced me to various art forms. After high school, I tried pottery, then glass enamel, then I played with resin. Eventually, about 15 years ago, I started melting coloured glass. I love colour and I love watching things form in fire. Glass is hard when cold, but, once heated, it is malleable, and I love moving it around.”
At first, Promislow made glass beads and sculpted little animals out of glass: dogs, cats, turtles. “At the same time, our family enjoyed smoothies,” she said. “The kids wanted straws for their smoothies, but the only smoothie straws I could find were plastic ones.”
Concerned about the environment, she combined her passion for glass with her care for nature. “I had a ‘eureka’ moment,” she recalled. “I realized that, instead of making glass beads, I could make reusable glass drinking straws and decorate them with my tiny creatures. That night, Glass Sipper was born.”
She also makes glass mezuzot and yads (the pointers used to read Torah). “They are perfect gifts for bar and bat mitzvah,” she said. “And everything I make is under $100, ideally suitable for the Affordable Art Show.”
Another glass artist in the show is Sonya Labrie. Her company, SML Glassworks, produces vases and other elements of home décor, as well as jewelry. “I’ve always created pieces that could be in anyone’s home,” she said. “The idea that art is to be loved and available to everyone in our community is very important to me.”
With such a mindset, when Forstenzer invited her to participate in this show, Labrie’s answer was an unequivocal yes.
“I started working with glass in 2005,” she said. “The first glass class I attended was at Red Deer College in Red Deer, Alta. Then I went on to complete a three-year advanced diploma in craft and design at Sheridan College, majoring in glass. I’ve also had the opportunity to study glass at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School in northern Washington.”
Labrie said she can’t imagine her life without creating beautiful things out of glass. “My body of work includes blown glass, flamework and kilns-cast items,” she elaborated. “Glass has endless possibilities, it is a challenging medium, and I keep discovering new ways of working with it.”
She also teaches glasswork for the Vancouver School Board. “I teach students grades 8 to 12 and I teach continuing education workshops for adults at the Terminal City Glass co-op.”
Unlike these company-owning creators, fibre artist Deborah Zibrik doesn’t consider herself a full-time artist. Not yet.
“I am a registered dietitian,” she said. “I’m still working part time, finishing a career that started in 1975. I will retire soon, after a research project at the B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute is completed. Until then, I simply don’t have enough time each day to work as a full-time artist. However, I consistently carve out ‘me time’ every day to complete some stitching. Ideas are constantly percolating in my head. Typically, many pieces are framed up or in the sketchbook phase at any one time. Perhaps the best descriptor for me is a part-time artist.”
Zibrik makes elaborate embroidered pieces. Some of them are like miniature tapestries, landscapes emerging out of fabric and threads. Others are tiny blossoms, beetles and butterflies that could be used separately or together, each one a delightful surprise. She also does golden embroidery.
“Smaller pieces are often whimsical and stitched quickly, with a minimum of stitches. On the other hand, my gold work requires hours to complete, and the materials are much more costly.”
Zibrik started learning needlecraft when still very young. “Like many girls growing up in rural Canada, I was taught by my mother and grandmother. They wanted to make sure I had all the critical homemaker skills, from crocheting blankets to mending socks…. Later, after 10 years of part-time study at Gail Harker Creative Studio, I completed Level 2 Design (based on a City and Guilds of London Institute in the U.K. curriculum) and Level 4 Diploma for stitch. Luckily for me, the studio is located in La Connor, Wash. That made it possible for me to attend sessions in-person to complete the evidence-based curriculum.”
After receiving her diploma in 2015, Zibrik decided to share her skills with others. “Time permitting, I have been teaching workshops for specific needlework techniques,” she said. “Guild members are my usual students. There is currently a discussion among the guilds about the lost generations of children who haven’t learned any of the needle arts, including embroidery; they haven’t had the exposure. Because of that, membership in the guilds is declining, as members age. I am considering ways to fix that. Perhaps I could offer embroidery classes to youngsters, maybe at the community centre level, to teach basic skills and prime creativity to future artisans.”
When asked where they see themselves on the scale of art versus craft, artists’ replies varied.
“I’m an artist and a designer,” said Wosk.
Promislow said, “I am a craftsperson. I use my medium to make things that are functional and beautiful.”
“My work rides a fine line between both,” said Labrie. “There is a fluid movement in my practice.”
“My personal journey suggests that, especially for women, craft and art are inextricably linked,” offered Zibrik. “More, they have been connected for thousands of years. They are but different places on the same continuum. In that sense, I am privileged to say: I am an artist.”
The Affordable Art Show continues until Dec. 30. And, if you’re visiting the exhibit Dec. 5-7 or 12-14, check out the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Chanukah Marketplace, which takes place in the centre’s atrium.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].