Our Artists in Residence
“Having spent two years at The Customs House, my business has grown more than I ever expected it to. That’s in huge part due to the creative community I was introduced to through the Customs House. Whether it’s folks just popping into space, or more formal events we’d host or be invited to, it did not take long to meet the plethora of local artisans around the Island. This, combined with the dedicated space to focus on my craft, and the immediate support from my fellow resident artisans has led to grow beyond my expectations. I’d highly suggest this incubator program to anyone looking to elevate their craft and join an incredible community of artisans here on Cape Breton Island.
Before joining the Customs House, I was working on concrete crews throughout the country only practicing leatherwork on the weekends and off-seasons. I knew my craft had the potential to be my full-time career but it was the Customs House that gave me the confidence to pursue it. I left my transient construction job and my girlfriend and I settled into the village of Troy, just outside of Port Hawkesbury. I grew up on the Island so returning home has been a real treat, especially doing so as a new business owner on my own terms. The following two years were equal parts rewarding and challenging. Sharing the space with three artisans in similar situations took a lot of the anxiety out of the business end of things and added a lot of excitement to the creative side of things. I no longer had to wait for markets or shows to share my excitement over new products and was always there to critique any new pieces that came out of my neighbors’ studio.
My successes brought with them new challenges as I outgrew my studio in the Customs House. As happy as I’d have been to stay I know someone else will get as much out of the space as I have. I found a new home in a similar space in Sydney – a testament to the growth of the creative sector here on Cape Breton Island where artisans have the support and encouragement to break out on their own while setting down roots in the place we all call home.”
Under his business, Phee’s Original Goods, Kyle McPhee designs and creates custom leather goods right here in Cape Breton. Each item is made to serve a purpose in everyday life and stand the test of time. Having traveled far and wide for work in various trades has informed every design and ensured that the methods and materials used are road tested and tough as nails.
“My time at the Customs House Artisan Incubator has been integral to my development as a business person and an artist. It’s a life-changing experience that has enriched my life and helped me form a real sense of community.”
Natasha Matthews of Tasha Grace Designs is a jewellery artist whose work is evocative of an enchanted forest, with pieces often having a whimsical, ethereal feel reminiscent of the Unseen World. She excels at wire weaving which is an unusual technique that produces beautiful, delicate, and complex patterns with very thin wire, and lends itself well to the Art Nouveau forms she often incorporates into her work. While studying Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, she discovered silversmithing at this world-class institution. By the end of her first class, she was hooked forever and considered herself to be a silversmith at heart from that day forward. It was to be her niche, her passion, and her destiny.
“The Customs House Artisan Incubator has facilitated growth, both as a craftsperson and my business. The furnished studio space along with support in the form of tools, resources, and education has created the perfect environment for me to flourish; pursuing my dreams in a way I never could have imagined.”From the prairies of Saskatchewan to the high rises of Vancouver, and finally, to beautiful Nova Scotia, Tessa Reed has always found the best place to be is behind a pottery wheel. With their business Tessaramics, their signature style features cartoon-looking cats and fantastical creatures. She believes that her work should be in use, and often will include decoration on the interior or bottom of a piece, necessitating interaction for the full experience of the work.
“The Customs House gave me a platform to elevate my professional reputation and gave me access to a network of creative professionals that I wouldn’t have been able to break into on my own. Having my own dedicated studio space has given me the opportunity to expand on my product mix, and take my work in new directions. The Customs House has been pivotal for me and has accelerated my career. I can now say I am a full-time artist. If I had stayed in a big city where I was living before, I would not have been able to take my art career full time for years or even decades. This small community has taken a far-off dream and turned it into a reality for me.”
Josie Robinson is a textile artist and surface designer. Growing up in the Robson Valley in BC, Josie was always surrounded by a community of makers. She accredits her creative spirit to her childhood in a small town. Her expertise lies in the use of plant-based dyes and pigments. She uses plants that grow locally as well as sought-after plants from around the world to create color on cloth. Specifically, her work specializes in Japanese shibori, where patterns are created in the cloth by tying or by geometric woodblock clamped folding. As an artist, she sees value in use. She aims to create pieces that her customers can both use in their daily lives and cherish for their unique beauty.