September 2018: Heather Vollans 

In honour of the Brant Studio Tour and Culture Days, September’s Featured Artist is mixed media mosaic artist Heather Vollans of Dawning Décor Studio. Heather is participating in both events that celebrate artists and creators on a local and national level.

As a mixed media mosaic artist, Heather creates art which is not purely mosaic in the traditional sense, but mosaic that incorporates a lot of unconventional, non-traditional materials, e.g. metals, plastics, rubber, construction debris. Her interest in mosaic is purely about the materials themselves and how they interact with one either – either harmoniously or disparately. Her previous dabbles have been acrylic and oil painting, decoupage, collage, patchwork quilting, paper mache sculpture etc …and for many years she worked as a decorative painter.

Born and raised in Australia, Heather travelled for many years living in the Middle East and England. She has been in Canada since 1998. She teaches mosaic in schools, galleries, and colleges and has headed a number of community projects in the area with a variety of groups and schools. In 2012-13, Heather was the commissioned artist for the City of Brantford Children's Memorial Garden sculpture entitled “Hope”. The public art piece is in St Andrew’s Park in Brantford’s Brant Avenue Heritage District.

Heather has always dabbled in some kind of art or craft. It’s something she inherited from her mother who always had several projects on the go and tables covered in work. She is attracted to the colours and contours of the desert (from living in dry, arid Australia and then in the Middle East) and she loves to experiment with mixing colour. Heather also uses a lot of stone in her work and collects stone from anywhere she visits. She has collected things all her life – as a child it was bits of fabric, beads, driftwood …and those collections have now just become bigger – plastics, metals, construction debris. It is the texture of the material that appeals and being able to see in it something more useful and beautiful than just its intended function - rusty nails are not just nails, but are great man-made inclusions in a mosaic with stone, driftwood and other natural materials. They are an echo of their former lives and she enjoys being able to use them in a sometimes unrecognizable new way.

In the beginning, her mosaic materials were mostly colourful pieces of china or shiny glass. It was the colour which created the statement. Over the years Heather experimented with a number of materials. All these years later her preferred materials are mostly stone and metal, or materials salvaged from roadsides. Earth tones and textures are her palette and materials which have a strong voice on their own – whether that voice is loud or soft. Design is always simple and often secondary to the way the materials play against one another.

Heather recently exhibited at the Yellow Brick Wall at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford. The series called “Copper mine” examines the environmental and health effects of copper mining and asks the viewer whether the risks that are taken in mining this luscious material are worth it. The series is ongoing. Her current research is a look at the role of trade unions in the industry world-wide and how they work to improve the conditions of workers. The resultant artwork is sometimes jarring and uncomfortable to view – because it is an uncomfortable subject and one she wants the viewer to think more deeply about. The series utilizes lots of copper materials (sheet, tubing, wire, mesh) – most salvaged from landfill.

Heather’s tools of the trade are very unique. For stone, she uses a traditional mosaic tool called a hammer and hardie, which was used by the Romans and is still in common use today. Other tools for cutting include construction/stone hammers, tile cutters and nippers and for small cuts, a wheeled nipper available at stained glass stores. Her substrate is often Wediboard, a Styrofoam materials sandwiched between 2 layers of fiberglass mesh and a thin layer of concrete. It is lightweight, but strong and suitable also for large works outdoors in the Canadian climate.

The mosaic world is full of inspirational artists who have helped Heather in her journey. Sophie Drouin from Kitchener taught her a lot about cutting stone. And renowned Scottish artist Dugald Macinnes fueled her love affair with stone. Heather had the pleasure of his instruction at The Chicago Mosaic School this year.

Heather’s tip to developing artists is, “It’s not about ‘getting there’, it’s about doing doing doing – every day…live it, breath it, experiment. Network with peers and attend lots of galleries and talk to people who are doing things you admire. Get involved with community projects where you meet other passionate people.”

Heather’s enjoyment of Brantford is communing with like-minded people who care about people and encouraging culture. She loves to sit in St Andrew’s Park and remember the amazing project so many local children had a hand in. Some of the local artists she admires are in the Brant Studio Tour which provides opportunities to gather and feed from other artists as well as Arlene Laskey – an endless source of inspiration and encouragement – her art, her commitment to community, her aesthetics, her poetry and other writings. She is always willing to give encouragement to other artists.

Heather Vollans will be showcasing her work during the weekend of September of 29th & 30th during the Brant Studio Tour which runs during Culture Days. More information and pictures can be found on Heather’s Dawning Décor Studio website and Facebook page.