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The benefits of living in a small city or town are abundant. Benefits like advancing quickly in a job, knowing your neighbours and being a part of a supportive community. It’s that small town spirit that can help one succeed in life, and that is the case with the city of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Although small in size and remote in location, Canada’s northernmost capital city, Iqaluit, is full of history and craft. One crafter, in particular, being Dan Wade. Dan is an award-winning jewellery maker born in the northern city. Dan started his career after graduating from the Nunavut Arctic College in the jewellery and metalwork program in 2005. His deep connection to Nunavut and inspiration from the surrounding land is evident throughout his work. We sat down with Dan Wade to learn a little more about how he got into jewellery making and his connection with Nunavut through his craft.
The water flows between the hills, cradled by the land, moving left and right, over and around the rocks as if it were dancing to the gentle sound of music – Dan Wade
Caley Vanular: Living in Nunavut you have a unique access to parts of the world one can only imagine. What kind of jewellery do you make and what kinds of materials do you work with?
Dan Wade: I make all kinds of things. I mostly work with silver and ivory but I am not limited to that. I have worked with all kinds of things such as gold, copper, brass, baleen, muskox horn, antler and polar bear claws.
CV: Is jewellery making a craft passed down through your family or how did you get your start?
DW: I am the only jewellery maker in my family. My grandfather was a carver and my cousin is a carver. It started when I was working at a gift store and I would see all these carvings and jewellery come in all the time and it inspired me to make my own. So, I went to the local college to see if there were classes on carving and they only had a jewellery and metal work program that involved pottery, painting and carving. I went and checked it out at the college and asked a few questions. I then decided to take the program in Iqaluit.
CV: Where do you find the inspiration to keep creating?
DW: From nature and animals. I have done things like an entire collection inspired by owls. For example, the ulukpik collection is a cross between an ulu and an ookpik. One day when I was trying to think of something different, I was thinking of owls and ulu design, which is common in Nunavut. An ulu is a women’s knife and it is half moon shape. It almost has an oval shape and one day when I was looking at it I thought of two eyes and riveted part to the blade almost looked like a beak. So idea inspired me to make the two designs into one. I have made pendants, earrings and rings around this ulukpik inspiration.
CV: Where do you source your supplies?
DW: Hunters, outfitters and family and friends of them. People on Facebook. The communities are so isolated so many people keep in touch on Facebook.
CV: Some of your designs are intricate and some are fairly simple. How long do you often spend on one piece of jewellery?
DW: It depends on the piece it could be a couple of hours or a few days. Generally, something like a polar bear paw pendant would be at least 2-3 days of work.
CV: Where do you work from? Do you have your own studio?
DW: I share a studio with two other artists and have been there for six years.
CV: What are the advantages of running your own business in Nunavut?
DW: A lot of my market is here in Nunavut. My customers are mainly Inuit women but not limited to. I love it here. You can look out the window and see beautiful hills and an insane landscape. I love when it is salt and pepper up the hills and it is a very short commute from my home to my work.
CV: Do you feel supported by your community to continue perusing your craft?
DW: Yes. There have been many times that an elder finds out I am doing jewellery full time and they approached me to say they are happy for me. They say they want me to keep doing it. I definitely feel supported by my community.
CV: Where can someone buy a piece of Dan Wade Jewellery?
DW: I sell it at the studio, The Aayuraa Studio. People come in all the time. There are regular visitors at least a few times a week coming to pick up jewellery. I also sell on Facebook, my website and my Etsy. Along with online I also visit many festivals and galleries. I have been to the Great Northern Arts Festival five years in a row. I was at the Northern Lights Trade Show for the past three years. I have also travelled to Montreal, Ottawa and I have showcased my jewellery in Vancouver.
CV: You make the locally famous Northern Lights ring, correct? Can you tell us a little bit more about that specific ring?
DW: The Northern Lights ring is another thing in nature that inspired my work. I was watching the northern lights go across the sky and thinking about how it looked like a river in the sky. I thought about how it went from one horizon to the next and how it looked like a strip of silver. So I made my vision of the Aurora into a ring which has become quite popular.
CV: Who are some other local Nunavut artists you look up to?
DW: Mathew Nugingaq of course. Mathew has been doing jewellery since 99 and opened his studio eight years ago. I have been in his studio (The Aayuraa Studio) for six of those eight years. He is such a creative artist and will look at something totally different from what I see. The drive he has for his work is inspiring and I have learnt so much from him. I could write a novel on how much I have learnt from him. He has been a great inspiration for my work.
CV: Do you have anything you are working on now you can tell us about?
DW: There is always something I am trying to work on and I am constantly working on new jewellery. I have a few new castings right now, like the men’s ring I am working on. It’s a casting with a sakku design featuring a harpoon head but I didn’t want it to look too traditional. So I stylized it and created a repeat pattern all the way around the band. I like that the piece is not just a northern theme, it could be anything.
CV: As an award winning jeweller in Nunavut and an established name in Northern Canada, what can we expect to see from you in the future? What are your dreams for Dan Wade Jewellery?
DW: I would love to expand and be able to hire someone. I want to find someone reliable that can do the work and wants to do the work. I would like to eventually have my jewellery all over Canada… selling 1000’s of pieces instead of the smaller numbers we currently sell.
Learn more about Dan Wade on his website DanWade.Ca