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A handmade tale 

From fashionistas to foodies, these 10 local designers take the pain out of finding one-of-a-kind gifts for everyone on your list.

Darryl Besch’s

Cool cars and motorcycles were part of Darryl Besch’s childhood, but they weren’t the wee Hot Wheels you raced across the kitchen floor. “My Dad does custom bike and car paint and one of his things is flames, so I grew up around ,” Besch offers, adding he takes inspiration from comics and tattoos too.

Just like Dad, Besch produces flames, but in the form of brooches and pendants. He eschews sharp angles, linearity and strict geometry for “flowing lines.” Then each piece gets a tough enamel coating. Adds Besch: “Working with enamel allows me to add colour to my work and colour makes the pieces stand out and…pop.”

Using mostly silver and copper, Besch learns as he goes. “I work through a lot of things by making and remaking. I’m not one for designing fully and then making it. It’s no fun that way.”

You’d never know it from studying one of his polished pieces, which includes belt buckles and hood ornaments. He also creates “metal portraits” for his Smoosh Face collection.

Humour constitutes a big part of Besch’s practice, as he continues with his Dead Bunnies series by adding other flattened creatures, including hamsters and monkeys.

Argyle Fine Art, 1869 Upper Water (425-9456). NSCAD Surface and Seam Sale, 1869 Granville from December 9 to 11. $40-$120. One-of-a-kind items $175-$700

Elsie Court

Some of us see structure and seriousness in the world, while others identify randomness, whimsy and humour all around. Count Maureen Elsie Court in the latter camp.

Her store, Elsie’s, celebrates this world view, from its artfully cluttered interior to the bespoke clothing and dolls Court makes in her rare downtime from running the store.

“Anything I make turns out to have a life of its own, but especially these dolls. They almost become little living beings.

“People will come in with a silk skirt or cashmere sweater with a stain on it, or holes in it, and I’ll tell them I just can’t sell it. And they won’t use it, so often they’ll just give it to me,” she says from behind a small desk at the store.

Court opens the discard bags “and certain colours, textures or fabrics will just scream to me. I don’t have a pre-conceived notion of what I’m going to make.”

Instinct guides Court. She transforms a damaged sand-coloured cashmere sweater into a pair of simple mittens. She salvages parts of an Alpaca wool poncho, full of moth holes, for arm-warmers to fit over the mitts, finishing them with text from a t-shirt and trim from another sweater.

Elsie’s, 1530 Queen (425-2599). $30-$100

Jeff Cowling

Evidence of Jeff Cowling’s resourcefulness dots Halifax. That twisty helix sign in front of the bioscience building on the waterfront came from him.

Perhaps you’ve also spotted his side tables, cutting boards, desks, funeral urns. He calls his line of urns Funeral Urns to Die For. His clients always have a sense of humour and, he reveals, “They’re usually buying them for themselves.”

The urns appear as “miniature buildings,” with architectural and historical references from ancient Egypt, the Aztecs and Art Deco.

Cowling favours a mix of materials and “natural curves and shapes” in all his work, including a commissioned birch and steel computer desk.

A provocative material mix figures prominently across Cowling’s various lines, one-offs and small production runs. For example, he combines oak (for the legs) with reclaimed rebar, aluminum laminate and recycled rubber for his side tables.

In a short call from his cellphone, Cowling, who’s taught at NSCAD, talks about wood’s design properties. Red oak works for the surface because “Research…has shown it’s a natural inhibitor to germs.” He accents the piece using “exotic woods” for the handles, once they’ve been certified as un-endangered by his local and Canadian suppliers.

Gallery Page and Strange, Granville Square (422-8995), Attica Furnishings, 1652 Granville (423-2557) and Maple Decor Gallery, 1361 Bedford Highway (835-8680). $25-$380 (commission prices vary)

Donna Hiebert

The mind behind the famous wave sculpture at Sackville Landing has turned to creating jewellery work that’s winning her accolades.

Donna Hiebert recently walked away with awards for Best Body of Work and Best Display at the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council’s Christmas Craft Market. She’s also a finalist for two 2006 Niche Awards (in hollowware and gold jewellery); the awards are presented by Niche, an American magazine for craft retailers.

With a busy new year already planned, Hiebert remains a picture of calm. Maybe it’s the jewellery she’s making, which “draws inspiration from certain types of architecture mainly contemplative and ancient.”

Adds Hiebert: “All of the work is fabricated using 18-karat golds and precious gems enduring and beautiful materials. In the same way that certain buildings are designed to serve their users, my jewellery corresponds with the body. It’s a pleasure to wear and to contemplate.”

Wearing a work of Hiebert’s is akin to wearing an “attempt to enlarge a meaningful question,” a search “to find some way of continuing to enliven a connection with a larger reality.”

Hiebert loves gold for its natural resistance and yield, its enduring quality. It’s a love you’ll feel too.

Contact to purchase one-of-a-kind and limited edition work. $1,000-$5,000

Laura Hyde

Laura Hyde answers the phone at the busy NSCAD textile studio. It’s a Sunday night: What’s everyone doing there? Working to a number of deadlines, including the Surface and Seam student sale, held at the school this week from Friday through Sunday.

“Sometimes the days don’t end. They just slide into one another,” says Hyde, who also works as a student-technician in the studio and holds down another part-time gig.

Hyde will sell an array of items at the sale, including her wonderful textile-based handbags and earrings that have already won her a devoted clientele. “Girls kinda went crazy for them,” Hyde says about the earrings. “They were an extension of the work on the bags.”

The bags’ unique forms were “the result of experimenting with a technique called double-weaving.” Basically, Hyde explains, she weaves a tube and goes from there. She uses “luxurious” fibres, such as mohair and silk kid, along with cotton and wool. Hyde felts them, which involves “compressing the fibres” once they’re soaked with soap and water.

After all these steps, you have a gorgeous object to look at, touch and use. Hyde’s latest work, including screen-printed reusable grocery bags, plays with “surface design” and the illusion of texture.

Don’t miss Hyde’s bags of beautiful tricks.

Elsie’s, 1530 Queen (425-2599). NSCAD Surface and Seam Sale, 1869 Granville, from December 9 to 11. Earrings $10; handbags $65-$130

Sherry Lynn Jollymore

Sherry Lynn Jollymore’s work is based on the three Rs rock ’n’ roll and reuse.

“I’m a rock girl. I love rock ’n’ roll,” the Fancy Pants designer says, with several samples of the shirts she prints with Mylar stencils and fabric ink unfolded in front of her.

Keith Moon, the original drummer in The Who, appears in classic Mod form. A tussle-haired Bob Dylan, around the time he went electric, levels a stare from another.

Then there’s the first in what Jollymore refers to as her Dartmouth series. She emblazons pride in her hometown like a rock girl should: a sharp, blade-like font slashes across the front of a t-shirt.

As for the third R, “reuse,” Jollymore dedicates time and effort to the “treasure hunt,” digging out vintage collared shirts in many colours, purple and red among them, from second-hand bins. She patches a hole by sewing a star, for example, over it and she reinforces cuffs with black material, in contrast with the shirt’s colour.

“You want to use the things that need a little bit of attention,” says Jollymore.

Watch for Lost and Found, Jollymore and friend Jayson Milanson’s store at Agricola and Harris, to open soon.

Request a Fancy Pants Designs catalogue at $25-$75

Gary Markle

Under his diversified Lark label, Gary Markle creates clothing, accessories, home furnishings and kitchen/tablewares that reflect a philosophy steeped in living “a little more on the edge” in Nova Scotia.

In his office at NSCAD, where he inspires and instructs young designers, Markle says all his work reflects a desire to “create something that wraps you up and makes you feel…safer, comfortable and warm.”

Markle’s chambray coats, skirts and cotton blouses wrap the wearer in layers. His throw pillows conjure rippling water. He makes an apron of denim, ticking and a shot of red canvas, hinting at “what you might find lying around sail shops.”

Though he buys material when he travels, Markle makes “a virtue out of having limited choices . There’s beauty in being dictated too by the market here.”

Markle’s simplicity in colour, form and pattern shows up in the recently opened knitting store, The Loop, where he helped design a pure-white space where “shelving could be art work, wool is decoration,” and a chain of crocheted hangers dangle from the ceiling.

Attica Furnishings, 1652 Granville (423-2557), The Hen House, 5533 Young (423-4499), or inquire at 830-9212 / $45-$250

Allison Moz

Allison Moz’s pots seem to march across her long wooden kitchen table.

Down at Moz’s end, a tall vase captivates for a couple reasons: it’s a sleek, architecturally monolithic silo. A brown-green crusty glaze coats most of the vase, some pink trims the top.

The eye travels from the vase to a spiky teapot with the same glaze (a copper-based treatment). Noticing her visitor’s gaze, Moz says, “That’s fresh out of the kiln.”

The teapot reflects Moz’s reality as an “urban potter” in a port city. The glaze makes her think of tough, gritty, industrial work. “It’s kinda rough, just like our city is. We live in a dirty old town,” she says.

At the same time, Moz adds, the glaze conjures muddy strata at “the bottom of the ocean.” The protrusions poke out like sea anemone or dark coral. Inside, the pot radiates pink, as though it’s fleshy, living, as if you’re looking into a shell or sea urchin.

Moz emphasizes functionality; all her pots are durable porcelain, whether it’s the thin-walled wine goblets with the “solid foot” or the large serving tray bearing her thumb impression for holding. Large, bulbous coffee mugs trigger thoughts of a frothy latte sea.

“We live in the ocean’s playground and I’m playing with it.”

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Gift Shop, 1723 Hollis (424-4303), Bogside Gallery, 5527 Young (453-3063) and at Alderney Landing market for the week prior to Christmas. With her studio/retail space at 5777 Charles under renovation, Moz asks customers to call 401-2529. $18-$190

Niki Mulder

Niki Mulder’s artist books, ranging in size, colour and cut, cover the tabletop before her.

Each volume wears a loop to hold it closed. “That’s sort of become my trademark, the little belts that slide off like that,” Mulder says.

While a student at NSCAD, Mulder envisioned a book as a container for creativity. “Bookbinding is sort of a form in carpentry and how you can…create a home for your ideas,” observes Mulder, who also studied carpentry.

Though sturdy, Mulder’s books settle and weather, like a good house should. With slim pickings for specialized papers in Halifax, not to mention the expense of what’s available, Mulder remains committed. “You use what you have,” she says, pointing to examples where she’s used origami paper, cut out images (especially of birds, deer and other nature scenes) from her own drawings and stitched thread to create her decorative covers. The results are whimsical and playful.

Mulder’s books, an artistic alternative to store-bought sketchbooks or diaries, reflect an aesthetic of resourcefulness and reuse, such as her decision to protect the cover with packing tape. She tried various types of lamination, but none work as well.

The aesthetic has captivated many people. Mulder has been hired for personal commissions, including a family whose daughter wrote a series of letters while living in Italy. Mulder bound the letters in a gorgeous book.

Eye Level Gallery, 2128 Gottingen (425-6412). $25-$65

Jason Larson

It’s hard to believe but Jason Larson has zero formal art background, except for a screen-printing course at Nova Scotia Community College, from back in 1998, the year he started selling his stuff online to customers around the world.

“I’ve just always been a big fan of art and basically obsessed with t-shirts from a very young age,” recalls the man behind Zeroboutique, or ZBQ.

Artists from all over the globe have created images for ZBQ shirts, as well as local artists such as Fatso, Thesis and Tobin, and, soon, Yo Rodeo!. But Larson has been creating “a lot more myself as my artistic skills improve over time. I tend to know what I’m looking for better than others.”

ZBQ prints mainly four-colour images (though “halftone dots” can be layered over to effect the illusion of more colours) but Larson believes a one-colour job can also catch the eye.

“My shirts are like my children and I do love them all, so it’s hard to choose,” he says, but his current favourite, called “Montreal,” where he lived for four years, “sums up for me what is so wonderful and terrible about Montreal, a fascinating, fun and decadent place to hang out, but kind of a scary place to live.”

Junk And Foibles, 1533 Barrington (422-7985) and Mary Jane’s, 1549 Grafton (492-8653). $25-$29. Order ZBQ t-shirts and hoodies at $20-$36

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