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Great White North Exhibition: Artists interpret Canada’s Group of Seven

By Jacquie De Almeida


You could say the pull of magnetic sand was just too great a force for Claudia Gravel to resist.

Although the jewellery designer had wanted to work with the black-coloured mineral for a long time, it was her research into the Group of Seven that sparked an idea for a ring design, earning her top honours at the Great White North Exhibition.

“I read Tom Thomson was often out in nature, not just painting, but really living as a man of the woods,” says Gravel, who is based in Montreal. “And then when I saw a painting representing the northern lights, the connection was made. It is a wonderful phenomenon, so poetic, and so characteristic of the Great White North. I imagined the painter outside, seeing those lights dancing in the sky for the first time.”

Taking home both Best in Show and Best in Concept/Professional Category, Gravel’s silver ring features a magnet representing the North Pole, magnetic sand symbolizing particles in the atmosphere, and gold-plated brass wires that call to mind the movement of the northern lights and the stars when viewed from above.

Previously known as Zilberschmuck, the Great White North Exhibition invites goldsmiths and metal workers from across the country—both student and professional—to create a piece of jewellery inspired by some aspect of Canada, starting with this year’s theme, ‘The Group of Seven.’

The response to the call for entry saw 53 artists from across the country submit 60 designs, 25 of which were selected by a blind jury to be included in the exhibition. Students currently enrolled in a Canadian art and design college or university submitted 23 entries; nine made it into the student category.

“In taking over this exhibition, my hope was to continue the tradition of celebrating contemporary Canadian jewellery begun by Cheryl Fraser when she created the exhibition 11 years ago, although with a decidedly more Canadian focus,” said 18Karat’s Vanessa Laurin, who now organizes the competition.

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“Our goal was to create an exhibition that also celebrated, explored, and confronted what it means to be Canadian.

I wanted Canadian goldsmiths and metal workers to create contemporary jewellery that also got to the heart of who they were—who we are—as Canadians.”

Toronto fashion designer Adrienne Butikofer, Modeliamo co-owner Carlos Soto Mendez, and visual artist Allison Hill, selected submissions for inclusion in the show. 18Karat displayed the exhibition in April during Art and Fashion Week in Toronto, marking the first time jewellery has been included in this annual event. It also took centre stage at the studio in July during the Pan Am games.

Gravel says she came up with several ideas for her design concept before deciding to interpret it in the form of a ring. “Sometimes we feel everything has been done,” she explains.

“I really just wanted to be part of the show. But in the end, I was happy with the result. It was a very personal interpretation.”

Despite her double win, Gravel says this was the first time she has entered a design contest. The experience has given her a new perspective on the process.

“It is hard for me to find a concept when the theme is so broad or vague,” she says. “But this experience definitely encourages me to apply to other exhibitions, especially when the theme speaks to me in such a personal way.”

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