Deborah Wilson: The Art of Jade
Where the green cobbled pathway has taken an Okanagan sculptor What started out to be a part-time job while attending my last year at art school, has gradually taken on a life of its own that I could not have predicted.
In 1973, the call for artists came to the sculpture department of the Vancouver School of Art. The company interested in hiring was New World Jade. They owned the Ogden Mountain jade claims and had been shipping rough jade to Asian factories. A French Canadian carver suggested they train BC-based artists to carve this very tough and beautiful semi-precious nephrite jade. New World Jade liked the idea, and in 1972, they set up their workshop to accommodate 20 workers.
For three years there was an astonishing number of high quality pieces produced, with a travelling exhibition touring Canada and the US. Sadly, due to internal matters, the company did not last. A few of the more enterprising carvers then set up a co-operative studio where the tools and equipment were pooled, and tasks shared. Seven years at this co-op led to a smaller space with a partner before I moved to Vernon in 1983. Here, at last, I was able to establish my own studio which now is at my home.
There was pressure to conform to the Canadiana wildlife themes in those early days. There's a good living to be made in that niche market; bears, bears, and more bears! I just wasn't interested.
To this day, I still gravitate toward sensual organic forms such as seashells, green peppers, and figurative pieces. Freeform sculptures and vessels carved as thin as a few millimetres to allow for translucency remains a worthy challenge.
Nephrite jade, known as the true jade, has a hardness of 6.5 on the Mohs scale. Its inherent toughness sets it apart from other gemstones; it is defined by its physical structure, that of "felted" interlocking fibrous crystals, which makes it one of the toughest gem minerals.
The much heralded Tucson Gem and Mineral Show proved to be everything I had expected and more. This is an international gem show, the largest in the world. Even in the early 1980s, when I took my first trip, one could see the opportunities for connecting with collectors and fellow gem artists. It is also the place to source new and exciting materials from around the world.
A collector, who now owns more than a dozen of my jade pieces, first discovered my work there. They are illusive, these collectors; they find the artist by going to these shows. That is why it is so important to make the commitment to be present, be seen and yes, discovered!
Another event focused entirely on jade is the Jade Festival held at Big Sur, California. There has been a "jade culture" for many decades in these parts. Nephrite jade occurs there both in the land and below the sometimes treacherous waters of Jade Cove. Scuba divers and prospectors alike come to display their prized boulders and cobbles. Jade artists from North America show their jewellery and sculptures to the likes of famous rock and rollers from Carmel. Last year's festival offered open lectures on the subject by notable experts. Education is the key to attracting more interest in both contemporary and archaic jade sculpture and jewellery.
An idea conceived at this festival last fall by four members of the Friends of Jade Organization - a distinguished author, a collector, a Boston-based jade sculptor, and me - launched the premier exhibition for jade art in Tucson. "Jade Art Now" was hosted by Antiquities Plus, a gallery interested in promoting our cause. It was a huge success, and plans are now in the making for next year's event.
This represents the beginning of a new and exciting phase in the jade art world. I call it the second wave. The first one I experienced was spectacular but short-lived. There are some amazing players involved in this revival of ours. This time it will be an international effort.
As for jade artists in Canada, there are only a handful of us left. Ironic, as BC still mines and exports more jade than any other country. Our opportunity to create an appreciation and a market for fine jade sculptures in this country has come and goneŠ for now!
For more information about Deborah Wilson and jade art: