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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Arts: Wood sculptures bring artist Gail Hawkins full circle
Arlyn Levy

‘Abstract, whimsical’ pieces featured in show at NOTL gallery

 

When Gail Hawkins was 11, her father gave her a toolbox as a lesson in independence.

And she discovered how to use that treasure trove to imagine, design and build.

While her creative journey over the decades took some interesting twists and turns – musician, author, business owner – it’s come full circle, back to that childhood toolbox and the form, function and beauty of wood.

Her first exhibit as an emerging artist, is called Where We Wound Up and it opens to the public on Nov. 5 at the King St. Gallery (153 King St., Niagara-on-the-Lake). It runs until Nov. 19.

The show is a collection of vibrant wall-mounted and free-standing sculptures – utilizing various wood species and integrating elements that include stone, metal, paper, acrylic, resin and fabric.

“While my work is abstract, even a little whimsical, I think the universal themes in ‘Where We Wound Up’ are relatable – navigating life, relationships and making space for opposing perspectives,” says Hawkins.

“It represents a journey – looking back at who we were and at all the pieces that come together, over time, to create a whole.”

As for what led to where she wound up, Hawkins, who trained as a classical guitarist, had a band in the 1990s performing her own original songs.

Like other struggling young musicians (she refers to that time as her “bread and peanut butter years”), Hawkins had to supplement her income and got a job at a music camp for people with autism spectrum disorder.

That led to recognizing how underserved the population was, an entrepreneurial employment pilot program, and the eventual start of her own agency – Hawkins Institute – where she developed a curriculum that became emulated internationally.

Over the decades, Hawkins wrote the first-ever book on the topic of Asperger’s and employment. It’s been translated into four languages.

She created feature-length “edutainment” for – and with – people on the spectrum and opened two upscale espresso bars in downtown Toronto that served as apprenticeship locations for her clients.

“It was exhausting, exhilarating and I was inexperienced about running a restaurant,” she says.

But not knowing how to do something is never an excuse – you find mentors, you study successful businesses, and you throw yourself into it. At least that’s what you do when you’re a serial re-inventor.”

When Hawkins moved to NOTL with her partner in 2017, she took up banjo and became serious about woodworking, “like most women do in retirement,” she jokes.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle in so many ways. I grew up in a small town quite similar to NOTL – so moving here felt like coming home. And to have the luxury of time in my studio every day, to create art, is heaven.”

From the variance in grain pattern and texture, to the abundance of Canadian species, to the natural aromatics in her Virgil workshop, Hawkins lets the attributes suggest the shape and style of the sculptures she creates.

“If you ask a woodworker, they’ll say wood talks to them. Because it can crack, warp, cup or twist, it’s got a tendency to try to dictate how you work with it,” she says.

“I like that challenge. It appeals to the problem-solver in me. I sketch out an idea, visualize the finished piece and then relish the journey – how I get there from here.”