Making it in the Glebe

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“I LOVE MAKING THINGS” says Kathrin von Dehn, a friend who opened her basement workshop—along with many cupboards and drawers—for the first Slow Ottawa profile on sustainable living. The first thing she shows me as we descend the stairs is a recent acquisition in the form of an old wooden chair missing a front leg and all but one of its stretchers. “Isn’t it great?” she enthuses, and I see what she means as I admire its elegant proportions, its warm materials, its signs of use, its brokenness, poise and resilience. Kathrin explains how one of her neighbours recently “just threw it out.” When I ask her about her plans for the chair she says “I dunno, maybe find a stick that will work as a leg.”

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Most of the things in Kathrin’s home are time-worn, and many have been scavenged from familiar places. The proud owner of a dilapidated minivan used mainly for trips out of town, Kathrin likes to navigate her neighbourhood on foot, usually with her two dogs and a kid or two, and always on the lookout for found materials whose lives she can extend through her art. In the well-organized workshop that takes up most of her basement she gathers all kinds of oddments that she can transmute into jewelry, handbags, stationary, wall art, storage boxes…whatever she feels like making today.

An old chair and the new foundation footing serve as handy parking spaces.

As a kid in Vancouver Kathrin was inspired to repurpose just about anything at the Imagination Market on Granville Island. Comprised of humble industrial buildings transformed into shops and a market, the island itself is a great example of repurposing, and a fitting location for a store where cast-off materials donated by local businesses could be reused as craft supplies. During its heyday in the 1970s makers of all ages could buy most items in the Imagination Market by filling up a standard-priced small, medium or large bag. Kathrin fondly recalls taking her bags straight home, or making something right away in the store workspace.

Plenty of reusable wood, wire and felt in the guts of this old piano.

Plenty of reusable wood, wire and felt in the guts of this old piano.

In the early ‘90s Kathrin trained as a jeweler at Toronto’s George Brown College. In her second year there she gave birth to her first child, Sophie, who is herself now in the jewelry program at Vancouver Community College. George Brown in Kathrin’s day was definitively old school, training future artisans and merchants in the minutiae of design and fabrication. “There was a lot of benchwork” she explains—namely countless hours spent sawing, filing, soldering, grinding, polishing and finishing various metals.

A ring and drawing from Kathrin's student days.

A ring and drawing from Kathrin’s student days.

While much of her formal education (such as classes in gemmology, measuring and technical drawing) is of limited relevance to her current work, it’s extremely handy as a crafter in many media to have a good grounding in, say, the practice and principles of annealing. George Brown is also where Kathrin learned to make 1:1 visual records of necklaces, bracelets and earrings by lining them up on the beds of photocopiers and scanners. The resulting pages are conveniently stored in chronologically-arranged binders. And why not photocopy a pleasing assortment of oak leaves that could serve as the basis for some future design?

A page of oak leaves made at the local copy store.

A page of oak leaves made at the local copy store.

The von Dehn workshop—much of it still covered in plaster dust from the recent renovation—is dense with shelves, cupboards and racks containing everything from raw materials to finished products. While many of the materials are randomly reclaimed—wooden checkers here, the end of a translucent pink toothbrush handle there—Kathrin has also developed a network of suppliers for remnants of metal, fabric, leather and mat board. Many of the smaller items are stored in reclaimed tins, jars and boxes.

An old muffin pan is perfect for storing smaller items.

Kathrin’s work is featured regularly at local craft fairs, and you can see more of it on her FaceBook page. Feel free to browse the photos in the slideshows below, repin them from the Slow Ottawa Pinterest page, or leave a comment below if you’ve found some inspiration. And please kick in a few shekels if you’d like to see future profiles on this community-supported, ad-free site.

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Storage

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Tools

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Metal

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Wood

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Fabric

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Glass, Stone, Ceramic

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Plastic

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Paper

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One thought on “Making it in the Glebe

  1. Cecilia von Dehn

    A real community artist and love the format and content as well as displaying the varied materials used and saved and sorted.

    Reply

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