New Brunswick

Putting emotion into metal: Brigitte Clavette and the art that won her a Governor General's Award

Brigitte Clavette has received a Governor General's Award for her art as well as her teaching.

Clavette won the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in fine craft artistry

Brigitte Clavette won a Governor General Award for her work in fine craft. (CBC Arts)

Brigitte Clavette thought she was going to be a printmaker.

Now a renowned artist who recently won a Governor General's Award for her work in fine craft, Clavette was painting and doing photography while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax when she wanted to try cutting a hole in a piece of copper. 

"When I walked into the jewelry studio with all the tools and the machines and the metal, I was just blown away, so I transferred over," she said.

Clavette, now semi-retired, has spent the past few decades teaching at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton. 

The award she won, the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in fine craft artistry, recognized Clavette for her body of work, but also for her role as a teacher.

To Clavette, this was remarkable. "You don't always feel recognized as a teacher," she said.

The past couple of years have been an odd time for her as an artist. Schools shut down periodically, leaving Clavette with more time for herself and her creative pursuits.

She said the difficult times the world is living in right now means people should try to find cracks where the light can come through.

"This is my little crack, this is my moment, and I have to celebrate it," she said.

À Table, A Table, 2012, sterling silver, steel, onyx, lapis lazuli, deer fur, wood. (Brigitte Clavette)

Jewelry is worn for memory, belonging and ceremony, Clavette said. The pieces she makes can become heirlooms and mementos. After a baby grows up, the tiny spoon she made for them is used for salt.

"It stays," she said.

While Clavette makes larger, mostly sculptural pieces now. She started out making small pendants, which, years later, she found while digging for something, and now has pinned on her kitchen wall.

"I found about three, four pendants, and I think they're really good. They're good because they bring me back, and that's what jewelry does," Clavette said.

Looking at them now, Clavette said she tries to imagine what the younger version of herself was thinking when she made them. Little did she know, Clavette said, that by carrying on and doing her best, she would make a career out of it.

Wasted—1,861 Grams Sterling, 2017, sterling silver, ink on paper on wood. (Brigitte Clavette)

Maegen Black, director of the Canadian Crafts Federation, has known Clavette for several years. She said Clavette's reputation as an artist precedes her.

It's the first time an artist nominated by the Federation has been selected for the award, Black said. 

But she wasn't surprised.

"I knew all along that she'd had it in her," she said.

Clavette's artistic mixture of hard and cold and raw with intimacy is what attracted Black to her work, she said, adding no one forgets a Brigitte Clavette piece once they've seen it.

"It draws you in. Even though they're difficult subjects, she finds a way of putting emotion into metal that has a human touch to it still, so people can connect to it in that way."

Since the federation nominated Clavette for the award, Black said she and Clavette had both known for months that she'd won. 

Once the secret was out, Black said a firestorm of celebration and messages of congratulations followed.

"It's lovely to be able to share that celebration with folks in and outside of New Brunswick," Black said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raechel Huizinga

Writer and social media editor

Raechel Huizinga is a CBC writer and acting social media editor based in Moncton, N.B You can reach her at raechel.huizinga@cbc.ca.

With files from Ed Hunter

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