Some projects take a long and winding road before they receive their just recognition. For Saskatchewan art jeweller and goldsmith Mary Lynn Podiluk, her piece “Metalanguage” went from her studio, to Chicago, to North Carolina, and now to Montreal. That journey, which began in earnest at the 2015 Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Fair (SOFA) in Chicago, was helped along by Creative Saskatchewan’s support so that she could attend.
While her artistic work may be well travelled, so is Podiluk. She started her post secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan before moving to the east coast to attend Halifax’s Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. While there, she studied in their jewellery program, spending her last year or so in the program exploring language, a theme that is still prevalent in her work today. Having graduated, Podiluk moved back to Saskatoon in 2012 and, three years later, was part of a group of Saskatchewan artists, supported by both the Saskatchewan Craft Council and Creative Saskatchewan to attend SOFA, which has since been renamed intersect Chicago.
Also forming part of that delegation was a representative from Slate Gallery who knew some of the other companies attending. It was that connection that led Podiluk to sell Metalanguage to the Kamm Teapot Foundation, which holds the world’s largest collection of teapots. Podiluk says that, once she started chatting with the person who would end up acquiring the teapot, connections were easy to make.
“They were so friendly. And he was so excited, because they collect all sorts of tea pots…he was wearing a custom made gold ring that was shaped like a teapot. And because I’m a goldsmith and metalsmith of course, he had to show me his gold ring and we were chatting about that. So it was really, I don’t know if I’d call it nerve wracking, but in a way, it was like, ‘Oh, I really hope they come. I really hope.’ Because they seem so interested.” One trip to the Saskatchewan contingent’s booth later that day and off Metalanguage went to North Carolina, where the collection is held. That is, until a curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art became interested in it for an upcoming exhibition entitled “Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design”. The show, which runs until May 28, is a good place for Podiluk’s work because, in the words of curator Jennifer Laurent via a recent press release, “Today, women designer-makers are working in a multitude of fields and using a wide variety of materials and techniques, often combining the traditional with the avant-garde. The line between design and fine art becomes increasingly blurred as many women creators incorporate a conceptual approach to the creation of functional objects. The Metalanguage Teapot…is a remarkable example of these 21st century developments in women’s design.”
Early critical acclaim, Mary Lynn won the National Student Jewelry competition and was invited to show her work in Ottawa, created a sizable amount of momentum as she moved back westward, she says.
“When Creative Saskatchewan started coming into the picture, and I started applying for some production grants with them, I was able to bolster up a lot of the work that sells a little bit more easily than some of these highly conceptual and also quite expensive one of a kind pieces.”
With a career that has now reached its ten-year mark, Podiluk says she focused on not only the fine art work but also on production-style work, leaning into her influences surrounding language and the botanical, as well as creating custom jewellery like wedding bands and engagement bands. It’s this combination that allows her to have a fulfilling commercial and creative practice.
Still, Podiluk says that she’s doing her part, alongside her fellow artists, to make it clear that this kind of work can and should succeed in Saskatchewan.
“I continue to try my best as one person to just continue to raise awareness about my craft and the tradition and where it can sit in a contemporary space that can blur the lines between art and craft.”
By John Loeppky