Since photo's in the Album section say a thousand words about OceanArt Designs, I decided to use this section to give a little OceanArt history of the past 24 years... and continuing to update as time progresses.
It was the spring of 1988 and even though doubts had plagued my thoughts, I finally decided to take the leap--to leave my position at Seagull Pewter and strike out on my own. So there I was, a single mom with two children aged 8 and 6 in tow as I made my way to Halifax, my mission: to launch OceanArt Pewter. It was scary and thrilling at the same time.
With $10,000 remaining from the sale of my home in Tatamagouche, along with money from ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) I was able to purchase the very basic equipment-- all that was necessary to reproduce my designs into pewter. I rented a beautiful house overlooking Prospect Bay, a wonderful community to raise my children, and enough room in the basement to set up my equiment. Everything was perfect... almost too good to be true... THAT should have been my first clue!
About 4 years before this plunge I had made another when moving from Halifax to the far reaches of Tatamagouche. I did so because where else could you buy a century + home and 40 acres of land for $23,000! Not to mention that the country was a great place to raise children if you didn't have much money. While working as a waitress in the Balmoral Hotel, I also bought a second hand "kick wheel" and tried my hand at pottery. Soon into this I discovered that I wasn't at all interested in making pots, but one day when playing around with the clay, I discovered a great passion for sculpture. One of my designs gained a local following, a comical sculpture depicting a musical group, three seniors from Tatamagouche-- a fiddler, a tall thin guitarist and short stout guy who played the "moose bones"... not kidding... and he was pretty darned good! It was my clay sculptures that got the attention of the Design Coordinator at Seagull Pewter situated in nearby Pugwash, who invited me to join the team.
There wasn't much for a young 30 year old single mother to do for excitement in Tatamagouche and so I spent my evenings thinking up designs. One of the things I had been working on in my own spare time for the better part of a year, was a specialized rubber mould design that if successful would enable the casting of 3-D products that would come out hollow. It just so happened that my work on this was pretty much complete at the time I started giving thought to starting my own pewter business.
After the move, it made sense for me to fill out an application for a Research and Development grant that would enable me to work on the next stage -- building a prototype of my specialized mould design. As it turned out there were no specialists in my field in Nova Scotia so they flew in Professor Smith who was the Head of the Metallurgical Department at Queens University. Dr. Smith and a group of about 6 other men from the Government Agency met with me, and in front of a large display board, I was asked to spell out from the top of my head, all the details of my design. After gruelling hours of racking my brain to explain the details and answering a barrage of questions, Professor Smith finally spoke, saying that he liked my idea and believed it to have potential, he also informed me that developing such a prototype would be best in a facility that has more to offer and so much to my surprise, he extended an invitation for me to work on the project using his metallurgical facility at Queen's University. How could I pass up such an opportunity. It meant travelling, but there was enough in the budget to fly me back and forth as well as provide me with an income to support my children, pay the rent and to further launch OceanArt.
Over the next few months things went along smoothly. I'd work for a couple of weeks at Queen't then return home for a couple of weeks to work at OceanArt and tend to my children. And then, the bad news came. My landlord decided that he wanted to move into the house, which of course meant my two children and I had to move out... and of course, as well as all my equipment, one of which was a vulcanizer (mould making machine) weighing around 2,000 pounds! And no, I wasn't reimbursed for the $1,000 I spent on upgrading his electrical panel. Oh well ...sigh... live and learn.
With having to focus my energy on moving, I gave up my R&D project at Queen's. Thus began my search for a new place. And that's when I saw it on a drive to Halifax, a two storey house on the 333 Highway heading towards Peggy's Cove...for SALE! The asking price was $60,000. It wasn't much to look at but it was solid and on a double corner lot. Except there was a problem-- I didn't have the money. Still, it was so cheap... I thought there must be a way.
I didn't think I would ever get over the anger I felt with being given "the boot" by my landlord, after all, he supported my starting OceanArt Pewter wholeheartedly, reassuring me that he didn't intend to move into the house with his family until he retired in another five years, which would give me plenty of time to get things off the ground where my business was concerned. My anger did disappear though, when I learned of his situation-- my landlord had been diagnosed with cancer, a disease that eventually took his life. A sad reminder, that there's always another side to every story. Anger subsided and my heart went out to him and his family.
As for the little place for sale in White's Lake, I decided to speak with Representatives at ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency). They agreed to assist with the down payment if I could get a bank loan. My bank on the other hand was reluctant because I wasn't employed and OceanArt wasn't able to provide me with an income just yet, however when they saw the product that was ready for sale, and I explained that I was about to venture on a sales run, they agreed that as long as I came up with $10,000 of orders on top of ACOA's contribution toward the down payment, they would extend me a mortgage.
It was early summer and I had a few designs created-- some of the 12 Days of Christmas, a few suncatchers, key rings, designer pins and a small selection of other items, but was it enough?! Well there was only one way to find out, so I gathered samples of my work and went on the road. After a few days of revealing my designs to many Nova Scotia Retailers, I had $10,000 worth in orders ... virtually EVERY store approached had placed an order! Within a few weeks, the little building in Whites Lake was in my possession.
At the time I started OceanArt, there was a bit of recession in Canada which fostered a big discrepancy between the US and Canadian dollar. This worked in my favour as American tourists flocked to Canada to take advantage, and of course, to spend a wonderful holiday in beautiful Nova Scotia! What that translated to in OceanArt terms, is volumes of wholesale business with many of the mom and pop stores in various locations throughout Nova Scotia, stores that tended to carry local artisan quality designs.
It wasn't long before I was able to pay myself a wage, afford to hire and train others in the community, and expand my new studio. After five years, with over 20 employees working at OceanArt and at various of our own new retail locations – one in Kentville that my sister Linda ran, one at the Hydrostone Market in Halifax, a kiosk at Pier 22 (back then) that catered to the cruise ships, and of course the little store location at my White's Lake studio. As well, during the pre Christmas season, I personally did the craft show circuit that took me to major centres throughout Canada-- Vancouver, Alberta, Toronto and Ottawa. It was a great opportunity to see our country... my partner and children often joining me at the time made it even that much more special. It was a lot of hard work, but when passion is at the wheel, the work is immensely enjoyable.
Pewter giftware designed & produced on site (home of the Comfort Heart"-- fund raiser for cancer research). To order email firstname.lastname@example.org