Dawn Petticrew can't contain her laughter after a leak spills all over her workbench and onto the floor. "Of course this happens when someone is here to take photographs," she laughs. Even professionals like Petticrew make mistakes—it's all part of the process.
Partners in life and labour. Recently engaged Marrs and Petticrew show off a selection of some of Noble Beaver's first products. Some are ornamental (Marrs Brand Ornaments, tiny ceramic horses, and a large ceramic R2-D2) while others are functional (bicycle beer boxes and pocket knives).
Kelly uses mostly recycled/found material in his production process. Much of the steel he uses is salvaged or repurposed. Even his backyard forge is fuelled by scrap wood—this particular night was powered by an old Ikea bed.
Kelly is able to do all his steel forging right in his backyard so long as he finishes up by 10:30 p.m.—a friendly agreement between him and his neighbours. It takes an incredible amount of physical effort and force to hammer the red hot steel into shape over the course of a few hours.
What do you get when you combine a knifemaker, a woodworker, and a ceramics artist? Noble Beaver Trading Company has the answer for that. Jay Kelly, Graeme Marrs, and Dawn Pettigrew joined forces earlier this summer to offer what they felt the market was missing: affordable, handcrafted Canadian-made goods.
“We want to bring Canadian objects back to the gift stores,” says Marrs.”That’s our number-one thing. We want to push Canadian production in any capacity.”
“I can’t remember the last time I walked into a Canadian tourist-type gift shop and saw anything that was made in Canada, or that was even worthy of buying for someone,” adds Petticrew.
Marrs and Petticrew are partners in life as well as work, and met at Sheridan College while they learned their respective trades. Out of their Bloorcourt home, the duo package the ceramic figurines, olive trays, and wooden boxes that make up a good portion of Noble Beaver’s offerings. Marrs makes most of his work at home; Petticrew shares a studio space at Dupont and Symington with a number of other artists. The two both have other projects on the side: Marrs has a woodworking business, while Petticrew works on larger-scale ceramic pieces and tends bar.
“What my normal work is is really intense, time-consuming, and a sometimes painful process,” Petticrew admits. A major impetus for launching Noble Beaver was the opportunity to create smaller cast pieces that would be less labour-intensive, and also market-friendly.
Making products while keeping costs down is, however, a challenge. “If you find Canadian handmade objects in places, chances are they’re very expensive,” says Marrs. “It’s costly to make things.” Compensation for the amount of time it takes to individually produce an item is compounded with retail mark-up and the costs of supplies.
“But,” Marrs points out, “when somebody sees something made in Canada, they understand that they’re feeding money back into that process.”
Kelly, a friend of the couple, lives nearby. From his backyard “BBForge” (the forge Kelly rigged from an old gas barbecue, with the fuel line ripped out for safety), he hammers out knife blades that he then inserts into (also handmade) wooden handles. These, too, are part of Noble Beaver’s catalogue.
“I started [making knives] about a year ago,” says Kelly, who has previously worked in a woodworking shop and continues to make skateboards and wooden knuckle rings on his own—the latter of which are included among Noble Beaver’s offerings.
Kelly learned to make knives from his grandfather, and is a firm believer in the principle that “everyone should carry a knife.” The one he has in his back pocket is an old sailor’s blade that folds into a neat little bundle, but most of the knives he constructs are fixed blades.
“They’re either to keep in your kitchen, or for use as a hunting knife,” he explains. “People in my family hunt, so that’s also how I got into this.”
While neither Kelly, Marrs, nor Petticrew intend to get rich from their collaboration, the three value the opportunity it gives them to produce items they believe in.
“Making things is a passion. I think from any craftperson’s standpoint, it’s really a way of life,” says Marrs. “Having more outlets for that, and the ability to make more things, I guess that’s one of the things we try to bring to it.”
“It’d be awesome to sell things, but just going through the process of making is mandatory in my life.”