Penny Eder is at the kiln in her home studio, removing a new series of ceramic tiles of trees that are destined for a house currently being built on Lake Muskoka, Ont.
"They are Group of Seven trees. The family has a couple of Group of Seven paintings — A.Y. Jackson, that sort of thing. They really like Tom Thomson's trees. We came up with the idea that they would like to have these tiles in their kitchen," Eder says.
"I picked a tree in the style of each member of the Group of Seven and made a tile of each. And they also wanted to have a tile of the snow ghost trees from Whistler, because they ski out here and they love them."
The tree tiles are glazed in a metal gun-coloured patina. Thanks to the glazing they vary from tile to tile and Eder goes through each one as they are freshly kilned, deciding which will work for her.
Eder describes her tile mosaic work as architectural, rather than decorative, with the image originally carved into the clay and then glazed — though the fact that each tile is uniquely beautiful has also drawn clients.
"It's quite interesting. I haven't seen anyone do these types of tiles in Canada... there's not many doing it," she says.
It's a methodical process. Eder describes another project: a series of archways, windows, doors and columns at a property on Anderson Lake, north of Whistler — the complex piece includes sunflowers, fiddleheads, a peacock and ferns.
"I've been working on this for three years and I have something like two years to go," she says.
Eder is sharing her craft this weekend in a three-day workshop at Whistler's Crystal Lodge Art Gallery, where she is also curator.
The weekend is broken into two programs. On Friday, Sept. 9, Eder will hold a public talk on how to make mosaic tiles — the event is open to the public.
The hands-on workshop runs over two days, on Saturday, Sept. 10 and Sunday Sept. 11 from noon to 4 p.m. The cost is $300 for all supplies and includes one firing in the kiln. An extra glaze firing is another $75.
"So many people are so interested in it, but they don't understand it fully. If you want a pattern of leaves, you sculpt each leaf individually. There is a sculptural dimension to it," Eder says.
"We are going to do a copy of an ornate Ernest Batchelder tile. Everyone will do their own 12" x 12" tile (30 cm x 30 cm) and we will also do a collaborative piece."
Art was part of Eder's life from her earliest years and, as is the case with many artists, her first fans were close to home.
"I have been a sculptor pretty much my entire life. My very first piece — which I made in the early '70s — my mother kept. It was a fish," she recalls.
"Later, I went off to carve soapstone as a medium. All through the years I worked through different mediums."
She turned to tile-making because she couldn't find what she wanted at the store when it came to decorating her own house.
"I thought, 'OK, I can make these tiles' and I started making all these crazy mosaic tiles. They were flat and I would shape them according to where I wanted them to fit. I would literally roll out the tiles with my rolling pin," Eder says.
"I had my design and I added on chili peppers. Someone saw it and thought that it was great. Then I did a whole scene of birdhouses and birds for a friend's house. Then a design company in Ontario picked me up."
Other work has included a church floor, and a garden theme for a bed-and-breakfast.
"It has been a progression. I never really advertised it. Twenty years ago, when I moved here, I started making little things. There are a whole bunch of houses here in Whistler that have my tiles," Eder says.
And beyond her workshop and running the gallery, the private commissions continue.
Next up is a series of seashell tiles to be made into a mosaic for a waterfront property on the Sunshine Coast.
The theme? Octopuses. Eder can't wait.
For more information and to sign up, visit www.crystallodgegallery.com.
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