Sarie Marais

Sculptor in Metal & Clay

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Published, EAC Communiqué, May 1993

L

ong, attenuated forms attract Sarie Marais. In designs for jewellery, or in her sculpted figures, these compacted shapes recur with essential, rhythmic grace.

Last summer Studio Sarie Marais opened in Salem. It continues the atmosphere of joy and experimentation of its previous tenants, Tim Isaac and Karin Bach, and the original owner, Gordon’s Pottery. “I enjoy my work so much!” Sarie says. “When I wake in the morning I think, what shall I make today?”

In her jewellery designs she has achieved a timeless style. There are echoes of the past in her use of soldered metals, of bronze and copper frequently left unburnished. With minimal tools, forms are cut from metal sheets. Gobs of metal are melted onto the smooth surfaces. When possible Sarie welds outside in the garden to avoid toxic fumes. The results are always different. The soldering flux helps to create variegated colours of pinks, golds, greens and blues. Even the outside temperature, the intensity of the acetylene flame and the wind help to create the unique design. Every part is created by hand, even the links which are prominent in long, heavy neckpieces. Accidents and surprise effects are incorporated, possibly contributing more colour variation on the bold forms of bracelets, earrings and hair clasps. “Making jewellery is a very playful thing for me.”

In her personal style as well as in technical expression, Sarie prefers the very elusive and subtle art of asymmetry. Petite, lively, but thoughtful, she says, “Perhaps this comes from something rebellious and obstinate in me.” For Sarie the imperfect, the complementary, is the highest aesthetic.

Born in Holland, in a family of six children, her creativity was stimulated within the family by having to make her own toys during the deprivations of post-war Europe. Worn and outmoded things could be revitalized through ingenuity and taste. Sarie came to Canada as a teenager, when her family emigrated to Hamilton to find opportunity, open spaces and greater freedom. For Sarie, though she loved Canada, there are many intangible things from her early life in Europe which she continues to miss. At 18 she married and raised three children. During this period she began to experiment with jewellery, taking courses at Mohawk College, and later Fine Arts courses at University of Guelph. She was particularly enriched by Art History. “If you look at Art from primitive times till today, you know where you stand.”

After a marriage separation Sarie moved from Kitchener to the Middlebrook Schoolhouse, in the country outside Elora. She began turning her hobby of jewellery making and design into a viable business, selling to galleries and exhibiting. With characteristic flare, she also restored and redecorated the deteriorated building into a beautiful studio space. In time, however, she came to realize this well loved home was too remote and she felt a strong need to mix with people.

Moving into a stone house by the river and bridge in Salem she found new balance. I’ve rediscovered here a sense of smallness. This is what I missed from Europe, but it exists here in Elora and Salem.” Small spaces in architecture, intimate restaurants and gardens, and friendship in a supportive community have brought Sarie stability.

 

Even more striking than jewellery at Studio Sarie Marais are the tall verticals of Sarie’s sculpted figures in raku-fired clay. In the mode of Giacometti and Modigliani, these sculptures are compressed, simplified human forms, reduced to universal symbols with spatial dimensions of their own making. Sarie calls them her “Guardians”. “They are not aggressive, they just stand and watch, and to me they are timeless. They could be medieval or today, or from some spaceship of the future.” With archetypal serenity they stand about the studio in various sizes, some with true faces and others only symbolized. Their metallic glazing projects great visual strength.

Recently Sarie married Hydrologist Gordon Young. His work in Glaciology has taken them together into the high Alps, the Rockies and the Himalayas. Sarie has acquired the exhilarating hobby of hiking in the mountains. She is excited about the new undertakings in her life. “Every day I feel like I am just beginning.”

by Beverley Cairns, May 1993

 For Sarie the imperfect, the complementary, is the highest aesthetic.

UPDATE – 1997

In the spring of 1995, Sarie Marais’ house by the bridge in the hamlet of Salem, adjacent to Elora, was converted to a studio and retail store. Sarie has combined her creative clay work with metal sculpture, frequently based on found objects. The role of jewellery has diminished in her intensive exploration of new, larger forms. Her personalized studio now houses a wide variety of metal sculptures. Sarie has recently designed thirty metal chairs on commission for the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, each one different, functional and aesthetic.

UPDATE

Starting in 1997, Sarie travelled to many countries and finally ended up in Europe, in The Netherlands. The town in which she lives is located right at the North Sea. Sarie’s studio is only two streets away from the ocean!

Sarie continues to work in different media. It seems that her work overall has become very colourful. Recently she made a number of clay chairs in orange, purple and yellow with metal rods for support. So far she has exhibited in four places in the Netherlands and has also had some private commissions.

However, Sarie considers that her most exciting works have been made in the high mountains – rearranging rock slabs in nature! Leaving these sculptures standing behind as she descends, she feels she has given a personal gift to nature to play with. Except for a few photographs, most memories are only recorded in Sarie’s mind.

“I often think back with fond memories of Elora. Those memories will always stay,” she says. But between Paris and Holland and all the great museums and architecture, she feels right at home in Europe, partly because that is where Sarie’s roots are. “I continue to play and the process is very rewarding.”