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Coming home

Returning to Halifax from the west coast inspired this ceramic artist’s practice

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When Sarah Holmes dug her hands into clay for the first time in Vancouver, she recalls the sensation as something larger than the simple act of making art; it reminded her of the rugged Nova Scotian terrain where she spent her youth.

Today, Holmes owns SJH Ceramics and Jewelry, based in Halifax. Her line ranges from tubular vases to custom ring and soap dishes, many of which are streaked with a prominent band of gold. Unlike the identical outcomes of production pottery, her process differs in that each piece is unique.

Holmes fell in love with ceramics after signing up for pottery classes suggested by a friend. It was there that she met veteran pottery instructor Helen Weiser, under whom she practiced the art form vigorously in eight-to-10-hour stints.

“When someone comes in with a different artistic background, they tend to look at clay differently,” says Weiser. “They’re willing to try and make it do what they want it to do, and in her case, it totally worked. That kind of attitude and approach was fun and enlightening.”

While jewelry came first and remains a focal point of both her business and artistic life, Holmes found in clay a much-needed departure from the precision jewelry demands.

“I could just try my hand at these organic forms,” says Holmes. “For me it was more about the freedom of thought. Also, there’s nothing more grounding than getting your hands into earth.” The physicality of working with clay gave her an avenue outside of jewelry to grow artistically.

Holmes’ return to Nova Scotia was sudden. A family member’s death brought her back to the east coast in December 2016. Left feeling uninspired, she took some time away from her practices to heal.

She set up a booth at Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market to sell her jewelry but many customers asked about the ceramic dishes she used to display the rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Soon people asked Holmes to create custom items like large dinner plates and other tableware. These requests rekindled her ceramics practice at the Centre for Craft Nova Scotia.

Another factor that drives her work is her relationship with Adsum for Women and Children, a Halifax women’s shelter. Holmes donates $5 to the organization from every sale of her Token of Self Love line of bracelets.

“Behind any piece of art that I do, I wanted to be able to donate a part of the sale helping people in need,” she says. “Whatever I’m doing in my life artistically, I’m trying to figure out ways to put money back into the community.”

Correction: East Coast Living incorrectly identified the Centre for Craft Nova Scotia by its former name due to a fact checking error. We regret the error. 

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