Q&A with Erin Schwab of KG+e

“I never considered myself an optimist until recently. As cliché as it sounds, KG+e was born out of the ashes of a fire that took our home. Putting our lives back together meant we got to ask what would make our lives better. The worst had already happened, and it's true when they say the fear of change is worse than the reality.”

Erin Schwab, maker, co-founder of KG+e, northern boreal forest of Alberta

Regina: I remember you mentioned that you previously worked in the design sector. Can you tell me when you ditched the job and started KG+e?

Erin: I previously was an Art and Design instructor at a small remote college in Northern Alberta. We started KG+e after we lost our house and my studio in a fire. Getting back to making the visual artwork I did before the fire felt secondary to the need of rebuilding our lives and our home, so my husband and I put all our creative energy into making objects of use for the home we were rebuilding and from there we just kept making.

Where do you and Kevin draw your inspiration from?

Erin: Kevin and I get our inspiration from different places and we both have opposite focuses when it comes to the work. I like to play with form and Kevin likes to play with function. If I'm off making and the work is moving too conceptual, he's right there asking me the back-to-earth questions. We both make different pieces for our collections and we are each other's quality control. But for me, I would say that my inspiration comes from the landscape, forms I see and how that can be manipulated into a functional piece.

Does the wood come first or the object come first? Or perhaps both?

Erin: It really depends. Some days you just wander into the shop wanting to make and see a piece of wood and something gets triggered in your brain. Other days I know I need to make an object that's been brewing and then hunt for the wood that fits it. Some objects, like the large piece with the walnut vase, I held onto that special piece of tamarack wood forever waiting for a project. Then I started a series and almost all the bases were made from that one log, it was like it was waiting for that series.

We both understand why handmade kitchenwares are special. What do you tell your customers at craft shows about why they should invest the extra dollars?

Erin: I think we get into tunnel vision with certain objects we handle every day. Cutlery is definitely one of them. Yet we reach for the same big stirring spoon when we make that certain food and if it's not there we hunt for it versus picking up a different one. We have a casual, yet nurtured relationship with these functional objects that we rarely think about unless it goes missing. I had a woman once send me a blurry photo of a spoon she lost at a pot luck and told me she thought about that spoon every day since it went missing years ago and if I could try to replicate it. I've had people mail me their great grandma's wooden spoons, deeply stained by a lifetime of feeding her family, in hopes I could replicate them for each one of the family members. That is a deep multigenerational relationship and not one that should be ignored or taken lightly, the labour of feeding people is a gift and what you use should reflect the heritage of that.

Do you use found wood or imported? Or a combination?

Erin: Both. Canada doesn't have a ton of hardwood species that are appropriate for carving or food, particularly in Alberta where there is zero hardwood maples and it's Poplar, Spruce, Pine or Tamarack on repeat. We source what we can off local small batch sawmills or arborists, but certain woods like Sapele or Walnut we get imported. But what is more important to us is that there is as little waste as possible which is easy when you make a wide range of work from large table pieces to mini spoons. What's nice about being a small batch maker, we don't need to waste a lot in a mad dash for large quantities, we can take the time to be thoughtful about our consumption. This piece of wood took 50 years to get big enough to end up in my shop, the least we can do is make sure it all goes on to live another life on someone's table.

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