Published Thursday March 4th, 2010
London-Wul is winning awardsBy Margaret Patricia Eaton
Set in an enchanted forest is a charming studio/workshop. It's an oasis of colourful warmth and one-of-a-kind art work inspired by nature and gentle animals. Outside snow falls silently; inside a spinning wheel softly whirrs.
No, this is not the beginning of a fairy tale. The enchanted forest does exist. It's on the Melanson Road in Lakeburn, just past Dieppe, and the magical studio is the London-Wul Fibre Arts Centre, brain-child of Heidi Wulfraat.
Wulfraat is an artisan and a practical visionary. Weaving together varied strands from her life experience and proceeding step-by-step, she's produced a commercially viable and award-winning business. From her mother and grandmother she learned an appreciation for textiles.
"Needlework was prominent in our home in Montreal where my mother and grandmother did high-end embroidery," she says. "My father was a professional photographer. I spent a lot of time in his studio and see things through his lens. It's all about structure and design, position and proportion."
Wulfraat didn't study art or design following high school, however, and instead earned a Bachelor of Science degree, with a major in animal behavior. She says, "Then I started a farm from scratch, but because I love animals I wanted it to be a no-kill, no-sell environment and things just kind of progressed from there." Farm animals still have to earn their keep and hers are no exception. The herd of 18 sheep, all traditional breeds with heavy coats, and the small, delicate angora goats, are shorn twice a year. Once the fleece is washed, carded and dyed, it's ready for spinning. The problem was the new farmer didn't know how.
So in 1996 Wulfraat put it on her "to-do" list. She says, "I apprenticed myself to Betty Adams at the St. James' Textile Museum in Dorchester and spent as much time as I could learning from her. She's extremely knowledgeable and everything she says rings true."
The following year, Wulfraat began to build her business, selling handspun yarn on the internet, filling orders from across the country. As business increased, her husband Arnold London, a supplier of fine lumber, built the workshop/boutique in 1999 and since then it's been full-steam ahead for the London-Wul Fibre Arts Centre.
There are many strands which combine to make this centre a success. There's the boutique where shoppers can find handcrafted woolen wear, exceptional fibre art works and premium fibre art supplies, including knitting needles hand turned from exotic woods by London. There's the interpretive hand spinning museum where visitors can delve into the ancient history of the craft; the gallery which spotlights Atlantic Canadian artists in a series of month-long exhibitions; and of course, there's the workshop with work-in-progress.
In addition, Wulfraat and her staff of five employees offer regularly scheduled workshops in various aspects of fibre arts, conduct guided tours and invite knitters and spinners to drop by for an afternoon of sharing skills.
In 2004 the London-Wul Fibre Arts Centre was honoured with an invitation to be part of the International ÉCONOMUSÉE (Artisans-at-Work) Network. Two years later it received the Tourism Excellence Award for the Best New Business of the year, presented by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
"After I started the internet business 13 years ago, it took some years to get the business built up to the point where I could spend time creating my unique fibre art pieces, which take months to complete," she says.
By 2006, however, she was receiving commissions for work to be presented to the French and Belgian consulates and to Karen Kain and Robert Bateman, as well as invitations to exhibit her pieces in both Canada and the U.S.
Both animals and nature provide inspiration for Wulfraat's work.
"The animals give me so much," she says, "they're my muses and they're an integral part of everything I do."
The influence of the woods and water surrounding the workshop is evident in the stunning room divider screens, for sale, which use sheets of felted white wool, on which paint is applied softly to suggest the landscape, while embroidered stems and leaves achieve a three-dimensional effect.
In December 2009, two of Wulfraat's hand hooked rugs won the People's Choice Award at a show in Vermont, over 600 other entries.
"One features Captain Fantastic, our border collie and the other is of Angus, our Newfoundland dog, based on a photograph I took of him at Rockport, at the head of the Bay of Fundy. We love it there. It's such a special place," she says.
And so is London-Wul, just 15 minutes out of Moncton.