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Oak Bay author pulls artists Out of the Fire, highlights south Island metalworkers

Pirjo Raits’ second Salish Sea-focused artist spotlight launches in April

The artists surrounding the Salish Sea enthrall Oak Bay writer Pirjo Raits so much she launches a second book on the subject next month. A longtime Sooke resident, Raits moved across the southern tip of Vancouver Island a couple years ago.

Raits is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Soar, Boulevard, and Tweed magazines. The former editor of the Sooke News Mirror credits those days in community and magazines for her start in sharing stories and accolades of West Coast artists.

“I think it comes from all of the arts reporting I did back in the day and my own arts background, so it was a really good fit. It’s like my life has come together in these two books,” she said.

The author of the bestselling book Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea and the same team of photographers return with Out of the Fire: Metalworkers along the Salish Sea (Heritage House Publishing) launching in April.

Taking a page from her first book, Out of the Fire features the stunning artistry of photographers Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg alongside her writing about a diverse group of contemporary artists and artisans.

It includes spectacular images of the artists and their works in a behind-the-scenes look at those who choose fire as their tool and metal as their material.

“I didn’t meet an uninteresting one,” Raits said of her 24 subjects. “A lot of them have gone to art school and a lot have just learned it. They have these incredible brains that can put this stuff together.”

Each is featured with a small profile to give a sense of the individual.

READ ALSO: Sooke author’s book highlights Salish Sea artists

The sculptors, farriers, forgers, blacksmiths, jewellers, weapons makers and welders reflect a wide range of talent, skill, and ingenuity.

An example is Saanich resident Gregory Kozak, who feels he qualifies as the “junior” in the gang. Not in terms of longevity in the craft, but he thinks that highly of his peers.

His crafting came alongside his musical education. An ensemble musician and a concert soloist, Kozak co-founded Scrap Arts Music with Justine Murdy in 1998. Already an avid creator of instruments, about 25 years ago he started fabrication studies so he could create a larger sound pallet.

The artist also spends much time pinging, dinging and dropping items to see what sounds they may elicit.

Kozak takes items such as flying saucers left over from movies, sailboat masts, artillery shells and assorted pipe from a Nanaimo mill and deconstructs, reconstructs and fabricates musical instruments. They’re not the average clarinet, but rather an instrument of his mind.

Get a taste of the music at

Kozak is a fascinating artist among many, Raits said, noting the geographical limitation of the Salish Sea helps keep them in check.

“I would never stop. There are so many talented people. Even the ones I heard of later that didn’t get into the book, I hope I’m representing their type of work.”

Other Salish Sea artists represented are Brian Ashton of Qualicum Bay, Kelly Backs of Roberts Creek, Jakob Bauer and Miran Elbakyan of Vancouver, Dwayne Farmer of White Rock, Ryan Fogarty of Sooke/Metchosin, Shirley artists Marty and Justin Gilbertson, Jake James of Sooke/Metchosin, Bev Petow and Trinita Waller of East Sooke, David Kasprik of Nanoose Bay, Karen Lances of North Saanich, Ts’uts’umutl Luke Marston of Ladysmith, Duncan’s Travis Rankin and Salt Spring Island artists Nycki Samuels, Alvary Sanches, Alison Sparshu, Jeri Sparshu, Peter McFarlane, Carl McMahon Jacob Burton and Seth Burton.

With launch parties for Out of the Fire starting next month, Raits already has some ideas about an Out of the Earth to serve as third in a trilogy.

Events are scheduled for April 29 at Steffich Gallery on Salt Spring Island, and Bolen Books in Victoria on April 30 at 7 p.m.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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