KAREN & JASON HARE
Words: Chelsea Parkinson / Photos: Janine Kropla
First, they fed us. We ate soft-boiled eggs on hearty bread with prosciutto and tomato, served on a cheeseboard one, or, more likely, the two of them together, made. Sitting on the floor of their Exchange District studio, around a small square palette on a rough rug, we had our talk. They shared their thoughts on rings and dreams and apple trees and bridges between city and country. The whole morning made us feel as if that city-country bridge were a short one, and that the four of us really might be sitting somewhere far, far away from the freshly-snow-covered, bustling weekend city. Jason and Karen Hare. Husband and wife. Makers of beautiful wooden goods. A pair so sweet, so welcoming, so talented. So full of stories. Here are just a few, from them, to me, to you.
Muddy Water: You guys are making the utensils, out of wood, for the dinner on the river this year. What has that challenge been like?
Jason: It’s a project where we feel very accountable. Especially when you have food safety issues, and the integrity of the piece is vulnerable in that state, too. It’s going to go through a lot of abuse.
Karen: There will be three turnovers every night. Plus breakfast. Plus a tasting bar. So we’re basically making thirty sets so they don’t have to wash any in between turnovers.
J: Six hundred pieces in total.
MW: Wow. And what happens to them at the end of the run? They’re so beautiful, they won’t be tossed aside, right?
K: Hopefully they’ll still be good enough for next year, or a few sets could possibly be sold at the end of the run.
J: Our personal philosophy is to make something that stands the test of time. It’s something that appears as if it could just crumble, or just let go at any time, but which can actually hold up. It’s a challenging thing though, cause you never know how people are going to use things. It’s like Karen said the other day, (holds up one of the long, hewn spoons), if you press on this hard enough, it will snap. So, how do you design for that?
MW: You can’t account for everything.
J: Right, and you’re giving up potential longevity for the qualities of the material, of the wood, how it feels against the skin. It’s a much nicer thing, out on a frozen river, to be holding a piece of wooden cutlery, and bringing that to your mouth, than a stainless steel knife or fork.
MW: How is your relationship with your materials growing and changing? Do you have an interest in trees beyond their potential as design materials?
K: Jason is very knowledgeable about types of trees just by looking at them. I know the wood once it’s cut up. But we both have an appreciation for trees and what they do for us beyond providing us with our materials. I was talking to my boss the other day, and he had travelled through Europe and met this Italian family that had had this tree farm in their family for over a hundred years. And most trees take quite some time to mature, so the person who had to plant it a hundred years ago would have reaped no benefits from it.
J: There’s that quote…
K: Yeah. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
J: We just planted apple trees up on the farm.
K: We often go up to my grandparents’ old farmstead, which my uncle still tends. But Jason and I go up and play around. We hope to eventually have a woodshop up there, and we planted these apple trees, but won’t have apples for…
J: About six years. Maybe ten. It will take a lot of patience.
MW: That city-to-country connection seems to be an important one for a lot of Winnipeggers.
K: Yeah, a lot of the places that feel the most like home to me are outside the city. The farmstead, the cabin. I think it’s really good to have a place to go to, so you can bridge the city and the country. Use the busyness of the city for the sharing and selling of your work, and then you have the country as a retreat from all of that in order to find inspiration and actually do the work.
J: Yeah, I’d say it’s an overarching philosophy with us. To create a relationship between the city and the country. It breeds a deep respect for things beyond us. The things just beyond ourselves.
MW: What will you guys be doing while you’re waiting for the apples to grow?
K: So, right now we’re building a five-unit condo in Osborne Village, it’s a collective of five groups of really talented people. The idea is that our personal kitchen and dining area in our condo will also serve as a gallery to show and sell small kitchen goods.
J: A friend of ours went to Germany and learned about baugroups, which is essentially where a collective comes together to develop a space they will all share. And we’ve done the talking and the planning and now it’s happening, the foundation is going in right now and hopefully by June of next year our shop will start opening.
MW: And it will be your own, personal kitchen space that’s being opened up to the public as a shop? That’s wonderful.
K: For some reason with Jason and I there’s a real connection with food and the things we build, so opening up the kitchen space seemed to make sense. When people come in, we hope to have them enter a welcoming, kind of homey space, where we’ll drink tea or hot cider and talk about the work. And we’re hoping for exclusively Winnipeg artists and makers to show their pieces in the shop.
MW: We’ve touched on your present and your future, but before we part, could we circle back to the beginning of your story? How did you two meet?
K: We both went through undergrad design school together in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. I was studying interior design and Jason was studying architecture.
J: I came and joined a studio class Karen was in.
K: Everybody bugged Jason going into it, saying “You’re just going into interior design to meet girls!”
MW: And it worked!
J: It totally worked.
MW: What did each of you make in that class, do you remember?
J: Yeah. (Holds up left hand)
K: Jason made these—our wedding rings.
MW: You’re kidding!
J: I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the final project, and sometimes when I’m there I just dive into repetition to find a process, to find a form. So I ended up drawing circles, rings. I drew three circles, every time I ate, every day, for forty days. Every one was unique. I could never draw the same one more than once. They each gained their own, unique, flawed identity on the paper. And then I wondered, why couldn’t you give this to somebody to express your own identity?
K: It ended up being a symbol of being able to trade your imperfections as the most beautiful thing about you.
J: And Karen made…
K: I made chairs.
(All laugh, a lot)
MW: So you’ve been encountering each other’s work and collaborating from the very first time you met.
J: Yeah. In studio you share ideas and it’s very open and you learn to help one another resolve certain things within a project.
K: I used to think, “this is my work, and that’s your work,” but now it’s dissolved completely into “our work.”
J: You no longer see your own exact identity in a piece, you look at it and think, “Oh, hey, there’s a little bit of Karen in there!”
K: I’ll bring things home and won’t finish them, and Jason will get curious about it and get up and finish it, and I’ll love it even more then. Some people might want that control, but it ends up being way better when we both touch it.
MW: That’s beautiful.
“That’s beautiful.” I think I said this about a dozen times in one morning with these two people. But with good reason.
In their presence, you can ask questions—they’ll answer kindly. You can speak softly—they’ll listen. You can laugh—they’ll join in.
They will do their best to answer any query you put to them. So, when you seek out Jason and Karen to explore their wooden wares, as an extra treat, ask about how Jason once lost his truck in Lake Manitoba.
But that’s a story for another time.
You can get in touch with Karen and Jason via their tumblr, hareandhare.tumblr.com.