CONCEPTION HARBOUR, N.L. — Michael Harlick has been spending more and more time over the last few years inside his little forging studio, located on a lively property in Conception Harbour populated by chickens, geese and ducks, among other creatures.
You can’t hear the animals so much once he starts hammering a piece of hot metal. Over the last 15 years, Harlick has dedicated most of his time to creating pieces of jewellery, a skill he took up working in downtown St. John’s with jeweller Christopher Kearney. He had already worked with metal at the time, but had no experience with jewelry.
“I watched him for an hour, and he said, ‘Do you want to try that?’ So, I sat down and worked on something for the rest of the day, and at the end of the day he said, ‘Well, do you want to come back tomorrow?’”
He worked with Kearney for about 10 years. Kearney has since retired, and Harlick finds himself today using some of his mentor’s old equipment. He shares Black Hen Studio in Conception Harbour with textile artist Susan Furneaux.
Harlick still makes rings today and reckons he always will, but he has developed a relatively newfound passion for crafting knives. He was recently the recipient of a professional projects grant from Arts NL to delve further into the creation of patterns within a knife blade.
“I’m doing this because I like doing it,” he said.
The move towards making knives came about through experimentation with free pieces of steel. Harlick works with rebar, a softer metal, for a lot of the knives he sells at craft fairs, and produces others with a heavier spring steel. He does use wood sometimes for handles, but prefers carving them from moose and caribou antlers.
“I like the way it looks and that’s just kind of my preference,” he explained, noting they’re sourced from hunters.
He typically hammers out the shape of a knife on the first day, then takes a fresh look at it the following day to make sure it looks right. If Harlick likes what he sees, he’ll continue on with the process leading to a finished product. He can fit and finish 10 rebar knives in about a week or two-to-three of a different variety.
Sales wise, Harlick is doing quite well at various craft fairs across the island.
“I kind of thought that maybe it was going to be more of a hunter type of audience, and while they’re definitely there, chef knives are also popular,” he said. “Big cleavers and different cooking knives are popular.”
The sizes vary. Harlick is currently experimenting with a large katana blade and is game to try new things. He also makes small knives that come in a pouch that ties around the neck and says these are proving popular. These days he’s prepping for the big Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council’s annual Christmas fair, which always attracts lots of visitors.