Wood, whisky and whitewater canoeing. Meet the Stinson family. Stinson Studios hand-turned wood bowls grace the tables and kitchens of thousands of Canadian homes, not to mention, worldwide. The inspiration behind their artisan products is to expose the beauty of the natural world around them. We had the pleasure of exchanging question-and-answer with Joanne Stinson to find out a little bit more about how this treasured Canadian brand came about, and what keeps them going.
What is the origin of woodworking in the Stinson family? How did it all start, and how did it evolve into a multi-generation family business?
Don began the business back in 1982, prior to any children, and although trained as a furniture designer, he taught himself to turn while he was sorting out his thinking about a furniture design idea. Interest in his turnings was so obvious that he began focusing on those, and thus Stinson Studios began. There were many years of hot summer shows in parks and venues all around southern Ontario as well as the One of a Kind Show. As the three children grew, they each were given a product line to produce on their own time which involved them having to meet deadlines and choose their own working hours while juggling friends, sports and school scheduling. They also began helping on the weekends of the One of Kind Show in their grade 7 year and then all through high school. Jesse is the oldest son and he joined the business after completing university while Spike, the youngest son, joined after he completed university and teacher's college. Emma lives and works in the Yukon but flies down each year with her partner, Andre, to help Don and Joanne work the Circle Craft Christmas Show in Vancouver. Just proving you can move away but family businesses can always lure you back.
Stinson Studios is incredibly well known for timeless hand-turned wood bowls, which have been a staple of yours for decades. Last year you introduced a popular new product - The Oak Tumbler. Tell us about how the idea for this new product came about.
Spike came up with the concept of the oak tumblers as part of our family has a love of scotch! His idea was to replicate the oak cask that the liquor was distilled in, hence, the charring of the inside of the oak tumbler. Originally there were 7 different shapes, but after some consumer testing with all the folks who dropped into the studio over a few weeks such as the local doctor, friends, the postman, UPS courier, etc (who were all asked to rank their preferred shape of tumbler) hands down they all chose the one we now produce. Staff provided testing by trying various drinks at work to ensure they were viable. Some may have even tested at home with more exciting beverage choices.
One of our local Dundas customers told us that he used to race canoes with Don Stinson, also mentioning that "He was really good. He always won." Can you confirm that you are a canoe racing champion and/or tell us a bit about when that took place?
Canoeing is a very big part of the Stinson family life. Many, many years ago, Don and Joanne did a little bit of tandem racing in the southern Ontario region and yes, they might have won a time or two. All three of the Stinson children are certified whitewater canoeing instructors and have worked at some of the best instruction facilities in Ontario. Growing up, summers always included a family canoe trip ranging from 8 days to 2 weeks, beginning with flatwater trips and graduating to whitewater canoe trips. Most summers now include the planning of a canoe trip either within Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec or the Arctic with whoever is available to go, and they are only whitewater trips as we enjoy those the most.
Your work is recognized both nationally and internationally, highly coveted in galleries and retail stores, and has become a celebrated staple in Canadian homes. Having had the pleasure to visit your studio, you all seem very down to earth despite the success. What about your process keeps you grounded? And how do you successfully maintain your work/life balance?
We aren't sure anyone is good these days with work/life balance but we do our best to try. With the studio in the yard it is difficult to stop but our life of paddling, horses, apple trees, gardens, forge, chickens and other pursuits pushes back at us. The carvers of the Queen Charlotte Islands say if you make too many things you lose your soul. Maybe! Being close to the land, living here in the country on our farm shows just how small and unimportant we are. Nature is everywhere and with our work, we are just attempting to expose nature in the materials.
Whether it's right here at home or a special adventure that you've taken, what is (one of) your favourite place/s in Canada and why?
It would have to be one of the many rivers we have paddled and the premier one that comes to mind is the Bonnet Plume in the Yukon Territory. The rapids are long and challenging, the mountains come right down to the river's edge in places and the wildlife is spectacular. It's a rare privilege to paddle a river for 2 weeks and not come into contact with another person. You can sit cooking dinner beside the roar of a rapid in the distance and look up to find a caribou standing in the middle of the river, 25 feet away watching us, or having to bang your paddle on the surface of the water to alert a swimming bear that we are coming their way. You can watch the snow accumulate overnight on the peaks of the mountains even in early August. It's a treasured time for us to disconnect from electronics and recharge ourselves with the rhythm of the natural world.
Photo above courtesy of the Government of Yukon © (http://chrs.ca/the-rivers/bonnet-plume/)
All other photos provided by Stinson Studios ©
Written by Allison Boddy, Joanne Stinson