Jo-Anne Harder

Artist in Metal


ach day after breakfast Jo-Anne Harder works in her studio, located in the barn beside her square-cut log country home. A regular schedule helps to deepen the focus of her work in metal, a medium requiring large blocks of time. Recently her metalworking space has been partitioned from the large woodworking shop of her husband, builder Ed Harder, providing her with a private studio.

Inside, a 6 x 9 foot work-in-progress dominates the room, with copper, zinc and steel reflecting the cool winter light from the window. Carefully placed panels of varied shapes make up the structure: a large tapestry in metal, awaiting definition and detail. A band saw, welding equipment, boxes of metal scraps, files of drawings and pots of paint are tools waiting at hand. Through a door, a small show-room houses many of Jo-Anne’s elegant metal sculptures. A small courtyard leading off this room has been planned for the spring. It will provide an outdoor display area under natural light for sculptural pieces to be viewed by appointment, or during the yearly EAC Studio Tour. Jo-Anne’s growing reputation as a metal artist is likely to draw visitors and clients.

Since the spring of 2002, Jo-Anne has been working on her second large commission. The purpose of this privately funded piece is to explore, through a series of panels, the every day life of Mennonites and the beliefs, history and religion, which have formed Mennonite society today. The large panel, made mostly of sheet copper, appears like a giant metal collage. It will be housed in the new atrium of Conrad Greble College, home of Anabaptist studies in Waterloo. The commission is to be completed for the atrium’s inauguration this autumn.

While researching the project, Jo-Anne has learned much about her own roots in the Mennonite Community. Because of their strong beliefs in peace and justice and their refusal to serve in armies, the history of Mennonite communities has been one of persecution and survival. Jo-Anne’s parents were driven from Russia by the Communist regime in the 1920s, and prior to that time, had left Holland. They settled in Canada on a farm near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Recently Jo-Anne has studied photo etching on metal to be able to enrich her project with historical portraits and photos of Mennonite immigrants. She will also combine techniques of intaglio, metal attachments, printing, painting, and use polishes to modify the subtle colour tones of metals. For instance, she will attach a print plate for the music of a song that was sung by Mennonites when they finally got beyond the Latvian Red Gate, on being expelled from Russia in 1924.

As a child in her father’s workshop on the Mennonite farm, Jo-Anne was encouraged to build: “I always loved to work with my hands, to feel surfaces and textures. My interest in metal art was stimulated by interesting shapes of pieces of metal lying about the barn. I still learn on the job, starting from shapes that exist – putting down and taking away.’’ She was given freedom and space and raw materials and tools. “Also, my mother was very visual,” Jo-Anne says. “She taught us how to see. If we were driving in the country we were required to look at the scenery, so we could appreciate it in every way.”

During the years when her own children were growing up, Jo-Anne was a weaver and fabric artist. Her involvement in metal work is an extension of the wall hangings she created then. When she learned welding from a neighbour, she felt the sky was the limit. She received her first large commission three years ago, when asked to design a piece which would honour workers at the Fergus plant of Wolverine Ratcliffs Inc.

Jo-Anne believes that culture is important for the health of a society – If we have an emotional response to art, music, literature, this will have an impact on how we live our lives; how we treat one another and our environment, and even how we view ourselves. If children can be exposed to art from day one – not only creating, but learning how to see and appreciate the world around them, they will also learn compassion and respect.

Though travel has broadened Jo-Anne’s experience, and she no longer lives in a tightly knit Mennonite society, her sense of community is still strong. “I feel I would like to do my part to make this a good place to live for others.” Of her present life, so closely integrated to her art, she says, “Every day when I walk to the studio I stop and think, how lucky can a person be! I feel so for people who have great frustrations in their lives.”

Jo-Anne has contributed strongly to the Elora Arts Council, first through serving on the INSIGHTS Committee for five years; after this she was the Chair of the Arts Council for three years and many innovative projects were undertaken through her imaginative leadership. Two years ago, with the formation of the Cultural Committee of Centre Wellington Council, we asked Jo-Anne to be our special representative. Her term on this committee will end in December. She brings a sense of steadiness, perception and high standards to every community involvement. This year Jo-Anne is once more on the INSIGHTS committee, and looks forward to planning for the 25th anniversary in 2004.

by Beverley Cairns, Winter 2003

UPDATE – 2005

The large copper wall sculpture was installed at University of Waterloo in November 2003. Since then, there have been other similar commissions and up coming shows to work toward. Jo-Anne is able to spend more time than ever in the studio and continue to explore the seemingly endless possibilities of metal itself.