The rolling hills of Northumberland County begin about 100 kilometers east of Toronto along the Highway 401 corridor. Famous for its apple festivals, craft wineries, boutique breweries and vast farmlands Northumberland County is also the setting for a thriving arts scene. Many painters and photographers have taken up residence here in recent years and are increasingly making their mark on the creative world. But these windswept northern shores of Lake Ontario also hold in their midst a genuine piece of creative Canadiana – the Hoselton Studio.
The story of how Hoselton Studio came to be is as unique as its works of art. Beginning as a cottage-industry partnership between two brothers in 1968, Hoselton Studio spent its first few years creating sculpture from various wood sources until they discovered forged aluminum. Hoselton sculptures are not exact or detailed replications of their subject matter but they all possess an original stylization that makes them instantly recognizable. Understated lines and minimized details convey a clear sense of what we see yet offer nothing tangible to fix our eye upon. We see the sculptures as if we are catching a glimpse of something wild, something in motion. The artwork carries us to the subject’s world and makes us fleeting observers of nature. Permanence and impermanence intertwine within our view, and the continuous interplay between those two states is the magic of Hoselton sculptures.
Founding brothers Gord and Carl Hoselton were artists of different sorts before they joined forces in their eponymous collaboration. Carl was a jeweller, operating a store in nearby Cobourg and dabbled in artwork of various forms. Gord was a chef who ran a successful restaurant in Cobourg called ‘The Golden Miller’. Both were successful in what they were doing but were also motivated by the restless nature of an artist searching for a more expressive medium. As a side venture, perhaps hobby initially, Carl and Gord began acquiring old wooden patterns used in the forming of bath tubs and other such fixtures at the Crane factory in Port Hope which was closing in 1967. The wooden patterns they used at the factory were being thrown out or burned to dispose of them. These patterns were made of beautiful hardwood, and they sought to collect them to re-purpose them into post-industrial art, and the brothers were in fact early pioneers of that decor style which still continues. The wooden patterns that were broken or unrepairable were cut up and Carl began carving them into animal figurines. They were also acquiring the imperfect and unusable wooden rifle stocks used by the Winchester arms manufacturer in Port Hope. These too were used to carve items from, and because of their unique origin they named the original company ‘Guunstock Studio’.
Gunstock Studio became a full-time operation for the brothers, and they worked seven days a week to keep up with production demands. Monday to Friday Carl was carving animals while Gord sanded and polished the works. On weekends they would travel to Toronto to sell their art at shops and galleries as well as sell their artworks through ‘Art in the Parks’ in places like Curve Lake. At one gallery in Toronto they were approached by two brothers named Sam & Ivan Skara, who operated an aluminum forge. They offered to make castings of some of the wooden animals, which was far less time consuming than carving them individually. Carl and Gord agreed to the idea, and soon they returned with several crates of polished aluminum statues. They sold out instantly.
By 1971 Gunstock Studios was re-branded and incorporated as Hoselton Studio Limited, and the brothers began producing their own castings of their sculptures. They had now evolved into an art form that was a confluence of their talents – Carl was carving the model figures out of wooden blocks, reducing bulk material into art. Gord, the chef, was creating art by transforming raw ingots into finished product. The resulting style of their artwork – fluid, suggestive, highly refined yet undefined – remains the hallmark of Hoselton sculptures. They are sold internationally and they have even been around the world – in 2009 astronaut Colonel Tim Kopra brought his mother’s Hoselton statue of an Angel onto the International Space Station for Expedition XX.
Production of the statues begins in the casting building. Moulds are taken from their storage racks and assembled. Some of these moulds are original and date back to the earliest days of the studio. Molten aluminum made from ingots, scrap, and blemished castings is poured into the moulds. Within minutes the aluminum has cooled to the point where it is solid enough to remove. From there they go through a painstaking process of cleaning the seams off the castings. Once cleaned, the statues go through an array of grinding and polishing that gives each piece its desired finish. This process is done completely by hand by the employees and is so intensive that each statue is crafted unique from the others – no two are exactly the same. The length of a hummingbird’s beak for example, can vary from employee to employee depending on how much material was removed in the finishing process.
Touring around the complex with owner Jan Hoselton, daughter of co-founder Gord, family pride resonates through her stories. As the business grew it changed locations from time to time but always remained in the local area. As a child after school the bus would drop her off at the studio each day, and some of the employees from back then are still working there today. The studio has always seemed like a second home to her, and the people she works with are all like family to her. They share a comfort born of a long familiarity and a common purpose. When asked if going to work might sometimes feel like coming home due to her long family involvement, Jan replied with some humour that it “feels like I never leave!”
The key to success she emphasizes, is cooperation. She reinforces the concept of teamwork, “the team is my family” and believes that looking after your staff is the most important part of the business. In one of the grinding/polishing rooms a radio plays music well above the din of the machinery. With a smile Jan explains how several genres of music are heard throughout the day because everyone gets a chance to tune into their favourite station.
There is, within the facility, a radiant pride in what they do. Jan relates with some emotion the tale of a package they received after the Fort McMurray, Alberta fire in 2016. A family lost their house and possessions in the fire, and sent to her charred, melted lumps of aluminum that had been two prized Hoselton sculptures. And they humbly asked Jan if there was any way the aluminum could be re-cast back into their beloved statues. With some extra effort involved, they did just that and shipped the statues back to the family. Jan also sent along a special Christmas ornament that they cast and that all the staff signed for the family. Not long after another package arrived for Jan. The family had just moved into their new home and placed the statues in honoured spots. They sent back a jar of homemade honey as thanks, wishing Jan and her team a year as sweet as how the family now felt thanks to them.
In addition to the over 6000 moulds that are still in production Hoselton Studio also creates a number of custom awards for corporations and associations across Canada. They are beginning to expand into custom bar taps for restaurants and bars serving craft beers, and they are always adding to their selection of statuary. New designs are created through a collaborative effort, reinforcing the team concept. Currently, efforts are underway to launch an e-commerce platform for online sales, giving Hoselton Studios a broader reach across a greater marketplace.
Hoselton Studios currently employs 12 people including Jan’s husband. Most are long-term employees, and some have been working there since the1970’s. Family indeed!
Visit Hoselton Studio online at www.hoseltons.com or visit Jan and her team at their showroom at 124 Big Apple Dr. Colborne, Ontario.