Lommel to Leerdam via water roads drawing

Setting afloat on a river in spate

(Setting afloat on a river in spate)

Brad Copping

View of an art exhibition with many miniature canoe sculptures hanging from the ceiling. From left to right: mirrored canoe, two intersecting canoes, glass canoe sculpture and hanging coat in the background.

This digital publication documents Setting afloat on a river in spate, a solo exhibition of artwork by Brad Copping, which was presented in our Main Gallery from June 4 to September 4, 2016. This project is our first digital catalogue in a long history of publications which document our exhibitions and contribute to the field of contemporary Canadian art.

From the exhibition didactic:

Artist and glass blower Brad Copping spent a year in residence at the Canadian Canoe Museum covering a 16' cedar strip canoe in a mirrored mosaic map. The map charts the waterways from Copping's studio in Apsley, Ontario southward into the Trent Severn Waterway and on into Rice Lake.

"It is the experience of paddling on still and quiet nights, the sky clear and the moon yet to rise that moved me to create this work. The mirror—like surface of the water reflects the stars and I am given the sensation of moving myself through them. As the moon rises, the small ripples from my paddle and canoe cutting through the water sends the reflected light dancing across its surface." — Brad Copping

Published by the Art Gallery of Peterborough, 2022
Artist: Brad Copping
Writers: Brad Copping, Spencer J. Harrison, Fynn Leitch, Celeste Scopelites
Copy Editing: Meagan Christou
Opening Reception Photography: Matt + Steph (June 4, 2016)
Artist Talk Videographer: Rob Viscardis (June 25, 2016)
Installation Photography: Michael Cullen, TPG Digital Art Services
Website, Design, Audio: We Design, Matt Stimpson, Zach Ward, David Jonkers
Additional images provided courtesy of the artist

Close up of the end of a canoe with mirror fragments with reflections of a dock and water.


One cannot think of a more poignant confluence of material, form, and intention than the artwork brought forward in Brad Copping's exhibition Setting afloat on a river in spate. This document of the exhibit reflects that in every way.

Using complex elements, Copping develops a dialogue in delicate balance. The canoe, a traditional form which is responsive and versatile while demanding respect in how it is maneuvered. Glass, which is fluid and fragile, is also strong and resistant. It is translucent yet can form solid barriers, containers, and vessels. Water, a substance referenced by both, is not physically present in the gallery. Its absence is visceral. With astute and careful articulation, Copping's experiences on the water are evoked and we, the viewers, share in the moment.

Artist Brad Copping standing beside in progress canoe with mirror fragments artwork in a workshop

We thank Spencer J. Harrison for his keen questions which draw insightful reflection from the artist about his process and Brad Copping for his openness in sharing the challenges and uncertainty an artist experiences while making work. It is a journey undertaken by friends with intimacy and rigour and we cherish the invitation to join them.

Our gratitude goes to Fynn Leitch for her curatorial acuity and to Matt Stimpson, Zach Ward, David Jonkers, and the team at WeDesign for their sensitive work which beautifully and poignantly reflects the exhibition in this digital format. We extend our appreciation to Michael Cullen for his expert photography, and to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Canoe Museum for their support of Copping in the development of this work. Thanks also to those who worked with us to install this incredible and intricate exhibition.

Thanks goes to the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Peterborough for their generous support of the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

Celeste Scopelites, Director



When winter's cold releases its grip on the land-the rock and fen, swamp and creek, bog, and lake of the southern edge of the Canadian Shield-it begins the spring flush of water. The static white lines of winter disappear as waters rise and the world becomes a different place.

Brad Copping, 2016


What was difficult becomes easy. What was easy becomes difficult. By water, what was distant becomes near. By land, what was near becomes distant. At the water line, when a rise is on, the world is changing. There is an irresistible sense of adventure in the difference…. [there] is everything to get used to, from a wholly new perspective.

Wendell Berry, 1968

Setting afloat on a river in spate references Wendell Berry's 1968 essay "The Rise,"1 in which he writes of beginning a canoe trip on a river, swollen with the spring thaw.2 It is comprised of six works that explore the relationship of the body to land to water to the sky; of past to present to future, and of comfort to discomfort. Understanding the power of objects, Copping uses the basic form of a canoe: a double-ended vessel, as a metaphor for connection and wayfinding. These nuances are described through the medium of glass, a liquid that looks solid, a clear material made from sand, and transformed through fire. A manufactured substance used for looking through and drinking from; simple, versatile, and functional. The canoe is deeply rooted in Indigenous identity and culture. It connects people to the water, to the land, and to each other. This technology is so perfect that it has endured through millennia, spread, and adapted across the globe.

  1. Berry, Wendell. 1968. "The Rise" in The Long-Legged House. 2012th ed. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.
  2. Thanks, and acknowledgment must also be made to Robert MacFarlane who described Berry's piece with the phrase "setting float in a canoe on a river in spate." Macfarlane, Robert. 2013. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Harlow, England: Penguin Books. pp. 77-78

The work began at a residency in 2014 at the Canadian Canoe Museum (CCM) in Peterborough, Ontario that extended in time and geography, continuing into 2016 to GlazenHuis in Lommel, Belgium and the Dutch National Glass Museum in Leerdam Netherlands. Reflections came first; using a 16' cedar strip canoe that was gifted from Jeremy Ward's3 personal collection as a base, Copping applied a mirror mosaic that maps the waterways of the Trent Severn from his studio in Apsley to Rice Lake. The pieces, cut or carefully shattered, pattern the landscape from cultivated, to rocky. On the inside, the spaces between the ribs are also mirrored, inscribed with Copping's journal entries made during its inaugural 135 km journey along the waterways between Lommel and Leerdam. Difficult to read, the inscriptions are like memories, reflections grasping at feelings, aware of their inadequacies yet raw and necessary. It is not a prescribed narrative but rather floats along, subject to the currents of the artist's thoughts in both form and content.

  1. Jeremey Ward was the Canadian Canoe Museum's Curator at the time of Copping's residency.
Artist Brad Copping working on a canoe with mirror fragments in a workshop.

Along this trip, Copping conceived drifting into hubris. Travelling on the waterways he passed a university, only remarkable in as much as this was the first occasion in which the otherwise pristine waters contained trash. It felt like irony, this careless disregard for the water neighbouring an institution of higher learning. A space in which thoughtful connections are made; a space that prizes learning and thinking. He passed this trash in his canoe—discarded cans floating on their sides—and recognized them as small mimics, subject to the currents formed by the flow of water over and through the changing land; narrowing, deepening, opening. Copping made a swell of small canoes from emptied beer cans, mirrored their insides and suspended them from the gallery ceiling to describe an eddy. The water knows how to move efficiently, how to react and carve space; it does it best. Drifting into hubris is a call to respect and care for the land, to understand its importance and power, and to listen to the knowledge it offers.

Across the gallery, way-marking is installed. Constructed of hot-formed glass laid over the shell of a canoe and held together by artificial sinew, it is notably un-seaworthy. When leaves decay in water, the veins remain as the last descriptive structure. This piece sits like a ghosted canoe carcass, left forgotten along a river shore for years. It is about love, loss, and longing. On the floor, walls, and ceiling of the gallery, the light that travels through way-marking, bounces off reflections, and casts dancing patterns, recalling that the surface of the water is affected by wind and movement and lit by the sun.

Two canoes, one red, one green, intersect to form an ‘X’ shape. They are leaning against a white wall.

Nearby, confluence strikes an imposing yet playful silhouette. Shaped like an X, and constructed of two fused canoes, it rests on four precise points, tipped as if in temporary storage. It is angled so that it can be walked around and through, revealing its construction. The sculpture is informed by the sectional canoe, which disassembles in parts to easily fit in a bush plane and travel to remote and difficult-to-access areas. Confluence breaks into nine separate pieces, at each attachment point, visible wing nuts and bolts press seams together; a strip of neoprene ensures a watertight seal. The X is a reoccurring icon throughout Copping's practice. Shorthand for place marking and intersection, this simple character invokes connection, presence, and location. The method for separating and coming together is clear, but in the form of an X, the function of a canoe as transportation is encumbered. Imagined on the water, it sits, subjecting passengers to the will of the currents. A slow peaceful ride with no distinct end and a difficult beginning; perfect for gathering and coming to new understandings along no one's intended path.

Working at the CCM for well over a year,4 Copping spent a lot of time with the displays. The legacy of colonialism is present; the canoe has a complex history. A narrative shared in the form of a museum that began with a collection amassed by a settler, can easily skew colonial. In Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's "How to Steal a Canoe," she signals the links to genocide:

  1. Copping was in residence at the CCM beginning in 2014, continuing through 2015.

kwe is barefoot on the cement floor / singing to a warehouse / of stolen canoes // bruised bodies / dry skin / hurt ribs / dehydrated rage // akiwenzie says, "it's canoe jail" // the white skin of a tree is for slicing and feeling / and peeling and rolling and cutting and sewing / and pitching and floating and travelling // akiwenzie says "oh you're so proud of your collection / of ndns. good job zhaganash, / good job"5

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

  1. https://arcpoetry.ca/2015/03/16/draft-readers-choice/#steal_canoe Spotted Fawn Productions. 2016. "How To Steal a Canoe." Vimeo. October 21, 2016. https://vimeo.com/188380371.
A series of miniature canoe sculptures with beer branding are hanging from the ceiling in an art gallery.

This poem, which became a song, initially began in the collection storage of the Canadian Canoe Museum as Simpson accompanied elder Doug Williams to welcome back a canoe that had been taken from the territory in the early 1800s to England.6

Upstairs at the CCM,7 a display on the early fur trade hints at stories of violent exploitation beneath a shroud of adventure and progress. The didactics tell a story of exchange, entrepreneurship, and expansion. Reading closely, you will find references to "almost continual violence."8 Sitting on tables against a wall, there are two books with calligraphic text printed on canvas and bound to look like original artifacts. One includes a small paragraph that makes the only reference to the devastating introduction of trade liquor (over 21,000 gallons in 1803 alone), the impacts of which are still felt today.9 For Copping, a white male of settler descent, it came with an urgency to learn more, to uncover the buried and passed over truths swept aside in favour of a palpable story of pioneers, peaceful contact, and European superiority. It came with the duty to take responsibility.

  1. Mlotek, Blair. 2016. "Q&A: Anishinaabe Artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson on Combining Poetry and Music." Quillandquire.Com. October 3, 2016. https://quillandquire.com/omni/qa-anishinaabe- artist-leanne-betasamosake-simpson-on-combining-poetry-and-music/.
  2. These descriptions reflect installations at the CCM while Copping was in residence there.
  3. There was very little violence between Aboriginal Peoples and the French and Scottish traders of the St. Lawrence and the English traders of Hudson Bay. These traders understood that Aboriginal Peoples should provide the furs and that white traders were on Aboriginal land. Much of the almost continuous violence in the western American fur trade was caused by traders "invading" Aboriginal territory with white contract trappers because, they argued, Aboriginal trappers were not providing enough fur.
  4. The expansion of the Nor'westers into the Northwest brought them into serious conflict with the HBC. The "Honourable Gentlemen" were forced to leave the safety of the Hudson Bay shores to counter this threat to their monopoly. A period of fierce competition ensued, resulting in increased levels of liquor and violence in the trade. In 1803 alone, 21,000 gallons of liquor were brought into the interior mostly by the NWC. The HBC was forced to follow suit or lose out on trade.

Trophy hunted: great white privilege maps Sturgeon Lake with a mirrored mosaic on the front portion of a canoe which is then mounted as a hunting trophy. The work satirizes settler narratives of dominion and ownership and confronts the artist's deep-rooted, past misunderstandings of the history of the land on which he spent his formative years. It is a somber joke. Nearby, suspended from the ceiling, an oversized 8' coat hangs on a modified canoe yoke. It follows an enlarged pattern of a standard trench coat to play with the trope "coat full of contraband" — the roleplay of a shady character who sidles up wearing a trench, glances around, pulls open one side and offers you a stolen Rolex — and is made from Hudson's Bay Company Point Blankets to signal the introduction of liquor to North American trade.10 Tucked inside the many little pockets are small glass canoes made from re-blown wine bottles. The exterior of the coat is embellished with long black vertical streaks stretching down from the shoulders and neck. Made from satin and needle felted wool, they point to contemporary oil extraction, the continuing pervasion of colonialism and exploitation, and the prioritization of economic gain overall.

The initial inspiration for this exhibition arose from a desire to capture the feeling of canoeing at night with the stars reflected upon the water's mirror-still surface. The immensity of the opened-up sky, darkened and cloudless, revealing itself to signal that there's always more to see — more to know — more that is hidden, obscured by the atmosphere and our presence. Suspended on a reflection blurs the distinction between up and down, land and sky, breathing and drowning.11 Evoking the sensation of floating in a monumental and vast infinity, Copping embraces the benefits of disorientation, awe, and surrender, and charts a way from here to there.

  1. The Point Blankets were used as material for coats, traditionally the Capote and the Mackinaw, throughout the fur trade. For many, they remain a symbol of colonialism and carry the violent legacy of blankets gifted to Indigenous communities intentionally infected with smallpox.
  2. Berry, Wendell. 1968. p. 5
Wooden plaque with half of a canoe with mirror fragments attached to it.


A journey with Brad Copping paddling through Belgium and Holland

This short documentary, made by Ivan Haentjens, was part of the exhibition made by the GlazenHuis (Belgium) at the National Glass Museum Leerdam (The Netherlands).



After twenty years of Brad Copping and I provoking and teasing each other about the differences between art and craft, I was asked if I could have a different kind of conversation with Brad about his most recent exhibition. So, in August of 2017, we sat down in his home at a table my father had made, both aware of the depth of our friendship and the respect we had for each other's studio practices. He cut up some cheese, got out some olives and nuts, and poured us a glass of wine and we began:



After twenty years of Brad Copping and I provoking and teasing each other about the differences between art and craft, I was asked if I could have a different kind of conversation with Brad about his most recent exhibition. So, in August of 2017, we sat down in his home at a table my father had made, both aware of the depth of our friendship and the respect we had for each other's studio practices. He cut up some cheese, got out some olives and nuts, and poured us a glass of wine and we began:


I thought it was really funny that I was being asked to interview you, largely because I don't really interview people in this way, and then I thought about the fact that for twenty years we've been having conversations about art, and we both think about boats—and then it all makes sense. When I thought about the things I wanted to ask you after seeing the exhibition and spending a bunch of time in the show, I came away with single words. So, if it's alright with you, I'm just going to give you these single words and we'll see where it goes from there.


Very good.


The first word is PROCESS. What is your process like in relation to the show? Can you explain [the] process?


Process is key to how I go about making work. Often, I will be hit with a vision of something which I won't fully understand. Occasionally vision and full understanding coincide, but that's a rare thing, so it's in the making of the work—what it is and what it is about—that it becomes apparent. In the process you start to understand, 'oh, this result means I now have to do this, so how do I do that?' Some of that's limited simply by what I can physically do, or figure out how to do, but it is also limited by the skills required, and how well they need to be utilized. Can I do the research and learn a new skill? Do I have the time? What results from doing what I can?

As you go through that process, the ideas are pushed and refined and that starts to direct how you proceed and what the next step is. So through the process the work becomes more and more refined, until maybe at a certain point you say, 'oh yes, I know now—this is where I'm going,' and you can put your head down and just do it. But there's often something that keeps talking and sometimes the piece will be finished and I'm still not exactly sure. It feels done and it's not until you see it in context: in an exhibition, or with the other works being made, that the understanding fully comes.

When working through an idea for a piece, it may start telling you things about another piece. That may lead you down some path that needs to be explored in other ways, so each work can connect back to and affect others.


Tell me about VISION. What does that mean? You see a vision. Is it a physical vision? Is it like you see it somewhere else and it translates? What's a vision?


That's a good question. That's a really good question: What is the vision? I think that they are probably made up of things that I have seen and subconsciously begin to piece together until some experience triggers their presence. Confluence, for example, is this giant X—a sixteen-foot X—two canoes laced together. I don't know where exactly that came from. I have always used X's. It's one of my go-to forms when working something out—along with: the house, sphere, cup—these forms can hold many ideas. The X has a long history in my work and somehow I thought two canoes forming an X might be an amazing thing to see.

When I was paddling the mirror-canoe into Eindhoven, I remember seeing two ducks swimming on the river ahead of me, their wakes crossing and trailing towards me. As they dove, one after the other, all that was left on the surface was this X and I knew I had to make this piece.

I recall seeing a Dorothy Caldwell show, not the most recent one but one from many years back, also at the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

There was this enormous, quilted textile hanging: black and crossed with an X. It dominated the large north wall, and I remember being overwhelmed by that piece, that I wanted somehow to live with it. Is my vision from that? That work was lodged in my head. Her recent show, Silent Ice I Deep Patience was also greatly inspiring, but that piece wasn't part of it. I'd forgotten about my experience of that particular work, but now that I'm thinking about it—is that a source for that vision? Where do visions come from? What are they made from?

The coat full of colonial chic: it's just a coat. It's based on the movie trope "the coat full of contraband," so it's something that exists, and we've all seen it, but somewhere in my mind, I filled it with little glass canoes made from re-blown beer and wine bottles. Then that gets blended in my mind with these blanket coats that I'd been seeing at the Canadian Canoe Museum. They were capotes (long hooded winter coats) that Ipie van der Veen was making. She is a volunteer at the museum and works with Hudson's Bay blankets doing fur trade reproduction work and was the seamstress who worked with me to make the actual coat. So, the capote blends with a movie trope (coat full of contraband) and somehow that coat becomes enormous and filled with glass bottle canoes. But it's not until one day that I've got Nick Cave playing and I hear him singing Red Right Hand that I was confronted by a vision of an eight-foot-tall blanket trench coat.

I had no idea what that was about at the time, but I was thinking, "I'm seeing this coat, I've got to see it come to life. This has to be made."


In the past, I've heard you use the word INTERWOVEN a lot. It's probably the word I think of most when I think of conversations that we've had. It just comes up all the time. It's like your go-to vocabulary. When we talked earlier about the show to try to figure out what to discuss in the interview, you spoke about how one piece doesn't come after another, it's all interwoven. Can you talk about interwoven?


My process is interwoven. You're heading down a path on a particular piece, the ideas are coming up and it's becoming more refined, but you've got something else going on with another piece. You're not focused on it. However, the things that are happening with the first piece might apply there as well, and as you stop to consider it, your ideas—they can merge—or cross-pollinate. The second piece may get altered by what you were thinking about [while making what came before]. This can happen between the sculpture and my blown vessel work, even though I have always considered them separate realms. Ideas and techniques cross over. Sometimes the things that I may be doing with vessel work will cross and weave into how I want to deal with a piece of sculpture. If I use this technique or that material, it will come with whatever baggage it has accumulated. If I bring that in here what does that mean? If I take a re-blown industrially made beer bottle, which I've been playing around with to create something functional, and put it in here, what does that do? How does that fit? It sometimes feels a bit like the work feeds itself.


If I can push that a little bit and say a word like CHRONOLOGY. Is there a chronology to how this show was made or is it far more interwoven? Like, did this piece happen first, and then this piece, and then this piece? Or are the ideas in the show more interwoven?


At the beginning of the process of developing this exhibition, I was working on the mirrored canoe, [reflections]. What became the trophy piece, [trophy hunted: great white privilege] started as a test for how I was going to apply mirror: what adhesives to use, how to cut and arrange the mirror.

So that was just something that got started as a means to figure the other out, and then it sat there looking like something, but nothing. I wasn't focused on it, it had been started and then was left. The long process of making reflections1 was completed during my time as [an] artist-in-residence at the Canadian Canoe Museum. The work once fabricated was [then] crated and sent to Europe with one of the mirrored paddles, where I paddled it as part of making the work. The work was completed when I inscribed my journal from that trip on the inside of the canoe.

As I paddled between the glass centres in Lommel, Belgium and Leerdam, Netherlands, the moments of inspiration for the pieces: drifting into hubris (the beer can canoes) and—as I mentioned earlier—confluence occurred. I had been paddling the Dommel River for a couple of days, a river in which due to concerted efforts, aquatic life was beginning to return and was litter-free. I paddled until I had almost passed through Eindhoven where I was dumbstruck by the sudden appearance of garbage on the river, largely in the form of beer cans and alcohol bottles. While I was registering that, I passed one of Eindhoven's universities, and was caught by the sight of this magical beer can floating on top of the water, spinning in an eddy, the light glinting off of it, and knowing—there it is—this is a little metal canoe and it's just sitting there. I was left thinking "how do I do that? How do I translate this experience?" The moment of inspiration for the beer can canoes came after the moment for the big X, but the ideas which were refined in the making of these pieces are interwoven.

The idea for the coat struck me while I was in residence at the Canadian Canoe Museum, which was when I was beginning work on the mirror-canoe. I approached Ipie van der Veen and she was excited to help me make it happen, but it wasn't until later that I began that process. I had made some beer bottle canoes, like the ones that filled the coat, in preparation for a previous exhibition. They didn't end up in that show, but they were these interesting ideas and now, they've found their place as the contraband in the coat.


Can you bring me back to the TROPHY PIECE?


Trophy hunted: great white privilege came from the results of the mirror testing work back at the beginning of the development of the exhibition, but was the last work to be completed. I had this front end of a canoe which I had decided to finish mirroring and wondered what I was going to do with it. How could it be displayed? And then I saw it. It needed to become this mounted trophy. After working through the coat, I had begun thinking about how privileged I was to have had the experience of going over to Europe and being supported by the Canada Council, a white male at a certain point in my career, and [then] this opportunity happened, is this what white privilege looks like? So, I am trying to be aware, and trying to acknowledge it. I ended up approaching the furniture maker, Britt Olauson in Apsley, to make the large walnut plaque that could hold the canoe end. That took things to another level. It definitely has a phallic feel to it, but it also does the deer head thing. When light hits it in a certain way the mirror reflects it, spraying it up on the wall behind, and it's as if there are antlers rising from it. It all seemed to work together. So that happened after the experience in Europe and after really delving into what the coat was. I did a lot of thinking about the coat. I was using Hudson's Bay blankets as a material to make the coat and I was hit hard with some questions by some really good people.


Let me hit you hard with some hard questions or words. I can't not [sic] think about the fact that we are two white, able-bodied, educated males who make art, sitting across from each other during a time when Truth and Reconciliation is just now being talked about. So, the words I want to say are TRUTH and RECONCILIATION. How do you feel about making that work, making the coat and what the coat is about?


Well, as I mentioned earlier, when the vision for it came, I had no idea what it was and what I was opening myself up for. In the end, it has become a way for me to try to understand my position in settler/Indigenous relations and try to bring some of the perspective[s] I have gained to the work. My experience at the Canadian Canoe Museum had me surrounded by canoes from both settler and Indigenous cultures. There was a real conflict to resolve in my head because my colonial education didn't include anything substantial about the people who were here before Canada was here. It was simply that the country was empty. There wasn't anyone there, or if they were, there weren't many, and they helped us out and simply disappeared. We just moved in, staked our claims, cleared the land of timber or buffalo, and settled farms. So, I started to look and started to think about these things.

When I began thinking about the coat, I had to consider what it means to use Hudson's Bay blankets to make sculpture[s]. They are a heavily loaded material. When you start going down that path you are inevitably led into the smallpox epidemic and the use of trade blankets as an agent to conduct biological warfare against the Indigenous people. You start to realize that it's not just [a] story or conjecture. It really was done, and there is documentation, including settler accounts from the Siege of Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) in 1763, which clearly indicate that it was intentional and condoned by the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, Jeffery Amherst. That happened, and if it happened once, you know it must have happened many times. That stuff is horrific and was never spoken of in my history classes. I think we can correctly assume that in the end it was done in order to gain profit. Trade? This is capitalism, and how we've perpetrated capitalism on the world. As a descendant of white settlers, and an artist who attempts to sell the work I make, I need to consider my complicity in this.

In the museum's didactic materials there are these two large display books printed on a heavy canvas-like material with reproductions of old paintings, maps and texts, printed in a flowing script. One is a history of the Northwest Company and the other a history of the Hudson's Bay Company. From what I could gather, they were both given to the museum by the Hudson's Bay Company, and that might explain why the Northwest Company comes off looking like the bad guys in these books. In any case, there is a line in the Northwest Company book that says that in 1803, the Northwest Company brought twenty-one thousand gallons of liquor into the interior of the country. It goes on to say that bringing in this liquor allowed them to take trade away from the Hudson's Bay Company. Enough so that the Hudson's Bay Company felt that they simply had no choice but to follow suit and begin trading and selling liquor or lose that trade entirely. The traders saw the devastation this brought to the Indigenous peoples. Did they care? Not enough to stop. The repercussions and destruction it wrought were justified in the name of profit. "Let's get these resources out. Get this fur out of this country in whatever way we can. We don't care about the people who are here. Let's just get it and go."

Are we doing the same thing now with oil? Are we doing that in the Tar Sands? What about all the people who live in the communities downriver? They are being subjected to huge cancer risks. "Oh no, it's not us. We're not doing that. We're not causing that." Or "It's just a bunch of Indians there. They don't matter." Do I, as a user of cheap hydrocarbons need to take some measure of responsibility? I ended up choosing a chesterfield design for the coat, which is a historic design, but one that is the basis for all contemporary trench coats and streaked it with oily-looking lines of needle felted fabric. This was part of trying to extend the story, to contemporize it, to point not only to what happened in the past but to what is happening now.

I'm trying to understand where I sit in these discourses and it isn't comfortable, but I'm grappling with them through this big hulking coat. It feels kind of ominous like there is some malevolent character out there who wears this trench coat, but maybe it's just mine.


STORIES. Your work always tells stories, it tells stories that are your stories, it tells stories that are other people's stories, and it becomes a catalyst for those stories. Why do stories matter?


Why do stories matter? They just do.


Thomas King tells us, "the truth about stories is that that's all we are." Why do stories matter to you?


Stories matter to me because they are how we communicate with other people, they are how we connect with people. For me, connecting with the viewer, connecting with someone who I will likely never see, never know, is done by sharing a story. A good story—not necessarily a happy story—but a good story, tells some truth. Some aspect of 'this is a truth'2 is where we as people connect. Does it matter whether it's my truth? If it's true for me, maybe it's true for you too. Maybe it's true for all of us. I believe that stories can connect us and if we can connect, maybe, just maybe, we can make the world a better place, and that is what matters.


Very last word. It's not my word it's your word. Is there a word that you thought that I was going to bring to this conversation? Is there a place you thought I would start? You and I have been talking for years and years and years. Is there a word that's missing from this conversation, specifically about this exhibition?


Um, I'm not sure if there's a word. I was going to be a smart-ass and say CRAFT but that's not really it and I think we covered it in PROCESS.


Okay, then I am going to have a final word: TEACH…


Okay. Teach...


You and I think a lot about how we teach [and] what we teach. How does our work teach what it teaches? How do we—in a space full of more youthful art makers—how do we teach them? And I think I'm relating this back to process and I'm relating this back to interwoven, but how do you think teaching or having been taught plays into this work? To me, the work is full of messages.


I'm going to tangent slightly but it will be relevant. It was back in 2003 and I'd been one of the outside advisors to a glass studio for a number of years, when Melanie Egan, the Head of Craft at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, proposed that I curate an artist-in-residence exhibition. I was to consider the work of the residents of the four craft studios. I decided that my approach would be to ask each of them the question: "Does the process of making your work teach you anything?" The answers I received [were] roughly grouped into three categories. For a lot of these young artists, the answers were about the materials and/or the techniques that they were using. In a second category were those who talked about themselves, that they were learning about who they were and that could get very personal. In the third were those who talked about the bigger world in many different ways. I then asked them to propose work that addressed their answers, and this cumulated in a beautiful exhibition: Curing Insight. During the development of the exhibition, I started to realize that the work I was most moved by, the work that was most successful to me was work that hit all three of those notes. There was a sense of materiality. There was a concern for what things were made from and how they were put together. It was not shoddily put together unless it was appropriate to do it that way. How the material was handled was significant. Yet the work itself had to have some sense of the person who made it. Seeing that come through, that there was a person behind it who was not just handling material, however well, but who was willing to put themselves into the work, was important. But when the work also projected beyond the personal, when it was telling a story, talking about things that mattered to the artist, it became universal in some ways; could speak to larger audiences. It's like, "There it is. Now you've got me." That is something that is important to get across to young makers in whatever field they're in. Yes, be concerned. It matters and what you're working with, it speaks. It says things because of what it is. If it's paint[ing], then it's talking about paint and what paint can talk about. If it's glass, what can the glass talk about? If the material has already been used in some other way, it brings that history with it and it will talk about that as well. All of this adds to the story. So, the material and the techniques—you can start with that, but until you have learned to bring yourself into the work and have the maturity to look outside yourself—you're not done. When that comes together, then you are making work that matters and it's worth putting out in the world. Maybe then it has a chance to change things.


Great. Thanks.


You're welcome.

  1. Here, Copping is referring to his production work.
  2. Thomas King. The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative (Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc, 2003), p. 2.

Artist and glass blower Brad Copping works from his home on the edge of the Canadian Shield near Apsley, Ontario. Within this place known as the 'land between,' he has found both muse and foil.

His sculpture is included in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Speed Museum, the City of Lommel Glass Collection and the Global Affairs Visual Art Collection. His work has been acknowledged by the Corning Museum of Glass in their annual publication, New Glass Review, which juries 100 new glass works created worldwide, on 9 occasions throughout his career. He has also received much-appreciated support for the development of this work from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

His functional blown glasswork can be found in the permanent collections of the Royal Ontario Museum, the Design Exchange, the Racine Art Museum, the Claridge (Bronfman) Collection, and the Canadian Embassy in Japan. His water glass design, "Forest Glass" was selected for use at the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario in 2010 and, in 2011 he was commissioned by Diageo to create a Crown Royal XR bottle commemorating the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge's Royal Tour of Canada. His functional blown work was honoured at the 2022 Toronto Outdoor Art Fair with the "Best of Craft and Design," the tenth time his work has garnered recognition from the TOAF.

Brad served as President of the Glass Art Association of Canada from 2008 to 2011 and as International Editor for Contemporary Canadian Glass, GAAC's online magazine, from 2009 to 2014.

Brad Copping working with glass
Spencer J. Harrison Potrait

Spencer J. Harrison is an artist, activist, and educator who lives and works in Toronto, but is still very involved in the arts in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. Harrison's work has been exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally. Of special significance is his project Would You Beat this Man? or more affectionately, The Fag Project, which was shown in several cities across Canada and addressed the issue of homophobia. The project is known widely as The Queer Project. This work combines his artist, activist and educator roles.

Although Harrison paints large-scale politically active human rights works, he is also known as a painter of romance. These works most commonly depict antiquated vessels in real and imagined seas and landscapes. The vessels are metaphors for the figure; with ribs and spines they are containers for emotions and, like the individuals they represent, they take up space and leave behind memories in their shadows and reflections. Most frequently Harrison's work is admired for his strong, bold use of colours both bright and dark. This work can be found in public art galleries, corporate and private collections nationally.

Spencer J. Harrison is currently an instructor in the Department of Drawing and Painting at OCAD University and the Co-founder of Camp fYrefly in Ontario, a camp for LGBTQ2S&A youth. Spencer commonly works with youth from this community and with artists at the beginning of their careers.

Spencer and Brad have been discussing the differences between art, craft, and design for over twenty years.

A canoe with mirror fragments lying face up on the gallery floor.


found cedar strip canoe, carved cherry wood paddles, mirror

50cm x 493cm x 90cm

16cm x 16cm x 5cm

Close up of a glass canoe sculpture.


hot formed glass, artificial sinew

50cm x 350cm x 90cm

Two canoes, one red, one green, intersect to form an ‘X’ shape. They are leaning against a white wall.


found fibreglass canoes, ash, brass, neoprene

366cm x 366cm x 54cm

A series of miniature canoe sculptures with beer branding are hanging from the ceiling.

drifting into hubris

beer and cider cans, monofilament fishing line, line weights

variable dimensions

Wooden plaque with half of a canoe with mirror fragments attached to it.

trophy hunted: great white privilege

found canoe, mirror, walnut, brass, wool blanket

85cm x 100cm x 138cm

An open red coat with black stripes is hanging from the ceiling. A light inside of it illuminates the lining.

coat full of colonial chic

wool blanket coat (Seamstress - Ipie van der Veen), needle felted, re-blown glass wine and beer bottles, cherry, LED lights

220cm x 100cm x 40cm



Many people and organizations have supported and provided encouragement throughout the research, making and presentation of this exhibition, and I would like to thank them here.

Canadian Canoe Museum Canoes

Canadian Canoe Museum
Peterborough, Canada

Jeremy Ward (for so many things but chief among them, a canoe I could love), James Raffan, Carolyn Hyslop, Karen Taylor, Stacey Arppe, Jessica Fleury, Russ Parker, and most notably Ipie van der Veen for her conversations, suggestions, and her skills as a seamstress.

Glazen Huis at Launch

Glazen Huis
Lommel, Belgium

Jeroen Maes and Ryoko Sato and family (big hugs forever), Nadia Matthynssens, Sebastian Coppens, Jasmien Vanhoof, Lucien D'Joos and Marcel Haccuria, and the videographer Ivan Haentjens for his friendship and the splendid documentary.

Dutch National Glass Museum Installation

Dutch National Glass Museum
Leerdam, Netherlands

Helen Besancon, Lysette Jansen, Emil Kovac (enormous hotglass respect), and Jeroen Kuiper (enormous coldwork respect).

Volmolen, Netherlands water way

Volmolen, Netherlands

Martin Hermans and family for their inspiring riverside generosity.

Art Gallery of Peterborough Installation

Art Gallery of Peterborough
Peterborough, Canada

Everyone at the AGP but especially Fynn Leitch, Celeste Scopelites, and the install team — Paul Oldham, Andrew Ihamaki, Briar Sutherland and Victoria Mohr-Blakeney.

Elora Centre For The Arts Installation

Elora Centre For The Arts
Elora, Canada

Bear Epp, Micaela Campbell, Frazer Boyle, Mark Lai of ECOH Management and Shelly Carter, Riverfest Elora, Resa Lent, Walter Gibson and Lynn Whaley (how much love can one little community share - xoxoxox), and the Ontario Arts Council for an exhibition assistance grant to help facilitate this iteration of the exhibition.

Ottawa School of the Art Gallery Installation

Ottawa School of the Art Gallery
Ottawa, Canada

Nadine Argo (curator, administrator, installer and everything else - extraordinaire) thank you for your dedication.

Canoes piled up

And the others who are not at all other

My heartfelt thanks — Susan Rankin, Deana Huntsbarger, Suzie Lewis, Britt Olauson, Koen Vanderstukken, Kelly O'Neill, Lino Hilsdon, Ramune Luminaire, Katie Jackson, Alicia Coutts at Toronto Art Restoration and Glenn Fallis from Voyageur Canoe. And without a doubt the best installer and brother one could call on—Brian Copping. I would also like to thank Lee and Linda Smith, Debbie and Avery Teplinsky, Chris Hall, Fran Ramsden and Sally Yardley for their old canoes and the stories they contain.

And for everyone who I have not remembered or possibly did not have a chance to know your name but offered helping hands and questioning minds on this journey, I thank you and wish you well.

Canada Council for the Arts Logo

In addition to the ongoing support the AGP receives from the Canada Council for the Arts, Brad Copping received a Long-Term Project Grant for the development of this exhibition.

"This exhibition could not have come about without the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. This means the support of the taxpayers of Canada, and for that I am very grateful to you all. Thank you."
-Brad Copping

Ontario Arts Council LogoCity of Peterborough LogoArt Gallery of Peterborough Logo

The Art Gallery of Peterborough wishes to acknowledge the ongoing support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and our major supporter and partner, the City of Peterborough.


Setting afloat on a river in spate

Brad Copping