Stewart Sutherland has four acres in Thrums he can explore for ideas for his next project.

Trauma on the jobsite awakens artistic talent

Stewart Sutherland is going strong and his journey has a long way to go

A special showing of unique art works will serve to illustrate the versatility of the human spirit, and the determination of a tradesman from Thrums. The art show is one of the highlights of the events commemorating June as Brain Injury Awareness Month, and it’s coming up this Saturday at the Waneta Plaza featuring a selection of creations by Stewart Sutherland. Stewart’s story is a compelling one. Born in Scotland in 1950, he emigrated to Canada in 1969 having just completed an apprenticeship as a mechanical fitter.

A career as a millwright attracted Stewart who was very happy in his work until a couple of workplace accidents, the first in 1998, would spell the end to his chosen vocation. He hit his head on a steel beam, suffering a brain injury that robbed him of his balance and manual dexterity. The injury also caused him to have occasional blackouts. In the years since, Stewart has successfully fashioned a second career, that of an artist. “With These Hands Metal Work” is the name of his enterprise, and he keeps very busy. Stewart’s work can be seen all across the Kootenay’s: from the metal rails on the Balfour Ferry to the railings around Common Grounds Coffee House in Castlegar and the many pieces at the Waneta Art Gallery.

In spite of the success he continues to work hard to maintain, Stewart is well aware of the ongoing challenges brought about by his injuries. Stats show that brain injury survivors lose up to 90 per cent of their relationships in the time following their accidents. He continues to work, although he also lives with pain. When it intensifies he can be out or action anywhere from an hour to a month. Back to the start of his artistic odyssey – he was freshly out of his familiar working environment and had taken to spending a fair bit of time in his home shop.

“I realized some of the acquisitions I’d made as a millwright would lend themselves to some artistic applications,” said Stewart by phone on June 7. It was with “quite a bit of joy” that he made the discovery. Stewart says the subjects of his creations depend on the client who may be commissioning the work, or his own ideas. “If there’s a slack time between clients, I just look around my plethora of found objects and find one that tickles my fancy that particular day.” Stewart Sutherland is an engaging and charming man. He was eager to discuss his art and his past during a Friday interview.

He’s quite pleased to have the June 15 exhibition set up for the Waneta Plaza. For information on the exhibit, or it’s various work, visit the West Kootenay Brain Injury Association’s website at www.wkbia.com.

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