From their design studio near Newquay, Kara Wilson and Dave Barker make folk art wooden decorations. Words: Caroline Wheater
Each morning, after they’ve seen their two sons off to school and before they go to their log cabin studio to create, Kara Wilson and Dave Barker go for a short walk along the South West Coast Path to wake up their senses. They live on the north side of Mawgan Porth, halfway between Padstow and Newquay, where Atlantic rollers pound the sandy beach. ‘We often go towards Bedruthan Steps, huge granite rocks that legend says were stepping stones used by a giant called Bedruthan,’ says Dave. ‘One thing we love is that the coast here is almost never the same – it could look like the Caribbean one day and wild and stormy the next. Out of season Mawgan Porth beach is empty and quite awesome. We wander about on it and Kara takes lots of pictures.’
This dramatic piece of coast is pure inspiration for Kara, a designer, and Dave, her collaborator. They moved here from Croydon 13 years ago to give their family the kind of immersed-in-nature upbringing they’d both experienced during Cornish childhoods. In the Southeast they used to make hand-stencilled T-shirts to sell, now they create laser-cut wooden ornaments. For Christmas they produce a festive range of charmingly rendered mermaids, reindeer, foxes, Dala-style horses, Santas, Atlantic waves, and wintry fishing boats and lighthouses.
Each design is made up of layers of wood and MDF, laser-cut in the studio by Dave to Kara’s designs, which she creates digitally. ‘The more complicated decorations we might make six of in one go, from laser- cutting the wood, to colouring the pieces with spray paint, to assembling the various layers,’ says Dave. ‘But simpler things, like the robin, which we introduced seven years ago, we make in batches of up to 50.’ Depending on the design, pieces are glued, or slotted tightly together, or left flat-packed for customers to put together themselves.
‘Kara is very interested in the detail of the things she makes,’ explains Dave. So, her mermaids wear pearl necklaces and have hair decorated with starfish, while her reindeer has a heart-shaped nose and stars cut into his antlers. Kara’s designs have a Scandi folk art feel, and she cites one of her influences as the half-Finnish printmaker Sanna Annukka who designs for Marimekko. The log cabin where she and Dave work has a Scandi vibe, and includes a small gallery.
‘People buy things to take home as a memento of their holiday or build up a collection of decorations year by year.’ These lovely things reflect the slower, more creative rhythm of life that the couple have embraced on the coast.
• Take a look at Kara and Dave’s laser-cut decorations at karandave.co.uk. Prices from £5 to £100 – £5.
• Every Friday, Kara and Dave take part in Newquay’s Free Art Friday, surreptitiously leaving a free artwork around the beach and cliffs of Mawgan Porth for someone to find and take home with them. ‘When we hear back from people who have found them, it seems that often the right person finds it at the right time,’ says Dave philosophically.
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