Enjoy a Cup of Tea with Artist Michael Massie

Get to know Michael Massie, an artist based in Newfoundland with roots in Nunatsiavut (the Inuit homeland of northern Labrador). A member of the Order of Canada, Michael specializes in silversmithing and is famous for his artistic teapots. Learn more about travelling with Michael and Adventure Canada in this interview.
Purseanalitea teapot Mike Massie

© Michael Massie

“purse-an-ali-tea“ (16.7 x 19.3 x 8.2 cm). Made from sterling silver, wavy birch, and artificial sinew. February 2022.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and the type of art you make?

I’m originally from Happy Valley Goose Bay, Labrador and I now live and work in Kippens, Newfoundland. After I graduated from high school, I did a commercial art certificate in St. John’s, then a visual art diploma in Stephenville.

In 1989, I moved to Halifax to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and that’s where I completed my Fine Arts degree with major in jewelry. For a class project, we were given an assignment to create a three-dimensional metal object and I made a teapot.

My grandmother had just passed away about a month before. We were really close as a family while I was growing up. Tea was always on the stove and was always offered to any guest who came by the house. There were two kettles: one with steeped tea and one with hot water. The steeped tea was thick—it sat there all day—so how much you poured into your cup and how much you watered it down all depended upon how much you liked it. And we really loved tea.

As I was thinking about my grandmother, a teapot came to mind, so I started researching them and came up with a design. I named that first one may-tea after my grandmother, May. It’s now owned by the Vancouver airport as part of the Lorne Balshine Inuit Art Collection, and you might see it on display if you’re passing through.

Mike Massie teapot maytea

© Michael Massie

“may-tea“ (6.25 x 5.5 x 3.75 in). Made from sterling silver and bloodwood. December 1990.

What interests you most about working with metals?

Silver is my first love. Smithing is all about pushing metal—forming it, making it move, and turning it into a shape. It’s molding a flat, two-dimensional piece of silver into a three-dimensional work of art.

I got my artistic recognition through my silversmithing, but I also carve stone. The mediums are totally different. Silversmithing is basically the opposite of carving, which is where you take something that’s already three-dimensional and chip away the parts that don’t belong.

Mike Massie carving shaman kayak

© Michael Massie

“a surreal look at shamanism“ (7.5 x 26 x 7.5 in). Made from serpentine, bone, ebony, mahogany, Indian rose wood, brass, bronze, tanned hide, and artificial sinew. 2011.

What was it like for you to break into the art world?

After that first teapot dedicated to my grandmother, I’ve been making them ever since. Each one is different from the last. It keeps my imagination running.

I set up my first studio in 1997 and started working with the Alaska on Madison gallery in New York. I then moved my work to the Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Vancouver, but my teapots were having trouble selling.

Back at that time, metalwork and silverwork were not truly considered Inuit art, because it wasn’t one of the three traditional mediums—tapestry, carving, or printmaking. That stereotype about Inuit art was one reason my teapots weren’t selling well.

I asked Nigel Reading, one of the gallery owners, “Would it help if I sent you a carving?” He agreed, suggesting that since he already had clients who purchased carvings, this might be a way to introduce them to my silverworks. This proved to be a really good business decision.

For a few years, silver became so expensive that I switched to working just with stone, but for the past few years I’ve been making teapots exclusively. I’m now represented by Feheley Fine Arts and just celebrated making my hundredth teapot.

Mike Massie with 100th teaport in studio

© Michael Massie

Michael Massie in his studio with his hundredth teapot: “identi-tea“ (31.5 x 24.5 x 10.5 cm). Made from sterling silver and bloodwood. May 2021.

What can Adventure Canada guests look forward to when travelling with you?

I enjoy giving a presentation when I’m on board, sharing stories about my life and some of my more recent works. On my last trip, I explained the process of creating a teapot from beginning to end, demonstrating the techniques I use. In the future, I’d like to give more participatory workshops, where I will have pieces partially made ahead of time and guests can finish them.

Travelling on the Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition is truly amazing. We get to see glaciers up close, I visit my family in Nain, and it’s a special thrill to travel in Torngat Mountains National Park—it’s the closest I’ve ever come to polar bears.

I remember the first time I travelled through Kangerlussuaq Fjord in Greenland. That evening after we boarded the ship, I sat out on the back deck admiring the steep walls of the cliffs. When I woke up the next morning, they were still there! I was flabbergasted that a fjord could be that long and amazingly beautiful. The scenery on this trip is just phenomenal.

The other members of the expedition team I work with are an excellent bunch of people, very friendly and open and from a lot of different backgrounds. The clients also have interesting stories, and it’s so nice to sit down and chat with different folks over every meal. I’d recommend the whole experience any day of the week.