“The canoe is my canvas,” says Canadian designer Natasha Wittke, whose Toronto-based brand, Norquay, creates unique collectable pieces of functional art for the home or on the water. The colourful Kevlar Prospector 15 canoes (from C$5,499, about £3,240) customised by her team are a collaboration with Quebec boat builders Abitibi & Co, whose versatile classic hull shape is handmade with wood gunnels, wood seats and a deep dish yoke. Next comes a lick of durable resin-based paint, according to limited edition designs or bespoke requests. “Most clients come to me for a graphic sensibility,” says the former art director, whose inspiration comes from nature and textiles, as well as First Nations art.
“I love the design process – playing with colour, composition and symmetry,” says Wittke, who launched Norquay in 2013 with a line of bold, painted paddles (from about £227). “I like to think my creations will become heritage pieces to be passed down from generation to generation.” One recent commission was for a mini fleet of canoes with matching paddles for a family; individual colourways and patterns were used for each and names were also incorporated. Depending on how busy Wittke is, canoes and matching paddles typically take between eight and 10 weeks to produce.
So beautiful are the finished products that many customers hang them on their walls – be it a country cabin or an urban flat – though for keen canoeist Wittke, who named her business “after a tiny island, nested in the cool waters of Lake Huron”, these are primarily creations to be used outdoors. The paddles, hand-carved in cherry wood from Ontario’s Haliburton Forest, come in both wall-art and water-ready versions. “It is not recommended to use them for backcountry canoe-tripping,” adds Wittke, “but they are great for deep-water touring around the lake.” The canoes, meanwhile, are stable yet light enough to be manoeuvrable, and can be paddled in tandem or solo – perfect for plying the waters in high style this summer.