Almonte Lectures - Almonte ON

Classes Courses & Lessons - Community Classes Courses & Lessons

Listing Contact: Online: Website

Location: 613-256-1355
106 Elgin St. Almonte ON K0A 1A0

This lecture series was started in 2004. It provides intellectual stimulation to the area's residents on a wide range of subjects. The choice of lecture topics is somewhat eclectic. The series' organizers seek out speakers who combine personality and presentational talent with acknowledged expertise in their chosen subject.

The lectures are normally held on the third Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Almonte United Church Social Hall. Lectures are for about an hour, with extra time for questions and discussion. Free admission, donations gratefully accepted.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Jun 2013

Bill Veale - Celebrating the Canadian Landscape in Watercolour

At the end of Bill Veale's driveway at 190 McLaren Drive, only six minutes south of Perth off Rideau Ferry Road, you encounter a sign that proclaims "Birchwood Studio and Gallery." Just a short drive away from all the conveniences of a city, you are in the country, enjoying minimal evidence of human encroachment on the natural environment.

Painting by Bill Veale

The walls of his gallery are replete with beautiful watercolour paintings celebrating the Canadian scenes that have inspired and sustained him throughout his life. Looking out the windows you can see Jebb’s Creek sparkling in the sunlight. You realize that Veale has succeeded in surrounding and sustaining himself both indoors and outdoors with the glorious natural settings rural Canadians so often take for granted, and urban Canadians are starting to forget.

For some, retirement looms as a problem — what do I do next? For Bill Veale it presented the long-awaited opportunity to pursue his enduring interest in becoming an artist. Throughout his long career as a teacher and family provider he often reminisced about the pleasure he had felt as a youth, leisurely sketching the landscape while strolling along the Causeway or hiking in the countryside near his hometown of Kingston.

Back then he captured the view in charcoal and pencil sketches, honing the skills that would eventually lead to his career as a teacher of cabinet making and architectural drafting. Anticipating retirement back in 1982, Veale finally decided to put his artistic yearnings to the test. The teacher became the student, pursuing classes in watercolour and acrylics at the Ottawa School of Art and at the Haliburton School of Fine Art, the latter in a setting renowned for its amazing scenery in the inspirational Haliburton Highlands.

Veale began expressing his abiding love of nature in all the glorious hues and moods that the fickle medium of watercolour makes possible. It is precisely the uncertainty of the medium that fascinates Veale and spurs his creativity to experiment ever further. Just as nature is ever-changing, the mixture of water and pigment is always dynamic and unpredictable. As a former teacher himself, Veale comments that he loves a good teacher, and is quick to credit Brian Atyeo at Haliburton with teaching him how to apply watercolour in a controlled fashion, when that is his desired effect.

Veale’s goal is to portray the immensity of the Canadian landscape and reveal its many moods, its textures, its colours, its forms. Somewhere in his creative process, each canvas becomes a palpable testament to his innate recognition and appreciation of nature’s healing power.

One of the questions I enjoy posing to artists is whether they remember their first art sale. Bill’s response was typical — he remembers the approximate date, the subject, the man who bought it, and why. “It was in 1994, it was a painting of a barn; the purchaser was a math teacher where I taught school, and he bought it because it reminded him of his grandfather’s barn.” It was also a great confidence builder, as were his ten subsequent sales to the geography teacher.

Teaching the Teacher

After finishing high school in Kingston, Veale completed a four-year apprenticeship to qualify as a carpenter. He liked working with his hands, and he liked solving problems. He used that experience to teach machine shop, architectural drafting, woodworking and construction technology for 29 years, plus an additional 13 years as a supply teacher at South Carleton High School in Richmond. Lanark County has been his home and his constant artistic inspiration, as he moved from Richmond to Clayton to Manotick, where he built his first studio. When the family moved to Fallbrook, Veale put his cabinetmaking and construction knowledge to good use, converting the hayloft of a barn into his art gallery.

Veale puts his architectural drafting expertise to use in some of his works, occasionally revealing fine pencil details in transparent wash areas. He explains that he frequently works from his own photographs, carefully composing his canvases through his viewfinder. To quote the famous pioneering American landscape photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Veale carries it another step, applying his own artistic sensibilities to a carefully chosen subject.

Artist Bill Veale

He surprises me when he says he advocates the KISS principle, defined by Wikipedia as follows: “The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.” Perhaps his pragmatic approach to creating art stems from all those years in the classroom helping young students to master new skills. It may be a partial explanation for his prolific output.

Pragmatic or not, each painting appears as a spontaneous testament to the joy he finds in nature, and collectively they elicit a wonderful response in me — I am delightfully reminded of nature’s powers to calm and heal and strengthen us. Bill Veale didn’t need Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis to recognize human beings’ instinctive bond with nature. Feel stressed? As I gazed at his gallery full of lovely landscapes I could literally feel my mood lighten and my cares recede. I just wanted to stay there.

Recently Veale decided to expand his repertoire and took lessons from acrylics artist Nora Brown of Lombardy (featured in our July 2010 issue). The results are amazing. The intensely vibrant abstract he showed me unmasks a completely different side of his emotional temperament. Like Nora, he has been able to translate his watercolour expertise into a powerful new emotional language. It will be interesting to see where this new journey takes him.

Summer Chill Out

In the summer, Bill takes part in the Art in the Barn Art Show & Sale at the Lombardy Fairgrounds, five miles south of Smiths Falls on Highway 15. The event features over forty Rideau Lakes Artists’ Association members, and is a “Do It For Daron” fundraising event, supporting Youth Mental Health at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. If you miss the show, book yourself a calming visit to Bill’s Birchwood Studio and Gallery. You’ll be glad you did.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Oct 2013

Cheryl Poulin - A Sparkling Bubble of Creativity

Cheryl Poulin's infectious enthusiasm for art exacerbates my writer's tendency to overdo it on the adjectives. The woman bubbles with happiness as we sit in her home studio in a relaxing rural setting in Dunrobin. It turns out that "bubbles" is an apt choice of words; she tells me that she loves circles.

Painting by Cheryl Poulin

The profusion of art visible in her studio and home reflects her current passion for bold mixed media abstracts, and I do indeed spot circles in many of them. Her canvases glow with a strong life force and exhibit a playful spontaneity. She embraces colour and texture and exhibits a fearless spirit of artistic adventure. As she describes it, “I show up every day and dance in the moment.”

Poulin’s art spans the gamut from craft to art, and she doesn’t concern herself with the issue of where one ends and the other begins. If it expresses creativity from the heart, it is art. In addition to her abstract acrylic and mixed media paintings, she develops decorative and tole painting projects for well-known publications like PaintWorks, published by All American Crafts Inc. of New Jersey. Their 2012 Holiday Issue contains her detailed instructions for making a trio of angel ornaments she designed, and the August 2013 edition contains instructions for her functional Dragonfly Coaster Set painted in acrylics. She shows me the large, striking mixed media work that inspired her design. As a result of all the strong positive feedback it garnered, she decided to transfer elements of her art piece into a functional setting.

By the time the interview is complete, I realize that Poulin’s variety of painting styles is consistent with her fortuitous discovery that creativity is her vehicle of choice in her journey to discover her true nature. It has been and remains a joyous and endlessly rewarding journey.

A Crafty Artist

Always a doodler, Cheryl remembers being fascinated with arts and crafts from her earliest days, playing with scraps of coloured paper in her crib. As a teenager she instinctively relied on creativity to deal with a complicated family situation, and she confesses to cutting classes during her first year of high school. She and a friend hung out in art galleries — a wiser choice than many of her other options, and one that opened her eyes to future possibilities. The family moved from Montreal to Toronto during the FLQ crisis in 1973, and Poulin is flawlessly bilingual.

A series of boring jobs saw her promoted to manager in an insurance payment processing company, but she hated what she did. Fortunately her husband was flexible and in 1990 they decided to get off the Toronto treadmill and move to Dunrobin. The rural setting was exactly what she needed, and they both continue to thrive in their relaxed, verdant setting. It is the purrfect location for her studio — Earmark Purrductions Creative Studios — named for their cat with a notch in his ear.

Always attracted to the arts, Poulin’s transition to becoming an artist began in earnest when she attended decorative and tole painting classes at the former Painted Pony Decorative Arts studio in Stittsville. It was a natural fit with a natural talent, and within five years she became an instructor herself. Today she produces a line of pattern packets and offers decorative painting lessons for all skill levels.

Cheryl credits visual artist Renée DesChamps of Stittsville with the OMIGOD revelation that propelled her headlong into her love affair with mixed media. In her words, “I thought ‘This is so cool.’ I struggled along and decided to try to have fun and trust my intuition.” It was an epiphany that led to Cheryl’s other deep involvement with art — sharing her methods for awaking the artistic creativity inherent in each of us. She describes it this way: “I love helping people do art because I know how good it feels; I want it for them.”

Artist Cheryl Poulin

Fun is Poulin’s principal weapon in her arsenal against roadblocks and negative thinking. By providing a stress-free, non-judgmental, experimental environment in her classes, she empowers participants to explore their artistic potential and discover new possibilities and directions. Her website advertising for her mixed media workshops is explicit: “These are workshops for trying various techniques and experimenting with different approaches to making abstract or non-representational art... You don’t need any experience in art at all to come and explore a new way of expressing yourself that’s uniquely yours.” The testimonials certify that her cooking talents are on a par with her artistic and teaching skills — the excellent lunches are mentioned frequently.

The best way to explore Poulin’s full range of artistic interests and activities is to spend some entertaining time on her highly informative website at There are over fifty tabs to choose from, including galleries featuring her own and visitors’ artwork, a decorative painting blog, and even explicit instructions for DIY home projects. When I clicked on the bottom link I discovered that Cheryl designs and builds websites in partnership with her husband Frank Farrell. This woman bubbles with energy, creativity, and enthusiasm.

Cheryl Poulin is a member of Ottawa Mixed Media Artists, the Society of Decorative Painters and the West Carleton Arts Society, where she also is serving as President. For any enquiries or to schedule a visit to Earmark Purrductions Creative Studios at 3152 Stonecrest Road in Dunrobin, you can contact Cheryl. If you don’t have fun, you may be due for a tune-up!

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Sep 2012

Diane Black - Ephemeral Emotions Captured in Clay

A wonderful poster of a scantily-clad elephant looking back over her shoulder with a delightful smile admonishes: "Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important." Clay sculptor Diane Black of Westport agrees wholeheartedly. Black tells stories by creating captivating characters who convey human emotions and attitudes perfectly. One look at her female sculpture titled "Really?" and you are consumed with curiosity as to what has evoked the sardonic disbelief so clearly portrayed on her face and by her expressive body language.

Sculpture by Diane Black

Black's quirky clay characters are convincing evidence of the popular aphorism that 80% of human communication is non-verbal. She readily admits to being a people watcher. "I like people and I like watching them. Children are fun — they are so open. Their faces telegraph exactly what they are thinking and feeling. Adults are so much more guarded."

Black's genius is being able to communicate emotion and attitude via a static medium. A glance at the first little girl featured in Gallery 2 on her website at proves my claim. "Just Make Me" is instantly recognizable to any parent who has ever dealt with a stubborn child. Our hearts go out to "Wall Flower" slumped dejectedly on her chair wearing her pretty little dancing shoes with bows on them.

Especially with the adult pieces, a large part of the fun for Black is the storytelling aspect of her compositions. One piece features a nude female sitting in a nest with a crow perched above her head. The title is "Feed Me?" Another, titled "Mama Bird," is a bust of a woman wearing a nest with three demanding baby crows on top of her head. The rueful look on her face instantly brought to mind a recent conversation I had with a first-time mom who lamented, "Much as I love her, I really feel like I'm brain-dead."

The expression on the face of the woman titled "Dreams of Flight" made me really glad that both my stepdaughter and my oldest granddaughter are exploring this fascinating globe before settling down. Of course, the sublime look of contentment on the face of the figure reclining in a feathered nest, titled "Empty Nester," re-minded me that all life is a trade-off. When I asked why so few of her figures are male, Diane responded that she enjoys working with what she knows best. She admits to studying her own face and posture in a mirror as she captures in durable clay the exact lines and configuration that portray a fleeting emotion.

Her interest in artistic blacksmithing began as an opportunity to do something with her teenage son. They took an introductory course together but she liked it more than he, and Diane continued with additional training. Now a major feature of many of her larger pieces is a beautifully wrought iron chair or stand or tree on which the sculpture rests. "I love the permanence of it; I can make things that are very strong but can still look delicate." On the clay figures themselves, she imparts a soft, life-like delicacy to her sculptures through her use of bisque glazes and the application of encaustic wax after the firings.

All Is Grist for the Mill

Artist Diane Black

Four years ago Black pursued training as an electrician to assist her partner in his business, and now the two have embarked on a major renovation project in the picturesque town of Westport. A year and a half ago they purchased a property idyllically situated at the junction of Westport Pond and Upper Rideau Lake, close to Foley Mountain Conservation Area. They are well on their way to converting this site of a former grist mill at 21 Main Street into an artists' retreat, complete with two art studios, a gallery, and five rooms for artist/writer residencies. Diane intends to attract a variety of art instructors to offer courses spanning a wide gamut of media. One studio has a kiln in place, and a former garage houses a blacksmith shop. If nature is your muse, GristMill Artist Retreat soon will offer (spring 2014) an exceptional opportunity to study and create art

From Away

Diane's personal journey, like the site of the GristMill, has both a varied history and future. Her mother, Dorothy Black, is a painter. Diane was born on the west coast of Canada, but her dad accepted a position as a doctor in Newfoundland. She views the sixteen years she spent being "from away" as an interesting way to grow up. "Being an outsider gives you permission to be different."

Today Diane Black's sculptures are available in galleries across Canada. Locally you can stop in on weekends at GristMill Artist Retreat at 21 Main St. in Westport to contemplate the endearing, whimsical, amusing and thought-provoking characters she has created. Each one will inspire you to make up your own version of the poignant story the figure is telling. You can also check out progress on the stunning new addition to Westport's reputation as an artistic destination.

Fall Colours Studio Tour

Diane takes part in Westport's Fall Colours Studio Tour every year over the Thanksgiving weekend. Check theHumm's listing for the tour in the Local Directory.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Mar 2013

Dirk Mietzker - Painting the Beauty of Time

In business school they instruct you to "plan your work and work your plan." Smith Falls artist Dirk Mietzker is much more open and flexible. When he stopped in to lend a hand to some neighbouring farmers a few summers ago, he became intrigued with the old barns they were working in during the haying season. What began as an exercise in friendliness and physical fitness segued into an inspired series of paintings.

Painting by Dirk Mietzker

“In the Loft” is a gorgeous example of how Mietzker transforms a commonplace structure that most of us overlook, into a celebration of form, light, and colour. Through his juxtaposition of the symmetry of the original skeleton against the irregular play of light and shadow filtering through the cracks of the weathered structure, he exposes Time’s ineluctable hand on the canvases of our human endeavours. Unlike the relentless consumer marketing campaigns that denigrate any evidence of aging in our Western culture, Mietzker pays tribute to its beauty and dignity.

His background in industrial design informs his fascination with what we design and build. Many of his paintings feature familiar artifacts of our civilization, such as buildings, vehicles and bridges. But Mietzker’s art focuses on the evidence of their history. He zeroes in on the debris clinging to rafters, the designs that time has etched into once-glossy high-tech finishes, the curves and crevices eroded into concrete and wood by weather and human usage. He draws attention to the stage each object occupies in its life cycle. He finds and reflects beauty in each phase.

Each artist searches for his or her voice. Dirk Mietzker finds his on walks through his hometown of Smiths Falls. His first true inspiration occurred when he was taking his daughter for a walk to the train station not far from their home. The result was a series of acrylic paintings of segments of train cars. You can see examples of these visually compelling works at Gallery Perth by clicking on his name under “Artists Represented”.

Walking remains his primary inspiration, particularly when the weather is changing. “Every time I walk, something pops out. Once you start looking, everything appears really different during a snow storm or in the fog or when the evening or morning sun hits a particular spot.” The names of some of his works illustrate his fascination with the interplay of nature and weather with human artifacts: “Clouds Passing By”, “Snow Caressing Steel”, “Evening Blue”.

I Can See Clearly Now

To optimists, every cloud has its silver lining. Mietzker’s personal life-cycle story is even more interesting than those of his artistic subjects — he possesses human resilience and ingenuity that so far we have not been able to replicate in our industrial artifacts. Shortly after he and his wife, Diane Provost, moved from Montreal to Smiths Falls with their infant daughter to pursue Dirk’s career as an industrial designer, his Kanata-based firm downsized. After a fruitless search for work in his field, the couple decided to give Dirk the opportunity to build an artistic career in between his responsibilities as the baby’s primary caregiver, while Diane taught art in the public school system.

It was a tough transition, but Mietzker found that the freedom of creating art as your own “boss” was a liberating change from the endless criticism and questions he faced as a designer. These days, his only authorized critic is his well-qualified wife, and she judges each painting by the same simple but exacting criterion: “Do I feel something when I look at it?”

Artist Dirk Mietzker

His breakthrough as a professional artist occurred in 1996, shortly after his first public exhibition at the Heritage House Museum in Smiths Falls. An American couple noticed his paintings at a gallery in Merrickville and invited him to exhibit his work at their gallery in Vermont where he was represented for ten years until their recent retirement. Dirk is represented locally at Gallery Perth and participates in Westport’s annual Rideau Valley Art Festival. He has had several recent exhibitions in Almonte. Both Dirk and Diane have exhibited works at the annual, juried Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit at Nathan Phillips Square.

Last July one of his paintings received an honourable mention at the Marianne van Silfhout Gallery at St. Lawrence College in Brockville. It was also chosen as the poster for the exhibition whose theme was Space. Titled “Suspended between Space and Time,” Mietzker’s inspiration for the work was the wing of the plane that brought him back to Canada from a visit to Venice.

It is a surprising but fitting subject choice for an artist who lists names utterly unfamiliar to me as his major inspirations. To better appreciate Mietzker’s work, take a Google glance at: Syd Mead (pioneer and figurehead in automotive, industrial, and film design, famous for film projects like Blade Runner and TRON), Giorgetto Giugiaro (Italian automobile designer named Car Designer of the Century 1999,) and architect Eero Saarinen (known for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and paradigm-shifting furniture like the “Womb Chair” and ottoman he designed in the late ’40s.)

Mietzker tells me, “What they create is stimulating. Exactly how it relates to what I’m doing now isn’t so clear, other than being inspired by people who do great work.” He adds, “For me, painting is my way of trying to understand the world — discovering who we are through art. All of the things I paint were originally ideas created in the human imagination.”

The best way to enjoy Dirk Mietzker’s art is to drop in at Gallery Perth in Code’s Mill. Images are also available at <>. You can also contact him directly. Contact information for all of these resources is available right here on theHumm Online.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Jan 2013

Exploring the Enigma of Elizabeth Veninga

Peeling back the layers of Elizabeth Veninga’s life is like reading an intricately constructed, beautifully textured and very rewarding biography. I thought I was interviewing an artist who paints wonderful Canadian landscapes with red canoes, and who gives art instruction in an encouraging, relaxed way. She does. In a way, that’s like saying Leonardo da Vinci painted a lovely portrait and illustrated a book on mathematical proportion in art. He did.

Painting by Elizabeth Veninga

Veninga will be embarrassed by this article, because she does not toot her own horn. That may be in part because her father, William Robinson, was the Anglican Bishop of Ottawa, and Elizabeth embodies many Christian values like humility and the “importance of sharing your life and reaching out to others.” More of that later; first, more about her art.

Like da Vinci, Veninga is profoundly observant of nature. It inspires much of her art — paintings, steel sculptures and most recently, photography. Her mixed media landscapes illustrate her love of the drawn mark — direct, free gestures that capture the mood, texture, and feel of place. She experiments and innovates; combining acrylic paints with acrylic inks, charcoal, Conté, soft pastel, watercolour sticks and gesso.

At the modern home of Gaye Bennett and Bryn Matthews on the edge of the Mississippi River, I was privileged to enjoy Veninga’s felicitous river-edge painting. The commissioned 7' x 3½' work hangs high in the kitchen, visible throughout much of the open-concept, high-ceilinged main floor. As the day fades from view outdoors, Veninga’s painting draws the healing power of nature indoors.

In 2006 Elizabeth won a Mississippi Mills competition to create a mural honouring the philanthropic couple Art and Elsa Stewart, who were awarded the Order of Canada in the ’80s. The mural was installed on the main street of Pakenham in 2006. When the upscale department store Les Ailes de la Mode moved into Bayshore Shopping Centre in Nepean, she was commissioned to celebrate its presence in Ottawa. Veninga created ten paintings for their special in-store restaurant. Her 14-foot diptych portrays two views of the Ottawa skyline — from Hull and from Victoria Island. They also installed her charming portraits of the Bytowne Market, Bluesfest, and “Skating on the Rideau”. In 2008 she had a solo show at the Mill of Kintail, featuring her painting, metal sculpture and photography.

Red canoes became her muse after she and her late husband, Albert Veninga, restored an old canoe in all its red glory. After Albert’s untimely death, Elizabeth painted a scene featuring their red canoe as a gift in repayment for a kindness by a canoe-builder friend. Since then this Canadian icon has found its way into many of her landscapes, always rendered exquisitely and effectively.

A Meandering Path to Art and Soul

Artist Elizabeth Veninga

The constants that have grounded Veninga in a life that has followed many twists and turns are her Christian spirituality and her love of art. Both her parents encouraged and supported her early love of art. During high school she designed and sewed her father’s red Pentecostal priest’s stole, created cards, brochures and invitations, and made a carved and painted wooden Victorian fireplace screen for her godmother.

After completing a degree in Biology and English at Trent University, Veninga worked as an assistant curator for National Historical Sites, saving money to study art and “really experience Europe.” She learns (and teaches) “by doing,” and thoroughly enjoyed her classical training at the prestigious Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, England. It was there that she discovered her love of sculpting in metal, when she encountered welding among the skills and techniques she explored.

Mixed media painting became her artistic mainstay upon her return to Toronto in the ’80s, where she had a studio and eventually worked for the Klonaridis Gallery. Her love is creating art, not selling it, and in order to support herself she studied horticulture at Humber College, trained as a gardener, and worked at Cullen Gardens in Whitby. After a third gardening job in Guelph, she wearied of the fact that “gardeners did not share my interest in art,” and went to Teachers College at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. That summer she spent nine weeks in a canoe working at Quetico Provincial Park.

When she came to Pakenham twenty years ago, she lived for six months in her parents’ cabin in the woods without running water or electricity. She remembers it as “having a 20th century job (supply teaching) while living in 19th century conditions. She moved into The Five Arches Apartments in Pakenham, where she met Albert Veninga who was playing the guitar and singing at one of the communal birthday parties. They eventually moved onto the property known as the Stonebridge Inn, above the former antique store at 4839 Kinburn Side Road. Elizabeth is a performing flutist and chorister, and the two made beautiful music together until his tragic death four years later.

Recalling her intense grief, she states flatly: “Meditation is one of the most profound influences in my life.” Years before, during a difficult period in her 40s, her father had gently encouraged her to consider meditation. As she recalls it, “He sat down and wrote for about an hour — then he handed his guidelines to me with no pressure, and said, ‘Try it. It may suit you.’” Today she practices meditation for 25 minutes twice daily.

Veninga also practices what she believes in — “the importance of sharing your life and reaching out to others.” She loves working with people and is an ardent believer in community. She leads a weekly Christian Meditation group at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Almonte. Like her father, her teaching is not prescriptive; she guides people in discovering their own spirituality and tapping into their own strengths. She also facilitates a monthly Parkinson’s Support Group sponsored by Mills Community Support – Home Support (256–4700). She became self-educated on the subject while caring for a woman suffering from the disease.

Those same attributes of caring and sharing characterize her art classes. She is encouraging, fostering an attitude of “just try it — you can do it,” motivating students to experiment and discover their own capabilities, and to learn from each other. You can reach her to enquire about her upcoming classes in “Drawing for Fun”, Mixed Media Painting” and “Life Drawing”. Try it. It may suit you!

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Apr 2013

Graham Ross - kid with a crayon

One of life's mysteries is how differently everyone’s memory operates and how it influences our lives. With the exception of a few photographically-induced "memories", my own childhood remains obscured by time. That is not the case for Graham Ross, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer from Merrickville. "kid with a crayon" is the felicitous name he bestowed upon the multidisciplinary studio he established in 1992, when a former colleague offered him an illustration contract and said, "I need a kid with a crayon."

Illustration by Graham Ross

The offhand comment resonated with Ross, instantly conjuring up fond childhood memories of “Rupert Bear”, the children’s comic strip character created by English artist Mary Tourtel in 1920. In 1935, Alfred Bestall, former illustrator for Punch, became the Rupert artist and storyteller and worked on Rupert stories and artwork into his 90s. The comic strip is still published in the Daily Express, and every year since 1936 a Rupert Annual book has been released. The enduring white bear dressed in a red sweater and yellow-checked pants and scarf remains indelibly etched on Ross’s visual cortex. A glance at the illustrations Ross creates for children’s books proves that Rupert is also lodged securely in his heart.

Not Just Kidding

A quick look at <> shows the full range of Graham Ross’s art and design work, spanning illustrations for children’s books to the design of corporate logos and event posters. His clients range from book publishers to government agencies to small local businesses. The defining characteristic of all of Ross’s art was identified for me when he said, “What I strive for is to make my illustrations appealing to all ages — it’s like creating a visual poem that everyone gets something from.” He told me he achieved his primary goal as an illustrator when a bookseller passed on this comment to him: “Looking at Ross’s illustrations makes me want to read the book.”

Looking at many of his illustrations brightens your day and puts a smile on your face. If you can look at his depiction of “Joy!” (pictured above) without smiling back, I would strongly suggest you contact Miss Write (see page 22) for advice immediately.

Great evidence of his success as an illustrator occurred in 2005 after the art director at British Columbia-based Orca Book Publishers contacted him as a result of a promotional package he routinely sent to ten publishers. He was hired to design and illustrate a wonderful rhyming story by author Ned Dickens titled By a Thread. The collaboration earned them a number of awards (2006 CCBC Our Choice) and rave reviews, like this one from Canadian Children’s Book News — October 1, 2005: “This rollicking rhyming story is enormously fun, not only to the ear, but to the eye.” The July 1, 2005, issue of Deakin Newsletter was even more specific: “Bright, lively, inventive, and a great deal of fun to read aloud as a whole, or with young assistance, By a Thread is a joy. Graham Ross’s lively colourful illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.” It’s still available at your public library or by purchase at <>.

Light My Fire

Graham remembers deciding he wanted to be an artist at the age of four or five, when his drawing of a fire truck received a hugely favourable reaction from everyone who saw it. Born in Ottawa, he studied and loved art in high school and followed up with a two-year art course at the High School of Commerce, to explore whether art was what he really wanted to do. Concerned about the ability to make a living at it (his father had relegated his own love of art to the back burner to support the family), Graham chose Sheridan College to acquire his degree in Book Illustration. His student placement with McClelland and Stewart resulted in a full-time job in Toronto, where he enjoyed working two years as a graphic designer.

He met his wife Jenn, an early childhood educator, after he moved back to Ottawa, where he spent three years with a design firm creating many government publications. In 2000, Jenn spotted an 1840s log home on a ten-acre lot between Kemptville and Merrickville. As Graham succinctly puts it, “I love my neighbours but I love my space.”

Looking for the Right Writers

Artist Graham Ross

Another successful book collaboration with author Michael Rack resulted in Edward Built a Rocket Ship, and the two are working on a sequel: Edward Built a Time Machine. I noticed that Edward seems to have a bear with him as he rockets into outer space. Ross loves working with authors, but comments, “It’s a real challenge if the book is poorly written — good writers please apply!”

He attributes a lot of his success as an illustrator of children’s books to his experiences of reading to his daughter Olivia as she developed into the avid reader she is today. Just as he recalls the excitement he felt when his dad brought home the next Rupert Annual, his key childhood moments with Olivia revolved around reading together. That pleasure motivated him to develop workshops for children in grade school that combine reading, drawing and exploring art. Ross has also conducted children’s workshops for the Ottawa Public Library.

Rupert reigns, but making a living includes creating and producing eye-catching print and web-based materials for companies, events and publishers. As a freelancer offering, among other services, design and production for print materials, identity systems, displays, signage, exhibits, web design, reports and presentations, 2D and 3D illustration, motion graphics, digital video, audio and sound integration, Ross has established strong alliances with other firms and individuals such as web technicians, print firms, writers and photographers. Have fun exploring his website to appreciate the diversity of his creativity.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Dec 2012

Jack Stekelenburg - Sculpting to a Different Drummer

Renfrew metal sculptor Jack Stekelenburg enjoys challenging our preconceptions of art. Following in the footsteps of his philosophical and artistic mentors, he creates art as an unconscious, unscripted, wordless act of emotional expression. He also plays and experiments and grows as an artist.

Sculpture by Jack Stekelenburg

His sculptures are thought-provoking, powerful, fun, confusing, whimsical, disturbing. Most are not representational, familiar or comfortable. Neither is the art of his adopted “mentors” — Dali, Picasso, and the American abstract expressionists of the 20th century. Stekelenburg is the first person I have met who has spontaneously described the thrill he experienced when he first saw the National Gallery of Canada’s controversial 1989 acquisition, Barnett Newman’s huge colour field work, “Voice of Fire”.

The name of Stekelenburg’s studio — Walden Three — proclaims the profound influence that the transcendentalists of the 19th century have had on him. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau posthumously inspired a young construction worker from Renfrew to become self-reliant and celebrate the fact that his high school peers judged him as “different.” For one thing, Jack read Emerson and Thoreau. For another, he loved photography and abstract art. And although he was strong, he wasn’t a jock.

Stekelenburg remembers his excitement when he first encountered Thoreau’s seminal work, Walden. The quote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” particularly resonated with him, as did the tenet that true artistic inspiration was intuitive. From Emerson he learned the lesson of self-reliance. Stekelenburg spontaneously quotes lines from Emerson’s essay on the subject as he explains how he came to choose metal sculpting as his medium of choice. It was Emerson who encouraged him with statements like, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” and “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?… To be great is to be misunderstood.”

The abstract expressionists were certainly misunderstood. The biographies of those who persevered and changed the face and definition of art are replete with stories of personal hardships and reports of vicious criticism.

Boat Anchors

It was only in 2005 that Stekelenburg decided to indulge his passion for art, which he had put on the back burner while he started a career in construction and raised a family. Intrigued by metal garden art, in 2005 he signed up for a course in welding. He started experimenting with discarded pieces of metal, sometimes inspired by the shapes he found, and sometimes molding heavy, cantankerous hunks of metal into abstract forms that evolved as he worked on them.

He soon discovered that, in addition to the protective gear he needed as a MIG welder, he also needed a thick skin. When he first decided to forego the instant gratification and financial success of creating popular sculptures like Great Blue Herons, and instead began constructing truly abstract works, he was able to cheerfully endure the good-natured taunts of friends about his “boat anchors”. In some cases, he found more encouraging friends, particularly at the Renfrew Art Guild.

His conviction and determination are paying off. His abstract sculptures are attracting attention in galleries and studio tours, and people are putting their money where they let their hearts and imaginations take them. That is the lure of the abstract — the viewer has free rein to interpret and project. Stekelenburg’s “Rock the Cradle” (above) is a prime example.

Climb Every Mountain

Artist Jack Stekelenburg

In 2003, a lecture and an IMAX movie convinced Stekelenburg that he wanted to go to Nepal. He informed family and friends that he was going to go in 2008. He did. In preparation, he started planning and saving money. After his welding course he created a series of inspirational mountain sculptures. He reassessed his life. His trip to the Mount Everest Base Camp proved monumental in many ways. His dedication to art was reinforced. He has repurposed his life.

Jack’s advice to anyone approaching retirement is to “rekindle the passion of your youth.” Resurrect those things that moved your soul and your spirit — art, music, writing, nature, dancing, travel — whatever. Don’t worry whether you’re ‘good enough’; don’t worry about what your friends think.”

Now he is at work on a performance/installation art sculpture project that he hopes to realize in 2013. Art critic Harold Rosenberg wrote about the Abstract Expressionist period that “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” Canadian metal sculptor Jack Stekelenburg is creating a sculpture event. It involves the elements: wood, metal, fire and, of course, the weather. Watch for it in theHumm.

Stekelenburg’s gift is his unwavering determination to discover, and perhaps re-invent, himself. His life, like his art, continues to be a work in progress. Stekelenburg’s favourite role model is American abstract metal sculptor David Smith. This quote from a speech Smith gave in 1959 at Ohio University explains why: “Art is made from dreams, and visions, and things not known, and least of all from things that can be said. It comes from the inside of who you are when you face yourself. It is an inner declaration of purpose; it is a factor which determines artist identity.” Stekelenburg’s art is worthy of attention because he trusts himself.

Jack’s work is also available at Brush Strokes Art Gallery in Carleton Place. To learn more about him and his powerful artistic statements, visit his Facebook page or contact him directly.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Oct 2012

Current Works of Glass by Jennifer Kelly

Working with glass is how Jennifer Kelly "fills her cup." When she isn't watching the current of the Mississippi River from her deck or her dock or her windows, Kelly's favourite place is in her studio, going with the flow of creativity the river inspires. Fortunately that studio is well insulated, because she loves to accompany her favourite vocalists at full volume while she works.

Glass work by Jennifer Kelly

Glass has always been her chosen medium. She likens it to the river itself — bending and flowing around obstacles, and changing form and substance constantly. On her website at she writes: "Watching the current in the river flow past my home gives me great joy. This feeling of movement and dream flows through most of my designs."

Jennifer's glass art designs are as varied and fluid as the river, ranging from large sculptural pieces for the garden to wall art and table pieces. In her own words, "The dance of light and glass is a reminder of sunlight on water. My work tends to focus on optimism with a nod to the struggles of humans and nature... No two pieces are ever the same, as my creativity comes from my admiration for the unique and fresh."

That creativity extends to experimentation with her medium. Kelly constructs intricate patterns from frit - opaque or transparent glass fragments in every hue that range in size from powder to coarse crystals. She even creates her own glass strings, noodles and rods by melting and shaping glass through a terracotta flowerpot at-tached to her kiln. This gives her greater control over matching and complementing colours. She uses the unique shapes, textures and colours she creates to "paint" on glass with glass. In other pieces she mixes media by incorporating photography, wood and metals.

The results are original and amazing. Many of her contemporary art pieces reflect the pleasure she derives from nature. The Canadian landscape unfolds in dra-matic swirls of colour captured within luminous glass, often featuring abstract trees, or sometimes just a few lines that evoke a familiar image. In a tribute to the view across the river from her waterfront home, she has created a wall piece titled "Twin Trees." A close look at this collage of stained glass, fused glass, photography, mica, and copper reveals two trees growing together to form the image of one.

Going with the Flow

Artist Jennifer Kelly

A native Ottawan, Jennifer Kelly attended Carleton University intending to study psychology. A wonderful Shakespearian course with Elizabethan scholar and CBC Radio performing arts critic Charles Haines changed her mind, and she followed the family flow — studying literature instead. Her dad is a retired journalist and her sister is a writer. After university the job market was in a slump, and she and her mother opened "Act 2," a consignment store in Kanata. When they decided to sell their second venture, a home design shop in Bells Corners, a new current swept her away. Their real estate broker convinced her to become a realtor, and by 2010 Jennifer and her husband Patrick shared the award of Top Producing Team for Sutton Group Premier Real Estate.

Although she was really busy raising two kids and selling real estate, Kelly had always loved art and was looking for an outlet for her creative energies. When she took a course in stained glass in the early '90s, she realized she had found her medium and decided to go with the flow again. Making stained glass pieces led to further courses in glass art at Corning Glass Studio, and she has enjoyed the expertise of several renowned teachers and mentors. Last year she expanded her repertoire with a course in glass jewellery at Ottawa School of Art.

To satisfy her need for "instant gratification," Kelly has created a substantial gallery of intriguing glass jewellery. Far from instant, the bracelets, pendants, rings and earrings are constructed from intricate blendings of unique glass components with metal settings. This is how she describes one beautiful piece: "I will miss this bracelet when it leaves my studio. The glass is so original and impossible to duplicate. It is a white base fused with an organic pattern of red/rust/teal/grey. I fuse it in my kiln at high heat to create a smooth surface like a river stone. The base starts as raw brass that I print a design onto with ink and then etch. Then I hammer the bracelet into shape on my anvil and carefully file the edges smooth. Next I solder a copper disc to the brass that holds the glass gem, and I complete the piece by polishing the brass with a patina to add an aged character."

Navigating the Flow

Jennifer enthusiastically describes Patrick as "the world's most supportive husband." As her real estate partner, he enables her to carve out chunks of time to figure out how to "get what's in my imagination onto glass." She has three notebooks full of concept drawings, and is working on a ten-year artistic development plan that includes a trip next year to an esteemed glass school in Pittsburgh, PA. Her goal is to always remain an emerging artist - she never wants to be "finished" with her art. In my Hummble opinion, she has absolutely no cause for concern.

The Kelly family is also a team when it comes to supporting the PFLAG organization. Jennifer is a co-chair of the Stittsville PFLAG chapter that supports, edu-cates and provides resources to parents, families, friends and colleagues with questions or concerns regarding issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. She has created a poignant glass sculpture illuminating her quest to ensure that same-sex couples enjoy the same right to publicly express their affection for each other as heterosexual couples.

Current Works of Glass

Jennifer Kelly's eclectic and contemporary glass art and jewellery can be found on the Crown and Pumpkin Tour each year. Check out theHumm's Studio Tours listings for details.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Jul 2013

Karen Phillips Curran - Chasing Light

"LIGHT; dappled light, winter light, crisp autumn light, summer light, spring light… all my muse. My watercolours are about time, and that magic moment when some-thing ordinary makes you catch your breath, if you take the time to pause, to look. I tell the story of what is often passed by."

Painting by Karen Phillips Curran

Karen Phillips Curran is an accomplished and eclectic storyteller with her paints. Her stunning portfolio of watercolours establishes her as a gifted artist, renowned in Bermuda as well as the Ottawa Valley. At her online gallery at <> she has organized her works into eight categories, revealing the breadth of her artistic pursuits. She is best known for her striking watercolour renditions of river stones, and another collection of architectural paintings that celebrate the play of light and shadow on the often-overlooked.

Her “New Works” are pastoral and painted in acrylics. They are gloriously gestural — but the antithesis of studies or sketches. Instead their simplicity and vibrancy showcase Karen’s profound knowledge and maturity as a painter. They capture the essence of their subjects, causing us to look with new eyes and wonder at familiar scenes.

This rich body of work is just one facet of Phillips Curran’s art. As head scenic painter at the National Arts Centre for almost fifteen years, she has transformed theatre sets into venues that transport an audience to a 1930s kitchen and a 19th-century manor. Under my deft questioning she admits she values the moment the audience broke into spontaneous applause as the lights came up on the set she painted for Shaw’s Arms and the Man.

In the theatre she has developed an appreciation for the sense of the monumental in her work, eschewing perfectionism for readability and impact. She has also learned even more about her favourite subject: light. With scrims (think filters if you’re a photographer), she can paint an image that is visible or invisible, depending on the stage lighting. Karen has participated in the creation of new exhibits for such prestigious institutions as the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Museum of Federation and the National Gallery.

Opening her refrigerator would reveal yet another facet to her boundless creativity. Karen keeps her Polaroid film there. She finds alternative photography fascinating, with its ability to transfer images onto any solid or non-porous surface. She explains, “My Polaroid image and emulsion transfers are versatile, and very expressive. I use them extensively to illustrate ideas of elusive, but evocative scenarios. I love the intricate, vivid, malleable imagery this medium can produce. I treat them as mixed media pieces by combining them extensively with watercolour and coloured pencil.”

She adds that when she creates art she thinks first and foremost as a watercolourist. Whether she is using acrylics or latex scenic paints, she paints in layers that are translucent, building a rich, saturated image. Karen also can transform an old, previously painted wooden desk into an amazingly attractive piece of furniture by applying a faux wood finish that completely fooled me from a few feet away.

A Solo Act

Her birthplace was Ottawa, but she was conceived in Newfoundland and raised there and in Nova Scotia until she was nine years old. Her interest in art was whetted by her mother’s gift of lessons by a neighbouring artist, and a teacher “just gushing” over a watercolour still life. She loved every minute of her years at the High School of Commerce Vocational Art program, and went on to do graphics and forms work at CIDA and map tracing at Fisheries and Oceans. She laughs as she recalls the manual she illustrated to instruct fishermen on how to build boats.

Artist Karen Phillips Curran

Phillips Curran has spent her adult life in Lanark and Renfrew Counties, and she now is the proud owner/creator of Riverstones Studio, 6.6 km southwest of Burnstown, just off Calabogie Road/Route 508, at 11 Brydges Road in Springtown. She also recently celebrated twenty-five years of working as an artist in Bermuda, the result of her entrepreneurial ingenuity. She is justifiably proud of the fact that she has always made her living with her art, even when it meant going without running water in her kitchen in the winter. As she puts it, you have to be an optimist to be a single artist living by yourself.

When I ask her the inevitable “Why are you an artist?”, Karen answers, “I’ve spent a lifetime chasing light, by way of the shadows.” In her website biography I am struck by these declarations: “Light is discovered through darkness. Decay is made beautiful by way of being noticed.”

It is clear that art is her anchor, her lifeboat and her salvation. She has nurtured her gift and worked devotedly to hone her skills. Her inspiration is another gift — she never knows where it will come from or where it will lead her. In return, her canvases are a gift to anyone who stops to contemplate them.

Several of Karen's works are on display at the General — fine craft, art & design, the exciting new shop at 63 Mill St. in Almonte. Works are also on exhibit at Gallery Perth at 17 Wilson Street East in Codes Mill. She also takes part in the Perth Autumn Studio Tour.

She welcomes viewers at her Riverstones Studio; simply give her a call or get in touch by email. If you spend a few minutes on her website, you will understand why you should see the original works. It would be even better to own one.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 May 2013

Linda Hamilton - Exhibitionist Wallflowers

Who knew? My quest for a witty title to promote Linda Hamilton's May 2013 exhibit of delicious floral art on the walls of the Almonte branch of the Mississippi Mills Library yielded yet another opportunity for a pun*. Not only that, I discovered that wallflowers are actually flowers!

Artwork by Linda Hamilton

Wikipedia informs that “Erysimum (wallflower) is a genus of flowering plants in the botanical family Brassicaceae, that includes about 180 species, both popular garden plants and many wild forms.” They are ancient and enjoy enduring popularity around the world for their fragrance and range of colour.

Almonte visual artist Linda Hamilton eats, breathes, draws, paints, arranges, cultivates and thoroughly enjoys flowering and other plants. This passion is her muse and informs much of her art, from finely wrought pen and ink botanical line drawings to spectacular, cheerful, over-sized floral wall sculptures. She also creates wonderful paper flowers and arranges them into beautiful bouquets for every occasion. In a climate like ours, it’s really easy to justify an investment in a gorgeous floral bouquet that remains cheerful and vivid for a long, long time.

Although Hamilton prefers to create realistic rather than abstract art, she loves to experiment with structure and texture and negative space. Recently she has begun to create paintings in pen and ink and watercolour that feature cut-outs. In a beautiful capture of a morning glory vine, she has layered elements of her original painting in a collage to achieve a three-dimensional sculptural effect. By cutting out the vines in the foreground and mounting them on a second layer painted with shadows, the vines appear to float above the background, casting additional shadows that change as the light in the room changes.

In another painting, inspired by a photo taken at sunset in Spain, Linda contrasted the monochromatic silhouettes of interleaved grasses with negative spaces hued in many subtle shades ranging from pinks to greens. The lovely and slightly abstract effect is suggestive of a stained glass window.

For a more formal note, her black and white pen botanical drawings of subjects like rhubarb leaves and jasmine flowers reveal her love of detail and her intimate knowledge of her subjects.

Nature Plus Nurture

It took me a moment to recognize the significance of Hamilton’s “LVOH” signature on her works, until I recalled that she is the daughter of Franc and Sylvia van Oort. Franc’s reputation as a superb artist and printmaker is widely known, but I hadn’t known that Linda’s mother has her own website too. At <> you will discover where Linda developed her love of plants and flowers, as a helper in her mother’s acres of annual and perennial flowers and food plants. Linda has been caring for and arranging fresh and dried flowers for a decade. During university Linda also worked at historic museums and still enjoys working at the Billings Estate in Ottawa. 

Linda van Oort was born in Holland and moved with her parents to Brooke Valley, near Perth, when she was six years old. She completed a degree in Visual Arts at York University, where she met Sam Hamilton who was studying design (see our April 2012 issue). When the couple started thinking about starting a family, they acquired their current home in Almonte. They both consider themselves very lucky to be part of this friendly and arts-loving community.

Linda especially appreciates the supportive environment in which she was raised. She is the first artist I have interviewed who has confided that her family would have been concerned if she had not wanted to be an artist. Her father’s father was an artist, and she counts a political cartoonist and an opera singer among her forebears. With her roots firmly planted in art and flowers, her artistry truly stems from a fortuitous conjunction of nature and nurture.

Artist Linda Hamilton

When the couple decided to share parenting duties six years ago with the birth of their son Henry, both Linda and Sam made major adjustments to their art careers. In Linda’s case, she began scaling down the size of her projects, putting concerns such as safety of materials and “interruptibility” at the top of her priorities. She started creating small flowers out of paper and in 2009 she launched her presence on the Etsy online crafts marketplace. From you can view her various “Shop Sections” and enjoy images of her original watercolour paintings and drawings as well as her paper flowers. She conducts paper flower workshops at The Hive in Carp and by invitation to groups of five or more participants.

It will be interesting to see in what new directions Linda’s artistic instincts will lead her when her daughter Hazel enters a full-day program at school in the fall of 2013. LVOH’s recent blending of drawing, painting, cut-outs and paper sculpture is proving to be a very auspicious experiment, perhaps evidence for the adage that you should follow your heart to succeed.

Exhibitionist Wallflowers

In addition to taking part in shows such as Handmade Harvest Craft Show in Almonte and the Crown and Pumpkin Studio Tour in Mississippi Mills, Linda is represented at the wonderful new General Fine Craft, Art and Design shop at 63 Mill Street in Almonte, and at Riverguild Fine Crafts at 51 Gore Street East in Perth.

Contact Linda to schedule a visit to her Home Studio at 117 Main Street East in Almonte. Better yet, don’t be a wallflower — make one!

* lists “sally” as a synonym for “pun”.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Feb 2013

Paula Gray - Did You Feed Your Soul Today?

Stone carver Paula Gray discovered her fascination with sculptural form when she began working with trees and branches to craft unique furniture pieces. Shaping the flowing lines of their arms and backs nourished an artistic longing she had not recognized. When she stumbled upon Deborah Arnold's stone sculptures (September '06 issue of theHumm) during a studio tour, the attraction was visceral and irresistible. Gray had discovered her artistic calling. She impulsively asked Arnold if she would teach her how to work with stone. Ten years later, both Deborah and Paula are involved in creating a memorial to honour the lives of Lanark County women killed in situations of domestic violence.

Sculpture by Paula Gray

Gray’s work has evolved over the decade. Her confidence has grown with her success in studio tours both in the Ottawa Valley and in her second home in Ville de Mont-Tremblant, Québec. She has begun to “impose” her own artistic vision on some of the beautiful stones she selects, as an alternative to intuiting and revealing the organic image concealed in individual pieces. Both approaches are valid and yield strikingly different results.

As someone who lives surrounded by a large collection of Inuit stone and petrified bone sculptures, I am astonished when she tells me that the sculpture I interpret as a human morphing into a whale was not intentionally carved to represent that transformation. Many pieces are obliquely sensual; all are sensuous. It is almost impossible not to stroke them. If I were a cat or dog, I would not want my human to own a Paula Gray sculpture.

When I ask Gray why she carves stone instead of choosing a more portable or more forgiving medium, she laughs and confesses, “I can’t draw!” But she is gifted in visualizing in three dimensions. In her words, “I take great satisfaction in taking such a hard and unyielding substance and shaping it into soft and flowing forms. For me, each piece is more about the process than the outcome. If it weren’t, I don’t think that I would ever have the patience to see a piece through to the end. When things are going well, it feels like a seamless flow from within to without. It’s a release, but I can’t articulate exactly what it is that is being released.”

Throughout our history we humans have made marks. Based on the few remaining pieces of prehistoric sculpture, art historians generally agree that their principal function was not beauty; they were made to be used in rituals. In their constant fight for survival, early people created sculpture to provide spiritual support in their efforts to cope with the mysteries and overpowering forces of nature. Ancient sculptures reveal religious beliefs and the ceremonial rituals observed across cultures.

On a personal level, Gray experiences new levels of self-awareness as she carves. In the process of artistic creation, she explores her relationship with her subconscious, making connections with emotional and physical memories that are unavailable on a rational level. It is a healing as well as a revealing process. Creating beauty may not be the principal function of her sculpting, but it is a most welcome result.

Feeding Your Soul

Paula believes that society would benefit enormously if we took better care of ourselves emotionally. That includes the responsibility for discovering who we really are — we have little practice in listening to what we really want. She compares our minimal understanding of the need to feed our souls, with our once believing that the sun revolved around our flat world. For Gray, looking at art and creating art connects her with her subconscious and feeds her soul. She recommends both.

A Circuitous Path

Artist Paula Gray

Gray explored several other options before concluding that art is her passion. Her journey began in Toronto where she learned one of her many skills, from parents who taught downhill skiing in addition to pursuing professional careers. Paula too is a ski instructor. Academically, she earned a degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Waterloo, followed by a Master’s in Science and Forestry at the University of Toronto. She worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, becoming a forestry economist.

When she realized that she preferred the variability of shorter term project work to the constraints of civil service, she resigned and completed a degree in Education. After teaching high school for two years in Toronto, she moved to an old farmhouse in Cedar Hill near Pakenham with her family. It was there that she enjoyed her first foray into three-dimensional art, creating and then teaching others how to make rustic twig furniture. She moved into Almonte seven years ago, where she continues to teach grade school students. When I asked her if she likes to teach she quipped, “I like to see people learn.” She also loves the connection she makes with her students.

Marking Time

Humans make other kinds of marks as well. Ceremonies and rituals evolved to mark the transition from one phase of life or social status to another — christening and graduation ceremonies, weddings, funerals, inaugurations, and many other “life-crises” that affect the relationships of all those people closely connected with the subject of the ritual. As formal religious observance continues to diminish across North America, there has been a concomitant increase in the need for persons trained to officiate at private ceremonies and celebrations.

Last year Paula became a Certified Life Cycle Celebrant, trained to develop traditional or uniquely tailored life ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. She is also active in developing rituals to mark and celebrate women’s issues. Recently she and Deborah Arnold were among artists invited to propose ideas for a memorial to honour the lives of women killed in situations of domestic violence. The project was initiated by a grass-roots group of survivors associated with Lanark County Interval House. Gray submitted a concept drawing for a memorial site; Arnold proposed a sculpture. They were asked to combine the two, and Arnold is sculpting the female figure that will be seated at a stone table in the centre of the circular meditation site designed by Gray. The project’s location is still being determined.

This summer Paula will be moving from Almonte to her other home in Mont-Tremblant. To enjoy her mesmerizing sculptures and/or to discuss an upcoming celebration, you can contact her. She would be delighted to make arrangements to show her work in the Almonte area, or to host a studio visit for anyone traveling to the Mont-Tremblant area.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 Nov 2012

Rosy Somerville - Capturing Essence with Watercolours

It is not my wont to quote artists’ statements in my articles for theHumm, but I make an exception this time. Rosy Somerville is an artist and art instructor whose first love is watercolour. After an absorbing and educative conversation with her, I revisited the artist’s statement she provides on her home page at and realized that I cannot improve on her summation of why she is a watercolour artist:

Painting by Rosy Somerville

“Painting is for me a meditation. I love the challenge, the unique movements of the medium, the contrasts of control and unpredictability, the total focus it demands. I enjoy the tension between working within rules, and allowing intuition to speak. I work mostly in the studio, but like to paint in nature en plein air. Through the play of light and dark, of colours, shapes, textures, lines, the defined and the undefined, the stated and the implied, I attempt to capture some essence of my subject, be it in nature, people or objects.”

The challenges presented by her preferred medium are precisely what makes watercolour the perfect choice for her artistic self-expression. Anyone who has tried it knows that, unlike painting with oils or acrylics or chalk or coloured pencil, painting with watercolours involves a willingness to take chances with a fickle and capricious partner. As Wikipedia puts it, “The difficulty in watercolour painting is almost entirely in learning how to anticipate and leverage the behaviour of water, rather than attempting to control or dominate it.”

The wide variety of paintings adorning her home gallery and classroom are a testament to her mastery of her medium. They range from vivid abstracted landscapes, to muted portraits of people and birds, to still life renditions of shoes and floral bouquets. Each is remarkable for its tangible success in portraying the essence of its subject; I understand exactly what Somerville means when she writes about “the defined and the undefined, the stated and the implied.” Nowhere is this more evident than in her portraits of people. One glance at “Bridget” and you truly wish you were a friend of this wise, caring woman.

The Teaching Gene

Rosy’s innate tendency to educate is obvious as she points out the different techniques she uses to leverage the behaviour of water on various papers and other “canvases.” In general, she prefers the luminosity she can achieve with the transparency of watercolours, but is thoroughly knowledgeable about other options. She paints with acrylics and oils, but returns most frequently to her roots in England where watercolour painting has flourished since the 18th century.

Born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, not far from London, Rosy is the daughter of two educators. Her mother in particular encouraged creative thinking, and Rosy’s drawing kit was her constant companion as a youngster. She remembers spending hours creating meticulously representational studies of flora and fauna. After completing the foundation year of a Diploma in Art and Design, Rosy studied European Literature at Warwick University. Although she now recognizes that she inherited the familial teaching gene (her grandparents were also teachers), she decided to live in India for a while instead of embarking on a teaching career. When she returned to England in her late 20s to put down roots, she chose a career in graphic design; her clients included many large pharmaceutical companies.

Romance in the form of a Canadian serviceman brought Somerville to Canada in 1996, and the couple are now happily situated in a lovely home at the edge of Carp where her husband Ian can photograph birds (and a black bear!) from the back patio.

Rosy’s watercolour epiphany occurred in 1999 when she took a watercolour course. “Something about the way the paint moves on the paper, the translucency, the infinite possibilities of so many techniques and chemical interactions, the whole process of exploring my subject — when I’m painting, I forget the outside world entirely. It takes me to my peaceful place where I’m completely happy.”

Artist Rosy Somerville

By 2005 she began showing her work at venues like the Ottawa Art Festival and the Tulip Festival. A friend saw her work and introduced her to the Arts Director at the Visual Arts Centre in Orleans, where she lived at the time. They told her she should be teaching, and she continued to teach watercolour art at the OSA (Ottawa School of Art) Shenkman Centre in Orleans until last year. Now she teaches at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre and offers both beginner and intermediate courses from her home studio in Carp.

When I asked her what she thought was the most important thing she could teach her art students, Somerville responded, “to connect with and express their inner joy through this versatile medium.” This sounds like a course worth taking. According to a recent article at <>, palaeontologists and researchers in neuroaesthetics tend to link the development of modern human cognition to the origin of our ability to express ourselves as artists and historians through cave painting, sculptures and other prehistoric art. Representing the world in symbols may have heralded the beginnings of language. Rosy has an innate ability and deep urge to express herself through her art, and to share her gift for doing so with others.

Red Trillium Studio Tour

Since 2005 Rosy Somerville has had many solo shows, won awards, and participated in juried shows like Centrepointe Theatre City Gallery, Selections with Arts Ottawa East, the OSA annual Instructors’ Exhibitions, the West Carleton Arts Society Fall Show & Sale, and the Glebe Fine Art Show.

Each year, Rosy’s studio at 175 Charlie’s Lane in Carp is a stop on the Red Trillium Fall Studio Tour, where she tends to also host other artists.

To enquire about watercolour art instruction, contact Rosy directly. The potential for discovering your own artistic essence exists.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Sep 2013

Sarah Moffat - Artistic Freedom

Spontaneity is refreshing. Sarah Moffat’s art is as spontaneous and refreshing as Sarah Moffat is. Her exceptional art celebrates the excitement of randomness, with Nature as her mentor and her guide.

Painting by Sarah Moffat

A recent series of stunning images of tree forms illustrates Moffat’s enduring fascination with exploring texture and colour in her art. Her goal is to create a recognizable form (i.e. the naked skeleton of a tree) by enticing order out of chaos and chaos out of order. More precisely, she creates textured backgrounds using a variety of innovative techniques and materials, such as silk screening, patterned fabrics, plaster, sanding and washes, to create hints of order. She then creates a tree form executed sculpturally with polyester resins and applies metallic foils of varying intensities.

Both the form and the background are individual works of art that combine to create a holistic, tactile image. The works stir your aesthetic sensibilities by playing with your expectations and teasing you with surprising juxtapositions — structural fluidity, iridescent bark, silky smooth and deeply textured surfaces. Each work invites and rewards repeated contemplation.

The colours are wondrous, extraordinary, mystifying. There are layers upon layer of colour, often like gazing into water or transparent gel. There are glints of silver and gold, hints of iridescence, translucent pinks and peaches transforming into oranges and golds and coppery greens… How does she do it?

A Fortuitous Faux Start

Moffat earned her current artistic freedom by investing in art education coupled with more than sixteen years in the interior wall finishing business. According to Wikipedia, faux finishing in the decorative arts began with plaster and stucco finishes in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. Moffat’s adventures started during its modern resurgence of popularity in the late '80s, when interest in wallpaper declined. To support her young family she specialized in decorating homes and businesses with faux finishes on walls, doors, stairwells and other accent features. She has embellished the interiors of homes, restaurants and workplaces throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Her choice of career was ideally suited to her adventurous personality. She experimented endlessly with the various components packaged by the suppliers of faux finishing materials. Plasters, glazes, paints and then metallic foils provided a palette that she continues to explore today as she creates her smaller, portable works.

By 2011, Moffat was determined to become a fulltime artist. She had been creating art works in her spare time at her dining room table in Ottawa, and decided to launch a serious search for a venue that suited her lifestyle and provided her with a studio. After looking in every small town in the Valley, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams when she heard about a renovation underway in Almonte. By April of 2012 she was relocating to a superb third-floor apartment in the beautiful Olde Wylie Flour Mill at 11 Main Street West. Her ground-floor studio is perfect, designed to her specifications with a heated floor and fabulous light. It opens onto a patio overlooking the Mississippi River, just below the now unused railroad bridge. She launches her paddleboard from the patio. “I can’t believe I have everything I want!” she exclaims gratefully.

Despite the lure of the river at her doorstep, Sarah spends most of her time in the studio exploring: “… that is the fun part for me — it’s like gambling and hitting the jackpot!” Mixing and pouring epoxy freehand is exciting; it is characteristic of her independent, self-reliant personality. She does not sketch her images first; she prefers the frisson of dangerous delight she experiences as she guides rather than controls her fast-curing fluid materials in layers across her exquisitely decorated canvases. The results are intriguing and beautiful.

An Appetite for Adventure

Moffat comes by it naturally. She was born in Toronto to parents who were free spirits. They travelled by boat for six months to the Bahamas with three children and stayed for four years. When they ran an inn in Mont Tremblant during the '70s and '80s, Sarah had a horse and a windsurfing board and learned to drive at the age of fourteen.

During her last year of high school at Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, her guidance counselor suggested she apply to the Ontario College of Art, where she was accepted at the age of seventeen. When she was late for registration, all the popular courses in photography and graphic design were full, so she signed up for courses in plastics and silk screening and mold making. She has always been grateful for the doors her scheduling mistake opened.

Artist Sarah Moffat

Adventure beckoned, and Sarah went to Vancouver seeking life experience. She worked as a TV set painter, had a baby, fixed up an abandoned farm, and created a career for herself by restoring and decorating kids’ furniture and selling it at flea markets. On a trip to Mexico she met a gorgeous man from the Canary Islands, married him and moved back to Ottawa where they had two children. Always an entrepreneur (she was painting ladybugs on rocks and selling them when she was five years old), Sarah opened a small store on Bank Street and continued refinishing antique furniture. Eventually she began transferring her faux finishing skills to interior decorating projects.

She soon accumulated a portfolio of satisfied customers and designed and decorated interior walls at the Siam Bistro and Absinthe in Ottawa, the Red Lantern in Boston, and many private homes and businesses across the continent. She began exploring the infinite potential of her new materials and techniques in her art work and soon had pieces displayed at Framed Gallery at 1075 Bank Street at Sunnyside Avenue in Ottawa and in galleries across Canada (see Sarah's website for a full listing).

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 Aug 2013

Spartan Rubacha - Flook D. Doo!

Flook D. Doo is the catchy name of Spartan Rubacha's Fine Furniture and Woodworking business. He creates an original line of furniture by blending the beautiful detail and craftsmanship of fine cabinetry with the charm, practicality and functionality associated with rustic pieces.

Table by Spartan Rubacha

On his website, Spartan refers to his work as modern renaissance art; he “aspires to lead the woodworking world into a new era of rustic, yet refined furniture that not only looks striking, but sounds like solid work when items are placed atop the surface.”

If that sounds ambitious, it is. His furniture delivers — his pieces are beautiful and functional. They reflect the creativity, whimsicality and quest for originality that marks Spartan’s other endeavours as well (see below). When you Google “Flookddoo”, all the results refer to Spartan’s website at He eschews mainstream in all he does, and it’s hard to be less mainstream than to concoct a unique social networking identity.

Spartan is quick to credit influential Swedish/American (but Siberian-born) woodworker James Krenov as his primary woodworking inspiration. Krenov’s book, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, is close at hand. According to Wikipedia, “(Krenov’s) books extol the virtues of clean lines, hand-planed surfaces, unfinished or lightly finished wood, and techniques that Krenov referred to as ‘honest’.”

Krenov serves primarily as a philosophical inspiration. As a musician, Spartan related readily to Krenov’s admonitions to seek compositional inspiration from the wood itself. Spartan’s cabinets in particular attest to his success in paying attention to the variations in grain patterns and colours. A Flook D. Doo piece of furniture does more than complement your décor — it becomes a highlight.

Spartan’s skills and creativity provide him the flexibility to create superb custom work also. He designs and builds extraordinary wall cabinets and other pieces to fit specific spaces and to house specific objects. Your collection of miniature antique oil lamps or African masks can become a unique focal point when Spartan composes the setting for their arrangement. Their only serious competition for eye time will be the piece of furniture itself.

Loop D. Loo

Self-help books and gurus claim that you will succeed if you pursue your passion. For many of us, the first trick is discovering the passion, and the second challenge is figuring out how to make a living at it. Spartan’s mother and father played key roles in resolving both those dilemmas.

When he was two years old the family moved from Petawawa, where they owned a pet shop, to the small Lanark County town of Poland, about 45 minutes west of Carleton Place and Perth. There his dad opened a general store and B&B named the Red Eagle, in honour of his Polish heritage. Spartan started school in Lanark but enrolled in the French Immersion program offered in Perth when he reached Grade 5. He recalls ruefully that the experience was not ideal, especially since verb conjugation was meted out as punishment.

He continued his education in Perth, and remembers having no idea what he wanted to do after finishing high school. His only enduring interest was music, and he eventually landed in Toronto where he played with an alternative rock band named “The Hitch.” His musical tastes evolved and Spartan began producing his own albums. Typically, he was attracted to a decidedly non-mainstream genre called Gothic Folk Music and continues to enjoy writing and performing his own darkly-tinged songs. He also writes blogs for about musical groups that fall outside the radar of the mainstream press. And he collaborates with Lanark musician Ali McCormick, accompanying her on the drums at local gigs and on YouTube.

Artist Spartan Rubacha

After trying Ottawa, Toronto and Kingston, he tired of city life and wandered back to Perth yet again. His dad asked for help with a tongue-in-groove paneling job. By the time Spartan made a birdhouse and a shelf out of the remnants, he was hooked on building things out of wood. A government grant enabled him to enroll at Algonquin College’s Cabinetmaking and Furniture Technician course, and the passion question was answered.

Spartan planned and named his fine furniture and woodworking company three years ago while he was still a student. After a long and circuitous search for his calling, he didn’t want to waste time once he found it. His face lights up when he tells me that after only two weeks in the course he realized, “This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” Fortunately, actuarial tables indicate most of his “whole life” is still to come. His mother provided support in setting up a workshop in Poland; friends and family provided an eager customer base; word-of-mouth and hard work are resolving the second challenge.

Whoop D. Do

There are a number of things you can do to see how Spartan Rubacha marries refinement with rustic to create furniture that is as visually striking as it is functional. Whet your appetite at and imagine a gorgeous cabinet or chest as the focal centre of your room. Stop in at Riverguild Fine Crafts at 51 Gore Street in Perth to experience how Spartan transforms pieces of wood into eye-catching, sensual furniture. Look for him at the Sundance Artisan Festival in late summer and/or at the Perth Autumn Studio Tour during Thanksgiving Weekend.

If you see a piece that interests you, or if you wish to discuss a custom piece, you can contact Spartan directly.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Nov 2013

Teresa Wingar - Good-Better-Best Pottery

Teresa Wingar does not wing it. She is highly trained and totally prepared. It seems unlikely that she acquired her implicit credo from my mother, but she pots by it: "Good, better, best; never let it rest, until your good is better and your better best."

Pottery by Teresa Wingar

Wingar's functional slip-trailed stoneware pottery is so exquisitely, intricately, precisely decorated that I have trouble comprehending when she tells me that she executes her designs freehand — with little squeeze bottles filled with liquid clay - on curved, curing clay surfaces.

Each piece is hand thrown on her potter's wheel. After it has firmed to a "leather hard" stage, she carefully trims and then decorates it by brushing or applying the slip through a very fine nozzle. Making her own glazes and slips allows Teresa to produce unique colours for her signature designs. Once decorated and dry, each pot is bisque-fired to 1000°C, in preparation for it to be glazed. It is then dipped in an ochre-coloured glaze and fired again, this time to 1200°C to melt the glaze.

Teresa creates a wonderful aesthetic through her choice of media. She adapted the age-old technique of clay slip-trailing to stoneware because it is a clay that, when fired to maturity, becomes a sturdy, chip-resistant material ideal for use in cooking, baking, serving and in the garden. Wingar’s highly functional pieces are meant to be used because of their durability. They are a delight to use because of their beauty and thoughtful ergonomic design.

The intrinsic instability of her liquid clay slip decorating material both balances and highlights the perfection of her thrown stoneware pieces. The satisfying texture and fluctuating fluidity of her raised symmetrical designs makes each piece so much more exciting and treasured than one formed by machined replication. Each piece is an eye-catching testament to the skill she has honed over the years.

Never Let It Rest

Wingar's exceptional workmanship is hard-earned and has won her a faithful following of clients who collect her pieces. Each year she creates a new design while conscientiously maintaining an "open stock" of former designs for collectors who show up regularly to add to their existing sets.

When I comment on the extraordinary amount of work she does to ensure each piece is lavishly and thoroughly decorated, including bottoms and hard-to-reach places like inside rims, her response catches me completely off guard: "I'm really happy that people love my work. I strive very hard to make my pieces worth gasping for."

Until Your Good is Better

Born in Hampshire County in Southern England, Teresa grew up in a village where she loved to play with the sticky clay in the family garden. Her mother had been a textile artist; Teresa thought she would follow in her footsteps or become a musician, until an art teacher discovered her aptitude for pottery. The teacher encouraged Teresa to attend Hill College, an all girls' school with an excellent reputation for teaching Art and Ceramics. Teresa's reluctance to forego a co-ed environment was quickly overcome by her love of the training, and she continued at the Southampton College of Art. When I comment about how surprisingly light even her largest pieces are, she tells me she remembers instructors slicing pots in half to ensure absolute uniformity of thickness throughout.

During her apprenticeship with a local potter, she gained marketing and business experience. She established her own studio in 1982, in a former undertaker's carriage house. When her husband, Simon Wingar, accepted a job offer from Northern Telecom in Nepean in 1988, the couple first settled in Kanata. They started searching for a country home soon after, and eventually stopped at a "For Sale" sign on a four-acre plot on Diamondview Rd. in Kinburn. Teresa continued her potting in her Kanata basement, supplying functional pieces to gift shops, until they were able to move to their "new old house" in 1998.

When Carp resident Hildegarde Anderson’s dream of a prairie-style farmers' market became a reality in January of 1990, Teresa bought a portable table and began selling her pottery at the Carp Farmers' Market each summer Saturday. On December 6 and 7, 2013 she will be among the 70 vendors at the 24th edition of their Christmas Market When Carp resident Hildegarde Anderson’s dream of a prairie-style farmers’ market became a reality in January of 1990, Teresa bought a portable table and be-gan selling her pottery at the Carp Farmers' Market each summer Saturday. On December 6 and 7 she will be among the 70 vendors at the 24th edition of their Christmas Market.

And Your Better Best

Her commercial successes at the Carp Farmers' Market and elsewhere, along with the encouragement of other artisans, led her to experiment ever further with her slipware decorations. Her work is strongly influenced by 17th, 18th and 19th century English designs, ranging from Thomas Toft's slipware to William Morris's wallpaper designs and Liberty fabric prints. As an aside, I discovered that in 2010 a Staffordshire slipware dish by William Talor, circa 1680–85, sold for $86,867 Cdn. at a Bonhams auction. Encyclopedia Britannica's website reports, "Dotted and trailed slip decoration was probably never so well executed as in 17th-century England... The technique demanded great dexterity and control..."

Potter Teresa Wingar

Wingar cites two specific events as the catalysts for elevating her slipware to its current artistic level. The first was building her own studio and expanding it to in-clude a display area and a separate kiln room. The second was her invitation to join the juried ceramic art group known as 260 Fingers. Wingar was invited to join in 2006, the year after it was formed. She is the eighth of the 26 ceramic artists comprising this group that theHumm has featured. Their annual exhibition and sale will take place at the Glebe Community Centre at 690 Lyon Street (at Third Avenue) in Ottawa on November 8–10, 2013. It is a prime destination for lovers of ceramic art.

Another wonderful opportunity to see the fine art of Teresa Wingar and many other local artists exists because of the unflagging efforts of two of the organizers of 260 Fingers. Last April, Chandler Swain and Richard Skrobecki opened General Fine Craft, Art & Design at 63 Mill Street in Almonte.

On November 23 and 24, 2013 you can see for yourself why Teresa Wingar's home studio at 3181 Diamondview Rd. in Kinburn inspires her to continue her quest to do her best. It is Studio 11 on the biannual Red Trillium Studio Tour. You can find her contact information in her Humm listing to schedule an appointment to visit her studio at other times.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Mar 2013

Local Book Shop Celebrates 20 Years

Nestled along Arnprior's main street between Bonnie Jane's Coffee Shop and The Gallery Gift Shop, this charming one-and-a-half storey mecca of books has become the unofficial gathering place for story loves and those with stories to tell. The shop is a literary water-cooler where folks discuss old favourites and hot-off-the-press sensations; it's a fresh and welcoming place for children's story time, and an intimate and sympathetic setting for local artists and those of national acclaim who comes to share their works.

Arnprior Book Shop

Storie, along with booksellers Debbie Gahan and Pam Mitchell who have been with the shop from the start, all have an appreciation for books that runs deep. Their recommndations are impeccable and the shop's offerings are as irresistible as the coffee and scones served in the connecting shop.

It takes a dedicated soul to carry the bibliophile torch these days, but Storie is meeting the challenges of today's market with finesse. "My main attraction is the fact that I am still an old-fashioned bookstore," she says. Trends and business practices have changed rapidly since the days when Storie poured over publishing directories and bestseller lists. Although the shop has diversified organically over the years, reflecting changes in the community, it has retained the small and personal nature that gives it an edge over the large box stores and online e-tailers. Storie is somewhat dismayed over giving up bookshelf space for gifts, but she does what is necessary to survive the vagaries of the marketplace.

As with any local business, the shop's strength lies in the value it adds to its community. Storie, who has never thought of her store as a retail outlet, has created a vibrant shop that is an integral part of the downtown landscape, providing space for book lovers, new moms, seniors, and those in want of a place to linger. It is a space to engage in face-to-face communication about everything from books to the local hockey team or the weather. And now, twenty years along, The Arnprior Book Shop is providing a place for a new generation of book lovers to find inspiration and sustenance for the soul. "It's always exciting to share new books with children whose parents came by the shop when they were young," says bookseller Gahan.

What Storie has enjoyed most over the last twenty years "would be in equal measure: the books themselves as they come in the door, the people that I have worked with (they are treasures themselves), of course the customers, and once again, the books themselves," she says with a gentle wit that punctuates her love of the product she shares.

"I feel very grateful and blessed to have been a part of this business. And if in a small way I have been a part of the magical alchemy of people and chatting and books and ideas and community then I believe that I have accomplished what I set out to do." And we are thankful for that, because, to take some liberties with a Cicero quote, a community without books is like a body without a soul.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm Contributor: Robyn Eagan

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Jan 2013

Back Forty Cheese

Welcome to 2013 everyone! My New Year’s resolution? To savour. This one word has the potential to affect all aspects of my life — how I walk through the landscape, how I settle into work in the studio, and how I spend time with friends. It may even focus attention on words coming out of my mouth. Naturally, it will also require that I relish the taste of that which goes into my mouth!

The owners of Back Forty

Savouring implies a certain deliberation in noticing. It also implies a kind of openness and sometimes also a responsiveness to what is revealed. It is unhurried, undramatic. It suggests a fullness of experience.

As I write, it is Christmas Eve day. I am savouring the last few moments of quiet before the event of fabulous family descent. Next to me is a lovely, small, handmade plate with a finger smear of cheese “goo” remaining on it. My savouring powers are in training — preparation for both my New Year’s commitment and for writing this article about one of the most truly remarkable gifts of the edible kind that this county has to offer. The streak of cheese is left from the piece of Madawaska I have just treated my nose and mouth to. The maker of this particular cheese is Jeff Fenwick of Back Forty Artisan Cheese.

As anyone who frequents the Carp Farmers’ Market will know, Back Forty has been offering its fine goods for the last decade or so. Founded by James Keith and his late wife Liz, the four cheeses they developed and sold have become favourites on cheese plates and with chefs across Ontario.

In early 2012, Jeff Fenwick and his wife Jenna bought the business from James, as well as the farm where the cheeses are made in a small cheese kitchen and aging cave. A move to the Lanark Highlands was welcome for this thirty-something couple that had been living in downtown Hamilton for years. And the timing could not have been more perfect. Jeff had recently removed himself from a corporate environment and was ruminating over the possibilities of being self-employed. His previous experience in sales and sales-management, matched with a passion for good food, naturally led him to entertain thoughts of a food-related endeavour. Jenna, a textile artist who had been running her successful business for six years since graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, was also needing a “pause” for reflection and regrouping.

Jenna’s parents, who live in the area, heard about the sale of Back Forty and passed the word along to Jeff and Jenna. Cheese-making was not something they had imagined, but a kernel of curiosity was seeded, and they investigated. And here they are a year later — in love with the land, the cheeses, and the shift to country living. They are, as they say, living the dream and truly thriving. Jenna has already renovated an outbuilding into a studio and is back at work with renewed energy, focus and pleasure. Her textile work is gorgeous. I encourage everyone to check out her website for a taste. She also has a hand in the cheese business — lending her artistic eye and photography skills to the presentation end of things as well as helping on market days.

To take over the production of a very highly regarded product must be a bit intimidating, but Jeff has become a cheese-maker extraordinaire in under a year. Admittedly now a bit of a cheese-freak, he’s been “studying like crazy”, reading everything he can find on cheese-making since taking the plunge into his new occupation. Training your brain to make cheese is one part of the cheese-maker’s education, but training your senses is the other half, and that only comes through experience. It seems like a well-balanced combination between technique, science and feel — the analy-tic and the sensual. Jeff has been lucky to have the support and guidance of previous owner James Keith during this transition of ownership and it has helped him assume his new role as an artisan cheese-maker.

Back Forty’s four cheeses are made with unpasteurized ewe’s milk delivered from a small flock (about 110) of meticulously kept British Milk Sheep, from a small family farm near Guelph. Sheep’s milk is one of the best cheese-making milks, due in part to its subtle, clean taste and higher fat content. It is also higher in nutrients and protein and is easier to digest than cow’s milk. By not pasteurizing the milk, the complex flavours, nutrients and beneficial microorganisms are retained. Any unwanted bacteria perish during the aging process (minimum of sixty days).

The cheeses are phenomenal. As suggested in the recipe above, they are wonderful savoured on their own, without condiments or crackers, but perhaps paired with a complementary wine or beer (see tasting notes on their website under “handcrafted cheeses”). The names of the four cheeses are taken from some of the landmarks in the county — the Madawaska and Bonnechere Rivers, Flower Station and Lanark Highlands. I love that the Bonnechere — my personal favourite — can be interpreted as “dear one” and appropriately also “good eating”. Both titles are suited as much to this lovingly tended, beautifully toasted, semi-firm cheese as it is to Back Forty entirely. If you have a chance, sit down with a generous piece or two and savour the experience.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Jul 2013

Bloomfield Farm — Making Connections

It may have been the wooden row marker sticking out of the pocket of some well worn Carhartt work pants, or the plaid shirt, or the dirt-inscribed hands that gave her away, but the tentative ‘Rebecca?’ I uttered towards the petit woman packing up her computer at the Equator Café in Almonte was met with a generous grin. I seem to have a knack for spotting farmers!

Rebecca Bloomfield

Rebecca Bloomfield is a soft-spoken, unassuming 31-year-old; and yet is as engaged, thoughtful and committed as it gets when it comes to, well, being in the world and doing what she is doing… which, as of this year, is farming here in Lanark County.

Rebecca’s journey to our parts is a winding one. Born and raised near Cleveland Ohio, her “taste” for Canada developed during summers in northern Ontario and university years at Queen’s in Kingston. A course in food security piqued her interest and concern in our current food systems and the mire of problems resulting from the past six decades of industrial agriculture. This course fundamentally changed the way she considered the food she eats. While at Queen’s she also met her partner-to-be: the musician (Juno nominee, no less), Craig Cardiff. As it happens, he lives in Arnprior and it seems we have him to thank for luring Rebecca into our midst!

But before she landed here, Rebecca took her newfound food passion on the road for several years to explore as many facets and approaches to farming as she could. A three-month fellowship at ADAMAH in Connecticut was a turning point for Rebecca. The program, which integrates organic farming, sustainable living, Jewish learning, community building and contemplative spiritual practice, was a deeply meaningful experience for Rebecca. It enabled her to see how the deepest parts of herself related to each other and could inform her life in an integrated way.

Other formative work included WWOOFing in Italy, teaching at The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, completing a one-year certificate in organic farming at Michigan State University and then working there to revise and manage the program for another year. All of these experiences were invaluable not only in providing practical knowledge and a window into diverse approaches, but also in demonstrating the powerful effects that growing good food sustainably has, both on a personal level and within the broader community.

So, how does one go from this to starting a farm? It seems if one is open to seeing the opportunities the world presents and one’s approach is flexible, things start to happen! While attending a yoga class in Almonte, Rebecca mentioned to someone that she was looking for land to start a farm, and was overheard by local farmer/yoga teacher/founder of SpiritMatters, Julie Yeaman. Julie and her husband Stewart, both “retired” (ha!) to farming, after careers in teaching and data systems design respectively. With three hoop houses to grow greens in, they operate a shoulder season CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Last fall Rebecca helped them out with the harvest. After time spent with them in the greenhouses exchanging methods, ideas and labour, she was offered the opportunity to start her market garden at Julie and Stewart’s farm. Rebecca acknowledges that this access to land, a greenhouse and an established infrastructure has been a very significant leg up.

An “incubator farm” as this arrangement may be coined, is a great opportunity for people (farmers or not) with extra land to help out a new farmer. Many well-qualified, energetic and driven people are prevented from starting a farm due to the large capital output needed to purchase good land. But if people with land are open to hosting an emergent farmer, a win-win situation can often be had, particularly if values and life philosophies are compatible. Says Julie Yeaman, “We are living in changing times that require us to change the way we do things… we have to find ways to get along!” This is a wonderful example.

Land: check. But what is an emerging farmer to do about raising some “seed money”? Well, if you are Rebecca, you start a crowdfunding campaign, of course! A bit like venture capital meets microfinance meets charitable fundraising; ideas are pitched through an online site ( in this instance) and sent out to the world via personal social networks. The people Rebecca had connected with in the years of accumulating experience suddenly became a rather large social network she could pitch to. “How to Start a Farm in 5 Minutes” is the video (on her website) Rebecca made for her campaign that introduces herself and the reasons why supporting the start-up of a new organic farm is something everyone should want to do. It was convincing to enough people (friends, family and strangers alike) for her to successfully reach her fundraising goal of $14,000 by the end of May 2013. Not bad.

Bloomfield Farm is well on its way! Rebecca is now selling at the Almonte Farmers Market on Saturdays and is also offering CSA shares. Look for the hakurai turnips – deeee-li-cious – and other unusual varieties.

Rebecca has a gift for connecting thoughtfully both in a person–to-person way and also via technology (see her informative website and Facebook page for all kinds of information, or sign up to receive her newsletters). Her natural affinity for, and creative approaches to, sharing knowledge about growing food is refreshing. I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing some interesting collaborations and positive contributions to the community in upcoming years from this innovative and resourceful farmer

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 Aug 2013

Castor River Farm: Going With the Grain

I just put a bowl of rolled oats in the fridge to soak overnight with some yogurt, hazelnuts, raisins, cranberries and cherries for tomorrow’s breakfast (see my recipe). Nothing terribly unusual about that, except that rather than coming from a box of Quaker oats or a bulk bin somewhere, the oats came (produced and rolled) from a small farm near Metcalfe: Castor River Farm.

George Wright of Castor River Farm

Greeting my eyes as I drove up the long tree-flanked driveway of the farm were grazing hens, a pond (complete with a homemade diving board, rope swing, and slide), a gaggle of ducks waddling around its periphery, a lovely old dog barking his notice of me, and a big field to the side with several Large Black sows moving purposely towards the mud puddles, with piglets trotting alongside. I sat on a bench in dappled shade halfway up the laneway, where the farm store is located, and talked with owner George Wright for a good 90 minutes. With three kids, lots of animals, and visiting customers, it’s a pretty happening place on a Sunday!

George Wright and his wife Kim MacMullin have been farming here for about 22 years. They bought the land from George’s parents, built an off-grid house, and started farming. Like many other farmers in the area he grew cash crops conventionally (i.e. grain crops that are primarily sold at harvest in large quantities into the industrial food system). When one year the grain elevator at Port of Prescott stopped buying wheat because a local ethanol plant had rented all the available storage space, George had to dump his year’s harvest. It taught him an important lesson — be sure you can sell what you grow, and if you can’t sell it have other uses for it. It seems obvious, but it’s not common practice in much of today’s farming sector where selling cash crops to a middleman is the end goal.

George transitioned Castor River Farm from conventional to (uncertified) organic practices about a decade ago. Part of this decision was due to his concern about the regular exposure to chemical sprays that farmers, himself included, inevitably experienced. Also, what were sprays doing to the soil and to the food produced?

A holistic approach to farming supports biodiversity and sustainability, as opposed to a monoculture approach which demands a whole different level of engagement, problem solving and conviction. George stated “There are 20 things I can do or need to do to beat the weeds. Conventional farmers can just spray. But is that sustainable in the long term?”

Today the farm supports a web of mutually beneficial relationships on micro and macro levels. It is not without its challenges. Finding and implementing organic solutions to problems when considering the complexity of a whole ecosystem is time consuming. Agricultural research in Canada prioritizes industrial agriculture. Seeds, chemicals, machinery and technologies are all developed for large scale, industrial production of a few crops — namely wheat, oats, canola, corn and soybeans. It is difficult to find needed research, resources, equipment and support suited to small-scale, diversified organic grain producers.

I asked George about this and how, despite this, he has learned about small-scale organic grain production. He told me there are several associations that circulate information and convene regularly, such as Northern Grain Growers Association (NGGA) in Vermont, and Organic Grain Research and Information-Sharing Network (OGRIN) in New York State. Farming mentors/gurus Joel Salatin and Will Allan have been inspiring and influential. He also credits a nearby conventional farmer he’s worked with, Joe Stachon, from whom he has learned a lot over the years — not the least of which has been bookkeeping. Surprisingly too, podcasts are a valuable tool for learning. “I can listen to them while doing the dishes!”

Growing food-grade organic grain production for sale directly to consumers is the farm’s main goal, but pastured chicken, eggs, pork, a bit of beef, maple syrup and the preserves that Kim makes are also sold. Rather than grow large amounts of a couple of cash crops (corn and soybeans are prevalent here) where external inputs are high and costly (fertilizer, sprays, seeds, fuel), and everything seems to be “taken off” the land, Castor River harvests relatively small crops of numerous grains (see list at right). The grains are selected based on their availability (it’s not always easy to find seed), their suitability to organic practices, their resistance to weather (stalk length and width) and disease problems, their taste, their hullability, and their potential appeal/use to the customer. Their animals (pigs, ducks, dairy cows, chickens) play an integral role on the farm and are also selected according to their ability to cycle nutrients (in the form of manure) back to the soil, to utilize “waste” by-products (whey, any grain unsuited for food grade sales, straw) and to generate meat and eggs for the family and customers.

Selling directly to the consumer is now George and Kim’s modus operandi. Currently, farmers’ markets in Manotick and Ottawa, and their on-farm store, are the main venues for their sales. George is definitely not shy on ideas and areas for further experimentation — both in potential products to market (dried beans for soup mixes, mustard seed, homemade cereals) and in cultivating alliances with local entrepreneurs like bakers and brewers wanting to source raw ingredients locally. However, finding committed partners doesn’t happen overnight and new ideas (like using local spelt, or rye for artisan bread-making, or barley malt for brewing) take time to ferment once the seed (of an idea) is planted. Perseverance and patience will hopefully lead to fruitful outcomes.

Ready to start baking? Consider a trip out to the farm on Sundays or catch George and Kim at market to pick up some milled-on-the-spot organic flours, eggs, and rolled oats. Feeling lazy? There are also prepared mixes for pancakes and cookies available. What I’ve outlined is only a taste of what’s available from this interesting gem of a farm. Also be sure to check out their great website for much more information and inspiration.

Postscript: Today’s muesli was scrumptious…

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 May 2013

Permaculture Passion

When was the last time you carefully considered a tree? It is truly a beautiful creation. Well, actually it’s more like a miracle — one that we often overlook. Initially, to the virgin observer, it may seem to be just a pleasant form occupying some space in a yard, field or forest; but linger awhile in the company of this tree and its subtler, more complex and perhaps powerful attributes reveal themselves. Leaves provide shade at the hottest time of the year — to you and your home, as well as to the ground beneath it and the creatures within the soil. Photosynthesis transforms carbon dioxide into sugar the tree uses, and expels “waste” oxygen, contributing to the air we breathe. Roots hold soil in place, helping to prevent erosion, and cycle water up from the soil, to leaves, to air, creating pockets of humidity. Leaves, fruits, flowers and nuts provide nourishment for birds, insects, animals and us. Branches and bark (even of dying trees) provide nesting and roosting habitat for all sorts of critters, and potentially wood for us or soil nutrients through decay. The whole tree impacts the wellbeing of the other beings around it, and their wellbeing impacts the tree in turn. And so it goes… Connections become unearthed like underground webs of mycelium.

Bonita Ford and Sébastien Bacharach

Permaculture is a design system that can be broadly applied to physical systems (farms, gardens, cities) and to social systems (organizational flows, business models, school curricula) anywhere. It draws from multiple disciplines and careful observation of natural systems, skilfully weaving together complementary components to develop synergetic systems for our lives and communities.

Fundamental principles include multiple functionality (i.e. components of the design have more than one purpose), appropriately scaled actions (i.e. determine what the smallest changes are to impart the greatest benefit), extended timeframes (look at nature’s timeline — things evolve slowly), supporting synergetic relationships, maximizing diversity, working with rather than against what you already have, creating abundance, minimizing waste, and cycling excess back into the system. It can become an insightful, holistic process of shaping one’s own life and the social and ecological environments we are part of, and it has the potential to deepen the alignment of personal ethics with practice and action.

The term “permaculture” — think permanent (truly sustainable) plus (agri)culture — was coined by Australian Bill Mollison in the late '70s. The movement originally held favour with back-to-the-landers and had a land-centred focus. Since then it has spread around the globe and is now permeating the minds and imaginations of people beyond eco-conscious gardeners, farmers and homesteaders. Its holistic and fully engaged approach to design is now being applied to individuals, interpersonal relationships, organizations, businesses, and even entire communities.

Two individuals passionate about applying permaculture practices to their life, work and community are Bonita Ford and Sébastien Bacharach. They migrated independently (from Ontario and France respectively) to San Francisco in 2001, where they each became actively engaged in the community gardening and ecological networks in the Bay area. In 2005 they met, aligned forces, and spent a couple of years thereafter doing work exchanges on farms in France, Ontario and Quebec. While WWOOFing on a farm near Merrickville, Perth emerged as a potential place to put some roots down. Its active and growing local food scene, alternate health practitioners, thriving cultural community, and good measure of community engagement resonated with them. They settled into the community, bought a house a few years ago, and are in the midst of creatively and thoughtfully configuring their spaces and lives here, using permaculture principles.

Building Perma-community

In the past few years they have taught numerous (sold out) permaculture workshops to groups in the area and in Ottawa. Bonita was instrumental in organizing a second regional Permaculture Convergence in March 2013, which was a huge success. In the fall of 2013 they will lead a third Permaculture Design Course in Ottawa — an 84-hour intensive course completed over three weekends. Two other workshops were offered in Perth recently: Loving Earth and Building Soil, and Ecological Design & Gardening: Intro to Permaculture. Bonita’s interest in personal journeys and healing can sometimes be found woven into the fabric of her workshops. She often integrates elements from Reiki, nonviolent communication, and shamanism, as well as Earth- and body-centred practices into the mix.

Much of Sébastien’s inspiration comes from witnessing and/or enabling the emergence of innovative community-initiated projects (e.g. seed libraries, repair cafés, community gardens). Building thriving community is at the core of his work and may be what inspired Bonita and him to start a chapter of Transition Town in Perth. The Transition Movement deserves an article unto itself, but suffice it to say it uses permaculture strategies to help communities transition from systems based on a fossil fuel economy to something more sustainable, through community engagement and capacity building. See <> for more information.

Due largely to their efforts, vision and great generosity of spirit, an understanding of permaculture and opportunities for learning about it are increasingly available in the region. The great response in Eastern Ontario to their work, and a connection made with Douglas Barnes, a passionate permaculturist living in the Tweed area, has recently led to their joint founding of The Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario. Check out the PIEO website for lots more information about permaculture and to keep abreast of numerous events happening in the area.

When Bonita and Sébastien chose to settle in Perth they noted a “gap” — the absence of permaculture education in the area. They hoped it could become an opportunity for them to contribute their skills and passion to the community. The response to permaculture has been terrific and their vision is unfolding. It appears that Perth is now well on the way to becoming a permaculture hub for Eastern Ontario.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Mar 2013

Forty Years at Fortune Farms

In 1972, Ruth and I were living in Kanata with our five young children. We were making maple syrup for fun at a borrowed maple bush and it was a wonderful experience for our children, as they and their friends all participated. We decided to get serious about the maple business and were fortunate to purchase an operating and long standing mature maple bush from Alice and Neil MacIntosh. Our first year of operation was 1973 — forty years ago. The MacIntoshes were known for the quality of their syrup and we continued to supply syrup to their customers.

Fortune Farms crew

We started with a small number of taps, as we were only able to come on weekends and holidays. We were able to arrange for a neighbour, Bert Thompson, to boil for us and we gradually expanded our operation. We also found that the syrup producers are a close-knit group ready to share experience and advice. Marion Paul in particular, from the well-known Lanark Paul family, helped us in the early years, as she has done for many other producers.

The first major improvement was the installation of Hydro, which permitted us to have good lighting in the camp and to install a vacuum system on our pipelines. With this system, we collected as much sap from 1000 taps as we had previously done with 1800 taps. This greatly reduced the work involved in washing and rehanging the pipelines each year.

As the children got older and began to develop rural roots they were even more helpful. One son, Jamie, and his wife Sherry, operated the bush while Ruth and I spent six years in Edmonton on a work assignment. In 1990 our evaporator needed to be replaced and we decided to undertake major improvements, with a new camp and new equipment. In 2006 we added a reverse osmosis system which greatly improved our efficiency. It piqued the curiosity of our customers, who feared that it might change the maple syrup flavour. Fortunately it did not.

In 1997 a small tornado blew down a section of our bush and, in January 1998, the ice storm did further damage to the trees and destroyed the pipeline system. With help from friends and neighbours we were able to rebuild the system, tap the undamaged trees, and produce syrup that spring. Later that year, to replace the missing taps, we purchased a second maple bush near Clayton. Our trees have slowly recovered from the ice storm and, with the new property, we now have more than 7000 taps.

In October 2006, our camp burned down due to a faulty propane torch. Once again, with the help of friends and neighbours, we were able to rebuild the camp, install new equipment and produce syrup the following spring. The way the rural community steps in to help those in need is truly remarkable, and we are very grateful for all the help we have received over the years.

Early on, we found that our friends in Kanata were very interested in our maple syrup venture and in visiting the sugar bush every year for a taste of fresh syrup. Our camp has always been open to visitors, and in 1997 the Kettle Boys and Shanty Men set up shop to provide a unique maple experience. Our maple bush and woodlot are part of the Eastern Ontario Model Forest demonstration network, and we have had the opportunity to compare our forestry activities with many international visitors.

So why do we do this? It’s a family affair — not only our immediate family, but the extended family of friends who visit each year. Over our forty years of operation, our circle of friends has spread far and wide. Grandchildren of people who we first met in the 1970s, are now appearing at the camp. Of course our own family, which also now involves grandchildren, is the cornerstone of the operation. We hope it will continue for many future generations.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm Contributor - Ray Fortune

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Jun 2013

The Garden of Herbaceous Delights

I love this time of year. The air is saturated with intoxicating smells and the sounds of birds. Plants are pushing up out of the earth and the healing power and promise of fresh new green is abundant. I have finally spent several hours in my perennial gardens rearranging the furniture (aka cleaning up, dividing and transplanting) and saying hello again to all of the plant friends I’d forgotten about over the winter. As I work my way through the beds I am reminded of just how much pleasure the numerous herbs I’ve planted bring to me — their wafting aromas greeting me as I move amongst them. Herbs truly are some of my most favourite plants, and they feature prominently in both my vegetable, perennial and potted gardens. Beautiful and tough — often performing best in lean, hot, dry conditions — herbs have been valued for hundreds of years for their culinary and medicinal properties. To me, they are sort of the “shamans” of the plant world — unassuming but potent.

George of The Herb Garden

Herbal gardens have been around for a long time. Evidence shows that as early as 4000b.c. herb gardens were built near Egyptian temples. In the past century we have witnessed a decline in such spaces due, in part I’m guessing, to a simultaneous increase in modern pharmaceuticals. However, there is a place in our midst that is dedicated to promoting the culture and cultivation of herbs. The Herb Garden — located just east of Almonte — offers the public a sanctuary to visit, a place to learn about and purchase herbs, and a beautiful place to rent for private functions such as weddings, reunions or corporate events.

Over the past ten years, owners Gerry and George (apparently last names are not commonly used with these two!) have spawned a number of diverse attractions and opportunities at the location. There is something of interest for everyone at the Herb Garden! For fans of local history, the beautifully restored log barns, built by Irish settlers (the Meehans) in the 1830s, are sure to be of interest. The Meehan family has even booked the farm for their family reunion this summer! For those wanting an encounter with nature, a wetland trail is ready to greet your walking shoes. For something a bit more contemplative, one can walk slowly through the labyrinth that was constructed several years ago. Aromatic herbs line the pathways and help to slow racing brains, focusing one’s attention on each step of the journey.

Time to plant some herbs? The Herb Garden offers a wide selection of tender and hardy culinary herbs for sale. For those seeking information about what to do with those herbs, three workshops about how to care for and harvest them are offered this year, free of charge. Hungry? Once a month, catered “family-style” dinners in the renovated barn are tremendously popular. Call to reserve a seat. To top off your experience, an art gallery and artisan boutique are housed in two of their other log buildings, and feature local art and handmade items. See their website for details, dates and hours of operation.

The grounds feature demonstration gardens that provide a display of mature, hardy, perennial herbs. These and the lovely gazebo overlooking the gardens are both a selling point and often the focal points for weddings. And weddings are a big part of Gerry and George’s business. I suppose their own wedding (soon after moving to the farm a decade ago) must have made a light-bulb go off, for they began developing the location to appeal to and accommodate large and small wedding parties, as well as other social and corporate functions.

The largest and perhaps best known of the public events hosted at the Herb Garden is Herbfest (every July). After 17 years, this one-day herbal extravaganza, organized by the Ottawa Valley Herb Association, continues to attract a dedicated and diverse array of vendors and visitors, including herbalists, artisans, herb growers, foodies and chefs. The event boasts a day-long program of entertainment, demonstrations and a unique shopping environment with over 100 vendors from across the region.

Gerry (he) and George (she) landed here after winding up previous careers in corporate “head-hunting” and geriatric psychiatry respectively. They sought and found a significant change of scenery in both their home and work lives, and established a home base closer to Gerry’s activities as a kayak enthusiast. With little previous experience with either gardening or herbs, neither of them would have imagined owning and running a herb garden. However, as Gerry puts it, “It was a turnkey business opportunity” (i.e. it was a well-established business), and what they could and did bring to it was their entrepreneurial flare, marketing savvy and a strong work ethic. The learning curve was steep at first and Gerry is the first to credit the great staff that stayed on through the change in ownership. This enabled the knowledge transfer of herb growing and garden maintenance to unfold smoothly. In the ensuing years, the couple has shaped the business in ways that have put their own stamp on it. Judging from the sheer diversity of services the business offers its clientele, G & G are doing a crack job of it!

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Dec 2012

Hummingbird Chocolate Makers

It’s holiday season once again and, love it or hate it, it can be a challenging time for many of us. Esteemed readers, if there is one bit of advice I might impart to you for taking the edge off the Christmas craze, it is this. Buy, eat, and share good chocolate.

Erica and Drew Gilmour of Hummingbird Chocolate

It may indeed be that simple.

On this late November afternoon when, according to the media (even in Canada) I should be putting armour on and stampeding through the doors of some mall with battalions of other “smart shoppers” to save myself untold amounts on Black Friday deals, I have instead put on some music, stared out the window at the first fat flakes of snow, and nibbled on 50 grams of the best tasting bits of chocolate I have indulged in for a long time. This is far and away a better and cheaper option than “shopping therapy”.

Welcome to the tiny but burgeoning world that is the “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers’ sub-culture into which Hummingbird Chocolate (the object of my above-mentioned indulgences and the subject of this profile) has leapt. Since launching themselves this summer with three new 70% cacao, single origin chocolate bars, their Bolivia, Hispaniola and Peru bars have been receiving glowing accolades from chocolate aficionados.

“Single origin” chocolate uses beans from a single region — sometimes as regional as a single farm. By doing so, nuances of flavor intrinsic to the bean grown within a specific region are said to be unlocked. Learning how to do this is the key!

Erica and Drew Gilmour are the makers behind Hummingbird Chocolate. Noting the emergence of artisanal chocolate makers in North America several years ago, Erica started trying her hand at making chocolate by researching online how to start. And why not? Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and has other reputed health benefits, not the least of which is that it injects a healthy dose of feel-good serotonin! This aside, Erica’s first endeavours were simply for fun and for the love of chocolate. However, when friends started asking for bars, she began exploring the potential for turning the hobby into a small-scale business. She started delving deeper by taking an online course through Ecole Chocolat that honed her tasting abilities and her knowledge of chocolate varieties. Simultaneously, Drew’s work–related visits to Haiti at the time introduced him to the production of cacao and to some of its producers. The stars began to align.

Fast forward to today. Following the success of their “test launch” this summer, and to keep pace with fast growing demand, they are moving into their new digs below Alice’s Village Café, the welcoming new food hub in downtown Carp. With some newly-arrived equipment and more space, they expect to be able to increase production from 800 to 5000 bars per month in the New Year.

Much like the way in which some wines highlight the characteristics of a specific grape grown in a specific location or “terroir”, Hummingbird chocolate bars each express the unique characteristics of the beans used in making them. It has taken much learning, experimentation, sensitivity and patience to develop the skills necessary for making their exceptional chocolate bars and to source a supply of the beans. Needless to say, they are passionate and dedicated to their mission!

The process of transforming cacao beans into chocolate bars is a lengthy one (a detailed description can be found on the Hummingbird website). To grossly simplify the process, chocolate makers take fermented raw cacao beans and turn them into chocolate “couverture” that can be used to make a final chocolate product. It takes Erica and Drew about a week to make a batch of solid chocolate couverture that is then aged for about a month to allow flavours to develop and mature. Tempering — the art of melting the chocolate to give it sheen and snap — prepares the chocolate for pouring into molds. These are the final stages before packaging.

Hummingbird chocolate bars are about as pure as they come with only three ingredients: 70% cacao (the baseline amount for dark chocolate), cane sugar and cocoa butter. What differentiates them from each other are the beans used. Specific varieties of top quality beans have been selected for their sought after flavours.

Having both grown up on farms, a focused interest in agriculture and farmer-centric community development appears to have guided Erica and Drew throughout their lives. Each of them has an impressive history of work in international development. They have worked independently in such places as Iraq, Zimbabwe, the Balkans, and for years in Afghanistan where they eventually met and wound up establishing their own development agency (Development Works, — a social enterprise agency that builds rural opportunity in developing countries. With the birth of their daughter, Hannah (now 6), working in a less dangerous environment became a priority and they moved back to Canada (Stittsville to be precise).

This might all seem somehow incongruous to their new careers in the artisanal chocolate makers’ world, but not when you consider that the cacao beans they purchase are organic and fairly traded (meaning that producers get a better deal for their product and usually develop longer-term, more secure trading relationships). Erica and Drew are now beginning to take their principles a step further — the goal being to direct source their beans. This means that rather than purchasing through a broker, they hope to establish relationships directly with each of the producers of the beans they want to use. A direct relationship with the producer helps ensure even greater bean quality and specificity, and an adherence to standards such as organic practices and the preservation of biodiversity. Importantly, it also directs more money into the producer’s hands. Significant changes are beginning to occur as a result of this sort of arrangement. In some places the tide of migration from farm to city by younger generations has even begun to turn around as farming begins to be seen as a viable and valued occupation. In the end, the overarching principle is to contribute to the development of a sustainable farming future for rural families, while making an exceptional chocolate product available for public enjoyment.And they seem to be succeeding!

For those of you who might just be tempted to seek out some Hummingbird Chocolate as a holiday gift for friends, family or (ahem) as your own stocking stuffer, check out their website for retail listings and Christmas Market dates.

As an aside, a big heartfelt thanks to all the farmers and the land that has grown the food that we may be fortunate enough to enjoy this holiday season. Happy Holidays!

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Oct 2012

Farming Gold

As a local food devotee, I care about how many kilometers my food travels before it gets to me. My tomatoes walked into my kitchen from my garden, the red peppers I picked up at a local farmers’ market. When I go to the grocery store I look for Ontario products first, then expand my search to include Canadian-grown goods. However, as a foodie, there are some exceptions I am willing to make.

Kricklewood Farm's owners

Nobody in Ontario is growing coffee plants or cinnamon trees. Cocoa plantations are not exactly plentiful around here. And, as far as I know, there are no olive orchards producing their own bottles of extra virgin oil with Foodland Ontario stickers on them.

But step outside the box for a moment and join Dale Horeczy and Brad Daily of Kricklewood Farm just outside of Smiths Falls in Frankville. Their organic, cold pressed sunflower oil might have you ditching your Tuscan Olio di Oliva for some homegrown “sunshine in a bottle.”

Planting the Seed

Dale and Brad are both originally from Winnipeg but have spent a significant amount of time in Montreal and then Atlanta. When homesickness for Canada set in and the two started looking for rural property between Kingston and Ottawa. During their search they happened upon an old stone house and iconic post and beam barn on ninety acres and they knew they had found the perfect spot for their farm.

The farming bug had bitten them while they were living in Atlanta. The urban agriculture scene there is thriving, with small farms popping up within the city limits, strengthening the connections between food producers and food eaters. It was at a goat cheese-making workshop there about five years ago that Dale and Brad discovered the versatile qualities of goat’s milk, and the idea for a farm-based business of their own started to grow.

Today, Kricklewood Farm produces goat milk soap, cheese and even goat milk fudge (maple cinnamon, chocolate and peanut butter are the favourite flavours). They also offer organic free-range chicken and duck eggs, seasonal produce, cut flowers and beeswax candles. But something was still missing.

Carving Out a Niche

To succeed in any kind of business, differentiation is key. What makes your business stand out from the competition? This is no less true for farm-based enterprises. Both Brad and Dale felt that doing something different and value-added with their land would help Kricklewood Farm prosper.

It was then that an article in The Ottawa Citizen about Loïc Dewavrin and his “Huiles d’Amérique” caught their attention. Loïc operates a large farm in Québec and devotes about twenty hectares to sunflowers, which he turns into premium sunflower oil. Dale and Brad got in touch with Loïc, who eventually became a mentor to them — sharing his knowledge of sunflower growing and processing. Dale and Brad meanwhile test-marketed Loïc’s sunflower oil in this area and found there was a demand. It seemed clear that sunflower oil could be the golden product they were looking for.

Liquid Gold

When I visited Kricklewood Farm this September, the fifteen acres of sunflowers in the field were long past their glory days. Most of the flowers, laden with seeds, had turned brown and were drying on the stalks. Apparently, the whole field has to turn brown before the plants will be considered ready to harvest. A frost would be helpful in drying out the plants.

Once harvested, the seed is dried and cleaned and then mechanically pressed using a traditional cold press process to extract the oil. The press at Kricklewood will be able to process forty kilograms of seed an hour and will introduce no heat (except friction) or chemicals so that the oil is as pure as possible. It is a slow, traditional process, but it retains the freshness and “sunflowery-ness” of the oil. Brad and Dale hope to produce about four thousand litres of organic cold pressed sunflower oil in 2013.

As new farmers on the block, Dale and Brad have been very thankful for the assistance they have received from neighbouring farmers. And their neighbours are showing quite an interest in the organic farming and premium product marketing that Kricklewood Farm is engaged in. Brad is quick to point out that “we are learning much more from them than they are from us.” But it is clear that the farming community is happy with the care that is going into the property, the renovation of the heritage barn, and the fact that local farmland is staying productive.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Sep 2013

The Art of Beeing

For years I have kept a collection of honeys in one of my kitchen cupboards. One of the things that I most enjoy picking up or sampling when travelling, even around the province, is honey from different places. For those of you who think honey is just honey and that it comes from a Billy Bee container… I have news for you! Just as wine is imbued with an essence of “terroir” or a taste of that place, honey is too. When beekeepers extract honey — often towards the end of the summer — they essentially bottle a record (in flavour) of the flowering plants in the vicinity that the bees have foraged from over the season. So, even within a region like Lanark County, there are numerous flavours of honey. Seek out some local beekeepers and try them out!

Paul of Lacelle's Apiary

One place to start is at the market stall of Lacelle’s Apiary at the Carp Market each Saturday. Paul Lacelle and his wife Debbie have been selling their honeys, beeswax candles and skin cream there for 15 years. Paul became smitten with bees as a kid during summer visits with his grandfather, who kept one hive in his backyard in Ottawa. Intrigued by the ability of bees to adapt to human management systems that enabled a honey harvest for human consumption, he knew it would be an activity he’d come back to eventually as an adult. And he most certainly has. Paul lives and breathes beekeeping!

Paul “retired” three years ago from a high-tech job, but has been keeping about 35–40 colonies of bees for the past twenty years on an 80-acre farm in Mississippi Mills. Last year he also started managing Propolis-etc, a new, much-needed beekeeping supply store just east of Carleton Place on Highway 7. The bright, airy store has all the equipment both hobby and professional beekeepers might require.

Aside from managing his hives and running this new store, Paul also runs workshops and courses about beekeeping. In summertime, he has 4-session courses ($60) where participants visit his bee-yard each Sunday to learn what is happening in the hive and what management practices are necessary at different times of the beekeeping season. This is an excellent way for people considering starting hives to get a sense of whether or not it is a hobby they are suited to. In the off-season of winter, he offers other month-long courses — three hours a week — at the Carleton Place library. Check the website for dates. Paul is also the president of the Lanark County Beekeepers Association. LCBA meetings (held in Perth) are excellent and welcoming forums in which to learn about beekeeping, to ask questions and to connect with professional and hobby beekeepers.

“It makes my day if I can get another beekeeper started,” Paul told me. Inspiring new beekeepers and sharing his knowledge is something he is clearly dedicated to. It is also a real gift to our community. Bees and their keepers have had an increasingly hard go, in the last eight years especially, and ensuring that new beekeepers come along with adequate training is very important to their survival.

In 2006, the occurrence of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) became front-page news around the globe. CCD was the term used to define the unprecedented colony losses that were being reported that year. Since then, researchers have been trying to understand the reasons for such a spike in bee deaths, but are so far reluctant or unable to definitively pin a single cause to CCD, though many theories abound. Since then, losses have continued to climb. It used to be normal for a beekeeper to lose 5% of colonies over the winter due to other challenges (mites, weather, starvation, disease), but this year has seen unprecedented losses — even greater than 50% in some cases.

The Neonicotinoid Connection

So bees are once again making headlines on the covers of even prominent news media like Time Magazine (August issue), and articles and reports are being circulated around Facebook daily about the latest scourge affecting them. It does seem like people are sensing the gravity of the situation. The spotlight is now focused on the apparent connection between neonicotinoid pesticides and bee deaths. In recent years, the use of neonicotinoids has become widespread. The problem is, they don’t only affect the targeted insects (the ones detrimental to the desired crops), and so although bees themselves are not targeted, they essentially become “collateral damage” — as do other soil organisms, aquatic life and farmland birds. I have not got the space to write in depth about this chemical and its effects, but I urge you to download some of the abundant information about it. A good article from the Guardian newspaper is “Neonicotinoids are the new DDT killing the natural world(to find it, google: neonicotinoids monbiot). Here’s a recent one from Ontario about a beekeeper in Grey-Bruce County: “Bees dying by the millions in Grey-Bruce” (google: post bees dying).

It is heartbreaking to read these reports. As in 2006, media attention is focusing on the implications of a honeybee-less world to our food supply. Considering they pollinate at least one third of our food crops, some argue that a world without bees would mean a fairly quick end to humans on the planet. What has received less of the media limelight is that the fact that many experts believe this “die-out” is today’s canary in a coal mine, warning us of the increasing and systemic toxicity that is occurring within our ecosystems. Food supply aside, how else will we be affected? And what about other beings?

Despite there being much research indicating a connection between dead bees and neonicotinoids — enough to cause the EU this spring to ban their use for two years until further research can be done — the evidence is still being touted as “inconclusive” by Canadian and US regulatory agencies. To me it seems a frustratingly simple equation, when presented with some basic facts — neonicotinoids are designed to kill insects by imposing serious neurological damage. If bees are ingesting even “sub-lethal” doses through the pollen and nectar collected from affected crops, it seems logical that some significant neurological damage will be done to them as the chemical accumulates in their bodies and within hives.

Amidst the rather scary implications of the current bee crisis, it is heartening that Paul Lacelle is noting a significant increase in recent years in the number of new beekeepers in the area. People are more aware of the vital role healthy bee populations play in our community, and want to play a supporting role in keeping them around. Consumers have also become increasingly suspicious of the honey on the shelves of our big supermarkets, so some are committing to raising bees themselves or to finding an apiarist they trust, to buy honey from.

If you think you might be interested in beekeeping, there are a number of resources worth checking out. Meanwhile, hug your local beekeepers and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts!

Bee Resources

The Lanark County Beekeepers Association will have a booth each year at the Perth Fair (Labour Day weekend).

The Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) is an excellent source of information, research, current practices and news in the bee world .

What you can do to help: take a look at the ten things you can do to help bees on the website

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm Contributor: Susie Osler

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Nov 2013

There's Something Fishy Going On Here...

Some of you may recognize the fellow in the photo here as a new addition to this year’s Carleton Place Farmers’ Market. For those of you who haven’t been intro-duced, meet Nick Coutts — a young man who’s starting to make waves with his unique approach to farming in Lanark County.

Nick Coutts with his fish smoker

With no lake or pond in sight, the Coutts farm may seem an unlikely place to think of raising rainbow trout. But a couple of years ago, inspired and encouraged by a retiring fish farmer/vendor at the Kingston Farmers' Market (Bernie Dylan), Nick decided to switch gears from his work in carpentry and buy Bernie’s business.

It’s great to see how fluidly Nick (who incidentally represents the 5th generation on this farm) is adapting a slightly “out of the box” farming venture to the infrastructure of a more conventional farm. Nick may have learned a thing or two from his parents Diana and Ron Coutts, who have a knack for recognizing opportunities and the ability to turn ideas into viable ventures and diversified income streams for the farm. Grass-fed beef, maple syrup and maple products, garden produce, and a huge range of really stellar baked goods and preserves (sweetened with their maple syrup) are some of what the farm produces and sells at market and in the farm store (Coutts Country Flavours, between Perth and Rideau Ferry).

Value-added products are a significant portion of the farm’s income and Nick’s trout is now the latest complement to the family’s repertoire. Aside from selling fresh and frozen hand-filleted trout, Nick marinates and smokes trout portions in a BBQ/smoker that sits on the front porch of the store. The marinade he concocted, like many of their popular farm products, includes their own maple syrup. The fish is deee-li-cious!

Nick has been selling fish now for about six months. Before he even started raising the fish themselves, much time and money had to be spent doing research, writing business plans, obtaining a permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources, drilling a well, retrofitting the existing steel barn where eight tanks are now housed, and adapting the infrastructure he bought from Bernie. Finally, eggs were sourced from a supplier in Ontario and started in the hatching tank. This summer’s offerings at the Carleton Place Farmers’ Market and the farm store are the first “fruits” to come from the 12–18 months of patient care — the time it takes for hatched trout eggs to reach a harvestable size.

The learning curve has been steep and Nick has met a few challenges along the way, though clearly he is undaunted. The key to this business seems to be to provide an environment that creates minimum stress on the fish, as stress can quickly make them go belly up. Keeping facilities hygienic through routine weekly cleaning, ensuring adequate water aeration and circulation to maintain high oxygen levels, not overcrowding tanks, and keeping water temperature consistently somewhere between 50–55°F is essential to raising healthy trout. As opposed to many large fish farming operations where antibiotics are administered preventatively in feed, Nick will only use antibiotics if a problem comes up that requires it.

Nick has also realized quickly that too much “love” and attention just equals stress to fish, so keeping interactions to a bare minimum is mandatory. Nick now seems to have worked through some of the initial bumps and has settled into a good groove. The relatively minimal interaction required for much of the week affords him the time to also keep his own small herd of cows and help his parents out with other farm activities.

At the ripe old age of 27, Nick looks like he’s got a great thing up and running. After his few months of selling, he is already thinking about the potential for expansion, and also the potential of raising minnows for sale during fishing season. Nick is tapping into a market of consumers who are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from — including fish. Like so many of our food choices, the sort of fish we choose to eat has consequences extending far beyond our dinner plate. It has been estimated that more than one trillion fish are captured annually! To state the obvious, that is a lot of fish and is a volume that is unsustainable. After decades of overfishing, our oceans and lakes are significantly depleted.

In Lanark County we now are lucky in having the choice to buy fish that is farmed locally — an alternative that has the potential to satisfy our taste for fish, to decrease food miles (the energy used in shipping fish all over the world) and to support our local economy. Sounds and tastes like a win-win situation.

With the holiday entertaining season around the corner, you may want to wow your friends and family with a taste of local fish. See the recipe above for a great place to start! You can find Nick Coutts’ Rainbow Trout at Coutts Country Flavours Store, and at a few of the Christmas Markets coming up in December.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm Contributor: Susie Osler

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Feb 2013

A Spirited New Endeavour in Perth

How delightfully suitable it is to realize that Robbie Burns Day is today (January 25), whilst I’m writing about a new chapter in Perth’s “spirited” history! The connection may seem faint but it centres around whisky. While Burns, the infamous 18th century Scottish bard, had a passion for the ladies, fraternizing in the pub, writing lyrical poetry and drinking more than a drop of “the dew” (aka whisky); the Town of Perth, settled largely by Scots and Irish immigrants, established a somewhat illustrious distilling industry and an appetite for spirits in the late 19th century! I have to admit to having a soft spot for the dew myself, so I was intrigued to hear that a forty-year-old Carp resident by the name of Jamie Snasdell-Taylor, and his business partner Barbara (who also happens to be his mother), have been working hard at laying the foundations for a new family-run venture: Waverley Spirits.

Bottles from Waverley Spirits

Opening a craft distillery is not for the faint of heart, with an onerous ocean of regulatory demands to be navigated before one obtains the official green light. In many ways, the regulations seem to reflect the “prohibitive” spirit of the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916 more than an encouragement for dynamic entrepreneurs. Or perhaps it separates the driven and determined from the dabblers. In any case, Jamie and Barbara seem undeterred and they have been forging ahead with gusto and vision.

While crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s in pursuit of the necessary official approvals, they have also been connecting with other craft distilleries both in Canada and south of the border for inspiration, advice, feedback and to develop fruitful partnerships. According to Jamie, the craft distilling community on both sides of the border has been nothing but immensely supportive, welcoming and enthusiastic — cooperatively competitive, as it were. “The more the merrier” seems to be the prevailing sentiment in this niche market.

It is with this welcoming spirit and a desire to share their passion for fine spirits that Jamie and Barbara organized (with support from the Town of Perth) a day-long symposium called Behind the Grain — The Art and Business of Craft Distilling, February 9, 2013. Funding from Valley Heartland has helped to keep ticket prices low — a very good value at $35 for the day, which includes two meals catered by The Stone Cellar. As the title suggests, presentations by industry experts will cover topics like marketing strategies, the science of craft distilling, and regulatory frameworks — all mixed in with a healthy dose of socializing, tastings and eating. It promises to be a fabulous opportunity for anyone interested in, or even just curious about, craft spirits.

The craft distillery sector in the U.S., which specializes in the production of small batches of signature spirits, has grown exponentially over the past decade, much like the micro-brew sector did in the ’90s. Craft distilling seems to be the latest response to the fast-growing demand for brands and products that are regionally specific, use local ingredients and score high points in character, integrity and taste. Jamie is seeing the signs of a similar trend beginning in Canada, and hopes that Waverley Spirits will become one of the front-runners in the field.

The benefits to our community could be multiple. Aside from having an artisan distillery in our midst and access to fine spirits (not a bad start), Waverley hopes to source regionally produced grain for their whisky and vodka — something that in effect will literally distill the unique flavors of our local terroir.

Historically, stills were often an integral part of a small farm. Excess grains or fruits that were otherwise hard to keep from spoiling were used for the making of a homemade spirit or “moonshine” that was consumed by the family and/or sold (often illegally). The waste products from the process could also be fed to animals or composted. That Waverley Spirits has chosen Perth as their locale is not happenstance. It may come as a surprise to some, but Perth was an acclaimed distillery district back in the 1800s and early 1900s. Spalding & Stewart and MacLaren’s Distilleries were two of a number of distinguished producers that lined the Tay River until The Temperance Act of 1916 essentially forced the closure of operations. Perth has historical connections, a suitable location in the midst of a beautiful agricultural area, proximity to a potential supply of local ingredients, and is already a well-established tourist destination. It seems like a natural fit.

So when will we get a taste? Creating a bottle of stellar whisky does not happen overnight and it’s not cheap! It takes a couple of weeks to obtain a distilled spirit (the distillation process is a bit shorter for whisky than for vodka). Whisky, however, must be aged in wood barrels for at least three years to earn that name. If all goes according to plan, Waverley’s first whisky will be barreled fall 2013 for an anticipated launch in 2016 — perfectly timed to bring “spirit” to the 200th anniversary celebration of the settlement of Tay Valley Township!

Establishing the physical distillery in Perth is the eventual goal, though it will likely be a few years before all aspects — permits, location, financing, infrastructure and recipes — are aligned and operating under one roof. In the meantime, they are working with a craft distillery in Michigan that is helping them with space and technical support in the development of their recipes and the distillation of their vodka and whisky. This fall, their vodka, which does not require the three-year (minimum) aging period that whisky does, will hopefully become available. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes open at the LCBO!

It seems that Waverly Spirits is primed to be instrumental in reviving the reputation that Perth once garnered from its distilleries, and is on its way to becoming the first distillery (of the legal kind at least) established in Perth since the 1916 Ontario Temperance Act. Stay tuned to their Facebook page and or Twitter to keep abreast of their progress.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 Nov 2012

Wildrose Country Homestead

How many of you are living out your dreams right now? More often than not it seems to be the case that dreams remain locked in their “proper places” — our imaginations — and are never given a chance to be realized. Well, Anita Dworschak has more or less thumbed her nose at that (or any) trend since her kindergarten years and has built her life according to the “callings” she has felt drawn by.

Anita Dworschak

She is no ordinary woman. At 49 she has a 150-acre homestead in a remote part of the Lanark Highlands where she keeps a flock of Nubian and Alpine goats, for milk and meat, that is watched over by her Pyrenees flock guard dog Misty. She also raises a couple of pigs (that are fed goat milk all summer), some Muscovy ducks, several cats, and fish. She can hunt, raise and butcher her animals, grow and preserve food (when goats don’t get to it first), spin fleece, make cheese, turn goat milk into bars of soap, host a constant stream of WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, oh yeah… drive big trucks… as in 18-wheelers!

Born to parents of German descent, Anita grew up in Orleans at a time when chickens and fields were still part of the landscape. She shared a passion for self-sufficiency and the wilderness with her late father — an avid hunter who’d lived on a dairy farm in Germany before immigrating to Canada. Anita also loved trucks and, at the tender age of 21, moved to Toronto to get a job driving a big rig. She went on to spend nine years as a long-haul driver — one of the people who log thousands of miles criss-crossing the continent delivering… everything. She loved it and says the trucking community was like a big family. In fact, she still drives part-time, on shorter routes, to supplement the income she derives from her homestead.

Long-haul driving and homesteading may not at first seem much related, but it got me to thinking that both would demand a streak of independence, a love of the outdoors and open spaces, a contentment to reside in one’s own company, a taste for challenges, a hunger for “the frontier”, and likely a certain amount of fearlessness and drive to boot (no pun intended).

In 1998, as she was looking to satisfy her hankering to homestead, Anita found “just the right place.” Wildrose Country Homestead, located at the end of a gravel road and nestled amid small fields and forest, is where she has called home ever since.

Among the many essential skills she has learned in the ensuing years is soap making. She was taught this from a mentor/friend of hers who also homesteads (with twelve children, no less!). Wildrose Country Homestead Soaps are now sold through at least fifteen small and large retail outlets around the county (see the website for a list), as well as at the Carp Farmers’ Market. Anita is now hoping to scale-up her business to the point where she can make a living from soap alone. (Perhaps a good investment opportunity for someone?!)

Though only three main ingredients are needed to make soap — fat, liquid and lye — commercial soaps are usually laden with a litany of other less desirable ingredients — chemicals that are sucked into our bodies through our skin. In fact, 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed. One might want to reconsider what we deem “acceptable” to slather our skins with…

On the other hand, Anita uses 100% whole, fresh goat milk in her batches, plus a few select top quality ingredients. Goat milk has many attributes. It is a natural emollient that soothes and moisturizes the skin, is said to have anti-inflammatory properties, and is a natural exfoliant. It also contains vitamins A, B12, B6 and E. For anyone, especially those with sensitive skin, goat milk soap is the way to go.

Anita’s creative streak shines through with some of her soaps. From the beautiful Lanark Marble bars that combine calcium carbonate from the nearby Tatlock Mine and mineral powders (red iron and indigo) that create a faux marble appearance, to the edible-looking Chocolate Raspberry soap bar, there are varieties for purists and scent-sensualists alike.

And in case anyone wants to learn the art of soap making, Anita holds three-hour sessions to teach you the ins and outs of this ancient skill.

Homesteading is not a cake-walk, but challenges that would crush many are what keep Anita engaged in her life and give it purpose, satisfaction and joy. She, for one, is living her dream with all of its adventures, right now.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Bill Buttle

ArtBeat Cartoonist, theHumm

Bill is a reluctantly aging member of the human race who loves duplicate bridge, most kinds of music (although he can only play competently in bluegrass mode), and drawing cartoons whenever he can.

theHumm's Bill Buttle

Recent years have been kind in allowing him to do these things almost constantly, so his already sunny disposition just increases in radiance with the passage of time, dulled only slightly by having a spouse who is taking forever to heal after a nasty fracture on ice in January. Still smiling, though... most of the time! Honest!!

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Dagne Forrest

Web Development, theHumm

One-half of Almonte-based Foil Media, the web development company partnering with theHumm Online, Dagne is also an avid gardener, baker and blogger.

theHumm's Dagne Forrest

Having taught her children to bake sinfully good things, she now lives to berate them about the evils of eating too much sugar. She is a natural introvert who has never really recovered from playing Edith in the Pirates of Penzance in grade eight; these days she copes by singing, alone, in the car and reading aloud to her family (at least five books at any one time), as well as cooing to the family dog and chickens.

Dagne prides herself on being the kind of mother who exposed her children at an early age to 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' - hoping to appear cool while warning them not to skip school (without her permission).

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Earle Barber

IT & Database Development, theHumm

One-half of Almonte-based Foil Media, the web development company partnering with theHumm Online, Earle spends every waking hour, and much of his time asleep, identifying and solving problems.

theHumm's Earle Barber

The day is not complete without at least one good conundrum and at least the beginnings of a solution. He's been known to sometimes bore or terrify his family with this propensity, but it's usually a thrill for clients.

When not at his computer or the whiteboard, he can be found scything, making useful stuff out of whatever he has to hand, cycling and even baking bread. A natural jokester and devil's advocate, he now (mostly cheerfully) bemoans the fact that his children live to rib him and take the other side of an argument.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Emily Arbour

Columnist, theHumm

Emily Arbour is a freelance writer, shop owner and strung out mother of two who loves sleeping in but never ever gets to. Her hobbies include wine and whining. Also wine.

theHumm's Emily Arbour

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Glenda Jones

Columnist, theHumm

Over the Ottawa border, but more Almonte than Ottawa, Glenda Jones's heart is firmly planted in this beautiful town.

theHumm's Glenda Jones

When she's not sharing her thoughts on everything from daisies to donuts, she is a possessed volunteer at the Hub, advocate for everything Almonte, Sage Age thespian, dog trainer, eclectic gardener, and erstwhile artist (not so good at the latter, she declares!).

Glenda enjoys her somewhat anonymous moniker as Reever, but delights when someone recognizes and appreciates what she writes: sometimes serious, most often not.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

John Pigeau

Columnist, theHumm

John (or Johnny to many) is the author of the acclaimed novel The Nothing Waltz, the founder of the First Edition Reading Series and the former owner/creator of Backbeat Books & Music in Perth. He's amicable, easygoing, and fond of a good time. Urgent yet kind, he would like "in your pants" to replace "in bed" as the add-on to fortune cookie fortune "jokes" and he strongly believes Oswald was a patsy.

theHumm's John Pigeau

An Anne Tyler junkie and a U2 fanatic, his hobbies include angst, uncertainty, and golf. He dislikes guns, nuclear weapons, dental surgery, and last call. He adores funky hats. Quick with a joke, a student of compassion, his writing has garnered him comparisons to Raymond Carver and Nick Hornby; his looks, to George Clooney and Beetlejuice.

This year's goals: compete in first thumb war (win spectacularly!), master more than five chords on the guitar, and finish second novel, Speck. Currently his favourite word is "lousy." If possible, he would forever live in the late 1980's.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Kris Riendeau

Editor, theHumm

Kris Riendeau is the editor, publisher, ad sales person, delivery girl, voice-activated flash holder and chief bottle washer at theHumm. theHumm's Kris Riendeau

She is exceedingly grateful that the other members of the Humm Team, as well as all of the advertisers, readers, and movers & shakers in the thriving arts & cultural community have made it possible for her to do that job for over 15 year now. She appreciates each and every one of them, even though she does swear some at deadline time.

In her spare time, Kris enjoys singing, dancing, drumming, puppeteering, building dragons and inventing Maplelopes.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Linda Seccaspina

Columnist, theHumm

Linda Seccaspina was born about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7. After she wrote her own obituary in 2010 when Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died, people told her she should think about a career in writing obituaries.

theHumm's Linda Seccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadillac in Ottawa. The Ottawa Citizen newspaper labeled her "The Maiden of Death" even though they had no clue why and she has had to deal with the rumours for years.

Linda has published three books and blogs most days on Zoomers Canada. She has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she published her obituary, most people assume she's already dead.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Miss Mills

Columnist, theHumm

Miss Mills is the official spokes-puppet for the Town of Mississippi Mills, which includes Almonte, Pakenham, and Ramsay Township.

theHumm's Miss Mills

Created by puppet maker extraordinaire Noreen Young, Miss Mills dutifully attends every artistic, cultural and community event that vibrant Town throws her way (latex legs never tire of running around!). She also reports on upcoming events via her monthly Humm column, Mississippi Milling.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Rob Riendeau

Layout and Design, theHumm

Rob Riendeau is the co-publisher and design-monkey whose arteries pump 4-colour process ink 24/7. "If you cut him, will he not bleed 40% cyan, 70% magenta, and 65% yellow?" (He also has most of a degree in English Lit.)

theHumm's Rob Riendeau

If he is sufficiently caffeinated, he feels great love and respect for all of the event organizers, shop owners, and other wonderful folks whose ads he gets to work on...

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Rona Fraser

Assistant Editor, theHumm

Rona is a gluten-free, if-it-doesn't-look-like-meat-it-doesn't-count vegetarian who believes in fairness, commas, chocolate, and making up words. She enjoys writing about ways to enjoy life and reduce stress, the gloriousness of chocolate, things to do around the Valley, how we can make the world a better place, permaculture, and pretty much anything else on her mind (that she can get past her boss).

theHumm's Rona Fraser

Some of her favourite pastimes include drinking hot chocolate, ranting, and adding as many commas and hyphens as she can get away with. Never ask her the date though - inputting Humm Calendar entries at least a month ahead of time, she has been known to rant about missing an event which has not yet taken place.

Her plans for the future include time travel, winning the lottery, and taking more vacations... though really, the first would take care of the rest!

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Steve Scanlon

Columnist, theHumm

Steve’s gift is his ability to focus and to see a project through to comple... hey look - a pumpkin!

theHumm's Steve Scanlon

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Susie Osler

Columnist, theHumm

More than a decade ago Susie succumbed to the mysterious gravitational pull of Brooke Valley - a not-so-sleepy hamlet near the other hamlet of Maberly - and moved from Toronto to a farm.

theHumm's Susie Osler

Though not a farmer herself, her admiration and value for local growers who are working in various ways towards food sovereignty is reflected each month (she hopes) through the pages of theHumm's Local Flavour column.

Susie creates some of her own “local culture” in the form of unique ceramic objects, some of which are found at Almonte's newest gallery/shop The General and at The River Guild in Perth. She is founder and part of the team that organizes an ongoing open-air public art project called FIELDWORK, which is situated in one of her fields.

When not engaged in any of the above-mentioned enterprises, Susie may be found cultivating edible (to the eyes and stomach) landscapes around her house, whispering to her animals, watching birds or playing music with her partner, talking to people about local history, seeking spacious landscapes (of the earth and mind kind) to hang out in, and dreaming up other, sometimes hair-brained, projects to do.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Tony Stuart

Columnist, theHumm

Tony Stuart is a former professional musician with the Canadian Armed Forces, and is currently the Music Director at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Carleton Place. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Majic 100 "Golden Apple" award for excellence in teaching.

theHumm's Tony Stuart

He also is the Choir Director at Zion-Memorial United Church in Carleton Place. Tony continues to be active as a professional musician, including being clarinettist/saxophonist with The Somerset Combo, and clarinettist with the classical trio "Capriccio", as well as performing in any other gigs that come his way.

Tony is a strong believer in the power of music to transform lives and make our society a better place.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Dec 2013

Shawn De Salvo - Big Time Photography in a Small Town

Almonte got lucky when Shawn De Salvo and Marta Wein purchased their home a few minutes from the centre of town on Upper Dwyer Hill Road. The couple had been living in the Glebe and looking for a country home when they saw a real estate ad touting the virtues of Almonte. They spent a day walking the streets and asking people if they liked living there, and that was the clincher.

Photograph by Shawn De Salvo

The spontaneous demand from friends and colleagues for Shawn’s photographs had been growing steadily, and when he moved to the friendly town of Almonte in 2008, he decided to “put himself out there” as a professional photographer. Before long, Marta began accompanying him. As she concluded, “I never saw him, so I decided to take it up too.” Their excellent and eclectic results are on display at their website <>.

DeSa portraits are worth at least a thousand words. Like Yousuf Karsh, Shawn’s goal is to capture the essence of the person. He also enjoys capturing the drama and the emotion of the moment.

Portraiture is only one facet of De Salvo’s photographic passion. On his website you will notice his featured UG Series of photos. Further exploration reveals an amazing collection of photos of female and male athletes participating in the Ottawa Fall Classic of the UnderGround Series of Crossfit competitions. What isn’t revealed is that one of the competitors is Marta Wein. Shawn retorts, “I never saw her either, so I decided to become their photographer.” Marta works at Carleton University Athletics and teaches strength training classes in addition to “putting it all on the line” in Crossfit competitions.

Perspective, Patience, Perseverance

De Salvo offers a simple explanation for his compulsion to photograph: “Photography lets me show other people my unique perspective — what I see and how I see it.” His landscape gallery offers beautiful examples of his finely-honed aesthetic. As he explains, “You need to know a particular landscape like you know the behaviour of a bird.” For a dramatic lightning shot, this entails following the weather forecast of an approaching storm, monitoring Environment Canada’s weather radar report, heading for the river at Arnprior or to the top of Blueberry Mountain for a panoramic vantage point, updating your weather map on your IPhone, hiking to the location, setting up your gear, and probably getting drenched yourself.

The Almonte connection continues to grow. De Salvo has discovered that becoming a small town’s resident photographer requires a great deal of flexibility. His assignments have ranged from fashion shoots and interior design to a wide gamut of events — concerts, athletic, family, civic… Recently he accompanied the Almonte-based SchoolBOX volunteer group that travelled to Nicaragua to help build a school. He treasures the shots he took of kids coming home from Sunday School carrying their chairs on their heads. He teases that he checks theHumm’s monthly calendar each week to plan his photographic schedule.

Besides his talents in the areas of perspective and aesthetics, De Salvo is very inventive. When he meets creative people, he welcomes and initiates invitations to collaborate on thematic ideas. In his Special Projects gallery you can enjoy the results of a “Day of the Dead” celebration he co-authored recently with a CTV make-up artist and an Appleton hairdresser. A “Bohemian Gypsy” theme is under development.

Shutter Bug

Shawn was bitten by the urge to take photographs when his grandparents gave him his first 35mm Kodak film camera when he was six years old. His youthful instincts were to record, and he filmed every aspect of their beef farm near Peterborough, pretending he was an intelligence operative. Throughout high school he worked in stage and lighting design in theatrical productions.

Today his camera is much more than a recorder; it has become the tool that allows him to express his personal aesthetic. He continued shooting while he completed a summa cum laude degree in Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University in 2004. His timing was off; the aerospace industry was experiencing a high degree of uncertainty after the disaster of 9/11, and he had to accept work in BC and Peterborough to pursue his chosen career. His future wife, however, was pursuing her own degrees (Political Science and Human Kinetics) at Carleton U., so Shawn returned to Ottawa and became a patent examiner for Industry Canada — a job he still holds.

Photographer Shawn De Salvo

Putting Your Best Photo Forward

An autodidact, De Salvo’s enquiring mind enables him to continue to expand his technical as well as his aesthetic capabilities. He now offers one-on-one instruction not only in the use of the hardware, but in the indispensable post-processing software packages like Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop. Tailored to your personal interests and experience level, this type of instruction can be invaluable and save you a lot of time. If, like Pogo, you’re “confronted with insurmountable opportunity” regarding the sophisticated capabilities of your hardware and/or software, just give Shawn a call at 286–1111 or leave him a message at his Contact page at

If you’re an artist or artisan, you may be interested to learn that De Salvo is offering a free sample of his talents as a photographer of artworks. After interviewing over 170 area artists, I was able to confirm his suspicion that a potential market probably exists for high-quality digitized images of art. If you’d rather create art than learn how to photograph it professionally, give Shawn a call and let him show you why you might want to upgrade the images on your website and social media sites. He can also supply high quality print reproductions of your artwork.

From December through February, you can enjoy Shawn De Salvo’s perspective on many subjects at Neat Café in Burnstown at 1715 Calabogie Road (, 433–3205). All photos are available as prints in various sizes. And on weekends through to Christmas he is offering Christmas Portrait Mini-Sessions, either inside at the Old Post Office in Almonte, or outside at the Mill of Kintail. Give him a call to set up your own shoot.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 Jan 2014

Robert Pauly - A Happy Hatter Who Hates Humdrum

Some people prefer stark, minimalist elements in their homes, their personal apparel, and their accessories. Others, like Robert Pauly, love adornment in all its forms. Pauly creates wonderful women’s hats that run the gamut from whimsical to elegant. All are eye-catching.

Hat designed and made by Robert Pauly

Many of Pauly’s millinery creations are bespoke hats — custom designed in consultation with his clients for special events like weddings, galas and parties. Each is a unique sculptural achievement designed to complement its owner’s stature, face shape and personal taste.

Pauly couldn’t have wished for a better publicity event than the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton (Kate to the British media) in April 2011, when various guests sported wonderful fascinators, or “mini hats”. According to Wikipedia, the amazing model worn by Princess Beatrice of York caused such a media stir that it went on to become an internet phenomenon with its own Facebook page. The fascinator eventually garnered 99,000 Euros (roughly $140,000) for charity when Princess Beatrice auctioned it on eBay. Canadian fashionistas took special notice when Catherine, now Duchess of Cambridge, wore a vivid red fascinator during her visit to Canada a few months later.

By then, Pauly had been creating and selling hats for many years. He has always had an interest in fashion — as a costume designer, a sculptor and a jeweller. He describes his love for the “exuberant creations that grace the fashion world runways,” citing renowned designers Galliano, McQueen and Westwood among his favourites. He especially loves the hats that accompany the dresses, hovering between fashion and sculpture.

Gilding the Lily

His foray into millinery began when he started adding antique hats and feathers and bits and pieces of vintage decoration to his wide-ranging collections of beads and fabrics. Eventually he studied millinery at Fleming College’s Haliburton School of the Arts, where he was fortunate to learn from Karyn Gingras, the driving force behind Lilliput Hats, a well-known atelier and boutique in Toronto.

After Pauly blocks and shapes the base of the hat or fascinator, the form is rimmed with wire, bound with grosgrain ribbon, covered if appropriate, and lined and finished with a wide variety of vintage materials, feathers and trim. He also creates flowers and other imaginative decorations for his hats. An inveterate collector, Pauly uses his extensive assortment of antique French flower irons to form the leaves and petals unique to each flower. His hats become a showcase for the full gamut of his artistic creativity and talents, sporting everything from fabulous flowers to asparagus, depending on the occasion and the personality of the client.

Fascinators are secured to the head with hatpins and combs, so he has created a collection of gorgeous hatpins from odds and ends picked up in antique and charity shops. He roams the internet searching for exceptional and exotic adornments for his millinery creations.

Robert Pauly also designs and creates dresses and bustiers. It was a gradual, unplanned progression. A client would ask, “What should I wear with this?” and he would get involved as a fashion consultant. Sometimes that led to creating the outfit himself. He has always been fascinated with fabrics, beads, and all the accessories we humans employ to adorn and express ourselves. If he grew lilies, my guess is he would gild some of them and paint others. Next he would probably try his hand at breeding new varieties.

He held his first art exhibition in Montreal when he was barely seventeen. While working in the printing department of an Eaton’s department store he took advantage of the company’s liberal employee training policy to pursue art courses. He was soon exhibiting paintings with his instructor. He also worked as an electrician and stage manager in a theatre company, and became progressively more interested in costuming. Eventually he rented a shop and opened a gallery where he exhibited his aluminum sculptures.

A Dread of Dull

He didn’t say so, but I get the feeling that Robert Pauly’s grandmother played a very important role in how he has lived his life. “She only cared if I was happy,” he tells me, as he discusses the non-traditional path he has enjoyed with his wife, Barbara Mullally, who is also a very talented jeweller. To truly appreciate Robert’s avoidance of things he finds boring, I recommend a stop at their home and gallery in Clayton at 1259 Bellamy Mills Road. Words cannot begin to describe the eclectic range of decorative features he has designed and created. The siding on his house is a good example. Confronted with twenty bundles of shingles, he couldn’t face the prospect of laying them out in straight lines. Instead he decided to “make it something I could stand for the next 25 years.”

Milliner Robert Pauly

Robert’s rules of happiness include being self-sufficient, avoiding hypocrisy and relying on your own judgement. He had an allergic reaction to the statement he heard too often as a youth — “We don’t do this,” from teachers, parents and counsellors. Maybe we don’t, but he does if he decides it’s right for him.

That is the one piece of advice he wishes his clients would follow. If you like yourself in a hat, buy it! He truly admires women who have the self-confidence to listen to themselves instead of asking a friend’s or a husband’s opinion. His favourite sale was to a woman whose husband remarked, “It looks like a goddamn flowerpot!” She smiled and said, “I’ll take it.”

Robert Pauly describes millinery as “jewellery for the head.” Both his hats and his jewellery are on exhibit at Almonte’s wonderful new shop at 63 Mill Street, General fine craft, art & design. He also creates art quilts and has turned his entire Clayton home into a work of art in its own right. His fabulous hats are on display on his website.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Hat model: Liisa Mountain

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 Jan 2014

Brock Zeman's Got A Rotten Tooth

Brock Zeman is truly a modern day troubadour. As my better half put it after we attended his performance at O'Reilly's in Perth on a Tuesday night: "not every one of his songs is about heartbreak, but every song breaks your heart." Partly it is the rich and compelling tone of his voice, but another major factor is the immediate emotional connection he establishes with his lyrics, even in the context of a Tuesday night pub gig.

Brock Zeman, Singer Songwriter

If you have not been to see Brock in an intimate environment, like O'Reilly's on a Tuesday night, you are in for a treat. Brock and Blair Hogan's two-man everything band is definitely something to behold. Brock sings, plays his guitar, taps a Taurus bass pedal and a synth, and also has various bits and bobs that he triggers with dextrous footwork. Blair easily rivals him with footpedals and guitar switches all over the place — at one point sounding exactly like a pedal steel and later digging deep to produce the soundtrack to the end of the world ("That was unexpected," I thought to myself). Ultimately, though, the music drives the sound and everything, amazingly, finds its place. Each song comes out heartfelt and beautiful. It is a wonder to behold.

I was also very pleased to see Brock and Blair play so many songs from the fantastic new album, Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil's Back, which is Brock's (this can't be right!) eleventh CD. The new recording is more mainstream, and less country or even alt-country than his previous album, Rotten Tooth. There are orchestral moments that soar above the arrangements and are reminiscent of bands like Arcade Fire or Coldplay, and then there are lyrical and emotional wrestling matches that seem to be channelling Tom Waits. The opening track is a supremely confident, almost spoken word ode to the craft of songwriting. It clearly demonstrates that Brock is a seasoned songwriter who has in no way run out of things to say or ways to say them. Later tracks like Sweat, Drop Your Bucket, Little Details or Some Things Always Stay are beautifully crafted songs that beg to be played loudly from car windows all summer long.

Starting in April 2015, Brock will be on the road promoting his new recording. Check his brand new website, for dates, etc. But definitely, do yourself the kindness of seeing and hearing Mr. Zeman live and in person soon. You absolutely will not be disappointed.

Article credits

Humm Contributor: Rob Riendeau

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Feb 2014

Sherry White - Art Illuminates Meaning

In 1943, in his classic The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something molded.” Mixed-media artist Sherry White echoes his insight when describing her personal journey of discovery through her art. “Art is my path, a part of my soul.” It is the vehicle by which she is exploring humankind’s age-old mystery: the meaning of life.

Painting by Sherry White

With her transcendent paintings White creates an atmosphere of tranquility that is a balm and an invitation to the soul. Her mixed-media works shimmer with energy. The subjects are as diverse as her spiritual explorations. Buddha, geishas, trees, birds — in her artist’s bio she describes her work: “Pulling from her connection to Mother Earth and her spiritual search, she creates works of art that evoke feelings of peace, warmth, and serenity.”

Her canvases reflect her ongoing quest for answers to questions many of us avoid by playing the game of life in a much different way. Instead of surfing the web or flipping on the TV or going to the mall, White sits down with a blank canvas and ponders the ineffable. Sometimes inspiration comes from a conversation, sometimes from a saying, sometimes from an image, often from her subconscious.

Years ago, an old friend showed her a portrait of Buddha that the friend had painted. Sherry remembers the visceral reaction she had to the image. Her immediate response was to start experimenting with her own portrayals of the spiritual leader, and to delve further into his teachings. Like Buddha, White is seeking a path of spiritual development, searching for insight into the true nature of reality. She explains that: “My whole journey is about Why? Why are we here?

White’s art is both her path and her meditation. As she puts it, “I was born into this world an artist. It is in my bones, in my thoughts, a part of my soul.” Her earliest memories are of copying cartoons and sketching faces as a child. A true Valley Girl, Sherry was raised in Lanark. Her Prussian ancestors had settled near Plevna (about 80km northeast of Perth) around 1870, and Gorr Mountain is named after them. As a student at Perth and District Collegiate Institute, Sherry’s favourite subject was art. She vividly remembers her teacher, Mrs. White (no relation), putting on a Cat Stevens recording and gently encouraging her students to create. “I thought she was a hippie,” Sherry recalls fondly.

After high school, Sherry moved to Gatineau to start a family with her musician husband. When the marriage ended, she attended design school in between her responsibilities as a single mother of three small children. Her talents earned her a job in high tech at Systemhouse. When the company downsized ten years later, White formed her own graphics design company and continues to freelance. Check out <> to see the range of services she provides.

Music continues to play a big role in Sherry’s life, not only as a muse to her art but in her role as a backup performer with her sister, singer/songwriter Peggy White of Almonte. They both remember their mother and father belting out country tunes in their dining room, and they and their other three siblings carry on their parents’ love of music.

When her kids were still young, Sherry began to nourish her own soul by painting, taking occasional oil and watercolour classes. Following a clay sculpting class at the Ottawa School of Art about ten years ago, she started creating wall sprite planters and discovered they were a huge success at artisan shows around the Ottawa area. It struck me that even her whimsical sprites exude an aura of inner peace and contentment.

A few years ago, a course with artist Christina Lovisa spurred White’s experimentation with mixed-media techniques to a new level. Her recent works, featuring copper wire trees against surreal skies, invite the viewer to visualize new beginnings, new paths. The juxtaposition of phrases or words in some of her works also stimulates the imagination. By giving herself the freedom to explore the possibilities of layer upon layer of different mediums, she has “found her artistic groove.”

A Circuitous Path

Seven years ago, Sherry moved from Gatineau to embark on another venture with her sister Peggy. The two opened The Groundz Juice Bar and Café in the centre of Almonte, creating a venue for art, music and interesting light refreshment. After a few years, both concluded that running a café was not where their paths were destined to take them. After selling the business, Sherry moved to Stittsville, where her multi-talented partner has been converting their home into an amazing space, ideal for showcasing Sherry’s mixed-media art.

The atmosphere they have achieved is remarkably soothing; it feels like a refuge for the soul. My reluctance to leave makes me realize that White has achieved her artistic goal of evoking “feelings of peace, warmth, and serenity.” I am tempted to contact the proprietors of her two recent exhibitions to enquire whether they noticed a change in ambiance while her paintings were on view.

Artist Sherry White

In the 4th century BC, Plato defined man as “a being in search of meaning.” Today the literature and the press are replete with humans’ ponderings about the effects of our new, ubiquitous and constant wireless connectedness. Is it at the expense of our connectedness with ourselves? Living in the presence of one of Sherry White’s compelling art works just might open the door to a richer contemplation of the meaning of your life.

You’ll find even more images of her work here on theHumm Online. To fully experience the emotional pull her pieces exert, see them as she created them at Equator Coffee Roasters in Almonte during the month of May.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory. Remember that you can also collect this month's Artist Trading Card from the print Humm!

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Feb 2014

Everything’s Coming Up Dandelions!

It’s February. The first cold and snow came sweeping into our parts at the end of November, and the big old Canadian winter hasn’t let up much since then. On the bright side, the days are getting longer, we’ve actually had two (count them) almost entirely sunny days in a row (as I write in January), and we are hopefully past the half-way mark. Winter feels a bit like an extreme sport this year. It’s been a long haul and a test to the psyche! Survival depends upon noticing each positive detail that comes our way and milking what endorphins we can out of those moments, so our spirits don’t get buried under the weight of a snowbank or sucked into the Polar Vortex (sorry I just had to get that in J).

The owners of Dandelion Foods in Almonte

It’s good to remind oneself that this gray and white landscape will indeed once again transform come spring. But if, in the meantime, you find yourself in need of a little ray of sunshine to brighten things up and inspire, perhaps you’ll want to check out this cheery, hopeful, and nourishing new contribution to the Almonte landscape.

Like the first crocus is to the winter-weary mind, so Dandelion Foods is to the box-store food shopping experience. Both are a big breath of fresh air. Dandelion Foods offers us a different approach to our food procurement experience, as you might intuit from its tagline “Eat Well, Live Well, Choose Local”. It’s about more than just buying food.

Dandelion is a worker-owned co-op that, at a very basic level, means the business is owned and democratically managed by its four employee/members. It also means that the owners know everything about their co-op (they’ve been involved since it was just a seed of an idea, after all), have a deep belief in its values and vision, and have an interest in seeing it thrive — both personally but especially for the community. I don’t have the space here to get into all the great things about co-ops — just know that they are indeed a good thing! If you are interested in learning more, you can check their website <> and look under About Us for “Worker Owned Co-op.” One of the keys the owners see to the success of Dandelion is public engagement and the importance of dialogue with each other, their customers and the community. It is something one notices immediately when visiting. They really want to hear your thoughts and suggestions — including new products to stock. Many of the suggestions coming in are already being sourced! Scroll through their Facebook page and it becomes immediately apparent how excited about the new store and committed to their values they are.

The owners of Dandelion are the principal workers. You will meet them all — Sharon Lazette, Meg Pettipas, Michael McGarry and Farhat Sultana — over time, when you visit the store, because they spend lots of time on the floor (not in an office building far away). They have recently also hired a nutritionist specialist, Christa Lowry, to join them as the store’s supplements manager.

The four owners met during the community-initiated process that led to the store’s evolution. By chance they have many complementary skills, not to mention a wide range of work and life experiences (check out their bios on the website). They share many of the responsibilities of the business, while other roles are assumed individually, depending on expertise or skill sets.

Workshops are also set to begin at the shop on February 20, with Water Kefir and Herbal Infusions 101 led by Dasha and Sebastien from Agapé Gardens. Call Dandelion or visit the website for more information. Workshops cost $10, but that price gets you a $5 coupon to spend in the store, and the other $5 will be donated to a local cause.

Like everything about the store, the name was thoughtfully considered. An earlier co-op member suggested the name based on a description of dandelions found in a book by herbalist guru Susan Weed. In Weed’s words (no pun intended), it is “a full-bodied plant assisting us on multiple levels, she is nature’s medicine, bringing us back to our roots. Tenacious and prosperous, brightening our lives and feeding and healing our bodies”. The multiple ways the dandelion contributes to the ecology around it is a lovely metaphor for the roles the owners hope the store will have in the community.

Many people contributed to the months of thoughtful brainstorming, discussion, planning, fundraising, financing, building, and other efforts that have taken place over the past two years and culminated in the opening of Dandelion Foods on January 11. Of particular note was the generous counsel of Craig and Amber Hall (Equator Coffee) and the numerous incredible volunteers and investors who’ve had faith in and supported the project along the way. Valley Heartland, Your Credit Union, the Cooperators, and many investors from the community contributed essential financing (in an amazingly short period of time, I will add).

At the heart of this communal venture is a desire to build a community-centred, cooperative grocery store that helps to illuminate connections between the food system, food choices, the health of individuals, and the community. Not only are they dedicated to offering the best organic produce they can find (yes, all fresh produce is organic, and local when possible), they are also sourcing many of their grocery products and specialty items locally as well. Check under Community on their website to see the growing list of local producers and products they source. And do stop by, in person and online, for a taste of what’s just getting growing!

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Delicious recipes

This month Dandelion Foods shared their recipe for Dandelion Greens; head on over to our Local Recipes page for this and other delightful local recipes.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Feb 2014

Norman Takeuchi: On The Edges Of Noh

Norman Takeuchi was profiled by Sally Hansen in the February 2004 issue of theHumm. Below, Richard Skrobecki (owner of Almonte’s General Fine Craft, Art & Design) discusses Norman’s background and his recent work, which will be exhibited at the gallery for most of February.

Painting by Norman Takeuchi

For some artists, making art can be a deeply personal and challenging process — painful at times, riddled with self-doubt and taking years to achieve real creative satisfaction. But the results, over time and transitions, can be life-changing.

The development of artist Norman Takeuchi’s work can be described as a journey through cultural identification and aesthetic experimentation peppered with peer encouragement and, as Norman says, “lucky” opportunities.

The Takeuchi family was one of a handful of Japanese Canadians living in Westwold, a small farming community in the interior of British Columbia. They moved there from Vancouver, anticipating the implementation of the War Measures Act of 1941 which stripped the rights of twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians as free human beings, labelled them "Enemy Aliens", and restricted them from living anywhere within 100 miles of the B.C. coast line. The Act, motivated by fear, paranoia, racism and opportunistic politicians, devastated the lives of first- and second-generation Japanese Canadians — honest, hard-working people not deserving of such upheaval and humiliation.

Norman Takeuchi was a child when all this was happening. And, like any child, he went about the business of growing up, somewhat oblivious to the hardships his parents felt. After finishing high school and an obligatory year of working for his father (a landscape gardener), he enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design). His early interest in art had been heightened when first seeing “an actual painting” hanging in the home of one of his father's clients. Art school was a delightfully eye-opening experience for Norman; a bold introduction to his new life as an artist.

Takeuchi studied painting and commercial art, taking a job with an advertising company after graduation. Nine months later, he received a scholarship to paint in London, England where he explored abstract expressionism, sharing a flat with two other young artists. This was 1962-63, when David Hockney’s Royal College of Art graduation show was shaking up the art establishment with its pop sensibilities. Norman’s eyes were again opened to the exciting evolution of movements in art and culture. Before he left, he was offered a solo exhibition at London’s Thames Gallery.

His London studio sojourn expired, Norman returned to Canada in need of a steady income. Friends directed him to Ottawa where he was hired as a junior exhibition designer for Montreal’s Expo 67. He worked with Tom Wood and Robin Bush on the Canadian Pavilion, an experience he found exciting and creatively rewarding, and which would provide future career opportunities. By now married to Marion, he received a Canada Council grant for another year of studio work in London. His exhibition design career continued when in 1970 he and Marion lived in Osaka, Japan working on Expo 70 for six months. When they returned to Ottawa, Norman was hired as an exhibition and graphic designer with the Canadian Museum of Nature, where he remained for twenty-five years.

During this time he painted little, but life drawing sessions every Sunday at the Nepean Visual Arts Centre kept him engaged creatively. He moved into using chalk pastels and then acrylic paint on canvas and paper. Tom Wood encouraged him to take art-making more seriously, so he began to explore working in series: first milkweed studies, then bone drawings, then abstracted imagery, leading to total abstraction. This process of series allowed him to explore ideas to their fullest.

By now, Norman and Marion were living on a hobby farm near Ashton (west of Ottawa) where they kept two horses. Always inspired by his love of nature, they lived on the farm for nineteen years before moving back to the city. Norman is keenly aware that his art career would not have progressed as it has if it wasn't for the vital role Marion has played in providing support in countless ways: as organizer, archivist, bookkeeper, gentle critic; so much so that it is impossible to not view the two as a team.

Artist Norman Takeuchi

Takeuchi’s Japanese heritage was becoming more important to him when, in 1995, he saw an exhibition of dyed and painted kimonos by Japanese master Itchiku Kubota. These triggered something in him and inspired him to start using the iconic imagery of Japan as the next theme in his work. With this, he began to “visually interpret” who he was, dealing with long-held emotions surrounding the internment years and his own cultural identity.

In 2005 he met Ottawa writer, lecturer and independent curator Maureen Korp, who invited him to participate in an exhibition she was organizing at Karsh-Masson Gallery entitled Without A Passport. It explored a diverse group of artists’ cultural identity experiences and brought Norman some critical notice, leading to other successful shows, both group and solo, in Canada and abroad.

His iconic Kimono series was followed by a series that specifically looked into his struggles identifying as Japanese Canadian. This lead into the series entitled On The Edges of Noh, currently showing in Almonte at General Fine Craft, Art & Design. (Almonte-area residents may recall his 2003 solo show From The Ground Up at Philip K. Wood Gallery and 2012’s very memorable Hair Lines at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in which he presented larger-than-life exquisite conté drawings of fellow exhibiting artist Karen Jordon’s wrapped and twisted hair sculptures.)

On The Edges of Nohis an overview of his 2010-13 series using Noh mask imagery. Noh is an ancient traditional form of Japanese theatre incorporating drama, music and dance with actors as human and ghost characters wearing beautifully carved and painted wooden masks. In his work, Takeuchi isolates the mask for its iconic quality, then incorporates abstractly painted areas. The colourful mask imagery is purposely fragmented, emerging or disintegrating in and out of agitated abstraction and areas of pattern. The contrast of these two elements represents his unsettled feelings that have surfaced over many years of personal reflection.

Through creating these iconic series of paintings and pastel drawings, his painful family history and his own “uneasiness with shame and anger” have given way to reconciliation, healing and the ability to embrace his Japanese heritage. Indeed it is the dual experience of Japanese and Canadian heritage that he embraces here. Takeuchi’s approach to art-making is “a conscious attempt to find new ways of expressing these very things”. His next series of paintings (showing in March at Ottawa’s Cube Gallery) goes beyond the mask. He’s not sure what to make of it yet, but rest assured, it’s all part of “the natural progression of taking chances” that he thrives on.

On The Edges of Noh

On The Edges of Noh continues February 4 - March 2, 2014 at Almonte’s General Fine Craft, Art & Design. Meet the artist on Friday, February 7, from 7-9pm. For more details, visit

Humm profile by Richard Skrobecki, owner of Almonte’s General Fine Craft, Art & Design, with Norman Takeuchi

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Mar 2014

Jacquie Christiani — Circling in on Creativity

With watercolour and pencil, Jacquie Christiani creates circular paintings that are both meditative and celebratory. For the viewer, each scrutiny reveals another layer of meaning, another suggestion of images that can be interpreted in countless ways. Each observer wonders if others recognize the same forms that he or she does, or whether they detect different images within the small, lovely, intricate representations of Christiani’s physical and metaphysical worlds.

Watercolour by Jacquie Christiani

Nature is her primary inspiration. She tells me, “Walking in nature awakens a memory or connection that I am inspired to share… Colours and impressions of nature form in my head as I experience the outdoors.”

Her watercolour medium is her companion inspiration. As the pigments flow with the water onto the paper, other shapes and images emerge. Jacquie works with pencil over the dried applications of watercolour to highlight the subtleties revealed by the spontaneity of her fluid process.

For people who are uncomfortable with or even dislike abstract art, I encourage you to let Christiani’s gentle, soothing paintings help you expand your artistic horizons. With a marvelous colour aesthetic, she offers an alluring invitation to pause and contemplate the complexity, the uncertainty and the promise of the universe she creates within each circle.

What Goes Round

Like many of the artists theHumm has featured over the past fourteen years, Christiani experimented with different modes of creativity before discovering her artistic voice. She always loved to paint and draw, and began taking art classes in Edmonton. Her brother Robert is an artist and art therapist in Manitoba, helping people rediscover their own creative process, and very supportive of Jacquie’s talents. Interested in exploring the spiritual and philosophical issues that confront us as humans, she eventually became intrigued by the images of the mandalas she encountered in her readings.

In Hindu and Buddhist art, a mandala is a circular design that symbolizes the universe, representing wholeness; a “cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” (See Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung is credited with introducing mandalas into modern Western thought as a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self.

For Jacquie, the Jungian claim that creating mandalas helps stabilize, integrate, and re-order inner life isn’t the only benefit. It transformed her art. The simple act of freeing herself from the inhibiting rigidity of a rectangular boundary inspired visual images and led her on a meditative journey of personal, as well as artistic, growth.

Strictly speaking, Christiani’s paintings are not mandalas; they are paintings loosely confined within a circular shape. The other influence that reshaped her paintings is her love of drumming, and the wonderful drum designs she has seen.

Born in Chatham, Ontario, Jacquie grew up in a rural area of Kingston, and then attended the University of Guelph, where she earned a degree in Consumer Studies. After graduation she hopped on a train and went to Edmonton with $100 in her pocket. She found a job as a customer service representative with AGT (now Telus), and took full advantage of their in-house training to become a computer programmer. She eventually took a job in Ottawa with Stentor, where she worked in business analysis and system requirements for twelve years.

Christiani currently is employed with Canadian Blood Services as a business systems analyst working on Canada’s national registry that helps match people in need of a kidney with living donors. The Living Donor Paired Exchange involves pairs of people — for example, a husband and wife, or two friends — in which one person needs a kidney and another wants to donate but isn’t a compatible match. The computer program looks for opportunities to exchange donors with other incompatible pairs in the registry. It’s a truly life-saving program whose real heroes are the individuals who donate a kidney without asking for one in return — healthy adults can remain healthy living with one kidney. To learn more, go to

In her spare time Jacquie takes care of a large tract of land near Pakenham with the help of her three dogs and two cats. A true animal lover, she became a certified Tellington TTouch Practitioner for Companion Animals in 2003, and has recently become a Camelidynamics Senior Consultant. The two practices are complementary methods for raising and training animals. They are based on respectful touch and movement exercises designed to “establish a deeper rapport between humans and animals through increased understanding and more effective communication.” Camelidynamics incorporates the Tellington TTouch principles and techniques, developed by Linda Tellington Jones, and applies them to training and handling llamas and alpacas.

Artist Jacquie Christiani

Jacquie offers private and small-group TTouch sessions. Based on my observation of her relationships with her dogs, you might consider contacting her if you want to teach your animal(s) more appropriate behaviours.

During the 12th annual Pakenham Maple Run Studio Touron March 29 and 30; you can drop in at her home studio (Studio 6 at 489 Barr Side Rd.) where she is hosting Joanne Desarmia of Jo Bling Creations and John Chamney’s wood-turned creations.

She is looking forward to participating in the Creativity Blitz taking place at High Lonesome Nature Reserve on Saturday, May 3 and 4. You’re invited to discover your own creativity in the natural beauty of this 200-acre property protected by the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy. Bring your own supplies, musical instruments, poetry book, journal, paints and your imagination! Jacquie’s heart-felt advice to all is “Let your imagination soar, come explore your own creative side!”

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit Jacquie Christiani's info page on theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Mar 2014

The Giving Harvest

It’s a glorious, balmy, 0 degree day today, and outside my window the trees are bending and swaying — being animated and stretched by today’s gusty wind. As I write from a cozy corner in my home, I remember that I owe much of my comfort to trees. From them, my house and barn have been constructed. I also owe to them the luxury of retreating from this winter’s biting cold into a warm home — which is of course heated with their bodies. I am grateful for their many gifts.

Apples at harvest time

Another less sacrificial gift that some trees have to offer will be highlighted this year by a new project starting up in Perth. Giving Harvest is a project spearheaded by Donna Silver, who moved to Perth from Ottawa only last year. It is inspired by a number of similar projects that have sprung up in North American cities and towns in the last decade — all of which aim to start making use of the abundant and unharvested fruit trees in our communities.

How many times have you come across a tree laden with fruit that is dropping to the  ground and rotting, and thought “if only I’d brought a ladder along with me on my walk today…” (well maybe even just a bag…). In the era of easy access to cheap food from far away, we seem to have collectively lost the skills, the will, or the inspiration, to harvest the free food that literally drops from the trees in our own area!

Wild and domesticated fruit trees have been harvested for centuries. It is only in recent decades that the value we give to such trees, in private and civic landscapes, has seemed to focus more on blossom beauty than on food value. In fact, today, fallen fruits are often considered simply a big nuisance, as we clean them up from yards and sidewalk surfaces.

Giving Harvest may help to change some perspectives. Last fall, Donna Silver plugged the idea of starting a “community orchard” at the Let’s Talk Resilience gathering (organized by Transition Perth — see note about Transition below). The orchard she envisions, however, is not a neat grid of fruit trees growing in tidy rows, but rather the latent and largely unnoticed fruit trees already present in yards and along the streets of Perth.

How it works: people will gather this spring to walk around town and talk to residents about the project. If anyone has a tree in their yard that they would like to add to the “orchard”, they will call Donna. And so a mapping process begins, of the trees offered to the community orchard. The trees involved can be growing either in civic or private spaces. Additional trees can be added on an ongoing basis to the map, as individuals present more trees to the project, and as new trees are planted in vacant or other appropriate spaces (like schoolyards, or where ash trees once were). Come harvest time the fruit is picked by brigades of volunteers and divided — approximately half to a community food centre (perhaps the Table, in this case), a quarter to the volunteer pickers, and a quarter to the owners (if it’s a tree in a backyard, for instance).

A great advantage for participating tree owners is that their trees will also get a free pruning. Everyone truly wins.

It’s easy to imagine a number of positive outcomes and possibilities stemming from this initial vision: schools and kids becoming involved, canning and preserving workshops at community kitchens, harvest parties, tree planting parties, and a heightened public understanding of the merits of fruit trees and the bounty they offer beyond beauty.

Workshops at the Perth Farmers’ Market and a tree sale in late summer are events Donna hopes to organize for this year, in addition to a map and harvest sessions. For a taste of a similar, already established project, check out Hidden Harvest <> — an Ottawa-based project that has been an inspiration to Donna.

One of the underlying assumptions of the Transition movement is that we can choose to act from a position of abundance and generosity, rather than dearth and competition; sharing our gifts freely with each other benefits communities rather than individuals.

Combining her skills in project start-up and management, with her creative vision (she’s an artist as well) and a passion for trees, Donna Silver is providing an example of this philosophy in action. Over the winter, she’s developed a plan for getting the project off the ground, and she is seeking various kinds of support from institutions such as RBC, the Table, Perth Community Foundation and the Town of Perth. This spring she’ll be seeking out people who are eager to contribute skills, ideas, labour, and spirit to the project.

Sound like a great idea? That’s because it is! And it sounds like a fun and compelling activity to participate in to boot. Want to know more or to volunteer? Have a tree in your yard you would like to add to the orchard? Want to contribute “seed money” for the project? Contact Donna at <> to know more and also to be added to the Giving Harvest email list.

Transition Towns

For those unfamiliar with the Transition Town movement… Transition Towns have sprung up around the globe in recent years, bringing a positive, proactive approach to navigating the economic and environmental challenges facing us. The aim of the Transition movement is to build resilient communities and individuals through positive, locally-appropriate, community-driven initiatives. Giving Harvest is one of many of these types of initiatives in Perth (check out for information on more of them).

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Susie Osler

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Apr 2014

Andréa Fabricius and Jamie Boal - Together They’re Faboalous

What’s not to like about salvaging an old window and turning it into a brilliant, glowing work of art? Andréa Fabricius and Jamie Boal are a husband and wife team who transform discarded window frames into amazing and amusing glass mosaics, perfect for brightening up your windows and hanging in your garden.

Tree mosaic by Faboalous Mosaics

Their imaginations are their muses. Subject matter ranges from cute to beautiful to pop art to comical to whimsy. There is a mosaic for your kitchen window, your teenage son’s window, your bedroom window and any other naked window you may choose to dress.

Together They’re Faboalous

A visit to their refurbished backyard studio at 281 Water Street in Almonte is enlightening in several ways. Most notably, it showcases the way in which glass window mosaics can light up your life. Whether you want to block a view (i.e., a bathroom window) or enhance a view (i.e. an alley or unattractive wall) or decorate a room (a kid’s window), Jamie and Andréa have imagined and created the solution. One of my favourites was Jamie’s take on a brightly-hued robot. I wish I had seen it when my son was a kid. Looking at a snow-covered garden through a beautiful floral mosaic almost mitigated the malaise induced by an interminable winter. A hen with three chicks brought a smile to my face, as did the stylized owl perched on a branch.

The second illumination was the realization that Andréa and Jamie are a seamless artistic partnership. Sometimes even they had trouble remembering which of them had created which mosaic. I thought it took more years than they have had together to reach the point where one could finish the other’s sentence, let alone work together in a small space to produce an exuberance of happy art.

Their backgrounds are very different, but the end result of their finding each other brings to my mind a favourite poem by e.e. cummings — “if everything happens that can’t be done.” The Fabricius/Boal relationship that has engendered the Faboalous Mosaics partnership is “wonderful one times one.” It is wonderful to watch them interact, and it is wonderful to contemplate the artistic results.

Becoming Faboalous

After a childhood in the Arnprior area and high school in Renfrew, Andréa Fabricius earned her degree in Fine Arts at the University of Toronto and studied the ancient art of mosaics while obtaining a diploma in visual arts from Sheridan College. In 2003, when she was photographing a wedding in Arnprior, her parents mentioned that Almonte was “getting artsy.” Amazingly, Andréa had never been to Almonte.

On her very first visit, she was “snooping around Thoburn Mill” and ended up signing a lease on the spot to open “Fabulous — the Shoppe of Gorgeous Things.” In 2005, she met Jamie Boal when he stopped at her Fabulous booth during Herbfest. Three years later she moved her shop to Mill Street in Almonte, and married Jamie.

Their wedding was a major artistic event. The industrious couple hosted three hundred people in medieval period costume, seated on hay bales arranged in the field by Jamie and friends. The photographs are amazing. Jamie’s mother, Diana Boal, (named “Outstanding Employee” of 2013 by the Mississippi Mills Chamber of Commerce for her work at the White Lilly in Almonte) created marvelous feather bouquets, and the bridal bouquet occupies a place of honour on the couple’s living room wall.

In 2008, Andréa left her Almonte shop to take a full-time job as a creative arts instructor at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre. Her mother has been a health care advocate for seniors for over 25 years, and Andréa thrives on the knowledge that her contribution makes a huge difference in the lives of her participants. Creating art is one of the few opportunities that these seniors have to act independently and make choices. The kudos and gratitude Andréa receives from them and their families make the long commute worthwhile. One senior left his room for the first time in over six months to participate. As Andréa puts it, “Art is magical. It can cure depression!”

Jamie grew up on a dairy farm in Cedar Hill near Pakenham. He credits his mom with his artistic flair. After a stint as a ski bum out west for a few years, he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and studied carpentry. He always liked working with his hands, and carpentry is an art that produces a practical product. He has done landscaping and worked as a tractor salesman before becoming a safety inspector and trainer for S. P. Safety Solutions in the construction industry. He tells me “Farming will always be in my blood. I have great respect for the land and a love for the animals.” Their magnificent 100-pound Bouvier des Flandres is more evidence of the Faboalous couple’s mutual interests.

Another artistic passion the couple share is photography. Formerly a serious film photographer, Andréa is completing a course in wedding and event planning because “It brings all the things I love together.” Each has done wedding photography in the past, and they look forward to doing it together in the future.

Mosaic artists Jamie Boal and Andréa Fabricius

Lighten Up!

In case you can’t make it to the Almonte Agricultural Hall on May 3 to see Faboalous Mosaics during the spring Handmade Harvest event, drop in at Hello Yellow at 72 Main Street in Almonte. And don’t let that huge dwarf posing with them in their Artist Trading Card photo keep you away from their home studio. Like their Bouvier, Grumpy is extremely well-behaved. The two couldn’t resist rescuing him from the auction that was held when Storyland (near Renfrew) closed. Andréa Fabricius and Jamie Boal offer accessible and affordable glass window mosaics that will lift your spirits and brighten up your life.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit Faboalous Mosaic's info page ontheHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Apr 2014

A Renegade Scientist and Forest Heroine for Our Times

Every breath we take is because of a tree’s ability to create oxygen. No other organism or invention can do what the tree does. Trees are entirely unique in our galaxy, quite possibly the universe — so with every breath you take, thank a tree… then plant trees and fix your forests. — Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Author Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Every once in a while I pay a visit to a big, twisted white oak on the top of a hill near my house. The tree is one of the largest on the land I have come to occupy. It is a scraggly mess of thick branches that sweep out horizontally from a vast crusty trunk. How it survived the onslaught of settlers, and the accompanying twin abuses of timber extraction and animal pasturing over the last century, remains a mystery. But I am grateful it did. This tree has a palpable presence, solidity and wisdom that come with age and survival. I have adopted this oak as my tree “elder”. Or perhaps it is the other way around, and the tree has taken me under its limb. I visit “my” oak when I need to regroup and ground myself. On occasion I will simply go and sit in the comfortable bend of one of its lower limbs and take in the view of its surrounding kingdom. And it does feel like it presides over the small valley and beaver pond below, and the slopes beyond. To some this may sound a bit “woo-woo”, but as anyone who has spent time with big trees will know, they have an incredible and inarguable energetic presence.

A woman in our midst also holds similar powers. Diana Beresford-Kroeger will be a familiar name to many who take an interest in trees and forests. Her book Arboretum America: a Philosophy of the Forest (2003) is one of the only books on trees I know of that takes an integrated approach to describing the culture (in all manners of speaking) of trees within North American forests. Her approach weaves together an unusual and rich tapestry of scientific and traditional knowledge with an insightful reverence. Bringing light to the oft-unseen and undervalued roles that trees play in the complex web of ecological relationships is Beresford-Kroeger’s specialty. Talking to her, like reading her books, is like being fed nuggets that spur one’s curiosity, intuition and observational powers. She helps us to reorient ourselves rightly and firmly within complex local and global ecosystems.

Diana has an agenda that might intimidate even the most ambitious amongst us. She wants to reach a mere billion people around the globe to tell them about the importance of preserving our global forests and about the myriad reasons (as yet largely unrecognized) why the current course of flattening forests for pulp wood and suburban developments could truly be cause for a diagnosis of collective insanity. In Canada, 50% of our boreal forests — part of the last great forest system left in the world — is on the chopping block, and few people know about it. Fewer still know why this should matter. Aside from the more common arguments as to why these forests should stay standing — habitat, emotional and cultural value, carbon sequestering and oxygen-producing abilities — Diana can point out more than a few more profound reasons why they should remain. To start with, many feet of uncomposted leaf litter will quickly decompose with the removal of the protective forest canopy, resulting in the release of enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. These forests also produce healing antifungal and antiviral aerosols that have a purifying effect, on a very grand scale, on the air we breathe. And who knew the role that fulvic acid from leaves plays in chelating (bonding with) iron in the soil? This chelated iron then trickles by way of rain and streams down to the oceans far away, providing essential nutrients to the ocean’s living systems. This is simply the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The forests are vital to the health of our planet, and indeed, to our own health.

Somehow, despite the shameful record governments have displayed in (not) protecting the forests, Diana remains hopeful that, if we arm ourselves with knowledge and some ambition, things can turn around. According to her calculations, if each of us inhabiting the planet planted 6 trees, we would regenerate our forests. So for those of you for whom that is easy, take it upon yourselves to plant several times that number, to make up for those who can’t. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. (See the side bar for species she suggests for our area).

The seeming endless barrage of negative, if not calamitous, information coming at us often has a crushing effect on my spirit. So finding guidance and solace amongst the mayhem is becoming ever more important in my life. Diana’s latest book, The Sweetness of a Simple Life, is a precious collection of short essays on how to lead a happy, healthy life by drawing from the bounty that nature offers and a maintaining a profound reverence for it. The book has become a comforting bedtime dose of practical wisdom and intriguing and accessible science-based explanation, as well as an entry point for further reflection. As with any of her books, I highly recommend it.

Diana and her husband Christian Kroeger live on a property near Merrickville with a simplicity and humility that belies the riches of experience they have both had. Diana descends from a lineage of ancient Irish scholars who once advised kings. Orphaned as a child, Diana was taken under the care of a Brehon wardship that tutored her in the Druidic tradition and in the natural connections between the arts and sciences. As the last of her lineage, she was told she would be needed to bring this knowledge to the new world, and with passion and conviction she is doing just this. These early teachings have informed the unique way she marries her extensive science background (ethnobotany, medical biochemistry, organic and nuclear chemistry) with traditional Irish and Aboriginal wisdom. Developing sensitivity and a holistic approach to understanding the “invisible” and subtle phenomena within the natural world is critical to our future. Similarly, cultivating personal rituals of silence, meditation and reflection, and valuing the potent roles that art, poetry and dreams can play in healing our collective and individual psyches are, in her opinion, essential ingredients to regenerating a healthy culture.

I urge you to delve more deeply into Diana’s work, research and philosophy. They are likely to transform the way you experience a forest and even your life. There will be links posted on theHumm’s website <>, and you can also follow her blog for news about the upcoming feature documentary now in production at <>. Diana will also be speaking and signing books on May 7 at the Portland Horticultural Society (contact Madeleine at 273–8707), on May 12 at 7pm at The Branch in Kemptville (contact Doug at 258–4044), and on a date to be determined in Brockville (contact Hugh at 345–2712).

Most of all, resolve to get out into the wild for some “forest bathing”! Forest bathing has been around for more than a thousand years, but has recently been officially recognized in Japan as being significantly beneficial to human health. So make a point to spend time walking slowly through the forest. Listen to what the trees and other creatures have to say. Observe what is encompassing you. Breathe deeply and just be for a while. You may be amazed at how profoundly healing for the body and soul the experience is. In Diana’s words, “the path of the forest is the path to peace.”

Humm Profile by Susie Osler

What to Plant?

Bur oak (Quercus Macrocarpa): reduces pollution by about 25% around it. It is known as an anti-famine tree due to the large numbers of acorns that were harvested and eaten by aboriginal people.

Eastern White Cedar (Thuja Occidentalis): Deer and sheep can survive on it in winter. Radiant heat increases the temperature by about one degree around it, providing a warmer shelter for birds to cluster in; Thujone aerosol in summer is antiviral and helps boost the immune system.

American Basswood (Tilia Americana): Produces more nectar that feeds beneficial insects (i.e. pollinators) than any tree on the planet.

Standard (ungrafted) Apple: For eating. Skin of the apple aids digestion and helps the large intestine.

Bitternut and Shagbark Hickory (Carya Cordiformis or Ovata): Cordiformus can be a source of nut oil and Ovata produces nuts for nut cream and milk. Another super-effective carbon-dioxide-absorbing tree, and a valuable timber tree.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Patrick Arbour

Columnist, theHumm

Patrick has lectured on "Creativity" and "The Role of Emotion in Advertising" at colleges and universities in Canada and the U.S., has won over 75 industry awards, and has produced a series of marketing articles that have been published in local business magazines in Canada.

theHumm's Patrick Arbour

Today Patrick operates a company called justhink, providing marketing and creative coaching to businesses large and small.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 May 2014

Strachan Leys Johnston: "Just No Nonsense"

That is the enigmatic message that greets visitors on his website, so it was with some curiosity, if not trepidation, that I walked up the sidewalk to Strachan Leys Johnston's home studio out in the Carleton Place countryside.

Landscape by painter Strachan Ley Johnston

Au contraire! He met me with a big smile and a warm handshake, and ushered me inside to a veritable feast of lively, bold, sometimes surprising and even humourous canvases. His subject matter is eclectic, ranging from landscapes to farm animals to "selfies" to totally whimsical creations bordering on pop art.

Strachan’s landscapes readily confirm him as a member of the former “Group of Eight” painters from the region, whose works appeared three years in a row at Ottawa’s Cube Gallery. Their name consciously confounded aspects of the early 20th century NYC Ashcan arts movement connection to “The Eight” with Canada’s connection to our beloved “Group of Seven”. Several of Strachan’s paintings of scenes of Lanark County evoke comparisons with the boldly, almost roughly painted works of the Canadian Group.

Like the Group of Seven, Strachan (pronounced Strawn) loves to paint en plein air. He remarks wryly: “The model is free.” He also mentions that he thoroughly enjoyed and was heavily influenced by his outdoor landscape painting classes with Robert Hyndman of the Ottawa School of Art. I’ve yet to meet a student of Hyndman who felt differently.

Johnston’s unfettered use of colour enlivens familiar material; a rabbit, a cow, an urban building — each takes on a new life under his hue-laden brushes. A browse through the images at the “Animalistic Tendencies” link on his website reveals the fresh approach he brings to his subjects. He attributes his strong sense of humour and love of novelty to his genes and his upbringing. He characterizes his father and his uncle as “very funny”, and his son has performed as a stand-up comic. As a kid growing up in Toronto in the '50s, Strachan helped out in his mother’s portrait studio, modeling and washing brushes.

As a Member of the Board of Arts Carleton Place, Johnston is active in developing arts programs for grade schools and promoting the arts in the area. The group has provided scholarships for four students to pursue art studies. He also paints sets for the local Mississippi Mudds theatrical company.

He finds it especially gratifying that the Mayor of Carleton Place, Wendy LeBlanc, is an enthusiastic collector of his works. She told me that she owns at least eight of his works and added, “I love his bold colours and his ability to draw me into his paintings with a few strong brushstrokes.

It occurs to me that that might be what he means when he states “Just art — no nonsense.” When I ran that by him, however, he clarified, “‘Just Art — No Nonsense’ means I have not made an effort to locate my art in a philosophical tradition or aesthetic era such as post-post-industrialism, because I believe art is ineffable and speaks for itself — no words needed.” Most art lovers would agree; we frequently see things in works that even the artist did not, and our emotional responses are coloured as much by our experiences as by the artists’ choices.

Artist Strachan Ley Johnston

Balancing Act

The proverbial right side of his brain has always sought equal consideration. Strachan fondly remembers the pleasure of winning a coveted art award in Grade 7 or 8. While studying History and Economics at York University, he stretched time to fit in music classes. Later, in Paris, pursuing doctoral courses at the University of Toronto, an interview for a position with Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs launched him on a thirty-year career in the Civil Service. The job took him to Senegal, the U.N. General Assembly in NYC, and eventually back to Ottawa with Canada’s Emergency Preparedness Critical Infrastructure Program.

Johnston describes his art as “emotionally fulfilling… You can lose your balance in life with an over-developed left side of your brain.” In 1990, he upped his pursuit of artistic fulfillment and began attending evening and weekend classes in oil, acrylic and watercolour painting at the Ottawa School of Art (OSA). He continued with landscape, figure drawing and portraiture classes, and he credits a pottery class with developing a greater appreciation for the third dimension in his art. He started exhibiting his works at OSA and then at various Ottawa bistros.

He and his wife both love the country and they lived in an old farmhouse in Ashton from 1980–1988. In 2000, the couple discovered a wonderful house outside of Carleton Place in a quiet, peaceful, dead-end location. It turned out that the house was built by their “marvelous next-door neighbour, Bill Truscott — a wonderful architect and builder.” Strachan loves living in this rural, agricultural environment, surrounded by farms and able to see cows and sheep from the corner of his property. Like the landscape, they pose for free.

When he retired in 2008, Johnston built his spacious studio next to his house and embraced art as his second career. He is candid about enjoying the artistic freedom that he earned through many hard years of work; not hampered by the necessity to earn a living from his art, he can afford to experiment and “play” without considering the economic implications. If the Mayor’s comments are any indication, that freedom results in striking works that appeal to people who value originality and verve.

Retirement is not always easy for individuals who have had long, successful careers. Strachan Johnston particularly values the social network and new friends he has developed within the Carleton Place artistic community and his involvement with Arts Carleton Place. His face lights up when he tells me, “Art brings balance to my life, and opens new horizons.”

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 May 2014

Warning: The following may contain information that has been found to induce obsessive interest in edible plants. Certain studies suggest that conducting activities such as edible landscaping and associating with people involved in such activities can severely curtail one's ability to watch TV series on HBO, play video games, converse about non-plant/food topics, and shop (other than for seeds, plants or tools).

Telsing Andrews of Aster Lane Edibles in Kinburn, Ontario

There have been, for a very long time, two seemingly opposing objectives that have determined the function and aesthetic of a garden. On the one hand you find the “veggie patch” or kitchen garden — generally speaking, a vaguely puritanical space that bespeaks utility, efficiencies, calculation, humility and prudence. On the other hand there is the ornamental garden, where the (somewhat bourgeois?) priorities of beauty, pleasure, leisure and tasteful design trump other more practical concerns. Recently — as in, the last decade or so — a radical shift has been taking root in the minds, hearts and gardens of growers around the globe. We are witnessing the convergence of these two garden "preoccupations" in something called edible landscaping.

Meet Telsing Andrews of Aster Lane Edibles - a woman after my own heart. At 39 years of age, Telsing is undeniably passionate (dare I say obsessive?) about edible environments, and is inspiring people with her enthusiasm for growing and her robust knowledge of designing gardens with edibles that are tasty, beautifuland often perennial to boot. Originally trained as a geologist, Telsing’s interest in plants began during a five-year stint living in England. Her pleasure in using fresh herbs in cooking led her to start growing plants for kitchen use. Her interest in“useful” plants quickly progressed into a passion for growing "edimentals" (edible + ornamental ) — a term coined by guru Steven Barstow (see an interesting interviewwith him on Telsing's blog).

One of the fundamental principles of edible landscaping is that gardens can be equally bountiful in beauty and utility. In Ottawa, where Telsing and her family lived prior to moving to their farm, their transformationof a large lawn-dominant lot into an edible Eden was initially met with neighbourly skepticism. Over time however, neighbours began recognizing the merits (for example,in bags of ripe tomatoes given to them) of what Telsing was up to and started expressing interest. Food brings people together more than lawns, apparently.

Together with her husband José and their two (now three) kids, Telsing moved from Ottawa to a 26-acre farm near Kinburn in 2012. Now known as Aster Lane Edibles, the farm has a small, established orchard and a mature maple bush, courtesy of the previous owners. Contrary to the common practice of clearing everything under and around fruit trees, Telsing has been under-planting the area around them with shade tolerant shrubs and herbaceous plants to begin creatinga forest garden — another related garden philosophy/practice that is catching on like wildfire in progressive gardening circles.

Amongst the trees are ever-expanding beds full of perennial edibles. Noticeably absent are straight orderly lines of soldier-like plantings. By June it will resemble a soft, meandering English garden, though planted with unusual combinations of shrubs, herbs, vegetables, flowers and foliage, perennials and annuals - all offering culinary contributions: varieties of allium flank sage and rhubarb, strawberries and thyme act as groundcover... It is a deliciously beautiful thing! It is amazing to see what Telsing has managed to bring to life in a mere two years here. The gardens are still young but there is a wonderful sense of organic energy and promise to them — even in the drab but expectant cloak of early spring.

A wide variety of unusual "edimental" seedlings is being propagated and will be for sale at the Carp Farmers Market as well as at the farm (see dates and plant list on her website). Telsing is continually testing out new seeds, sourced from networks she has plugged into around the world. Those that do well in her garden and display desirable traits are selected and collected to grow on. After several generations of selection, a gardener can begin to really cultivate plants adapted to the specific ecologies of their own garden.

Demystifying the process of seed selection and collection is one of Telsing's biggest goals — to enable cost savings to be sure, but also to help strengthen diversity in the genetic pool of seeds and to decentralize access to it. She plans to offer workshops later in the season on seed saving and other topics. In the meantime, some advice... Experiment! Try growing everything - even if the accepted canon says it can't be done here. Hone your observation skills — notice where a plant "travels to" (i.e. where does it like to be?). Pay attention to the myriad relationships happening all the time in your garden. Revel.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Delicious recipes

This month Telsing Andrews shared her recipe for Meatballs with Anise Hyssop; head on over to our Local Recipes page for this and other delightful local recipes.

Humm Profile by Susie Osler

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Jun 2014

History Cast in Stone

He considers himself a lucky, lucky, lucky man. For the past 24 years, Douglas MacDonald has made his livelihood doing what he loves. The gargoyles and creatures that he creates in cast stone are his representations of and homage to the stone carvings that adorn ancient stone buildings from medieval times onward.

Artwork by sculptor Douglas MacDonald

MacDonald’s cast stone sculptures refute his claim that he can’t draw. His ability to replicate architectural images in his chosen three-dimensional medium is remarkable — so much so that five of his pieces are available on Parliament Hill at the Parliamentary Boutique. Four of them are miniature replicas of the much larger (3’ x 3’) squares that adorn four corners of the Centre Block. There are two images of Indigenous Canadians, one Acadian smoking a pipe, and one stonemason.

Each cast stone sculpture represents an interest and a learning experience for its creator. MacDonald loves architecture and he loves history. When his research and his travels disclose an interesting architectural adornment, he digs into the origins and the background of the image that was painstakingly rendered by a master stonemason from a previous era. Stonemasonry is one of civilization’s oldest trades, so his subject matter ranges from Pagan imagery through classical mythology across religious symbolism and icons all the way to secular and political ornamentation.

Casting for New Ideas

MacDonald takes pride in the fact that he constantly improves both the process and the materials he uses to replicate the decorative stone sculptures that adorn heritage architecture. Working from reference photographs, he sculpts a clay model from which he makes a mold. The shape and volume of each piece determines the attributes of its mold, and MacDonald has spent over two decades experimenting and perfecting the process.

Typically, he then fills the mold with a mixture of white Portland cement, stone chips and silica sand. He devises other mixtures and techniques to strengthen larger pieces. After the casting has cured, he usually applies a patina of iron and chromium oxide to give the piece the appearance of aged limestone. He finishes each sculpture with a sealer so that the piece can remain outdoors year-round.

Going Berserk

One of his favourite projects is his replication of many of the Lewis Chessmen. These 12th-century chess pieces were carved in walrus ivory, probably by Norsemen. Discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis (and Harris) in the Outer Hebrides, they comprise one of the few complete surviving medieval chess sets.

(Permit me an aside. Following MacDonald’s commendable research example, not only did your intrepid Humm arts reporter learn that the Isle of Lewis and Harris is the largest island of Scotland, my subsequent research at <> informed me that “by law only (handmade) fabric produced in the Outer Hebrides can be called Harris tweed.”)

Much more relevant is MacDonald’s explanation about the Lewis Chess piece known as the Berserker — who is depicted as biting his shield. When a customer requested a large Berserker instead of a gnome for her garden, MacDonald began his exploratory research. Berserkers are described in Old Norse literature as fierce, inhuman Viking warriors who fought in a frenzied, trance-like fury; ergo, the English word berserk. Historians conjecture that the consumption of psychoactive mushrooms and other drugs probably contributed to their fearlessness and ferocity.

Sculptor Douglas MacDonald

The original Lewis Chessmen are owned and exhibited by the British Museum in London, which has 67 of the original pieces, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which has 11 pieces. Douglas MacDonald’s replicas will be on display at Kiwi Gardens over Father’s Day Weekend (June 14 and 15) during their annual Art in the Garden show at 687 Harper Road near Perth (267-7384,

Where’s the Architecture?

Culture shock experienced as an eight-year-old child had long-term consequences for new immigrant Douglas MacDonald. He remembers the long boat ride that transplanted him and his family from Glasgow, Scotland, in order for his father to take a job as a hydro turbine engineer. “Where is the architecture?” he asked himself. The sprawling malls of the Scarborough region of Toronto were as foreign to him as the Sahara Desert would have been. In fairness, Scotland’s history is much longer than Canada’s; the Kingdom of Scotland was established in the 9th century, and the University of Glasgow was founded in 1451.

After high school, MacDonald decided to follow in a friend’s footsteps and try his hand at commercial photography. After mastering the basics at Humber College, he left to take a job in advertising, becoming an apprentice with a studio in downtown Toronto. For ten years he photographed advertising material for companies like Maxwell House, Royal Doulton, Danone and Apple Computer. Eventually he found the work becoming a grind; “It wasn’t creative enough; I was a technician at the mercy of the Art Director.”

Luckily, serendipitously, some clay was left behind as a prop in a studio. He began playing with it and molding faces. He describes it as a realization that this was what he was looking for — a passion. Today he says, “I’m the luckiest person in the world. I’ve been sculpting replicas of architectural artifacts for 24 years and I love every aspect of it.”

By 1992 he had begun exhibiting his dozen sculptures in shows in the Toronto area. By 1998 he exhibited a much larger number at Kiwi Gardens near Perth. He also picked up a real estate paper, and in 1998 he moved to his current home and Rue Royale Studio on seven acres at 1606 Hwy 42 in Phillipsville (Google says it’s in Elgin), five minutes southeast of Forfar Dairy in Portland.

Today Douglas MacDonald has over 300 molds in his inventory and is constantly expanding his repertoire. He is a regular exhibitor at a large number of area art shows.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of MacDonald's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Jun 2014

Something’s Brewing…

Water, barley, yeast and hops.

Not much of a recipe, really. And yet, when selected carefully, treated properly and combined creatively, these humble ingredients can produce a truly wondrous result. But it seems to me that there must be some other ingredients secretly mixed into truly great brews. Recently, I made the pilgrimage out to Foresters Falls near Cobden to visit one of the area’s newest breweries — Whitewater Brewing Co. — in order to find out a little bit about the mysteries of beer brewing and, perhaps, discover their secrets of the sauce.

Craft beer of the Whitewater Brewing Co.

Hopped Up

Chris Thompson, one of the founders of Whitewater Brewing Co., confirmed that the only things in their standard repertoire of beers are the traditional four (except for their Midnight Stout, which features oatmeal as an additional ingredient). As a company, Whitewater also tries to source its materials as locally as possible. According to their website: “At Whitewater Brewing Company, we care about what our friends drink, and therefore we care about what goes into our beer. Using just the traditional four ingredients (water, malted barley, hops and yeast), we carefully brew our unfiltered beer over a two-week period, allowing the beer to condition and naturally clarify.” They use fresh leaf hops grown on Allumettes Island between Pembroke and Chapeau, and Ontario-grown barley. They do not chemically adjust their water, they do not add clarifying agents — their product is as natural as it gets.

From these basic ingredients, Whitewater produces its four year-round brews: Farmer’s Daughter Blonde Ale, Whistling Paddler English Style Ale, Class V IPA, and the aforementioned Midnight Stout. Chris explains that the goal with each of these was drinkability: “with our basic beers, we tried to keep to a reasonable alcohol percentage and no extreme flavours.“ In essence, they are all excellent “session” beers.

To spice things up, they also produce seasonal beers that are only available for a few months. Their spring beer is called Jacked Rabbit Espresso IPA, in which Cascade, Centennial and Nugget hops are mellowed by a smooth blend of cold steeped espresso sourced from Neat Café and the Madawaska Coffee Company. For summer, watch for their rhubarb wheat beer offering.

Crafty Brewing

Whitewater Brewing Co. was founded in 2011 by Chris Thompson, James Innes and, coincidentally, another fellow named Chris Thompson. The trio met while working as rafting guides at Wilderness Tours in 2006. It was there that they discovered a shared love of craft beers and hatched the plan to open their own brewery. In doing so, they became part of the growing industry in Ontario. Craft brewing differs from large corporate brewing in that it recognizes that, throughout history, breweries have been an integral part of their local communities and the beer produced reflects the pride, passion and personality of the brewer and the community. Chris, Chris and James reflect that philosophy throughout their business, right down to the name, which attests to their love of kayaking and rafting on the Ottawa River and the Whitewater Region where their brewery is located.

The hallmark of craft brewing, though, is innovation — and that again is a hallmark of Whitewater’s approach to both beer brewing and business. From their modest beginnings, producing 150 litres per week, they have been able to sell out by maintaining an active network of friends and fans who help spread the word. They consistently re-invest their profits back into the business and, at the time of our interview, were able to produce 1600 litres per week. By the time this article is published, they production capacity will be 2100 litres per week. All of this growth is not simply for growth’s sake, according to Chris: “we do it because we can sell everything we make!” And they definitely do not want to disappoint any fans by running out.

But their innovative drive is not limited to just brewing. When I visited the brewery, they were also well underway on renovating a large part of the space to create a brewpub on the premises. The pub should be open by mid-June (check Whitewater’s Facebook page for updates) and will feature dishes made from ingredients sourced entirely within the Ottawa Valley. They will even use spent grain from the brewing process in their pizza bases. And perhaps one of the coolest bits of creativity that is also completely in keeping with Whitewater’s outdoorsy philosophy: re-fillable, pouch growlers! Instead of trying to portage your canoe to your campsite lugging a 2-litre glass bottle of your favourite Whitewater beer in your backpack, you can carry in (and carry out, of course) one of these.

The owners of Whitewater Brewing Co.

Cerveza Time!

If you are looking for Whitewater beer you can skip the Beer Store, 'cause they aren’t there. For the time being, you can find their products at almost forty pubs and restaurants in the Ottawa Valley including Ballygiblin’s in Carleton Place, The Cheshire Cat in Carp, and Neat Café in Burnstown. For customers who are lucky enough to live between Arnprior and Deep River, Whitewater offers home delivery of growlers and mini-growlers. Hopefully, home deliveries in other areas will be available soon.

If you are in the Almonte area, Whitewater has a special offer, with a story behind it. Dan Fallak of VersaTile recently produced some custom coasters for Whitewater. Dan is also half of the dynamic duo behind Small Town Thinking (along with theHumm’s own Miss Write, Emily Arbour). Dan and Emily have had a backburner dream to bring a craft beer to Almonte for quite some time. When Dan met with Whitewater he realized that the time was right to make this project happen, and so Mexican General Limited Edition Cerveza was born. The launch party for this limited edition beer is already sold out, but visit <> to order your own growler of this light, refreshing summery beer.

In Fermentum Veritas

In their own words: “Whitewater Brewing Company believes in the pursuit of the ultimate balance between work and play. Our adventures live on through the stories we share with the good people we surround ourselves with. We recognize the important role that good beer plays in sharing these moments, so we work hard to carefully nurture a handcrafted beer using the highest quality ingredients brewed under small batch conditions. The result is a variety of beers worthy of the adventurous spirit inside us all. Whitewater Beer is brewed by friends, for friends.”

So perhaps, the secret ingredient isn’t so secret. Chefs know it, and apparently it’s true in beer brewing too: food (or beer) prepared with love tastes better.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Rob Riendeau

Almonte food blogger Rebecca Eide

Recipe for Salted IPA Bagels using Whitewater Class V IPA Beer

Almonte-area food Blogger Rebecca Eide was tasked with coming up with a recipe using one of the brews from Whitewater Brewing Co. Check out her recipe for Salted IPA Bagels, right here!

Salted IPA Bagels; recipe adapted from The Sugar Hit by Rebecca Eide for theHumm Online.


  • 4 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1 & 3/4 cups of Whitewater Class V IPA Beer
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1-2 tbsp coarse sea salt
Salted IPA Bagels using a brew from Whitewater Brewing Co.

Start by placing your beer in a small pot over medium heat until it reaches about 105-110 degrees F.  If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t sweat it, just heat it until a puff of steam comes out of the pot, then remove it from the heat.  You want to be able to put your finger in the beer comfortably.  If you can’t keep your finger in it, it’s too hot.

Add the yeast and 1 tbsp of the maple syrup to the warmed beer and whisk it until the yeast dissolves.  Set it aside for 5-10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, white sugar, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Using a hook attachment, add the beer & yeast mixture to the flour mixture and knead on low speed until it comes together to form a ball. Then, turn the mixer to a medium speed and knead for 1 minute.  Cover the dough in the bowl with a damp towel or saran wrap, and let it sit for 2 hours in a warm place to rise.

After 2 hours has passed, bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat and add the other 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.  Allow the water to boil over medium-high heat.  Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.  You can do this by eyeballing it, or if you have a scale, you can weigh the whole dough ball and divide it’s weight by 10.

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 475 degrees F and line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Using a cupping motion with your hand, cover the dough and work it into a ball using a circular motion on your counter-top.  Press your thumb through the center of the ball to form a hole and widen the hole to 1-1&1/2 inches.

Place the raw bagel in the boiling water for 30 seconds and remove it with a slotted spoon.  Repeat with each bagel and place them on your prepared baking tray.

Sprinkle your bagels generously with the sea salt and place them in the oven to bake for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 425 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes.  Allow them to cool before cutting into them.

These freeze really well, just make sure you slice them before you freeze them.

For the full post on Rebecca's blog with accompanying instructional photos, click here.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Jul 2014

Yes. Digital Art is Art

His name isn’t the only unconventional thing about him. Basil Pessin has avoided conventionality and conformity and predictability his whole life. He is not about to a ccept conventional “wisdom” that if a computer is involved, it isn’t art.

Artwork by artist Basil Pessin

“How is using software different than using other artists’ tools like paints and brushes? Or chisels? Or potters’ wheels?” he snorts, when recounting the endless queries posed by visitors to his roadside gallery. He has a small log cabin strategically positioned on his property just a short distance from the entrance to the Bonnechere Caves in Douglas, south of Renfrew. His vibrant digital art is in stark contrast to the cool dark shadows of the fossil-filled, millennia-old caves.


Pessin’s gallery glows with vivid colour. Intricate abstract patterns practically vibrate off the walls. Organic, sensuous, funny — the gamut is wide. Colour is his passion, but his inspiration comes from the software itself. “I use different kinds of software, in ways they were never intended to be used, moving from one to another until I achieve the effect I want. My intent is to create a work of abstract art that is a single coherent, visual experience. I use shape, form, colour and imagination to create totally unique abstract images. When you look at them, I hope the effect is one of delight.” Pessin’s goal is for the viewer to be entranced rather than contemplative, to be fascinated rather than curious.

He succeeds. His large giclée prints are both entrancing and fascinating. Most of them are quintessentially digital, illustrating the capacity of the computer and its graphics software to stimulate artistic creativity in its user. But Pessin’s more “painterly” abstracts arouse my curiosity, as I find myself wondering how I would respond to them if they were painted in oils or acrylics instead of printed on archival paper or canvas. This brings to mind Marshall McLuhan’s famous synthesis that “the medium is the message.” The rise of the internet and social media make McLuhan look ever more clairvoyant, particularly with regard to his admonition that whatever predominates media will influence human beings by affecting the way we perceive the world. I know my response would be different if Pessin’s works had been rendered in paint by hand. I don’t know which I would prefer. I’m also curious if different generations respond differently to his art. So Pessin has achieved another of his primary goals.

He states that “One of the functions of art is to intrigue, and certainly digital art can do that. My drawings never try to simulate other media.” On his website he presents his “Digesthetic Gallery” of works. Both my grandson and I find them fascinating. Pessin creates his images using very basic geometric shapes and applying them according to his own creative process, refined over the past sixteen years. It involves up to five different software packages and multiple iterations of filters, layering, Gaussian smoothing and other image manipulations. The first piece he ever sold was to a friend who worked with him years ago at the Mitel manufacturing facility in Renfrew. Eight years ago Dianna Wakely, a neighbour and fellow artist, insisted that he participate in his first art show. He attributes his decision to open a small gallery to the support and encouragement he received from enthusiastic customers and fellow members of the Renfrew Art Guild.

Not Your Average Guy

Basil Pessin was born in the Bronx, grew up in Brooklyn and drove a taxi in Manhattan for six years. His wealthy uncle collected works of emerging artists, but only those producing unconventional art. Basil remembers creating abstracts as a child. His uncle also found Basil a job as a computer operator. When the company tested employees for aptitude to be trained as programmers, he got the job. (It was fun talking to someone who remembers Autocode hexadecimal and Assembler!) After he married Helen, a gorgeous cougar from Harlem, in 1968, he wanted to show her the “wilds of Canada”.

Going With the Flow

They honeymooned in the Maritimes, and six months later decided to take a year off to explore the 100 acres of bush near Eganville that Helen had bought for $1,700. She had been bidding on tax land for sale in Canada, and this was the first one that was available. So they pulled up their highly urban roots and began carving a home out of the wilds of the Bonnechere Valley in Renfrew County. They bought an old log barn and rebuilt it as a small house. Basil got a job with Eganville Creamery and worked 13 years picking up raw milk from dairies. He took an electronics course at Renfrew Collegiate Institute and got a job as an electronics tester at the Mitel fabrication facility in Renfrew. When he asked if they would hire Helen if she took the same course, they gave her the job without requiring the course. After fourteen years with Mitel, the couple retired and moved to their home near the Bonnechere Caves. Sixteen years ago Helen’s cousin persuaded Basil to buy his MAC LC2 computer. The rest is digesthetics history.

Digital Artist Basil Pessin

Sitting on the porch of the Log Cabin Digital Art Gallery, with dragonflies swarming around us, and the public outhouse a few metres away, it was hard to imagine Basil Pessin driving a taxi in Manhattan. “Taxi drivers like to talk,” he explained. The couple never felt an urge to return to NYC. Basil’s favourite hour of the day is when he drives the short distance into Douglas to supervise the kindergarten students during lunch hour at St. Michael’s Catholic School.

July 12 and 13 is a perfect time for a drive to Renfrew where Pessin’s art will be on exhibit during the third annual Art in the Park show at Haramis Park. Any time during the summer or fall is a great time to stop in at Basil Pessin’s Log Cabin Digital Art Gallery on your way to Bonnechere Caves - I certainly enjoyed my visit.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Pessin's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Jul 2014

Elm Tree Farm in Profile

Land is a pretty big deal when it comes to farming. Proportions of clay, loam, sand and rock determine much about the land’s intrinsic ability to hold nutrients and moisture, and also its arable potential. The land’s proximity to markets, towns and services (such as abattoirs) may also be a consideration in the purchase of farmland. The lay of the land will dictate what may be cultivated, as well as sometimes by what means (steeper slopes can be treacherous on a tractor). Valley bottoms can be fertile but wet until late in the season. Large, flat, open areas are environments for the large machinery and swaths of single crops of conventional farming. But what characterizes many of the small farms of Eastern Ontario is their back-woodsy, tucked-away charm. They open up like a scene unfolding in a gorgeous independent film: winding dirt road approaches… views framed by trees and old fence lines, shifting and changing from moment to moment. The potent, latent energy of old settlements seeps into one’s imagination. It’s not Tuscany. No. But who really needs Tuscany when you have the nooks and crannies of Eastern Ontario?!

Double Dig It outdoor dining event at Elm Tree Farm

Speaking of Tuscany… It might be natural if food and landscape were to come to mind. And it’s this winning combination that is the real topic of this month’s column. As those of you who’ve read this column before may have discerned, I am enamored with the culture of small-scale farming and the people who add so greatly to our collective local culture by sinking their passion and energy into the production of beautiful, wholesome, locally-available food. Elm Tree Farm is such a place. Its picturesque and abundant gardens, nestled in the rolling forested slopes, are the setting for the farm’s second annual harvest event: Double Dig It.

Owners Allaine Nordin and Tom Waller bought this 80+ acre pocket of land close to Arden in the mid '90s. At that time, both had bodywork practices in Ottawa — Tom in massage therapy, Allaine in acupressure. Farming was not their ambition, but both had felt a growing desire to find a spot where they could connect deeply with nature and grow some of their own food. Tuning in to the body’s energetic pathways and supporting energy flows was integral to the work each practiced on humans. Learning to transfer this sensitivity to the land came naturally, and eventually led them towards biodynamic farming practices. Now, more than twenty years later, the farm is Demeter-certified, and the couple eats year-round from what they grow, sells biodynamic produce and preserves at the Sharbot Lake Farmers Market, and takes CSA shares into Ottawa clients each week.

Widely regarded as the platinum standard of organic food, Demeter’s biodynamic certification requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, the prohibition of genetically engineered organisms, and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism”. Biodyamic principles are akin to homeopathy for the land. The methods used release, enhance and support the land’s inherent energetic and generative/creative potential. Allaine notes how the feel of the farm has changed. “When we arrived, energy moved past the land. Today energy resides here.” One can see and sense it.

Last year, inspired by Outstanding in the Field (an organization that connects diners to the food they eat via spectacular farm-hosted dinners), Allaine and Tom launched the first of their version of a farm feast. As Tom puts it, “It is a dining event not just at the farm but of the farm.” What is significant is that close to 100% of the food prepared (by celebrated Ottawa chefs) for the dinner will have been grown or raised on the farm. This August 16, up to sixty lucky people will venture to the farm to revel in the second iteration of Double Dig It. The name of the event may not signify much to those unfamiliar with certain gardening practices, but “Double digging” is a method often done (by hand) when cultivating a new garden. It provides a nice metaphor for the event — suggesting the exploration of new frontiers on the farm, and the layers of roles and relationships they have with the land, food production, and people. This extension now includes providing inspiring, informative food-focused experiences at the farm.

The owners of Elm Tree Farm

Transportation to the Double Dig It event need not discourage less intrepid drivers. The option to take a hired coach from Ottawa (and back) makes getting to the event a cinch. Upon arrival you’ll tour the farm with tapas and elixirs created by Allaine, before sitting down to a fantastic six-course meal served with local wines, at a table overlooking the gardens. A beautiful view over the land that’s generated the delicious food prepared in situ for you — what more could you ask for? I hope you can check it out.

For those wanting to know more about biodynamics, a couple of good books are: The Barefoot Farmer (Jeff Poppen) and What is Biodynamics? (Rudolf Steiner). Lots of information is also found online. A great place to start is at the Biodynamic Association’s website, where you can also find a backgrounder on the founder of Biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner.

Get in touch

For more information about the farm, a photo gallery and more, follow the links at the top of this page. For mroe about the Double Dig It event and tickets, visit the Double Dig It webpage.

Humm profile by Susie Osler

Almonte food blogger Rebecca Eide

Recipe for Kale and Pistachio Biscotti (Makes 16 pieces)

Almonte-area food Blogger Rebecca Eide was tasked with coming up with a recipe using something grown by Elm Tree Farm, and kale was an obvious choice. Check out her recipe for biscotti right here!


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 packed cup of kale, preferably Lacinato kale
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup pistachios
  • 2 tbsp raw turbino sugar
Kale and Pistachio Biscotti by Rebecca Eide

Start by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.

Measure your flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together.

Coarsely chop 3/4 cup of the pistachios, and grind the remaining 1/4 cup to a crumb.

In a small blender, combine the kale, eggs, and vanilla.  Blend until only tiny pieces of kale remain.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the kale, lemon zest, and egg mixture and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Fold in the flour mixture until almost completely combined (you should still see white flour throughout the dough).  Add the coarsely chopped pistachios and fold just until no white flour remains visible.

Drop the dough onto your baking sheet and mould it into a 10″x 5″ log with wet hands.  Combined the 1/4 cup of pistachio crumb with the 2 tbsp of turbino sugar and shake it over the wet biscotti.   Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the biscotti from the oven leaving your oven turned on, and allow it to cool just enough to handle it.  Cut it into 16 pieces (or whatever works out, no stress) and lay them down on their sides.  Bake for another 20 minutes.  They should feel relatively dry, and they will dry out more as they cool.

For the full post on Rebecca's blog with accompanying instructional photos, click here.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Aug 2014

Celebrating Life

Her dancers are curvy and vivacious and living in the moment. Their outfits match their exuberant mood. Mary Lynn Baker’s oil paintings and papier mache; sculptures feature real people kicking back and having a good time. When the beat goes on, the feet get going.

Her favourite subject is ordinary people, mostly women, who are transported out of their everyday personae. As she puts it, “Nothing shows that as well as when they are so moved by music that they have to get up and dance. Music takes people out of themselves, transports them to another level.”

Artwork by artist Mary Lynn Baker

Occasionally a visitor to her booth at art festivals questions her esthetic — is she poking fun at those of us who don’t worry about being mistaken for super models? No — Baker celebrates life lived fully and honestly, by people more interested in enjoying life than in being judged by others. “Rounder people are more interesting to draw,” she explains. “I love the curves, the lines.”

Everyone loves Baker’s flair for fashion. She is asked repeatedly if she has studied or been a fashion designer (no, not yet). The hats and the dresses and the shoes her women wear are wonderful, painted in oils in rich, jewel-like colours against a plain white background. The stark contrast is the perfect backdrop for the joie de vivre her subjects exude. They make you smile and want to have a few drinks and do the conga.

Baker is well known for her papier mâché sculptures of “Flying Ladies.” When her children were little, she was searching for an inexpensive artistic outlet that she could pursue at home. She started by creating a menagerie of diminutive clay animals and people that turned out to be hugely popular at craft shows. Next she developed her own version of papier mâché to create sculptures that she baked in sections in her kitchen oven. Over time she cooked up a few characters that were almost two feet high.

Taking Flight

It occurred to her that many art collectors run out of shelf space to display their prizes, and she came up with the idea of suspending her lightweight sculptures from wires. Almost as a lark she submitted an application to the prestigious, juried One of a Kind Show in Toronto. Much to her delight she was accepted, and the Flying Ladies (and a few men) were a huge success, earning her spots on TVO’s Hands Over Time (featuring Ontario’s top craftspeople). The sculptures appeared in national television ads and in magazines such as City and Country Home, and are owned by fanciers around the world.

The Flying Ladies are just one example of the flights of fancy her creativity has led her to explore. When her kids were teenagers, she entered a competition for a mural commission for the town of Athens, and subsequently realized that she loved to “paint big”, as she created three of the township’s locally famous murals <>. She went on to paint sixteen more, including four in Shelburne, northwest of Toronto.

Getting Airborne

Born in Ottawa, Baker remembers loving to draw when she was three years old. To address her parents’ concerns about making a living, she graduated from Algonquin College with a diploma in commercial art, and then trained as a cartographic draftswoman with Agriculture Canada, meticulously inscribing lines into acetate
from surveyor’s maps. After a few years she applied to the Ontario College of Art where she concentrated on figurative art, even though the art in fashion at the time was known as “Hard-Edge Abstraction”.

Mary Lynn wasn’t particularly interested in abstract, so she adapted the new technique of super sharp edges and geometric blocks of uninterrupted colour to her own version of street art, painting pictures of street people, bag ladies, patterns of feet and the streetcar interiors in the area of Toronto near the College. After graduation she went to Europe with her new husband, and the couple settled in Kingston on their return. She started to work for the provincial government as a draftswoman, but decided to gamble. She resigned and began her journey as a full-time freelance artist. She drew portraits at malls, became a book illustrator, designed and painted parade floats, and took commercial assignments such as creating scientific charts and graphs. Dragon on Parade, the children’s book she designed and illustrated, went into second and third printings, and is still available online.

When the couple moved to Brockville she taught art at St. Lawrence College and continued her lifelong artistic journey. She found oil painting too time consuming and began creating very detailed pieces in pen and ink. Her rigourous training in cartography is deliciously evident in her renditions of Cow and other works in the “Pen and Ink” section of her online gallery. Mary Lynn became well known for drawings and watercolours of people who fitted the description of eccentric, or “marching to a different drummer,” placing them in situations that revealed the human being beneath all the attitude and dirt and pain. When her daughter began taking dance lessons, Baker, like Degas, became fascinated with the line of the human body engaged in formal dance moves. Unlike Degas, she developed a fascination with portraying the camaraderie and conviviality that emerges from engagingin group activities like line dancing and Conga dancing.

Artist Mary Lynn Baker

Space constraints prevent me from writing about all of Baker’s artistic adventures. She learned what a  challenging industry the toy business is during eight years of creating children’s toys. After selling them all, she retired from the business. If you’re lucky, she may have some of her hilarious “Boomer” cards and self-published books with her when you visit her at one of her upcoming shows, like the Sundance Artisan Festival taking place at the Fall River Restaurant in Maberly on the Labour Day weekend <>.

Twelve years ago Mary Lynn Baker learned that she was facing a new challenge when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. By chance theHumm contacted her to become our featured artist this month only days after she returned home from a grueling but promising stem cell transplantation procedure. Consequently I interviewed her by phone rather than in person. I consider it my misfortune that I only got to appreciate the twinkle in her voice and missed seeing it in her eyes. Her indomitable spirit and her sense of humour remain undaunted. You can enjoy her fresh, wry, humourous outlook by stopping in to see her and her whimsical art right here on theHumm Online.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Baker's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Sep 2014

Walk Your Talk (and Photograph the Journey)

In a world replete with pessimism and ostrichism (the attempt to ignore unpleasant facts and situations), conversing with Shelley Ball is like a breath of fresh Arctic air. A born biologist, Shelley is on a mission to persuade youth to “care about their planet and inspire them to do something about it.”

Ball’s stunning nature photography is a key component of the creative environmental education program she is launching, designed to connect students with nature. On her “About” page at <> she explains her motivation succinctly with the famous quote by Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

Three Constants

She knows this first-hand. The three constants in Ball’s life are biology, education and photography. She remembers racing into the kitchen at the age of three to ask her supremely supportive, encouraging and tolerant parents for another jar to house yet another bug for temporary observation and release. The family lived in Ottawa South with acres of NCC land for her to play in, and she spent summers at the cottage near Westport. She spent her entire childhood hiking alone from morning to dusk accompanied by nature identification guides, and eventually, her grandfather’s Pentax film camera.

Photograph by artist Shelley Ball

As a kid, Shelley wanted to be a wildlife biologist, an aquatic ecologist and a veterinarian, “preferably all together,” but she ended up acquiring a degree in biology from Carleton University and a Masters in evolutionary ecology (of aquatic insects) from the University of Toronto. Between the two degrees she spent five months studying White-tailed Ptarmigan at 14,000 feet above sea level in the Mt. Evans wildlife area in Colorado. The photography was amazing, but when encroaching lightning strikes sent sparks flying off the metal screws of her glacier glasses, she flung her metal tripod aside and fled.

After vowing she would never pursue a Ph.D., she did exactly that at the University of Missouri in Columbia, researching the mysteries of evolution. A one-year stint as Professor of Ecology at the prestigious Bates College in Lewiston, Maine (student-faculty ratio is 9-to-1), confirmed how much she loved teaching; and the seeds of her mission to be an environmental educator took root.

Back in Canada, at the University of Guelph, she completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship studying DNA barcoding in insects — part of a pioneering international research initiative for identifying insect species. When funding dried up, a former colleague found her a job in New Zealand, where she spent five years developing a DNA-based system to protect the country’s borders from invasive inspect species.

Expanded Horizons

During those years with the Bio-protection Research Centre near Christchurch, Shelley discovered a kindred group of passionate Kiwi photographers, and joined the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand. Ironically, it was a mesmerizing guest photographer from New Brunswick who triggered a turning point in Shelley’s practice of photography. She embraced Freeman Patterson’s creative ideas and began to place more emphasis on creative art, rather than solely on documentary photography.

With typical zeal, Ball set out to master new creative horizons such as abstract and photo-impressionism, attending Patterson workshops and becoming his admiring friend. Today she too offers workshops to teach photographic techniques such as multiple exposure, panning, image overlay, and the use of Lensbaby’s bendable, stretchable, creative effects lenses.

She recently created a 109-page e-book — Fine Art Flower Photography: techniques and tips — that can be purchased online from her website. You get the picture — Dr. Ball is creative, dedicated, purposeful, energetic and, of course, focussed.

She didn’t become a veterinarian, but in her spare time she supports the no-kill animal shelter located just outside Smiths Falls, operated by the Lanark Animal Welfare Society (LAWS). Shelley is one of several volunteer photographers who take photos for the LAWS adoption website. Last year she designed and produced a fundraising calendar for the shelter, using images from volunteer photo shoots, and is at work on this year’s calendar.

Oh Canada

When her mother’s health deteriorated, Shelley returned to her beloved Westport cottage area in 2009 with her Kiwi husband. Her credentials, her scientific contacts and her passion for environmental stewardship earned her a position as a Senior Environmental Assessment Officer with the Federal Government. The ongoing triweekly commute from Westport to Ottawa is more than compensated for by her enjoyment of her fifteen rural acres featuring a beaver pond.

Photographer Shelley Ball

With the exception of her interactions with her students, Ball doesn’t miss the competitive world of academia. She finds that working with environmental issues has honed her awareness of the importance of environmental education. As she states on her website, “As founder of BIOSPHERE Environmental Education, I am passionate about educating youth about environmental and conservation issues and inspiring them to become the generation of change.”

Her Mission Statement is laudable and ambitious: “To mentor a new generation of leaders, innovators, and world citizens who believe that the long term health of earth’s environments is at least as important as profits and development, and who will guide their generation toward a sustainable way of living.”

Dr. Ball puts her money where her mouth is. As a first step, she created the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program and signed up as a self-funded volunteer educator to teach photography and environmental communication skills to 86 high school students from around the world. Her trip to the Arctic two months ago with “Students on Ice” confirmed her belief that you “can change a kid’s life in fifteen days.”

By engaging youth in expeditionary and experiential learning, and by teaching them how to use photography and videography to document their surroundings, she intends to empower young people to become environmental ambassadors. In a nutshell, she wants to “encourage students to care about their planet and to inspire them to do something about it.” Dr. Shelley L. Ball has the perfect qualifications, personality and drive to do just that.

Perth Autumn Studio Tour

You'll have the opportunity to meet Shelley and get a first-hand look at her work at this year's Perth Autumn Studio Tour (October 11–13). She will be a guest at Rita Redner’s studio at 549 Brooke Valley Road.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Ball's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Sep 2014

The Notebook Revolution

Originally published in the September 2012 issue; the SchoolBOX photo gallery was just added in September 2014 (at right).

It all started in 2006 when a notebook and a pencil were given to a young girl in a tiny coffee-growing village in Nicaragua. The little girl’s father beamed excitedly as he told his daughter that she could now go to school.

Almonte’s Tom Affleck, a graduate of the University of Guelph’s International Development Program, knew that Nicaragua was the largest and poorest country in Central America. What he didn’t know was that something as simple as a notebook could stand between a child and their education. It may seem like a small thing to those who live in the land of plenty, but in places where families live in tin huts with no running water and scarce  commodities, a simple notebook can change a person’s life. This very fact changed Tom Affleck’s life and the lives of many around him.

Two children with notebooks from SchoolBOX

From grannies to grandchildren, residents of Affleck’s hometown have rallied around the cause, fundraising and literally jumping on board, flying to areas of need to lend a hand digging footings, burying rebar, and carrying cinder blocks to build schools, washroom facilities, libraries and sports fields. “It's an incredible testament to the power of community,” Affleck says.

Today, six years after that first notebook found its way into the hands of that little girl, the 200,000th notebook is ready to be delivered by Nicaraguan Dire ctor of Operations, Ronald Chavarria.

Tom’s mother Jennette Affleck, traveled on the chicken-buses with Tom, delivering the very first notebooks. Local woman, Sarah Kerr, who left her job in 2007 to take part in the first classroom build, is now SchoolBox  Operations Manager. Sarah created the successful Indigenous Youth Empowering Students (IYES) program, which provides opportunities for young people from across Canada to share their cultures with children in Nicaragua. “The volunteers learn to become leaders of children in Nicaragua and then take those skills back to their home communities,” Kerr explains.

Dedicated supporters like retired teachers Mike and Millie Maloney of Almonte, exemplify the “silent heroes” Affleck often mentions; people who put their hearts and souls into this work, spending countless hours organizing, planning, doing the legwork for golf tournaments and silent auctions, and choosing to spend their vacations hauling bricks and digging holes in 35 degree weather. “It couldn’t be more rewarding,” says Mike with a contagious grin. “The people there are so grateful of the little we are able to do for them.”

On a recent trip to Leon, Millie met a young woman of no more than 19, who was teaching 30 kids in her grandmother’s dreary little living room so mothers in her community could to go to work. The woman had no resources and all thirty children were sharing a single cup. Millie describes the unpaid teacher’s joy when presented with books, pencils, markers, a whiteboard and drinking cups. Pakenham resident, Fern Martin, says it was a meaningful experience that went far beyond laying the groundwork for a school. Martin felt that the Canadians’ presence gave a legitimacy and status to the goals of the Nicaraguans who seemed to feel that if Canadians thought that their dreams were important, then it must be so.

A school build in 2013 is being sponsored by Craig and Amber Hall, owners of Equator fair-trade coffee company that has supported SchoolBOX from the start. In May 2013, the Halls will assist in the build. “These projects couldn’t happen without the support of people like this,” Affleck says. Local people like the community of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Almonte, businessmen Leonard Lee of Algrove Publishing, and Nathan Rudyk of Market 2 World Communications helped to get this organization off the ground.

In six short years this organization has come to work in 50 communities, distributed in excess of 42,000 educational packages, constructed 28 classrooms, built libraries and washroom facilities, hosted over 250 international volunteers, and four regional soccer tournaments with 16 partner schools.

Following the model of any good sustainable development project, School Box gets the pencils rolling but locals run the show. "Our vision has, and continues to be, to strengthen our team in Nicaragua with increased local leadership and sustainability,” Kerr explains.

“We now have 15 people working to 'Make Education Possible' in that country, reaching over 13,000 students and teachers.” The simple act of giving one notebook and one pencil started a revolution of sorts; a peaceful revolution against apathy, despair, and poverty. A movement that’s transforming muddy pits into airy classrooms, despair into hope, and dreams into reality. This Notebook Revolution was started by a young Ottawa Valley man who, along with his rural Ottawa Valley community, has made education possible 200,000 times over.

Humm Contributor: Robyn Eagan

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Sep 2014

LAWS Learning Opportunities 2014 - 2015

Starting up again in fall 2014, the Lanark Animal Welfare Society (LAWS) is offering its Humane Education Program to all schools and community programs in Lanark County and the surrounding area. It is is geared to students from JK to Grade 8, and to some extent high school grades. The program consists of presentations to groups on a variety of animal welfare topics, and discussions about compassion for animals as well as responsible pet ownership. The lesson plans are often incorporated into units for Literacy, Math, Social Studies and Art.

Contented dog at rest

Beth Searle, the Humane Education director at LAWS, brings along a furry friend for a safe, hands-on introduction to a temperament-tested dog when visiting classes. Beth is happy to do follow-up visits to view and celebrate the students’ completed assignments and presentations as well. She is currently booking school visits for this school year, at the request of the teacher, school, church or community group. Contact Beth at <> for more information or to schedule a visit. Don’t forget to check out all the lesson plan descriptions LAWS is offering, as well as the photos from previous visits over the years, at <>.

Dog Education Seminars

André Hurtubise, Owner of Perth's Pooch Pal dog training and senior trainer at Ottawa Canine School, is also in charge of training dog volunteers at LAWS. He is kindly lending his expertise to deliver several dog education seminars at the Perth Library in support of LAWS. These seminars are being offered free to the public, but of course a donation to LAWS would be appreciated and can brought on the night of the seminar(s) you wish to attend. Below is the line-up of topics, dates and times:

September 18, 2014 from 6-8PM: Dog 101
The origin of dogs; where they come from; the history, the intelligence and the communication of the animal, and the silver fox experiment.

December 4, 2014 from 6-8PM: Dog Communication
What is my dog trying to say to me? How can we relate to them; showing video and pictures of scenarios of how animals express their feelings and thoughts.

February 26, 2015 from 6-8PM: Dog Aggression
How it is misunderstood; what is true aggression; where does it come from; the purposes of it and how it got there; how to understand, calm down aggressive behaviour and prevent it from happening.

May 7, 2015 from 6-7:30pm: Dogs and Kids
Safety seminar on how to build your knowledge so kids are safe around dogs; how some mistakes are made; training and behaviour.

June 4, 2015 from 6-7:30PM: Dog Myths
Health, Training, Behaviour; are dogs den animals? Pack animals? What does it mean when my dog eats grass? Do I need to be the pack leader? and other questions answered!

Get more details from the LAWS website.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 May 2013

Experience Raintree

An evening with Raintree is much more than watching talented musicians playing songs on stage - it's a musical adventure. Expectations for “normal” rock-folk song structures are best left at the door. The music is a warm earthy blend of world folk music drawing on Celtic/African/Latin rhythms as well as classical elements, smoothly synergized and delivered.

Ian Douglas and Steve Reside, who both live in Almonte, form the core of the band and co-write the material. They founded Raintree in 1994 and, fueled by similar musical visions, began mounting local shows the following year. In the 1990s they presented Celebration, followed by Secret Light, and later Alchemy in both 1998 and 2000. In each production they pushed the boundaries by adding variety through visual effects, dancers, and other artists. In 2012 they returned to the stage with Map to Nowhere and in 2013 they premiered Terra Firma: Songs of Earth and Sky. Both of these shows featured cinematic elements projected on screen.

Steve, who considers himself primarily a vocalist, grew up singing in a choir and listening to the Beatles and Bruce Cockburn. His adventurous spirit has always taken him to new places that extend well beyond the attic studio where they create and rehearse.

Ian, having a classical piano background, composes on the keyboard and counts among his musical influences names like Peter Gabriel, Pat Metheny, and David Sylvian, with a nod to 70s progressive rock such as Pink Floyd and the like. In truth, both are talented multi-instrumentalists, able to play guitar, keyboards and percussion, as well as sing. Visit the group's website for audio and video samples of their work.

Etherday Walking on the Moon Raintree HD

Get in touch

For full contact details, click on the Info link at the top of this page.

Article credits

Extracted from an article in theHumm by Rick Scholes in the May 2013 issue.

Photo credits

Bill Pratt Photography

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Sep 2014

Bill Pratt - Oh Canada!

What's the photographic equivalent for the musical term "anthem"? An anthem combines words and music to express profound feelings for a country. Bill Pratt's photographic slide shows are anthems employing a different combination of media.

Bill combines his extraordinary nature photographs with carefully selected music to express his love and respect for Canada. Has he invented Canthems? The boy who loved canoeing with the YMCA in Toronto began to get serious about taking pictures about twenty years ago. He took his camera along on a trip to Algonquin Park, and the odyssey began. Now he works out regularly so he can continue to pack sixty pounds of  photographic equipment as he scales rugged cliffs in search of the quintessential nature of Canada.

Photo by artist Bill Pratt

The more he really looks at this vast country through the clarifying lenses of his Nikon cameras, the more Bill Pratt realises how nature itself is responsible for many of the national characteristics for which Canadians are known. "When I see the power of the elements, the vastness of the spaces; when I experience the challenges
presented by our harsh winter climate in the Arctic and on the Atlantic coast; when I stalk a grizzly or a moose to capture its essence on film - then I start to feel connected to our history as a nation, as a culture. I start to understand what it's done to us - how it's formed us as a people. And I start to learn what's important to

Making Connections

Pratt's photography has taught him just how important it is to him to make connections with other people. "Otherwise I'd just shoot my pictures and leave them in their binders." When he was first invited to give a slide presentation, he went away feeling dissatisfied. "It seemed hollow - it was all about me - my pictures, my holiday." Then during the Quebec separation crises of the mid-1990s he began to give presentations to make people reflect about Canadian unity. Almost by accident he experienced the thrill of making connections with viewers who are as passionate as he is about this great country.

At first, he admits candidly, his presentations comprised "nice images with nice music - the classic  postcard/calendar shots of spectacular scenery where everything is spelled out for you." But over the years Pratt has matured into that rare nature photographer who succeeds in conveying the emotions he felt when he was in the field (or on top of the cliff) stalking his elusive photographic prey. His awe and his respect and his exultation and his fearfulness are all palpable as his slides and carefully chosen soundtracks pay homage to this spectacular land he loves so much.

He made a major connection ten years ago when he joined Almonte's "7 Again" photography club. The live interaction when they meet every two weeks to share their technical expertise and critique each other's work has been invaluable to his development as a photographer. Other major influences are world-famous photographer Freeman Patterson of Shampers Bluff in New Brunswick, and John and Janet Foster of Tweed, Ontario.

Pratt is a civil engineer with Parks Canada, and one of his 11 slide presentations is a 1990 feature he produced for his employer. He logged 4500 miles in an RV visiting historical sites, and remembers it as the "…hardest work I ever did. A photographer is a prisoner of the lighting; I got up at 3:00 or 4:00 every morning, and worked 18-hour days." On one of his Arctic expeditions, he and a friend were left stranded temporarily when a local guide ended up in the hospital after an unscheduled brawl. But he's still lifting weights to stay in shape for his next trip.

The Positive Charge of Negative Space

Over time, Pratt has refined the concept of negative space for photography. By taking away background detail, by removing information from his pictures with his choice of focus, he engages the emotional side of his viewers' brains to fill in the missing data and evoke a genuine emotional response.

If you sat silently in a darkened room watching his incredible images of this country's vast and infinitely variable landscapes and wildlife, you would be astonished at the power and raw beauty of the scenes he captured. You would wonder at his audacity and daring as he gets much too close to a grizzly. If you started to contemplate the logistical and physical and financial challenges his passion for sharing his beloved wilderness entails, you would be impressed with his tenacity and dedication and ingenuity. But if you attend a Bill Pratt multimedia slide program where he complements his images with his carefully selected soundtrack, you would begin to feel what he feels at 4:30am standing on top of a glacier when the sun transforms a remote landscape into a powerful emotional experience. Whether that experience is spiritual, cleansing, healing, or a call to socio-political action is up to you. But you will be moved.

Leo Tolstoy wrote, "Music is the shorthand of emotion." Pratt employs negative space shorthand on his soundtracks as he does in his photography. He frequently uses the warmth of the human voice without lyrics to evoke the purest emotional response from his audiences. "When you have to fill in the details yourself, you're more involved and the experience is more moving."

Pratt's mentor, Freeman Patterson, has written, "…no amount of technical knowledge and competence is, of itself, sufficient to make a craftperson into an artist. That requires caring - passionate caring about ultimate things. For me there is a close connection between art and religion in the sense that both are concerned about questions of meaning - if not about the meaning of existence generally, then certainly about the meaning of one's individual life and how a person relates to his or her total community/environment." For me, Bill Pratt's slide programs define him as an artist.

Connecting with Bill Pratt

Because his work is only available to live audiences, it can be tricky to experience Pratt's multimedia photographic artistry. He is presenting a program in Kingston in January; each year he does two fundraising shows for the Lanark County Therapeutic Riding Program in Almonte and Perth. For a modest fee he will present a slide program at your group meeting. I wonder if he's busy on Canada Day - I can't think of a better way to celebrate our great country!

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Pratt's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 Oct 2014

Building Guitars that Inspire the Guitarist

Almonte has a new artistic luminary in its midst. Linda Manzer is an extraordinary Canadian luthier who has built guitars for legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, Canada’s beloved Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot, Brazil’s world-famous singer/song-writer Milton Nascimento, Paul Simon, and many other renowned guitarists. Her guitars have been displayed in Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization, in Washington in the Smithsonian, and at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Very few people in Almonte know who she is. Even fewer know she has set up a luthier studio here that she shares with apprentice luthier and singer/songwriter Peggy White.

Guitar by Linda Manzer

Manzer’s public visibility is tightly coupled to the fame of her customers. Just a few weeks ago she made CBC news headlines when Stephen Fearing, guitarist of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, waged a Twitter war with Air Canada after he claimed the airline lost his valuable Manzer guitar for two days on a flight from London to Halifax. Fearing said the guitar, which he purchased in 1990, was insured. “That’s not the point,” he said. “It’s got my blood, sweat and tears in it and I love it to bits. It’s a rare, precious thing.”

Just Her Cup of Tea

Manzer credits her collaboration with Pat Metheny as the turning point in her career. She first heard Metheny play guitar at a Joni Mitchell concert in Detroit. As she describes it in an excellent CBC documentary produced in 2011 for Patty Schmidt’s “Inside the Music” program: “…in the middle of the song this man steps forward… he played a song; about three notes and my world changed.” Manzer became an instant fan, and at a Metheny concert in 1982 she found the nerve to send a note backstage inviting Pat to her workshop the next day “to have a cup of tea.” Instead he sent word he wanted to meet her after the concert, and after playing two of her instruments, Metheny said he wanted to buy one. In the documentary, he says “…with Linda, there was an instant recognition that this instrument was on an entirely different level… like when I sit down at a great German Steinway — the first time I’d ever felt that from a steel string acoustic guitar… there was this incredible balance from the bottom to the top…” As a result, Linda created the guitar the duo have dubbed the “Linda 6”. Months later she watched as Metheny walked on stage in Toronto at Ontario Place and played her guitar.

Lots of Strings Attached

Metheny describes Manzer’s guitars as inspirational, and that is Manzer’s goal. She creates her guitars as “tools that inspire musicians to want to play them and create wonderful music.” Over three-plus decades the Manzer-Metheny duo has collaborated on a number of unique instruments. In 1984, when Metheny challenged Manzer to create a guitar with as many strings as possible, she spent four months designing, and five months building, the Pikasso, replete with two soundholes, three necks and 42 strings in four groups. She invented a special feature known as “The Wedge,” a tapered body shape that makes the side closest to the player thinner than the side that rests on the player’s knee.

In 2012 Metheny and “pioneering designer” Manzer were recipients of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards (TDIA), celebrating “those whose ideas have broken the mold to create significant impact.” You can find a link to the Youtube video of Metheny playing his Pikasso at <> – minute 4 is amazing.

No Resting on Her Laurels

Linda Manzer is refreshingly down to earth. When I ask her how she handles fame, she laughs and says, “Luckily, it took so long I can’t take it seriously.” She also states that you “have to be honest with yourself to be a woodworker.” She has been purchasing and drying superb woods for over thirty years. When she shows me the tools she works with and the tolerances (one tenth of a mm, or about the depth of a sheet of paper), I understand what she means. Since coming to Almonte, Manzer treasures the set of Japanese chisels given to her by Leonard Lee; they “became an indispensable part of my hand-tools instantly.”

When I interview her she is working on a guitar that is going to Japan, and has just decided to remake the neck because it isn’t exactly the way she wants it. This is her biggest challenge, because, like Voltaire, she knows that the best is the enemy of the good. In four decades, Manzer has produced almost five hundred hand-built instruments good enough to position her among the world’s best luthiers.

The creative energy that made her the perfect collaborator with equally innovative Pat Metheny remains intact. She is working with six other luthiers with Toronto connections on a project she proposed to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinsburg. Each luthier is building a guitar that will be displayed as a tribute to one of Canada’s famed Group of Seven artists, with an accompanying book and film.

Stringing Us Along

Not content with an internationally acclaimed 42-string instrument, Linda has entered into a friendly competition with California luthier Fred Carlson, creator of the 39-string acoustic Harp-Sympitar. Both luthiers are known for making guitars with “too many strings”, and have come up with an inside joke to see who can build a functional guitar with the most strings. As Linda tells “The Agenda’s” Steve Paikin (in a great interview embedded below), she loves a challenge.

No Strings Attached

As a woman, Manzer fought an uphill battle to become a luthier, and she tells a funny story about how she convinced her first teacher, Jean-Claude Larrivée, to take her on as a student in 1974. He told her he was a male chauvinist pig and didn’t want to teach a woman, but Linda could hear Larrivée’s wife laughing in the background, so she persisted. Linda later studied with Jimmy D’Aquisto, who was trained by, and the successor to, renowned luthier John D’Angelico.

Canadian Luthier Linda Manzer

Self-described as a “bad folk-singer” as a teenager, Manzer credits her unhappiness in art school at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design with becoming a luthier. She realized that guitar making combined all the things she loved most — art, design, music and making musical instruments — and she decided to follow her roommate’s advice and focus. She quit school and called Larrivée. She is extremely focused.

Manzer loves being in Almonte. She is outspoken in her praise of apprentice Peggy White’s capabilities as a luthier. Linda loves to teach, and Peggy has an intuitive feel for building guitars that is exceptional. As a newcomer, Linda is lending her voice in support of the Mississippi RiverWatchers’ advocacy regarding the proposed expansion of the Enerdu power generation facility located just downstream of the train bridge in Almonte.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Manzer's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Nov 2014

Love at First Throw

Clay sculptor and potter Victoria Jenkins remembers having her first experience with pottery when she was six years old. She lived on a prairie farm near Edmonton and mixed some mud with water and made a bowl. It was the beginning of an enduring love affair with the endless creative possibilities and challenges that clay provides.

A visit to Jenkins’ Magical Mud Pottery Studio in Carleton Place reveals the extent of her appetite for experimentation and invention. She explains her continuing fascination with working with clay as “…a voyage of discovery… What will make a functional pot work well for its purpose? What will make my product interesting over time for the person who owns it? Is it possible to inject a little surprise or whimsy?”

Pottery plate by Victoria Jenkins

The result of her continuing exploration of all aspects of her chosen medium is a wealth of creative functional pottery for the kitchen and the garden. In addition, she creates custom sinks and bathroom accessories. All are beautiful, original and expertly made — a result of her intellectual curiosity as well as her gift for creativity.

But the show stopper is her collection of clay sculptures — from elephants to fiddlers and dancing couples, three feet tall. They are amazing. Throughout the design and build processes, they become more like friends than artifacts, and Jenkins’ biggest regret is that she has to say goodbye when they find a new home.

Many of her current sculptures are, in fact, modeled after friends. Victoria and her husband Alex love to dance. Some of her favourite figures are of older people they meet at the country dances they attend on weekends. She works from photographs she has taken, capturing her subjects’ movements, personalities and individual qualities as they enjoy life to the fullest.

Jenkins describes constructing a large sculpture as an adventure. “There is a plan, of course; but ideas, movement and changes suggest themselves along the way, and the end result is often much different. The magical part is when the hands and face are added and the figure seems to come to life.” After controlled drying and slow firing in the kiln, she adds colour with acrylic paints.

Magical Mud

Maybe she does use magical mud. From a large block of soft clay and a few photos, Jenkins captures the transcendental magic of music-making and dancing. Somehow she is able to transpose her own feel for gesture and movement to large clay figures who are obviously transported in the moment.

Over decades of courses and experimentation, Jenkins has solved puzzles about design, the building process, decoration and achieving the colours she envisions. As anyone who has opened the door of a kiln knows all too well, a minor error along the way can affect and even destroy the final result. Victoria enjoys the challenge, and includes many tests in every kiln load. As she puts it, “Some work. Many don’t. But it’s all part of the learning process.”

Lifelong Learning

Education has been a constant in Victoria Jenkins’ life. She came to Ottawa from the Prairies when she received a scholarship to study Political Science at Carleton University. She returned to Edmonton with her new husband, where he worked for the Federal Government while she went back to the University of Regina to acquire a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree while raising their two sons.

Fortunately, the right student met up with the right instructor. Jenkins credits her marvelous pottery instructor — Regina’s Jack Sures — with fostering her lifelong fascination with clay. Sures is one of the maverick Canadian ceramists, along with Joe Fafard and others, “who in the 1960s liberated ceramics from its traditional, functional role and instead utilized it as a sculptural material. The ‘Regina Clay’ group, as they came to be known, rallied against anything that could be considered dogmatism within the constricts of visual arts and ceramics.” Sures created the “Air, Earth, Water and Fire” ceramic mural at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1989.

Following Victoria’s graduation in 1981, the couple moved back to Ottawa and she set up her own studio in Orleans while she was still working full time. After years of searching for the right piece of land on which to build a house, they settled in Carleton Place in 1997, where she now has her spacious Magical Mud Pottery studio. For almost thirty years she participated in the shows of the Ottawa Guild of Potters, perfecting and expanding her functional housewares (she likes to cook).

Variety is the Spice of Life

Gradually Jenkins began decorating her larger items with paintings and small sculptures of animals — tigers, elephants, giraffes and fish (she loves to travel and to swim). Eventually she added people to her work, with a series of Ukrainian dancers reflecting her family background, and a group of circus-related pieces in the ‘90s. She wanted to create even larger pieces and attended classes at St. Lawrence College. Next it was her instructor at Haliburton College, highly imaginative sculptor Dzintars Mežulis, who “got me over my fear of sculpting faces, teeth and hands.”

Artist Victoria Jenkins

Following a year-long FUSION mentorship program with potter Leta Cormier, Jenkins has concentrated on surface decoration using glaze stains and painting. “The key ingredient,” she quips, “is lots of practice.” She enjoys making custom sinks because they require good technique and good control, and she is looking forward to creating large garden sculptures, fountains and planters (yes, she likes to garden too).

Jenkins finds Carleton Place a stimulating place to work, with an active, talented and busy arts community. Four years ago she initiated the annual Carleton Place Art Tour & Sale to provide local artists with another way of distributing their work. This year it has been expanded into a two-day affair by popular demand, so you can meet Victoria Jenkins and some of her sculpted friends at her Magical Mud Pottery Studio at 2321 10th Line, just south of Carleton Place, on November 8 and 9. Check out her offerings of hand building classes on her Facebook page and get her full contact info at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Dec 2014

Redefining Devine

Whimsy, humour, beauty, grace, irony, even utility — Mary Lou Devine’s fabric sculptures are endlessly amusing, imaginative and just plain fun. They run the gamut from outdoor garden sculptures to functional bathroom accessories. She creates wonderfully original decorating accents for every room of the house, and every holiday and occasion. Her husband has noticed that his wife is occupied fulltime again.

Artwork by fabric artist Mary Lou Devine

Devine’s exceptional gift is her imagination. She dreams up and creates characters that belong on your tables, in your garden, standing in your bathroom and on your kitchen counter. Her Christmas elves are so appealing you will have trouble putting them away at the end of the holiday season.

Wire, aluminum foil, tape, fabric, Paverpol™ — the medium isn’t the message, but it is the enabler that inspired Mary Lou Devine to cast aside her other artistic endeavors and become a dedicated sculptor, instructor and, just recently, the Eastern Ontario distributor of Paverpol products.

The environmentally friendly, water-based textile hardener is a non-toxic, weather-resistant sculpting medium that has transformed Devine’s life (and her home, garden and studio) in a remarkably short time. It was the stimulus she needed to finally refuse additional post-retirement contracts proffered by her former civil service colleagues. The ability to endlessly explore her creativity while experiencing the thrill of rapid gratification was irresistible.

“I was looking forward to early retirement so I could continue developing my artistic skills by attending courses in oil and acrylic painting, but the first time I tried Paverpol it changed everything,” she told me. “I realized I had found what I wanted to do.”

Born in Smiths Falls, she was raised in Prescott. She and her sister had become accomplished seamstresses in their teens, and Mary Lou made most of her own clothes well into her thirties. She started quilting in her late thirties while expecting her son, and then started teaching herself to paint with acrylics. In her twenties she was plucked out of the temporary administrative pool where she was working in an Ottawa federal department, and invited to become a fulltime civil servant. She extended her career twice by working on contract after retirement, until her sculptural epiphany.

In September of 2010, Devine was attending a workshop on making garden pots when another participant, Liz Ciesluk, introduced the group to Paverpol fabric sculpture. A make-up artist by profession, and multimedia artist in her spare time, Ciesluk was a Certified Paverpol Instructor. Mary Lou took a couple of courses with Ciesluk, now her friend, and six months later decided she too wanted to share her excitement over the infinite creative possibilities that fabric sculpture provides.

“I thought everybody would want to do it!” she exclaimed. She learned while taking a heron-sculpting course that not everyone does. Not everybody likes the feel of getting their hands wet and gooey as they dip swatches of fabric in the water-soluble, fast-drying, eventually rock-hard sculpting medium. For Devine, the process was simply divine. Besides, you can wear gloves.

Her introduction to the medium changed her artistic direction completely. The combination of creating a form, manipulating the form into a figure with attitude, and then dressing that sculpture to enhance that attitude, has proven endlessly compelling and fascinating to her. “When I start creating the figure, the person inside starts coming out; their personality starts to emerge. It’s almost like birthing — without the pain.” Her wonderful beer (or soft drink) caddy is the result of observing how both her husband and son sit when they are relaxed. I recognized it instantly as a caricature of my grandson.

The act of draping fabric to flesh out the form and create the personality is a large part of the appeal for Devine. She mentions that she sometimes feels like she is bringing Norman Rockwell images to life in sculptural form, and I immediately make the connection as I envision some of his famous paintings. Rockwell painted characters that were casual and comfortable in their own skins. Devine creates characters with the same unselfconscious appearance. Like Rockwell’s, many of her personae make you smile. They all have attitude.

By the summer of 2012, Mary Lou’s creations were flying off her table at the North Gower Farmers’ Market. Since then she has created a fabulous studio at her home where she now offers three types of workshops — Basic, Specialty and Certified Paverpol Instructor training. And yes — she offers a Specialty Heron Workshop. The birds look wonderful in your garden.

Fabric Artist Mary Lou Devine

From looking at Devine’s sculptures and researching Paverpol on the internet, my impression of this crafty medium is that it enables you to explore your creative capabilities about as easily and quickly as possible. The material is quite forgiving until it sets, you can incorporate all kinds of accessories and props, and you have a great chance of creating a sculpture you’ll be proud of in a single lesson. I think I’m going to sign up!

Check out Mary Lou Devine’s divine sculptures at the North Gower Farmers’ Market Christmas Show and Sale on Saturday, December 6, from 9am to 3pm at the Alfred Taylor R. A. Centre, 2300 Community Way <>.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Devine's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Feb 2015

The Art of Healing Through Art

Contemplating the beautiful and intricate abstract works created by Carleton Place artist Mary Pfaff, the analogy that kept recurring to me is that her paintings are like good music; they have the power to evoke a wide range of emotional response. In different works her abstract language soothed me, saddened me, gladdened me, intrigued me and left me grateful for the absorbing experience.

Pfaff loves creating abstract art because it is an endless “exploration of how images, symbols, relationships and experiences are intricately fused and dispersed.” The process she follows is full of mystery, and constantly challenges her imagination. She describes the experience as “a wordless conversation… a full sensual experience; the sound of the brushes against the canvas, the smell, the touch, seeing, moving, changing and becoming. When the final piece connects for me and the viewer, a new conversation begins.”

Painting by Mary Pfaff

After her mother’s death last summer, Pfaff created seven wonderful works entitled August Suite, based on imagined and remembered conversations. As I studied them I found myself intensely curious about the different conversations that inspired them and elicited such different responses from me. The longer I wandered around her marvelous studio and gallery space at MacArthur Mill in Carleton Place, the more I realized just how successful she is in engaging her viewers in an emotional conversation.

From February 4 to 28, 2015 Pfaff’s works will take centre stage at General Fine Craft, Art & Design at 63 Mill Street in Almonte. On Sunday, February 8, from 1–3pm, she will present a talk on “intuitive, expressive drawing,” featuring her August Suite drawings. Her credentials as an international presenter and leading advocate for engagement in the arts would have been sufficient to recommend attendance; my interview with her leaves me with no hesitation to do so. Her infectious enthusiasm for the power of the creative process to promote well-being in individuals and communities is a perfect tonic for the February blahs. Her paintings could seduce you into rethinking abstract art.

Pfaff has a wonderful retort to my standard question ‘Why do you create art?’ She answers, “To paint is my lifelong aspiration and favourite verb.” Her history fully supports her response.

She was born in Clinton, Ontario, where her father served in the Royal Air Force. When she was eleven years old, she was sent on an exchange from Winnipeg to a Secondary Modern School in Buckinghamshire County in England. Pfaff thrived in an environment where eccentricity was revered, not avoided, and art was considered an essential part of the curriculum. After attending George Brown College she accepted a placement as a child care worker at Warrendale, a Toronto facility for emotionally disturbed children.

The Healing Power of Art

It was there that she discovered that “art changed everything,” even with deeply troubled children. It was a life-changing experience for Mary, and one that profoundly shaped her own life and informed many of her later career decisions.

While raising two children with her first husband in Ottawa, she attended commercial art classes at Algonquin College and worked as a designer creating publications for Transport Canada. As she approached a milestone birthday, she realized she would “be nearly 40 whether she did it or not,” and graduated with distinction in Fine Arts from the University of Ottawa at the age of 39.

Since then, her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions across North America, the U.K. and New Zealand. Her exuberant painting titled “Applause” is on display in its special setting at the top of the staircase at the Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa, the result of a competitive public art commission process.

For the past twenty years, Pfaff has frequently put her own work on the back burner as she worked tirelessly to promote the arts as a transforming healing agent. During fifteen years of offering painting, sculpture, ceramics and art and gardening programs to residents at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, she again witnessed the profound effect the arts can have on quality of life and well-being. Art had always been essential in her life, but after her son was killed in a tragic car accident in 1996, Mary immersed herself in the design and development of creative arts programs and projects for all ages, using the arts as a healing agent for self-expression, empowerment, insight, recovery, rehabilitation and respite. In 2003, after attending a conference in San Diego, she created Artswell as a sole proprietorship.

She worked tirelessly to secure Trillium grants, and forged partnerships with various agencies to create a Canadian charity dedicated to improving the quality of life and well-being of individuals living with the effects of age, illness or injury, through exposure to and engagement in the arts <>.

Pfaff has worked as an arts-for-wellness coach for cancer survivors, and as the faculty Artist in Residence working within the medical school and the clinical settings of the Ottawa Hospital. As one of the leading Canadian experts in the field, she has used her expertise to establish workshops that make the arts accessible to everyone. Mary is the 2013 recipient of the Lucille Broadbent Award that is presented annually by the Ottawa Art Expo to an individual whohas demonstrated artistic leadership and commitment to the furthering of the arts community in Canada.

Artist Mary Pfaff

With her second husband, journalist Richard Starnes, Pfaff shares twelve grandchildren spread across Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and California. When she returns home from visiting family and painting in New Zealand, she looks forward to the new phase of her career - focusing on creating her own art. As usual, she will work tirelessly — a disciplined six to seven hours a day on her painting, and to promote her new project. She is thrilled with her spacious new studio and gallery in Carleton Place at the historic MacArthur Mill on the island at 150 Mill Street, andenvisions its development into an exciting, creative space for creative people. Mary’s only preference for neighbours in this affordable and flexible venue is their desire to be involved with and participate with other people. She adds that a brewery and café would be especially welcome.

Fear of the “F” Word

If the Fear of Failure has kept you from exploring your artistic soul, Mary Pfaff would be an ideal resource. Her workshops encourage you to celebrate the uniqueness of yourself, to take risks, to tap into your creative force.

Better yet, she believes that art, like life, doesn’t have to be serious.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Sep 2013

A Doughnut A Day?

Perpetually afraid of getting lost and arriving late, even in a town as familiar as Almonte, I left for my interview with Ed Atwell, the creative mind behind Healthy Food Technologies (HFT), about twenty minutes early. I soon found though, that the otherwise ambiguous-looking building on Industrial Avenue has earned a definite presence in uptown Almonte. Signs reading “Donuts today!”, adorned with balloons and arrows pointing toward the HFT headquarters, were placed conveniently along my route, and, as with anywhere in Almonte, I was able to get there in about four minutes. This meant I had a little waiting to do in the lobby of the building, greeted first by Ed’s wife Doris and daughter Faith. During the few minutes I waited, the flow of doughnut-seeking customers was constant. Since HFT has only been selling doughnuts for a mere couple of weeks, many had questions about what exactly makes them healthier.

Almonte doughnuts & fritters from HFC

Faith and Doris were prepared, explaining that HFT uses an effective fry-bake technology that reduces the fat in the doughnuts by 50–70%. I heard Faith say to one customer, “Don’t worry — we don’t put any carrots in them to make them healthy!” My interest was piqued.

Ed and Doris Atwell are the creators of Healthy Food Technology (HFT), a research and development centre that created a machine that, according to Ed, deep fries anything but leaves the finished product with about half the fat.

Initially, Ed and his team of developers were using doughnuts simply as tests for the machine. They were making doughnuts, taste-testing them, and then throwing them out. So, they decided to sell them. “We thought, ‘we’re not a doughnut shop, but maybe what we can do is connect with the public,’” he explained.

Now, after months of taste-testing the product of his invention, Ed says he could never go back to eating mainstream doughnuts.

“Four months go by and I go into a major doughnut shop chain and, just for fun, I buy a doughnut. So I walk out to my car, I take a bite, and I say to myself, ‘There’s something wrong with this,’” he says. “So I go to walk back into the doughnut shop to say that there’s something wrong with their product, and that’s when it hit me — there’s nothing wrong with that product. It’s just that bad.”

The difference, Ed says, is the amount of time that the product spends in the oil.

“Flavour profile is created exactly where the product meets the oil — the immediate contact,” he says. “The other flavour profile is the actual ingredients in the product. That being said, when you have a flavour profile at immediate contact, anything more than that actually dilutes from the flavour profile of the actual product. Nobody takes a can of Crisco, reaches into it with their finger and just eats it.”

The machine currently being tested at HFT has a capacity of about 200 dozen doughnuts per hour, Ed says. In six months he hopes to be testing a newer machine with a capacity of 400 per hour. Ed says drawings are also in the works for a machine specifically designed for French fries, offers for which he’d gladly accept from McDonald’s or any other large chain.

Ed says HFT’s main overarching goal is to attack the current obesity epidemic, not by taking away the public’s treats, but by replacing them with something that’s just as good, but more good-for-you.

According to Jean-Yves Lemoine, who is in charge of marketing for HFT, the company takes a more realistic approach to combating the obesity epidemic. “We try not to change people’s eating habits, and just change what exists right now,” he says.

Ed adds that, while corrective measures like exercise are effective in combating obesity, it’s important to take a close look at the root of the problem — in this case, high-fat foods. But, while some might remove those foods altogether, HFT has decided that’s not necessary.

“Essentially, everyone’s trying to put a band-aid on what’s cutting, and what we’ve done is just dulled the knife,” Ed says.

The machine also has environmental benefits — its innovative heat distribution system, Ed says, makes it more energy efficient than what’s currently available in the industry.

HFC's owners Ed & Doris Atwell

Ed, who over the years has worked in high level management for Country Style Donuts, Tim Hortons, and as a consultant for businesses within the doughnut industry, has also had a long-time dream of pursuing music, and often finds links between his two passions.

“I’ve been writing some of my greatest music during this project,” he says, “because I’d get hit with some huge issue with the patent, with the wording of the patent, my patent writing. So, late at night when I can’t sleep and it’s bugging me… I’d get up and start hammering on the music.”

Ed says he often jokes that HFT technology is just a front for his real passion — music — but, in all seriousness, he would like to record an album once the company becomes more established.

“I’m an inventor,” he says. “I’m a creative thinker. I constantly like to turn things upside down.”

Get in touch

For full contact details and a location map, view details above.

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Mar 2015

John Robert Bradley: Landscapes and Dreamscapes

Unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Burnstown painter John Robert Bradley looks forward “To sleep, perchance to dream…” Bradley’s dreams and meditations inspire his art. As iconic Canadian Anishnaabe painter Norval Morrisseau so poetically described it, Bradley “journeys to the Land of Invention where all colours exist amongst the stars.”

He perceives his spiritually inspired visions as a gift from the Universe. In his words, “It is to honour them and to try to realize their message that I paint what is given to me. Be it a healing or a teaching, I must acknowledge it for myself and for others.”

Landscape by John Robert Bradley

Bradley’s paintings can be loosely grouped into two categories — dreamscapes and landscapes. Following a near-death and spiritually transforming experience in 1998, John became fascinated with dream-inspired art and enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design, graduating with an honours diploma in fine arts and a major in drawing and painting. Eventually his interests led him to develop and teach a course in dreams and symbology at the Ottawa School of Art, and he continues to offer courses from his current location in Burnstown.

Bradley cites Toronto physician and psychotherapist Dr. Yvonne Kason as having a decisive influence on his spiritual growth, introducing him to Eastern mysticism and the practice of meditative visualization. Kason specializes in counseling persons who are undergoing spiritual emergencies and is the author of A Farther Shore: How Near-Death and Other Extraordinary Experiences Can Change Ordinary Lives (HarperCollins, 1994).

As Bradley worked to release his creative energy, he began dreaming in vivid colour. His dream image remained fixed in his mind until he carefully sketched the details and recorded the colours he had seen. He then created a painting to portray the teaching he had received in his dream. One of his goals in sharing his mystically inspired paintings is to invite viewers to “see for themselves what they are meant to see or to feel” from his works. He is constantly rewarded and amazed by the responses his dreamscape paintings elicit.


Landscape is Bradley’s other artistic passion, and his paintings beautifully reflect his love of nature, particularly as inspired by our great Canadian North. He was born in Sturgeon Falls, 35km west of North Bay, where his father worked for Ontario Hydro. The area has a strong aboriginal history, and this too is reflected in Bradley’s art. He feels privileged to have been taught and mentored while at OCAD by Saulteaux First Nations artist Robert Houle, who was Curator of Indian Art at the National Museum of Man in Ottawa from 1977 to 1980.

Another well-known artist and OCAD teacher, Gordon Rayner, exerted a strong influence. Bradley could easily use Rayner’s words to describe his own approach to landscape: “But when I’m up north my palette changes automatically and the method by which I paint changes, the aspects of touch and colour are more affected by the environment.”

During his second year at OCAD, a wonderful friend gave Bradley the use of a cottage during the summer, and his surroundings inspired him to experiment with a new medium. He discovered his preference for painting with oils, finding them more pliable, less stressful, and producing wonderfully vivid colours. He had found his own voice. Bradley’s landscapes, while evocative of Canada’s beloved Group of Seven paintings, are distinctive and compelling. The viewer feels the painter’s intent of “honouring the gift of Spirit.”

Bradley always wanted to be an artist. As a kid, the eldest of six, he learned to draw by copying his favourite comic book characters and creating his own storyboards and comic “strips”. One of his sisters, Norma Bradley-Walker, is a Montreal watercolourist and teacher. He remembers fondly how his art teacher in high school let him and his friend, James Cameron (Hollywood director born in Kapuskasing!) “do whatever we wanted.” When he worked for the Fleming Oilfield company, Bradley created a cartoon character named “Reef Man” and his sidekick, named “Sump,” for the company’s reef mud magazine ads. He also illustrated editorials and worked as a cartoonist for the Orleans Star local newspaper.

Life continued to interfere with art, and he travelled all over Canada as a Retail Project Specialist for Canadian Tire. He designed creative displays, trained staff and management, and oversaw and facilitated the opening of new Canadian Tire franchises or their franchise upgrades. In 2002, he moved to North Gower and his art was represented at the Merrickville Gallery.

Artist John Robert Bradley

Dreams Do Come True (in Burnstown!)

It was only in 2012 that he finally achieved his lifelong ambition to become a fulltime artist. The Bittersweet Gallery at sculptor Richard Gill’s Fog Run Studio in Burnstown invited John Robert Bradley to join their roster of artists. Even more important to Bradley, they offered him an affordable home studio, in the country, on a river — the ideal setting for him to realize his dream.

His new Burnstown location also provides him with an appropriate space to pursue his other passion. He will be offering classes for individuals and for groups of eight or fewer persons. He particularly enjoys providing a comfortable environment for beginners to work, without pressure, to discover their own artistic talents. His pleasure is apparent as he shares his favourite comment from a former student: “Your art is your talent, and your teaching is your gift.”

Why not plan a lovely spring (yes — it will happen!) drive to Burnstown to see John Robert Bradley’s newest works featured at Bittersweet Fine Craft & Art Gallery, 5 Leckie Lane in Burnstown? Most mornings he can be found at nearby Neat Coffee Shop, sketching or plotting another adventure in art.

See more of John Robert Bradley’s evocative dreamscapes and stunning landscapes at the top of the page. His coordinates are also available right here.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 Apr 2015

April Fool!

My mother claimed credit for delivering me five weeks early to be an April Fool, but I’m convinced it was my destiny. It’s a great birthday. People remember it. It forces you to develop a sense of humour. It precludes you from taking yourself too seriously. By the time you’re five years old you have learned the joke is on you.

On April 1st of this year I sally forth into the fourth quarter-century of my life, marvelling at my good luck. As a birthday tribute, my editor and daughter, Kris Riendeau, has assigned me the task of featuring myself as theHumm’s Intrepid Arts Reporter, and as a nature photographer. Over the past fifteen years almost 200 local artists have patiently submitted to my chatty interviews and my arbitrary rules about photographs and Artist Trading Card declarations. I’ve admired and really enjoyed meeting all but three, although their art merited positive attention too.

Photo by Sally Hansen

The request to write for theHumm was another of the fortuitous strokes of good luck and timing that have made my life much more adventurous and exciting than I ever dreamed. After earning a degree from the Samuel Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University, I learned many painful lessons about the rampant sexism in the workplace in the ’60s. When I became the single parent and sole support of two wonderful babies, I became and remain an ardent supporter of workforce equality.

Luck and brownies were integral to opening the door to my 37-year career in IT. Luck, hard work, awful bosses and wonderful colleagues and friends eventually propelled me from keypunch operator to Chief Information Officer at B. C. Hydro, Carleton University and Newbridge Networks. It was an amazing journey for a former housewife and mom in Pennsylvania long ago.

Luck walked into my office at the Computing Center at SUNY Buffalo in 1970 when Robert Bender was looking for my boss. Bender noticed a kooky bird swinging on a spring over my terminal (no, we didn’t have PCs then), and he ruffled my feathers with a perceived insult. When I realized I had finally met my match, the kids and I moved to Ottawa with him in 1974. He is my second, third and last husband and I adore him.

Bad luck abruptly ended my computing career just as I led an incredible IT team at Newbridge Networks through a successful Y2K conversion and simultaneous global SAP implementation. The company was sold to Lucent Technologies, and a former peer and frequent rebel against corporate IT standards was named CEO. He was delighted to inform me that my services were no longer required.

During my many years of submersion in technical details, staffing issues, political in-fighting and 14-hour workdays, I had dreamed of a retirement immersed in the arts and nature. When IT unexpectedly retired me, fortunately I had already achieved my new status as “Kris’s Mom.”

Wiled By Nature

Photographing nature has always been a source of keen enjoyment for me. Kris and her brother Kirk remember laughing at me and taking my picture when I got stuck in the muck at the edge of a lake in Kenya in 1986, absorbed in photographing flamingos. Fast-forward 31 years and I experienced equipment envy for the first time. A photographer next to me was aiming his enormous gear at the same Great Horned Owlets I was trying to find with a little point-and-shoot camera. He let me look through his paparazzi lens, and it was a revelation to me — bigger can be better! He could do things with it that I resolved to experience, and thus began a serious effort to master a complex technology and a never-ending progression of equipment upgrades. I am happy to note that age is no barrier to continuing enjoyment. Last week I bought myself the only thing I wanted for my milestone birthday — a(nother) state-of-the-art DSLR Nikon camera. I write this as my patient and extraordinarily skilled Sherpa and I are on location in Tucson, AZ, where we continue our photographic adventures.

The Thrills of the Chase

Two years ago in Tucson I was pursuing a flight shot of a hawk when I felt something weird under my left hiking boot. In probably the luckiest misstep of my life, I had firmly positioned my boot on the back of the neck of a coiled Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. The sight of its darting black tongue and fierce eyes is indelibly recorded in my otherwise forgetful brain. The Arizona admonition to “watch where you step” is useless. After rescuing myself and my gear with my Sherpa’s expert assistance, I photographed the sneaky snake in the grass and added the shot to my camouflage collection.

Four years ago on Katmai Peninsula off Kodiak Island in Alaska I was sitting on the edge of a stream trying to remove a water-logged hip-boot when a large, disgruntled Kodiak bear ran right between me and an Estonian photographer who was trying to get a photo of the bear catching a salmon. The bear got a salmon. Neither of us got that shot.

Nature photographer Sally Hansen

The Biophilia Hypothesis (please Google it)

As my mother succumbed to the ravages of a dementia in her nineties, the last two things that gave her pleasure were familiar music and my nature photographs. I am selfishly and altruistically amassing a collection of images that I can enjoy and share for the rest of my life. I have found no better voice for my love, respect and concern for the natural world than to learn about it and record and share what I am privileged to see.

On Tuesday, May 5, the Almonte Branch of the Mississippi Mills Public Library is giving me the opportunity to present a photographic overview of a three-week trip to Namibia that my husband/Sherpa and I took two years ago. Namibia was eye-opening in many respects, and I have tried to capture both the beauty and the struggle for survival that pervades in this extreme environment. The “Travelogue” starts at 7pm and the Library is located at 155 High Street in Almonte. I plan to continue as theHumm’s Intrepid Arts Reporter until I am retired. Thank you for reading my column!

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Hansen's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 May 2015

Random Acts of Exuberant Art

Some people start so many projects that even when they only finish most of them they are best described as prolific. Painter and sculptor Mary Jane (MJ) Lancaster is prolific. Stepping into the foyer at her refurbished / restored 1917 home in Carleton Place, the extent of her artistic energy is immediately apparent.

The welcoming home is chockablock with pets and art — including art by many other artists previously featured in theHumm. Lancaster’s paintings actually are in the minority because she has sold most of them, even though she works a fulltime “day job” at The MCP Group of digital and offset printing companies. Her vivid paintings suggest the wide range of interests that fuels their creator’s artistic engines: florals, portraits, Inuit-inspired designs, still-lifes and whimsy.

Artwork by artist Mary Jane Lancaster

This artist can draw. In response to my admiring comment, she shows me her anatomy study book from art classes taken decades ago, and it blows me away. In addition, she is blessed with an exceptional three-dimensional capability that enables her to visualize objects, and whole scenes, from any perspective. Sometimes she draws or paints with the canvas upside down.

Lately MJ is capitalizing on her 3D skills by concentrating on clay sculptures, and they are wonderful. A prime example is the Ibérico pig she has just created as a gift to her son, Nick McGee. He produces artisan cured, ethically-raised meat products for The Whole Beast in Victoria, BC. Lancaster likes a challenge, and the pig sculpture filled the bill. Finding a way to support the pliable clay for firing was a real learning experience.

Another enjoyable sculpture is her baby dinosaur emerging from its egg. I wonder what sculpture she will come up with to celebrate when daughter, Alexandra McGee, completes her Master’s Degree in History at McMaster University. MJ readily attributes much of her sculpting success to the training and inspiration she receives on an ongoing basis from fellow Carleton Place potter and sculptor Victoria Jenkins (Victoria was our featured artist in November 2014).

Another sculpture illustrates MJ’s mischievous sense of humour. She created a flower vase in the shape of a man’s shirt and tie, and positions it strategically to suggest to her husband when a floral gift might be particularly appropriate. I think she should make a mould and mass-produce them.

If creative energy had a colour, Lancaster would be leaving traces of it everywhere she goes. As soon as the weather improves, she will have her hands in garden dirt instead of clay, and I hope to wangle an invitation for a return trip to see the results. Her garden is replete with her sculptures and other art objects. Her appetite for decoration is unusually catholic. She describes herself as “A.D.D.”, but her only symptoms are actually positives. She may have “difficulty sitting still or attending to one thing for a long period of time, and may seem overactive,” but she sure gets things done.

Roots and Blooms

Mary Jane Lancaster is the 45th and last grandchild of Frank and Sarah Lancaster, who homesteaded a sixteen-acre tract just two kilometres from where MJ lives today. A native of Carleton Place, MJ credits her high school art teacher, Brad Johns, with cultivating and honing her lifelong interest in art. As a teenager she spent evenings drawing, and after graduation she attended Sheridan College in Brampton, taking courses in illustration.

Painter and Sculptor Mary Jane Lancaster

Since then she has been hired and rehired ten times by Bill and Judi Crampton’s Motion Creative Printing (MCP) Group. She quips, “Now when I quit to do something else, they don’t even clear my desk.” In addition to raising two kids, MJ took a “leave of absence” to work for three years at her brother’s antique store in Toronto. The work entailed extensive travel to NYC and Miami, and encounters with clients like Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Keaton and Dustin Hoffman.

Eventually the life experiences she had as she travelled convinced her that Carleton Place was where she wanted to live. “I had always wanted to be famous, until I got to know a few people who really were,” she told me. “I got so sick of fake, false people who just wanted to impress you or sell you something. I really wanted to get back to my small town where people really care.” In May 2000, she moved back, remarried in 2002, and has become a vital member of the burgeoning arts community. She proudly displays a small framed scrap of wallpaper signed in 1917 by one of her grandfather’s employees that she discovered during her restoration of her house on John Street.

From 2006 to 2008, Lancaster worked with the Cramptons to create and manage the Virtual Art Market as a co-op for local artists in Carleton Place. She managed the shop, chose the artists and their work, and monitored all inventory and sales. In addition she organized workshops and was responsible for all promotional collateral. She continues to be a very active promoter of Arts Carleton Place, and a dynamic addition to the community’s arts scene.

It was only three years ago that Mary Jane participated in the first public showing of her art, sharing a stop with painter and muralist Angélique Willard (featured in June 2001) during the annual Arts Carleton Place Arts Tour.  Lancaster, with Willard and Adrian Baker (featured in May 2006), is hard at work on her latest artistic adventure. The three artists have been selected to paint twelve window panels depicting scenes from the Edmund Street former Town Hall, which also served as a jail and school. On Saturday, May 23, four cultural organizations are hosting a plant sale, art show and sale, and the grand unveiling of the “Window Art at the Museum” murals. Arts & Heritage on Edmund Street, Arts Carleton Place, the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, and the Carleton Place & District Horticultural Society have joined together to celebrate the building’s rich history.

The panels are just another example of Lancaster’s appetite for experimentation and challenge. She recently learned, through trial and error (her favourite method), how to repair a huge outdoor Plexiglas sculpture. Many of her triumphs involve restoration projects in her own home. For Mary Jane, her continuing mastery of diverse media and art forms is what gets her up in the morning. From shadow boxes to murals to portraits to sculptures — she is never afraid to say “I’ll try that!”

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Lancaster's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Jun 2015

So Much Beauty

Devlin revels in Colour. It is indeed her inspiration and her passion. She dresses in wonderful fabrics glowing with vivid hues, and she dresses her home the same way. Every nook and cranny in her home is decorated with objects whose colours soothe or excite, and the whole is so much more than the individual pieces. Last summer I heard she was having a Studio Art Show, and decided to do myself a favour and drop in. On my way out I contacted my editor and announced that Joyce Frances Devlin was my nominee for our June 2015 featured artist.

After twenty years of cultivating the large gardens surrounding her small stone house in the middle of Merrickville, Devlin pulled up stakes in 2001 and bought a lovely piece of land with four gorgeous elm trees on Dwyer Hill Road. Then she collaborated on the design of a studio home that perfectly complements the scale and atmosphere of her art.

Artwork by painter Joy Frances Devlin

Because of her advancing age, people insinuated that she wouldn’t be doing as much gardening in her new digs. In a quintessentially Joyce Frances Devlin response, she planted five times as many gardens, re-contoured the property to create oases for her beloved birds, and created a flow of aesthetic harmony that extends throughout the interior and exterior spaces. I think that if my optometrist told me I only had a month longer to see, I would call Joyce and ask her if I could move in with her at her spectacularly lovely and infinitely comforting studio home in Burritts Rapids.

Another defining facet of Joyce’s life and art is her spirituality. In response to my standard “Why are you an artist?” query, she replies immediately, “Art is my way to worship.” As she puts it, “My spiritual being has no boundaries.” Since the age of twelve, Devlin has sought answers to our greatest religious, social and philosophical questions. As a devout Bahá’í, her life and her accomplishments are in complete accord with the Bahá’í Writings on Nature: “The beauty, richness and diversity of the natural world are all expressions of the attributes of God. This inspires in us deep respect for nature…”

Devlin’s gift for art revealed itself at age six when she drew a remarkable likeness of a magazine picture of King George VI. When she was nine, her mother arranged for her to start weekly art lessons in Vernon, B.C., with renowned instructor Miss Jesse Topham Brown. By the age of ten, Devlin was exhibiting her works with adults in juried shows. She graduated with honours in 1954 from the Vancouver School of Art, where she studied under Jack Shadbolt, Peter Aspell and Gordon Smith, in an era of heavily modernist art.

An Emily Carr Scholarship enabled her to do graduate study in London, Florence and Rome, and she studied Classical Mural Design at the Royal West of England College of Architecture in Bristol. After she returned to Canada she married and became the mother of two boys. Devlin is justifiably proud of the fact that she has always earned her living solely through the sale of her art. When she moved to Ottawa in 1965 she was introduced to the regional art community through Robertson Galleries, and for many years supported herself and her sons primarily through commissioned portraits.

Throughout her career Devlin has eschewed the commercial art world’s propensity for pigeon-holing artists to create “product recognition.” Her art spans portraiture, landscape and symbolic imagery. She creates what she calls "interior landscapes" — juxtaposing abstract collage with landscape imagery, and painting spiritually metaphorical images of birds and flowers.

Joyce Frances Devlin is presenting a new collection of works during her Studio Art Show on Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, 2015. Typical of Joyce, the recent canvases represent a departure from her previous work. From 11am to 5pm you can soak in the atmosphere, bask in the beauty, and be mesmerized by the talent of this local artist. There is a rumour worth noting that refreshments will be served.

Painter Joy Frances Devlin

Surfing the web I came across several resources that pay tribute to Joyce’s overarching aesthetic, her generosity and her hospitality, including: "The Artist in Joyce F. Devlin", Meet the Moose
Joyce Frances Devlin: Painter and a Painted House, Habicurious

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Devlin's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Wed, 01 Jul 2015

Crazy About Quilting

If you saw, or better yet, purchased, the 2013 “Nudes of Mississippi Mills” community fundraising calendar, a glance at the month of February confirms the aptness of their name. These women (photographed by Robin Andrew and reproduced here with her generous permission) are members of a supportive crafts collective that is crazy about quilting, community and having fun.

This summer the Almonte Crazy Quilters (ACQ) are celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary with a quilt show at the Norah Rosamond Hughes Gallery in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte. Constructed in 1867, this National Historic Site of Canada is the perfect venue for an exhibit of a craft that can trace its history to a Mongolian quilted floor covering from around the 1st century CE and three quilted panels made in Sicily in the late 1300s.

Quilt by Almonte Crazy Quilters

Like most crafts and art forms, quilting has no limits to the creativity it inspires. The ACQ’s July exhibit titled “Inspired Creations” features a wide collection of both hand-quilted and machine-quilted bed quilts. The display of Mystery Quilts (each quilter selects her own fabrics and pieces a block a month without knowing the entire pattern until the last block) demonstrates the impact of colour on the same pattern. A group of wall hangings featuring a “village” theme will be on display, as will quilts and wall hangings begun as a “Round Robin” group activity or an annual “Challenge Activity”.

Many of the ACQ’s quilts have been donated to local charities to raise funds for community projects. This year a lovely hand-appliquéd, hand-quilted Dresden Plate quilt will be donated at the close of the show to support the Hub Hospice initiative. The exceptional thing about the quilt is that the Dresden Plate pieces were made over fifty years ago by an unknown woman whose family gave the unfinished pieces to the ACQ in the hope that something beautiful and useful could be made from them.

The ACQ limits its membership to about twenty quilters for practical reasons — communal quilt making takes up a lot of space, and communal quilts frequently feature twenty squares. The group benefits in many ways from including members of varying ages, experience levels and geography. The newest member, Roberta Peets, joined the group after she was captivated by the variety and beauty of the quilts she saw at a show in Perth. As she puts it, “I jumped in with both feet as a retirement activity. I love the learning, the constant challenge, the problem-solving and, of course, the social aspect.”

Peets is not alone. “Sociologist Marybeth Stalp has shown in her intensive research of contemporary quilt makers that, contrary to what non-quilt makers often think, people who make quilts are motivated primarily by the love of the process, not by the desire to have an end-product. They love every step of the process: designing or choosing a pattern, picking and buying the fabric, sewing the blocks, performing the quilting, and finishing the piece.” (My source is <> — a wonderful resource for anyone interested in any aspect of quilting. It is an offshoot of The International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska. The Museum houses the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world.)

Peets also confirmed that the biggest danger of quilting is UFOs — Unfinished Objects. Other quilters mentioned the problem of addiction — buying beautiful fabrics that need to be stored, trying new techniques that require additional equipment — but all agree that the benefits of this artistic activity far outweigh its pitfalls.

The Almonte Crazy Quilters

A Silver Anniversary

ACQ’s founder, Marie Dunn, now 92 years old, started teaching quilting from her home near Almonte “to perpetuate the art of hand quilting.” This was a skill and a love that she had acquired at her grandmother’s knee as a child. It turns out that Dunn was in the forefront of an amazing resurgence of interest in this timeless craft. When I entered “quilting popularity”, Google obligingly returned 704,000 hits. According to a 2010 survey by Creative Crafts Group, there were already 21.3 million quilters over the age of 18.

Born in Kemptville, Marie acquired a BA in Household Science at Guelph. After she married Almontonian John Patrick Dunn at the age of 22, she raised twelve children whose ages spanned twenty years. That was when she sewed as a necessity, and learned to cherish the productive hours stolen from endless and invisible household tasks. As she put it, “The dirt returns, the meals are eaten, but you can point to the sewn garment and think, ‘That’s what I did this week.’”

When her youngest entered kindergarten, Marie embarked on a fifteen-year career in real estate, eventually earning her broker’s license and working for Crain and Schooley. As free time became more important to her and she planned for retirement, she found a wonderful quilting teacher, Veva Neilson, in Carleton Place. Dunn realized it would be much more fun to pursue her quilting art with like-minded enthusiasts, so she developed her own series of classes on quilting. From her home she taught piecing techniques and traditional hand quilting.

When she invited her fellow quilters to start a quilting group, she received a gratifying “YES!”, and the inaugural meeting was held at her country home on Wolf Grove Road on September 19, 1990. Marie acted as the president for the first ten years and continues as an inspiration and faithful participant today. The venue has changed several times, and meetings are now held monthly at the Millfall Common Room where Marie lives, at 1 Rosamond St. E. in Almonte. For additional information about the ACQ, you can contact current president Barbara Cotterill at 256–3528 or <>.

An Ongoing Legacy

A quick tour of fibrespace (the new term for the places in cyberspace associated with sewing traditions and the textile arts) reveals an unexpected wealth of quilting information and resources. Did you know there were quilting apps? How about digital tools to transfer patterns and convert photographs and guide long-arm sewing machines? I found tutorials on hand stitching and free motion quilting and hundreds more. There are learned essays with titles like “The Collaborative Relationship between Professional Machine Quilters and Their Customers in the Contemporary Quilt Movement”. While welcoming the many modern facets of fibre manipulation, Marie and the Almonte Crazy Quilters remain dedicated to the perpetuation of the craft of hand quilting. It can be a solitary, reflective, meditative activity, or a relaxing communal activity.

You are most welcome to see some of their favourite accomplishments from June 30 through July 25 at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte. Selected items will be available for purchase.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sat, 01 Aug 2015

Kirks Kanoes and Wood Art

Is a canoe a work of art? It is if it’s made by Brent (aka Kirk) Kirkham. So are his kayaks and his paddles and his sculptural bowls and everything else he creates from wood. The medium is this man’s muse and the results are exceptionally well crafted.

Cedar strip canoes and kayaks are his specialty. They are so good looking that it sometimes costs him sales; people don’t want to risk damaging them by putting them in the water. Don’t let that deter you. Brent builds them to be in the water, using top quality materials to provide strength as well as beauty. He has verified that the bottoms of his boats can support up to two tons of weight, and he uses only the best epoxy and spar varnish systems to ensure a long-lasting and UV-resistant finish. 

Canoe by Kirk's Kanoes

Kirkham’s finely wrought inlays indisputably are works of art. Almost all of his boats are designed on commission. One of his greatest joys is working closely with his clients to create personalized decorations and logos to enhance their enjoyment every time they look at their unique boats. He creates his own Haida-inspired designs, Celtic-like ornamentation, family logos, and my favourite, a stylized heron-like bird on a paddle that makes me laugh every time I look at its picture.

The wonderful woods he uses, like spalted maple, cherry and exotic purpleheart, provide the colours and textures for the palette of his wooden canvases. Like so many creative artists, Brent experiments with materials, and recently developed a way to incorporate birch bark appliqués as a striking decorative feature in his ca-noes and other wooden objects.

Starting with rough-sawn BC red cedar, Kirkham builds each boat from start to finish by himself, giving him full control over quality. He cites his dedication to customer satisfaction as another key to his successful career. His advice to any artist just launching their career is: “It may take a while.” After thirteen years, Kirkham describes each sale as “sending out a billboard (his boat) with salespeople attached.” He credits spontaneous word-of-mouth marketing by his clients for the fact that he has trouble keeping up with demand.

At his home on the family farm near Perth, Kirkham also shares his expertise through courses, teaching others the skills they will need to build their own cedar strip boats. The classes cover everything from wood selection, mold making and steam bending to final assembly and finishing. Experience really counts, and learn-ing from a pro is by far the best way to avoid time-consuming and expensive mistakes. In his three-day hands-on course, you develop your technique on a birdhouse project. His new five-day course “involves building a 4-foot mini canoe that not only gives you insight into the process of building a full-size boat, but also leaves you with a beautiful piece of art to display in your cottage or home.” Kirkham also refurbishes canvas canoes, providing another twenty years of use. He recently repaired a 1921 Carleton canoe for an owner in Rochester, NY.

A Circuitous Route

Kirkham is living an interesting life. Like his home province, he is best known for two things: rocks and trees. Let me tell you about the trees first, since that’s the re-current theme throughout his diversified career.

Kirkham was born and raised in Perth. As a kid he learned carpentry working side by side with his dad, who owned a construction business. Brent earned his carpentry license with over 7,000 hours of experience. At seventeen he fulfilled his childhood dreams of adventure. Inspired by his aunt’s bedtime stories of her travels for External Affairs, he backpacked through Europe and North Africa. When he returned home, he sampled a course at Algonquin in film production, studied journal-ism at Carleton University for a year and then tried fine arts at Ottawa University.

Brent Kirkham, Woodworker

Still searching, he returned to Algonquin for courses in interior design and found what he was looking for — art combined with construction. In his twenties he went to Calgary and spent ten years designing and building retail and restaurant space and running his own construction company.

The premature and unexpected death of his father brought Brent back to Perth and the family farm. Over three years he designed and built his current home — a successful combination of aesthetics and practical efficiency. He built the structure completely by himself except for the foundation and some help with the plumbing and electrics. He cut every board in his dad’s shop across the street, where he still spends a month a year cutting and finishing the cedar strips for his canoes and kayaks.

Kirkham Rocks

He also returned to his favourite sport of curling. In 2001, he drew national attention when, as skip, he “went from ‘Brent who?’ to the guy who almost pulled the up-set of the Ontario men’s curling championship” in the ninth by defeating the reigning 1999 champion of the World Curling Tour, Wayne Middaugh. In total he com-peted in 27 provincial finals. After a course at Guelph University, Kirkham became a Level 3 Ice Maker, and worked for Perth for eight years, then in Woodstock, and finally for the Ottawa Curling Club.

After he met his wife, now Cathy Kirkham, who is well-known by everyone who stops in at Foodsmiths, he decided to build his own cedar strip canoe. Someone stopped at the house and asked if it was for sale. Since then, they are. 

Over time he has branched out, creating smaller wooden objects (bowls, spoons, mailboxes, furniture, stringers of wooden fish…) that he brings along to studio tours and displays at his shop/home/gallery at Kirk’s Kanoes, 2486 Christie Lake Road in Perth. It’s easy to spot his shop; look for the blue canoe and the canoe-shaped mailbox.

Brent Kirkham has become a fixture in the area’s arts scene, serving on the board of the Perth Autumn Studio Tour and as one of the organizers of the 2015 (9th) edition of the Sundance Artisan Show, Labour Day Weekend, September 5–7, behind the Fall River Restaurant in Maberly at 21980 Hwy 7.

Normally Brent would be participating in both shows, but this year he has been forced to take a health “sabbatical.” He has always thought of himself as a lucky guy, and it was certainly lucky that a few months ago he noticed a lump along his jaw line. After seven weeks of debilitating treatment, and a very hopeful outcome, he is positive he will be back on the studio tour circuit next year.

In the meantime, enjoy his beautiful wood works on his website and see why his boats deserve the label of “Art on the Water”. Contact him to enquire about a commission or a class - both are guaranteed to change the way you look at canoes and kayaks forever.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 15 Nov 2013

Matt Roche

Columnist, theHumm

theHumm's Matt Roche

Matt Roche is a lifelong film buff and self-proclaimed cinephile. Being introduced to the wonders of cinema and literature at a young age, they quickly became his passion.

He can be found nose-deep in a book or in a darkened movie theatre at any given moment. His favourite films include North By Northwest, The Seventh Seal, The Shining and The Big Lebowski; and favourite writers include Hunter S. Thompson, Iain Banks and Cormac McCarthy.

When Matt is not watching movies and writing plays and scripts that no one reads, he enjoys playing tennis, utilizing his sister's pool, the usual; bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback...

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Sep 2015

The diverse and superb results of five photographic eyes behind multiple lenses are on display in September 2015 at Almonte’s Mississippi Valley Textile Museum. Robin Andrew, Dale Dunning, Bill Pratt, Rod Trider and Bill Young present an intriguing display of their photographic art. Appropriately titled “Madly Off in all Directions,” the result is a testimony to their extraordinary imagination, individuality, ingenuity, inspiration and intuition. The show is an eye-opener to anyone interested in the potential of digital photography.

Challenging Comfort Zones

For the past five years the members of the 5iz Photographic Collective have shared, discussed and critiqued each others’ images, expanding horizons and pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones.

Members of the 5iz Photographic Collective

Bill Pratt travels the globe to capture stunning images of wildlife and landscape. Pratt is well known to Valley audiences for his audio-visual presentations of our vast Canadian natural world that has formed him and is responsible for many of the national characteristics for which Canadians are known.

Back in 1990, as a civil engineer with Parks Canada, he logged 4500 miles in an RV to produce a slide presentation on Canada’s historical sites. Since we featured him in December of 2004, Pratt has extended his photographic reach to shoot in Ireland, China, El Salvador and Antarctica, travelling recently to the far north (Svalbard) with fellow 5iz member Bill Young. While Pratt has expanded his geographic and artistic horizons, and converted from film to digital technology, Canada remains his primary passion and his focus. He continues to pursue his mission of reminding us of the greatness of our country, to fuel our desire to keep it and our values and principles intact.

Like all of the 5iz members, he is committed to continuous improvement and growth as a photographic artist. The knowledgeable critiques, and the continuous exposure to different ways of seeing and creating images coax him out of his comfort zone.

On his website, Bill Young’s gallery offers a spectacular collection of images from around the world. From Svalbard to South Africa, from the ruins of Greece to the modern architecture of Dubai, from frosty Ottawa to the heat of Sossusvlei in Namibia, his subject matter is as eclectic as his locations. A leisurely scroll through his “Favourites” and his recent works quickly substantiates the inclusion of this Kanata-based photographer as a member of the otherwise Valley-based 5iz collective.

Always visually oriented, Young finds photography the perfect medium for expressing himself, seeking to tell a story with each photo. He values workshops, believing that sharing and comparing techniques and perspectives is endlessly inspiring. A long-time member of the RA Photo Club in Ottawa, Young initiated the club's feedback group in 2002, and was co-winner of the Photographer of the Year award in 2007. He is also a member of the Canadian Association for Photographic Art (CAPA), and contributed an article on fine art printing to their Canadian Camera Magazine.

Studio photographer Robin Andrew stays closer to home geographically, but constantly explores and invents techniques to lure the most natural portraits from even the most reluctant subjects — little boys who can’t be reasoned with, and daddies who hate to have their pictures taken. Clients can assemble in her large and creatively equipped country studio near Carleton Place and discover her uncanny ability to convert a notoriously stressful occasion into fun. Since we featured her in January of 2007 she continues to redefine “studio.” She and her crew will also bring her unposed studio to your event as well as to your office.

It’s not just the props and the toys that enable Robin to capture genuinely happy and totally relaxed expressions on subjects ranging in age from three months to 85 years old. It’s her totally disarming personality, her ingenuity, her patience, her technique and her ability to create opportunity. Any photographer who generates a waiting list of candidates to pose nude for successive editions of the “Nudes of Mississippi Mills” fundraising calendars has a gift for connecting with people.

In 2010 Ottawa Metro readers recommended Robin’s unposed as one of the “Top 5 Photographers in the Ottawa region”, and the Ottawa Business Journal featured unposed as a 2015 market leader. Although she works hard to make her photographic subjects at ease, she strives to push the limits of her own comfort zone, welcoming the inspiration and the challenge provided by her 5iz participation. Check her website for examples of the creative, fun, full of energy photos she elicits from private and business clients alike.

Rod Trider is a photographic-based multi-media artist, master digital printer, national and international photographic competition judge, teacher and presenter. Committed to finding an original creative slant in every photographic opportunity, he experiments with new techniques of processing, printing and presentation so that each work stands out. This includes working with metal, glass and transfers to wood, as well as using epoxy resin.

Rod exhibits extensively in art galleries, art shows and public spaces across North America, and has works in collections around the world. He has curated or co-curated over twenty art exhibits, and teaches and presents at photo clubs, regional conferences and at SPAO – School of the Photographic Arts Ottawa. He is an international photographic competition judge, teaches judging for CAPA and the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs, and currently is Vice President of CAPA. At 5iz he too benefits from the feedback and creativity of the others.

Last but definitely not least is Dale Dunning, with his infallibly unique take on every subject. Anyone familiar with Dale’s highly prized sculptures expects to invest some effort in discerning even a portion of the possible interpretations of his pieces. Since his appearance in our May 2000 issue, his artistic repute has continued its steady rise; he just learned that one of his bronze sculptures has been purchased by a designer in NYC for a client in the world-famous Dakota Apartment Building.

Dale became interested in photography as he experimented with documenting and publicising his sculptural art. When asked for an adjective that starts with the letter ‘i’ to describe the 5iz, he immediately offered “Inscrutable.” Dunning’s “Nature Morte” photographic series comes close. It took quite a while before the underlying subject matter revealed itself to me. Many photographers cite the biggest advantage of embracing the addiction as enhancing their ability to see things. Dunning elevates the skill to new dimensions. He shows us new things by camouflaging and hiding things that are right in front of our eyes. Characteristically, possible interpretations of his new art images are abundant, and indeterminate. Whether you like puzzles or abstract art, “Nature Morte” is unusually intriguing.

Madly Off in All Directions

The 5iz Photographic Collective are displaying their disparate but equally rewarding approaches to art photography from September 17–27, 2015 at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum at 3 Rosamond Street East in Almonte. There will be a public vernissage on Wednesday, September 16, from 7–9pm. On Friday, Sept. 18, from 7:30–10pm you can enjoy “An Evening of Visual Splendor.” Bill Pratt, Bill Young and Dale Dunning will present six audio-visual shows, with the entire ticket price of $25 to be donated to the Museum. The doors open at 7pm, so you can browse the full exhibit, settle in for two and a half hours of exceptional photographic art and discussion, and support a very worthy heritage institution.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen


Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Thu, 01 Oct 2015

Fabric Never Felt or Looked So Good

Perth fibre artist, felt maker and designer Zoë Emily Lianga discovered her artistic calling when she dropped into a gallery as she was mountain biking with her partner Ben Hendry across the North Island of New Zealand. It was love at first sight. Zoë looked up the artist, Raewyn Penrose, and convinced her to teach Zoë her wet felting techniques. The artist’s response was extraordinary; not only did she teach Zoë the basics, she invited the itinerant couple to move into her warehouse studio while she did so.

Artwork by Zoe Lianga

Zoë spent the rest of the cycling trip learning about and collecting samples of luxury wools like Merino and alpaca. When she returned to Canada, she pursued her new passion in Chelsea, QC, a fibre-friendly community. Her first show was in Cobourg in the winter of 2013, where she showed small felted wall hangings, neckware and flowers. Less than two years later, Lianga is a participant in the Perth Autumn Studio Tour on Thanksgiving weekend, a featured artist at Almonte’s General Fine Craft, Art & Design, and has been invited to participate in two innovative fashion evenings this fall in Ottawa.

The wearable art, the functional garments and the personal and home accessories she produces provide Lianga with an endless canvas for her creativity and ingenuity. By making her own felt fabrics from combinations of wool, plant fibres, silk, lace and other fabric, she can fully express her artist’s eye for colour, texture, patterns and design. Her soft, delicate, gorgeously coloured and patterned scarves and cowls, showcase her talent for creating wearable works of art. Fresh, whimsical, felted flowers decorated with beaded stamens and felt-covered stems reflect her playful originality. Beautiful functional items like knitting bags and purses illustrate her versatility.

Zoë loves the satisfying tactility of felting. She plays with the nuno felting technique — incorporating very fine, open-weave, natural fabrics into her base layer of wool. The wool or plant fibres work their way through the weave in the fabric, becoming one in the felting process. She uses Ontario cria alpaca wool, and camel, yak, merino, bamboo, flax and linen rovings from all over the world to build her fibre canvases. She dyes some of her fabrics with natural plant dyes (most of which come from her garden) and incorporates carefully selected and beautifully patterned recycled silk, lace, and fine cotton fabrics. The process involves hot soapy water, prolonged repetitions of rubbing, rolling, kneading and rinsing, and provides infinite possibilities. Each piece is unique; each felting session is exploratory and exciting.

Like most overnight success stories, Lianga paid her dues. After sampling courses in pattern making and sketching, she completed a two-year course at the Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design in Ottawa. She perfected her haute couture sewing and design skills, designed patterns and studied the history of costume. Then she decided to augment her rural background of growing up in Brooke Valley, a tiny hamlet west of Perth, by experiencing a big city; she investigated textiles while working part-time for a Toronto weaver.

Doing What She Felt Like

What do you do after you’ve been a competitive swimmer, a lifeguard, a science major at McMaster University, spent a year snowboarding and working at Whistler, and you’ve met your partner planting trees together in B.C.? If you’ve been contemplating midwifery as a career and your sister gets pregnant back in Perth, you go home, rediscover your roots, and break your own record in the Haggis Hurling Contest at Perth’s Kilt Run. You find out that you’ve really missed the people and the places you grew up with. Today, still in their twenties, Zoë and Ben are looking for the ideal spot to settle down where Ben, now a heritage stonemason, can build their home, Zoë can have a studio/gallery, and the two can follow their hearts and do well what they most like to do.


Lianga’s eventual choice of artistic outlet complements her personality — creative, endlessly versatile, surprising, demanding, and rewarding. Her chosen medium is well suited to transform a potential flaw into an asset. After achieving top grades in all her academic subjects throughout high school, she dropped out of her art class. She took too long. She planned too much. She was meticulous — not OCD, just borderline OCP — Obsessively, Compulsively Perfectionist. Today Lianga manages these tendencies to produce an outstanding quality of work. Combined with her endless creativity, artistic talent and boundless energy, her attention to detail and pursuit of excellence elevate Zoë Emily’s creations from craft to art.

A well-known adage claims that when you follow your heart you find your peace, you ignite your passion, and you discover your purpose. Zoë’s passion for felting is evident in her art works. It is the reason her fashions will be on the runway at Art in Fashion 613 at the Library and Archives Canada building on Wellington Street on October 17 <>. It is the reason Lianga is participating in the Rockcliffe Home and Art Show on November 7 and 8 at the residence of the Ambassador of Ireland at 291 Park Road in Ottawa <>. And it is the reason I predict this young woman is going to make a mark for herself in the fashion world.

Fibre Artist Zoe Lianga

A Thanksgiving Treat: The Perth Autumn Studio Tour

Lianga’s unique wearable and functional fibre art will be on display Thanksgiving Weekend, October 10–12, 2015 during the popular annual Perth Autumn Studio Tour. She will be sharing space at Studio 3 with artist Catherine Orfald in her studio at 1848 Old Brooke Road. To round out a can’t-be-missed holiday opportunity, they will be joined by artist Wayne Williams, jeweller Stephen Clark and chocolatier Ludwig Ratzinger — treats for the taste buds as well as the eyes. Check <> for full information on the countless other treats in store at five more studio stops, as well as the Fieldwork Art Project and a Harvest Lunch served in the very school that Zoë attended as a child.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Lianga's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Sun, 01 Nov 2015

Building a Legacy in Silver

It’s the process that keeps Meredith Kucey firmly riveted to her jeweller’s bench in her rural silversmithing workshop, designing and building brilliant heirlooms-to-be. Kucey loves to build. Tools that intimidate most females are just a welcome challenge to this graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) who majored in jewellery design and metalsmithing.

Kucey has mastered all elements of the process, from design through fabrication and finishing. Her expertise in carving, casting and finishing results in jewellery that is innovative and visually exciting. During her recent participation in the area Crown and Pumpkin Studio Tour, she noted again that men are particularly attracted to her bold style. While their female companions admire her dramatic butterfly pendants, her delicate silver earrings and her distinctive silver rings, the men frequently select or commission a handsome silver ring for themselves.

Ring by Meredith Kucey

Kucey’s craftsmanship is outstanding. She uses the traditional Lost Wax Casting process, and unlike many jewellers, does all her own casting. Carving, forging, and the use of both physical and chemical treatments of the surfaces, create a wide set of design options that she combines to realize her artistic visions. Her artistic goal is “to create jewellery that stirs the senses,” and in my opinion, she succeeds.

Her workshop is replete with dangerous-looking objects that are either incredibly sharp or extremely hot, and I am hard-pressed to follow her enthusiastic mini-tutorial on how she builds a beautiful sterling piece. She loves working with metal, and has learned to respect the fluidity of the sterling silver she uses, constantly experimenting with techniques of forming, carving and pushing her materials to their limits.

Material Choices

Kucey’s use of silver as the material for her artistic expression gives her a versatile medium that not only has a long tradition of use in arts but is also an important material with many applications in technology. The history of silver is rich and intersects in many ways with the development of our society; applications of silver extend from the arts to medicine, electronics and optics. It is one of the few metals found in its pure form in nature and has been known and prized since ancient times for its unusual properties that include luster, high reflectivity and ease of working. In its purest form, silver is very soft, but the addition of a small amount of copper lowers its melting point and increases hardness. Sterling silver contains 7.5% copper and is the most common form of silver in general use. It takes a high degree of polish and, while chemically inert, slow surface reactions occur that result in formation of dark coloured coating or ‘tarnish’.

Meredith expands her artistic repertoire with semiprecious gems and is delighted with the Persian turquoise she selected recently at a gem show. She is looking forward to designing the perfect home for each stone. Turquoise is found among the world’s oldest jewellery and has long been considered a stone that guarantees health, good fortune, and protection from evil <>. In a Kucey ring, it will also guarantee an ongoing aesthetic pleasure.

Forging Ahead

Born in Nepean, Kucey attended Ashbury College in Ottawa where she was very active in sports. A knee injury in grade 10 caused her to shift her attention to the arts, with a special interest in the theatre program. While earning her International Baccalaureate credit in art, she was privileged to study for a month in Sienna, Italy. The fascinating experience solidified her resolve to pursue a career in art, and she chose jewellery as her life’s work.

Artist Meredith Kucey

Her experience at NSCAD has left her a permanent fan of Halifax and its amazingly friendly, helpful citizens. After graduation she returned to Ottawa, where she supplemented her arts earnings by working as a medical receptionist for seven oral surgeons, honing her organizational and administrative skills. Almost twelve years ago she moved to her present wonderful location on the shore of the Mississippi River in Almonte. Throughout the past decade she has contributed to the success of the Crown and Pumpkin Studio Tour, both as an artist and organizer, and she recently became an enthusiastic gallery assistant at the General in Almonte.

Carrying a Torch

Kucey (formerly Kucey-Jones, if you come across her previous identity on the internet — she is in the painfully liberating process of de-hyphenating from her soon-to-be ex-husband) has always loved jewellery and states without reservation that she will always make jewellery. Recently, however, her love for building, combined with her love for metal, enticed her to complete Algonquin’s course in Welding and Fabrication. She worked briefly at Branje Metal Works in Almonte, welding and finishing metal stairs and railings. Her next artistic goal is to design and fabricate metal accessories such as light fixtures, tables and other decorative home accessories.

As a certified welder, Meredith has participated in programs sponsored by the Canadian Welding Foundation and Skills Canada, designed to encourage young women to become welders. She points out that women can succeed in this male-dominated field by working smarter, not harder, and that they excel at fine work. This quote from says it well: “You know, welders that work with their hands are labourers; welders that work with their hands and minds are craftsmen; and welders that work with their hands, minds and hearts are artists.” Kucey is an artist.

Meredith Kucey’s jewellery art will be on exhibit from November 3 to 29, 2015 at Almonte’s General Fine Craft, Art & Design gallery at 63 Mill Street. She is delighted that her work will appear with the very tactile and complementary paintings of Lily Swain-Brady. The gallery is a wonderful addition to Almonte’s humming arts scene, and a visit during November is definitely a welcome antidote to the looming winter blahs. Not a single item will be available at your nearest box store, and your Christmas shopping could not be more enjoyable.

Kucey welcomes commissions, and is equally comfortable working with gold, if that is your preference. To see her exceptional silver jewellery and/or discuss a commission, you can contact her (see details above).

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Tue, 01 Dec 2015

Landscapes Illustrate that Less Can Be More

In 1855, poet Robert Browning penned the phrase “less is more.” In 2015, John Shea continues to demonstrate that Browning was right. Shea’s compelling use of negative space in his architectural paintings contributes to his recognition throughout Ontario and beyond.

Shea’s original perspective on winter landscapes that feature local heritage buildings has just earned him an impressive honour. His works placed him among the top five sellers during the 25th annual Autumn Art Sale at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg a few weeks ago. In addition to his framed ribbon, his success guarantees him a prime spot at next year’s prestigious event.

Painting by John Shea

Painting with watercolours on paper, Shea renders striking architectural portraits of 19th century Eastern Ontario stone buildings. His gift for subtraction is the signature feature of his work that first-time viewers invariably note. The absence of distraction highlights the sculpture of the structures and adds to the serenity, and occasionally the drama, of the scene. On his website <>, Shea quotes renowned 20th century artist Andrew Wyeth as saying, “What is important in a painting is what is not there.”

Another Wyeth quote explains the sense of mystery that Shea’s portraits often evoke: “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.” In a very real way, Shea’s paintings speak to the Canadian experience of winter. The “bone structure” of heritage buildings isolated in rolling expanses of white snowdrifts suggests both the serenity and the underlying menace that Arctic temperatures and unpredictable weather pose. It seems fitting that his works are popular at the McMichael, where viewers come to celebrate the quintessentially Canadian landscapes of the Group of Seven.

Learning to Subtract

When Shea was a kid growing up in Montreal, his high school math teacher told him, “Shea, you’re never going to amount to anything if you keep skipping math class.” Undaunted, Shea continued to spend all available time in the art room. After graduation he attended the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and won a scholarship for his second year of studies. He remembers Dean Arthur Lismer strolling the classrooms, commenting on students’ works.

As a result of the 1970 FLQ October Crisis, Shea’s parents moved to Perth, and John started making regular weekend visits. He bought an old, one-room schoolhouse in Bolingbroke (south of Maberly), and spent the next twelve years living in a constant state of renovation. Later he lived in a house on Farren Lake. After earning a diploma in interior design at Algonquin College, he joined the Ottawa firm of Saunders and MacFarlane, where he produced architectural renderings and presentation drawings for four years.

Despite (or maybe because of) the dire predictions of his math teacher, John had always wanted to teach. He applied to Syracuse University and was accepted as a third-year student to acquire the prerequisite BFA degree, after which he earned his B.Ed. at Queen’s University. He looks back with pleasure at his 25 years of teaching art at St. John Catholic High School in Perth. “I loved empowering them with the basic tools of art, especially perspective.” He brought his guitar and banjo into his grade eleven interior design class, and serenaded students as they worked on models of significant projects such as condos and commercial structures.

In 1998, Shea moved to his present location at Rosal Bay on Newboro Lake. It is a stunning location and an amazing house. With his wife Karen and daughter Molly, they have created an oasis of beauty for all seasons. Karen is an accomplished gardener, and even in October the evidence of her expertise and hard work is apparent. John creates his unique watercolour compositions at their dining room table overlooking a scene of breathtaking natural beauty. Gazing out at the magnificent view he enjoys, I sense the influence it exerts on his exceptional art.

Shea tells me that a major component of his work is his love for the integrity of the stone that he depicts. “Whether it’s a simple wall, a bridge or an elaborate building, it’s the permanence of the stone that makes my subjects timeless.” He values composition, line and balance over colour and texture, presenting a traditional subject in a modern and highly original way.

Many people are surprised to learn that he paints with watercolours on paper that he wets, stretches on board and frames himself. He loves the spontaneity and the challenges his choice of medium provides: “With watercolour you can’t go back, you can’t cover mistakes, it’s in the moment.”

Artist John Shea

Less Is More

In 1947, architect Mies van der Rohe appropriated the phrase “less is more” as a fundamental precept for Minimalist design and architecture. Minimalism in visual art emerged in New York in the early 1960s, and the use of negative space became a key component. In design, negative space is the breathing room around the subject that draws your eye to it, and determines how appealing it looks. In John’s paintings, composition is paramount, and he is a master of subtraction. With his selective use of emptiness he accomplishes two things. He invites us to examine his masterful capture of architectural subjects, and he creates a sense of mystery. We are intrigued by what is not there; we are seduced into providing our own interpretation of the blank spaces. As John puts it, “Where there is nothing, there is everything.”

He began showing his works at art festivals in 2009, and discovered how much he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow artists. He especially values the feedback he gets from the people who stop to look at and enquire about his paintings. He recalls a conversation one afternoon with a widow who was struggling to convert her husband’s favourite room into a meditative space for herself. She showed up at 10:00 the next morning with tears in her eyes to tell him that she had had a dream about the painting she had been considering, and she bought it.

An online stop at John Shea’s website is likely to result in a scenic drive to his spectacular setting at Newboro Lake to witness his mastery of the art of subtraction.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Fri, 01 Jan 2016

A Duet of Art and Music

Almonte-based artist, singer and songwriter Jennifer Noxon views her artistic and musical creativity as intersecting spirals, and she lives accordingly. At the moment, her life is in a creative whirl as she choreographs a new pas-de-deux. Last June, Jennifer stopped commuting to a full-time job in Ottawa with the intention of offering her skills and creative energy to her community. “I’m shifting gears, so to speak,” says Noxon. “My ultimate goal is to find a way to live and work in my community.”

Exploration is an essential component of Noxon’s creativity. Her current art work celebrating Almonte’s connection with the Mississippi River is a case in point. On her website she explains, “When preparing for this show, I took on three challenges. The first was to create work that would be ‘local’ in theme. The second was to explore a different medium. The third was to ‘do a 180’ — diverge from the abstract mode I have been exploring these past few years and return to representation. Why take on these kinds of challenges? It’s a bit like taking a cold shower: I wake up, practise new skills, and challenge myself to see things in new ways.”

Painting by Jennifer Noxon

As a resident of Almonte since 2002, Noxon has grown increasingly aware of the importance of the river to the community — its residents, businesses, the larger community — and as an integral component of the natural world encompassing it.

Based on photos she took in -30°C weather, Jennifer painted the river series on her Apple iPad tablet computer using Procreate — billed as “the most advanced painting app ever designed for a mobile device… the award winning weapon of choice for creatives on the move.” She was able to paint things in a very new and immediate way, while becoming “more conscious of the way our river intersects with its banks, the bridges, automobiles, humans, the sky, and the architecture.”

For Jennifer, the possibilities this tool offered were irresistible — no more waiting for paint to dry, or dealing with messy clean-ups. The product proved as good as its claims — enabling her to “Explore the boundless freedom of a huge library of pens, pencils, and brushes on one portable device.” It was validating to discover that David Hockney, considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, has been painting on his iPad since 2009. (Jennifer wrote and performed a song about Hockney on her 2001 CD Sweet.)

Noxon painted her riverscapes on her iPad with a conductive brush and her fingertips, without a preconceived idea of the finished work, “relying on her visual vocabulary of organic forms, texture, negative space and colour.” The amazing results of her exploration are titled “Almonte’s Mississippi: Points of View,” and her prints remain on display throughout January at General fine craft, art & design at 63 Mill Street in Almonte.

Artist Jennifer Noxon

The Magnetic Properties of Creativity

The creative process is the attraction. For Noxon, it doesn’t matter if it’s creating lyrics, a melody, a painting, a recipe or a whimsical sculpture fashioned from objects found along the sidewalk. As she puts it, “This is when I feel most alive, most vital and most connected to the world.”

She was born in Toronto and excelled in the arts and sports during high school in Don Mills. After working in Banff for a year on a ski hill, she studied graphic design for a year in Toronto and then returned to the West. She completed a three-year diploma in Fine Arts at what is now the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, B.C. After working for a couple of years as an art installer and a painter of theatre sets, Jennifer returned to school for a B.Ed. at Concordia University in Montreal.

Noxon claims she developed her sense of humour after graduation while teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in Japan for a year. Her coping technique was to laugh at everything she didn’t understand. For twenty-five years she has enjoyed “the best job in the world” — teaching ESL and literacy, and training volunteers to work with immigrants who were homebound. The combination of doing something productive that required lots of creativity suited her perfectly.

A Musical Interlude

During her thirties, Jennifer turned to her childhood love of singing and music to connect with others. Her mother remembers her singing opera in her sandbox when she was four years old. For many years she participated wholeheartedly in Writers’ Block, a songwriters’ support group that met at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. Along with contemporaries Christine Graves, Tony Turner and Lynn Miles, she grew and matured as a singer and songwriter. (Turner was in the news recently for writing and performing the hit song Harperman – A Protest Song.)

After winning a songwriting competition in 1997, Jennifer performed at festivals, coffee houses and house concerts in Ontario, Alberta and BC. She has toured with Lynn Miles and Ian Tamblyn, and shared stages with Dar Williams, Garnet Rogers and Stephen Fearing. In 2004 she joined with Ottawa-area songwriters Chris MacLean and Alise Marlane to become Frida’s Brow. In 2006 their début eponymous album was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award.

Shifting Gears

Over time Noxon realized that she wasn’t cut out to be a travelling solo musician and she gradually shifted gears to focus on painting. Her move to Almonte was a powerful stimulant. Nature has always been her “best teacher and primary source of inspiration.” Paddling on the Mississippi River and wandering along its banks and over Almonte’s multiple bridges led her to discover and celebrate the extent to which the river is at the heart of the town’s character.

A Balancing Act

With her river series of paintings still in progress, Noxon has been exploring new routes to satisfying the demands of both her introverted and extroverted selves. She has just returned from a Community Choir Leadership Training Course in Victoria, B.C., and is planning the launch of the Rhythm & Song Community Choir in January. As part of the Ubunto Choirs Network, the Almonte-based choir will be inclusive, non-auditioned, community-focused and socially engaged. No formal music training is required. If you are curious about this fun, stress-free new Community Choir, contact Jennifer Noxon.

In preparation for her new directorial adventure, Jennifer is rehearsing a “pop-up” choir for its first public appearance during the “Live from Mississippi Mills – It’s Saturday Night” variety show on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 7:30. The choir plans to pop up at the Almonte Old Town Hall, harmoniously located within sight of the Mississippi River at 14 Bridge Street. Come check it out.

Get in touch

For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

Profile by theHumm

Date Published: Mon, 01 Feb 2016

Through a Lens, Poetically

In 2002 theHumm featured Almonte photographer Alan Mirabelli in an article titled “Seeing with New Eyes”. After enjoying his compelling images of nature in a recent show in Almonte, we selected Mirabelli as the first (of the almost 200 artists we have featured previously) to be revisited. We are delighted to report that his aesthetic sensibilities remain as fresh and evocative as ever.

Whether it’s a gnarly tree trunk or a collection of decaying autumn foliage arranged by chance, Mirabelli captures an image that speaks to our nature-deprived souls. Most of us forget to look, so we don’t see. Mirabelli looks, he sees, and he creates beautifully executed images that invite us to explore his meditations on the passage of time — the corrosion and renewal that are the tensions of life.

Photograph of Almonte falls by Alan Mirabelli

Photography was his salvation during a mid-life crisis and depression seventeen years ago, and it persists as his lifelong companion and raison d'être. It is how he experiences life and interprets his own emotions. It is through his ongoing examination and appreciation of the marks made by nature that he understands Life in general, and his own life in particular.

The Poetry of Photography

“My photographs are like punctuation marks in a journey… an echo of time. My object is to explore, to feel, to see anew, to journal visually. Each image is a topographic map of emotion… a moment chosen, a choice to stand still…” Our conversation reminds me that the man is as poetic with words as he is with images.

Mirabelli’s passion for photography is as fervent today as it was fourteen years ago. He reiterates that photography was the best therapy he could have found, providing “a language to speak of who I am, the painter I’d like to be, the musician I’ll never be… Making a photo enriches the poet who lives quietly inside of me.”

Carrying his camera reminds him to be attentive, to live in the moment, and to contemplate existence and the meaning of life. Behind a lens he is free — safe to experiment and explore. He describes his images as “a reflection of a frame of mind, an act of humility, and a moment of wonder.” His photographic meditations are mementos of precious moments. They are how he remembers, and how he will be remembered.

Photographer Alan Mirabelli

Through New Lenses, Brilliantly

The perfect way to insult a serious photographer is to say, “Oh. I love your photo. You must have really good equipment.” It immediately brings to mind one of my favourite adages: “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Fortunately, a genius with a camera remains a genius even when he is forced to recognize the limits of his body and to adjust his equipment accordingly. Mirabelli has been delighted to discover that his exploration behind the lenses of lightweight, highly streamlined photographic technology remains as satisfying as when he was lugging around much larger and heavier gear.

It doesn’t hurt that he has paid his dues and mastered the tools and techniques of the medium throughout the past forty years. He supported himself through university by shooting weddings and bar mitzvahs, and continues to bring a film aesthetic to digital image making. Today he uses state-of-the-art hardware and minimal post-processing software to emulate his favourite Fuji/Velvia film.

Expanding Horizons

A generous man with his talents, Mirabelli has provided photographic services for charitable purposes, and he has photographed the works of many fellow artists. A resident of Appleton since 1981, he is a valued fixture in the area’s artistic community where he has made many friends. His current project is dedicated to documenting their artistic lives photographically. With no firm timetable, his plan is to create a book celebrating forty to fifty local artists.

The undertaking is already underway and he views it as an exciting continuation of his personal growth through photography. The project provides the opportunity to transfer all of the lessons he has learned by photographing nature since his retirement as Executive Director of Administration and Communication at The Vanier Institute of the Family eight years ago.

To him, landscape photography involves a personal conversation — an exploration of the innumerable choices of subject, composition, lighting, story and emotional impact. What is important is being attentive and patient, and not having a pre-conceived notion of what the image should be. His goal is always to interpret, not to record.

In addition, Mirabelli believes that portraiture can only succeed as a collaboration based on trust. His goal is to understand how his subjects think and feel in order to honour them and their art. He looks forward to becoming truly engaged with how they work to create environmental and situational portraits. With confirmed participants such as sculptor Sue Adams, stone sculptor Deborah Arnold, textile artist Maggie Glossop, clothing designer Paddye Mann (RCA) and visual artist Mary Pfaff, the book is virtually guaranteed to be an arts lover’s treasure.

In the meantime, February in Ottawa is a great time to contemplate Alan Mirabelli’s evocative photographic meditations on nature’s beauty, mystery and power. From February 2 to March 5 you can form your own interpretations of his stunning photos on display at The Ottawa Art Gallery in Arts Court at 2 Daly Avenue. Titled “Earth’s Textures: Moments of Stillness”, his images seduce the soul as well as the eye.

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Mirabelli's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen