Catherine Blake —An Artist’s Inspiration - theHumm February 2023

Catherine Blake —An Artist’s Inspiration - theHumm February 2023

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

Creating art inspires her and she inspires artists — it’s a win-win for this irrepressible Almonte artist and art instructor. Nothing stops her — not polio or being a single woman working for CUSO in Zanzibar or concussion or cancer. Life hasn’t worn her down; it has both distilled and emboldened her and her lifetime passion for art. Cathy Blake’s response to my incredulity at the challenges she has faced and the opportunities she has embraced is an understatement: “I have a lot of energy; I don’t sit around a lot.”

Her art is a natural reflection of her life and her personality — exuberant and eclectic. In her words, “High school art teachers have to be generalists!” Art collectors and galleries generally prefer artists whose works are easily recognizable — a painting by Glen Loates should look like a Glen Loates painting. We all have certain expectations attached to certain famous artists, but there are as many notable exceptions, such as Picasso (painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and stage designer) and Leonardo da Vinci (whose wide-ranging interests included painting, architecture, mechanics and human anatomy). As an art teacher and now instructor, Cathy’s versatility and mastery of multiple media enable her to pursue a variety of interests and offer courses in drawing, acrylics, watercolours and mixed media.

Blake has had shows in many local venues, and her Almonte home is a showcase of some of her favourite paintings, each one with its own story. One that occupies a place of honour in her living room is a heart-warming portrait of a teenage boy with a wonderful mop of unruly hair looking disgruntled while writing an exam. He was so sure he would fail that he wrote her a note explaining why she should give him a passing grade.

Another student grew so frustrated that he stomped out of her classroom, not wanting to learn the basics of design. A few years later he called her to thank her and tell her that he was the only student in his class who knew the answer to a question in his Algonquin design course. Another kudo she values came from a former student who called to thank her for “my interesting career” as an assistant museum director. Teaching is in her blood. “Seeing them get excited about what they’re doing — it’s a real thrill to help people have that feeling.”

Cathy always loved to draw, and from the age of twelve she took lessons from an artist living near her home in Kobe, Japan, where her dad taught at Kwansei Gakuin University, a private Christian university founded in 1889. That first teacher taught her an invaluable firsthand lesson: never draw on a student’s work! “Teachers have a terrible responsibility not to hurt a kid,” she adds.

At the age of eighteen she left Japan to attend McGill University in Montréal, but by the end of her second year she wanted to quit and go to Ontario College of Art to focus on her art. She has always been grateful that her parents convinced her to complete her BA degree before continuing her arts studies, because her career as a teacher enabled her to support herself and her two daughters throughout a series of health and personal challenges. After completing her teaching certificate she spent two years in Toronto and Ottawa teaching to work off her student loans. She finally managed to go to art school in England on a part-time basis, working as a teacher one-quarter time to support herself. The Irish guy she met there came to Canada; they married, started the Bywater Pottery in Almonte, had two daughters, and eventually divorced.

For a long time her primary focus was pottery, but in 1991 when she had to support her family, she decided to return to teaching. It turned out to be a serendipitous change as it spurred her back to her first love of drawing and painting. Also, in 1995 she was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome — symptoms typically occur fifteen to 30 years after an initial attack — and the physical demands of pottery had begun to cause permanent damage to her hands and body. She thoroughly enjoyed her career as a fulltime art teacher at Arnprior District High School until her retirement in 2008.

Most of us take up reading or painting or gardening or photography or bird watching or community service or travelling when we retire. When Cathy got bored, she traveled to Asia to visit her daughter and then joined CUSO in 2010. When they offered her the possibility of a posting in Rwanda, the Gobi Desert or Zanzibar, she chose the latter with alacrity. She had always dreamed of visiting Samarkand (Uzbekistan), Timbuktu (Mali) or Zanzibar (island province of Tanzania). For a year and a half she taught secondary school teachers in a Muslim teachers’ college, until her body let her know it no longer wanted to deal with concrete floors and sidewalks everywhere. She describes it as a wonderful experience. As Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Her body may be limiting her physical options, but in no way does she allow that to interfere with her joie de vivre or her artistic endeavours. Despite a bout of cancer and a concussion from a fall a few years ago, this indefatigable spirit continues to inspire — both herself and others. After decades of experimenting with a myriad of media and subjects, she finds herself returning to her Japanese roots. “In Japan everything has a spirit, and I find myself moving back to a Shinto awareness of spirits in the trees, rocks and water around us.” And then she convinces me we are kindred spirits with her comment about a work in progress: “I’ve known that tree since I was a kid. I find myself drawing and responding to water and trees more and more because they are the guardians of our world.”

You can find Catherine Blake’s coordinates on the back of her Artist Trading Card above to learn when you might want to be inspired by taking an art course from this breath of fresh air and enthusiasm. You can also purchase her art cards at General Fine Craft at 63 Mill Street in Almonte

Artist Trading Card

.WHO Catherine Blake

WHAT Acrylics and Watercolour Artist, Art Instructor

WHERE Contact and check for updates on her art and classes

WHY “Making art is for me a form of meditation — being totally absorbed in my response to my subject.”


Catherine Blake —An Artist’s Inspiration - theHumm February 2023

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

Creating art inspires her and she inspires artists — it’s a win-win for this irrepressible Almonte artist and art instructor. Nothing stops her — not polio or being a single woman working for CUSO in Zanzibar or concussion or cancer. Life hasn’t worn her down; it has both distilled and emboldened her and her lifetime passion for art. Cathy Blake’s response to my incredulity at the challenges she has faced and the opportunities she has embraced is an understatement: “I ......


Mudds’ Raise Your Voice! - theHumm February 2023

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2023 MERA Award of Excellence - theHumm February 2023

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The application is open to artists working in fine arts and fine crafts. It is specifically open to local residents, those living in the Townships of Lanark Highlands, Tay Valley, Drummond/North Elmsley, Central Frontenac, North Frontenac, and the Town of Perth. Previous non-winners may apply again.


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- theHumm February 2023

By John Pigeau

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- theHumm February 2023

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Double Bill Kicks Off MERA Music Series - theHumm February 2023

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Returning to the Schoolhouse for the third time, Mia Kelly frames her insightful lyrics with a powerful and versatile voice backed by guitar, piano, and her infectious optimism. Her fans are enthralled by her distinctive blend of folk roots and blues, and her foot-stomping, sing-along......


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- theHumm February 2023

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Where to Go for Gardening Advice - theHumm February 2023

By David Hinks

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A bit of an aside, but I always find it fascinating how coupl......


Réseau SPARC Network Gathering & Cabaret
Free Networking Event for Artists and Animators
- theHumm February 2023

By Rachel Marks

SPARC (Supporting Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Communities) is a provincial network that connects rural and remote performing artists, creators, producers, presenters and community animators. Who are community animators? You know, those folks in town who make things happen!

SPARC is launching a brand new in-person event at the Almonte Old Town Hall on Saturday, February 25.

So, what is a Regional Gathering and Cabaret? The Gathering is a peer-to-peer networking and learni......


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Country Pickin’, Blues and Friends at The Cove - theHumm February 2023

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Things kick off on February 4 with Country Pickin’ Mayhem featuring Wendell Ferguson, Steve Piticco and Shawn McCullough. These are three of Canada’s top masters of the Telecaster guitar, and this show has become an annual treat for ......


Duality at Sivarulrasa - theHumm February 2023

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Born in New Brunswick, Louis Thériault began his studies in visual communication at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, but reoriented his training toward applied science, earning a Bachel......


Big Band DancesReturn to Almonte! - theHumm February 2023

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These afternoon dances were popular in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, when big bands were king. They were generally held in hotels and, of course, featured a live band. One key part of the concept is that, as implied by “tea”, beverages served are non-alc......


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By Glenda Jones

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At the Speed of Life - theHumm February 2023

By Read more about Mike and his 7th Generation Initiative at <>. To join their email list, contact <>.

The fast moving excitement of smartphones and computer screens eclipses the slow motion of the natural world, but what the natural world lacks in speed it makes up for in depth. Over billions of years it has developed intricately cooperative associations upon which we humans have always depended. Perhaps the hard knocks of climate change will call us back to Earth before we drift off into Cyberspace.

Watch closely over a season as a seed germinates, grows to maturity and bears its seeds. It......


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- theHumm February 2023

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