By Michelle Annette Tremblay
Anyone who has visited the Ontario Highlands in autumn knows it's the ideal season for a scenic drive. With the kids back at school after a full season of BBQs and camping, family reunions and summer holidays, most of us have returned to comfortable routines and have, dare we say, caught our breath. The mosquitos and blackflies are gone, the days are still long and hot (but not too long and hot), and of course, the forested hills are bejeweled with vivid fall colours. It's no wonder several communities have chosen this season to host studio tours.
The Tweed, Bancroft, Apsley, and Madawaska Valley studio tours, each held annually in the fall, are well established and celebrated for the high quality of their featured artists. Displaying everything from paintings and photo prints, to stained glass, carvings, textiles, custom jewelry, pottery, and hand crafted furniture, the tours each have something that will appeal to everyone.
Organizers explain that studio tours, which have become increasingly popular throughout cottage country over the last decade, provide a truly unique experience for art lovers. Not only do they get to explore this majestic region of eastern Ontario during its most aesthetically vibrant season and immerse themselves in art, they also get to connect with the creators in their own studios.
Often, upon arrival, visitors enter the very landscapes that have inspired the art they admire. They meet the artists' families, see their workspaces, learn about their process, pet their dogs, maybe even drink their tea. It creates an intimacy. If they purchase a piece of art, they have a feeling and a memory to go along with it. Relationships are built. If they return year after year, as many do, they witness the progression in an artist’s craft. They end up with a treasured one-of-a-kind collection, curated by time, communion and authenticity.
Organizers of the tours all agree that rural Eastern Ontario attracts especially accomplished artists. This is partly because of the vast and inspiring landscape, but the relaxed lifestyle, sense of community, and lower cost of living contribute too. The lower cost of living, specifically in terms of real estate, allows serious artists to have large studio spaces that may not be viable in more urban settings. Sharing these studios with the public is a real treat for the artists, say organizers. Of course the opportunity to present their most recent works and to hopefully make some sales is a big incentive for the artists to be involved, but there's much more to it than that.
“Artists need deadlines,” says Molly Moldovan with a chuckle. It's true. Ask pretty much any creative type, and they will tell you that finishing a project, or recognizing when a project is complete is one of their biggest challenges. The stereotype of the tortured artist, alone in his studio, obsessing over a masterpiece for months, exists for a reason.
“The studio tour provides a fixed deadline every year,” explains Moldovan, a featured abstract painter on the Apsley Tour, and also one of the tour's main organizers. She says that knowing she has a deadline every September keeps her inspired, motivated, and on task.
Artists need people, too. The Tweed, Bancroft, Apsley, and Madawaska Valley tours each have at least 20 different artists, from all different disciplines, and in all sorts of different venues. Being involved in the tour provides a social tapestry for them: they interact with guests during the tour, and they collaborate with each other leading up to it. In recent years, some of the artists have been teaming up for the tour. One studio might feature two or three artists.
“It makes things easier and more enjoyable for us,” says Bancroft wood-working artist David Ferguson. “We get to share the workload for the day, which means we have more time to stop and chat with guests.” It also increases the likelihood that people will make a point of stopping at that particular venue because there's more than one type of art to see there. This is helpful for newer tour participants who might not be as well known, or for those who have less-common disciplines.
Having the time to connect with visitors is paramount, says Ferguson. He explains that some types of artists, like himself, rely mostly on commissions. While a textile or jewellery designer might hope to sell a bunch of items during the tour to make room for new projects, other types of artists, like Ferguson, are less focused on selling during the tour, and more on building lasting relationships.
You can find out more about the upcoming tours by picking up a studio brochure in each of the communities, or check out their websites: