There’s something special about this tiny part of Ontario. Creativity imbues the island of Prince Edward County; as if the county draws artists to it and holds them captive.
Only two-and-a-half hours east of Toronto, this rural community is dotted with charming towns. The Arts Trail is a self-guided tour of over 25 galleries and studios throughout the County. Taking the Arts Trail gives you the opportunity to watch artists at work, talk to them about their art and take home a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Many artists have moved to The County and made it their home, opening everything from modern galleries to rustic barn studios. The town of Wellington is ground zero for the Arts Trail. David Drown and Maggie Murdoch run Wellington Pottery out of the ground floor of an old carriage house on their property.
David showed us around their work studio where he and his partner, Maggie create art to sell upstairs in their showroom and teach clay workshops to adults and children. David says he and Maggie moved to the county 18 years ago.
“Ours are one of the first working studios in Wellington,” he tells me. “There are about 15 places here now.”
The back of their workshop is dedicated to preparing and storing pottery glazes, which David makes by hand.
Upstairs, David’s more minimalist pieces, inspired from East Asian culture, are on display besides Maggie’s whimsical, botanical pottery. Their contrasting styles complement and enhance the beauty of each other’s work. David specializes in producing simple hand-thrown cups, bowls and dishes, incense burners (David says he’s an ‘official ex-hippy’), while Maggie’s Alice In Wonderland-inspired work is less function, more art. While David produces traditional Japanese vases, he describes Maggie’s work as “off the charts.”
Craig Alexander recently moved to Wellington from Toronto and set up The Sybil Frank Gallery. The small, eclectic space has white walls and an old barn door as the backdrop to a vibrant collection of affordable art.
“I want people to enjoy the art,” says Craig, who changes the gallery space every four weeks and is constantly showing new pieces. “I like to think there’s a story when you walk in here,” he says. He plans on adding yoga classes in the morning and music events.
Craig says he chooses pieces that pays homage to the memory of his two grandmothers, who the gallery is named after. I’m struck by “Emergence” by Manitoba artist Lori Klassen. The piece hangs horizontally in the space and you’re not quite sure what the story is the artist is trying to convey.
“I have the same painting hung vertically in my home,” says Craig. “It looks completely different from this one.” Craig insists we popping into his house to see it for ourselves.
Around the corner from The Sybil Frank Gallery is the Drake Devonshire. The opening of the Drake’s PEC outpost upped the ‘cool’ factor in the County. You don’t have to stay at the Drake Devonshire to stop by and check out the vibrant art collection and quirky, yet rustic space.
The Drake Devonshire’s permanent art collection and seasonal exhibits are curated by Mia Nielsen. The art is a mix of local commissions and international artists and art work is everywhere here. As you enter the front door, Kirsten Hassenfeld’s Cabin Fever drapes down from the ceiling. Created from vintage paper, the installation catches the country light.
Fashioned after a cottage den, the Pavilion is adjacent to the Drake’s dining room. The centre piece of into the rustic space with wooden beams and foosball table is a floor-to-ceiling mural by Brooklyn-based duo, Faile. The mash-up of street art and fine art looks like something Andy Warhol would have created if he were a graffiti artist.
Afterwards, nab a table by the A-frame windows in their nautical-inspired restaurant and take in views of Lake Ontario (stunning, not matter the time of year) over a plate of chicken and waffles.
Mark Armstrong runs Armstrong Glassworks, a glass blowing studio in Wellington. Mark originally had his studio in Bloomfield before moving to his current location: a former Feed Mill circa 1905 – the space serves as both gallery and work space. If you time it right, you can watch Mark blowing glass (call ahead for his schedule).
Mark tells me began glass blowing back in 1987 and then discovered a history if this art form is in his own family. Two of his ancestors from mid 1800’s were glass blowers in Hamilton, Ontario.
“It was a very skilled job, but still a factory job,” explains Mark.
Mark demonstrates the incredible skill that goes into creating a single drinking glass.
“Glassblowing has its own rhythm,” he says.
Moving back and forth from the furnish to heat the glass then to a workspace where Mark manipulates the molten glass, pulling it like taffy and pressing it into a metal mould to create a glass.
Just outside of Bloomfield, another artsy town in the County is Andrew Csafordi Studio Gallery. Andrew is an Encaustic Sculptural painter, an ancient technique using pure, melted beeswax mixed with colour pigment.
Andrew runs two-day workshops in Encaustic painting and invited us to flex our creative muscles with a mini-tutorial.
Egg tempera was used by artists in the 1500’s, but “Encaustic painting predates egg tempera,” explains Andrew.
The wax is melted to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and Andrew shows us how to mix a small amount of the beeswax with pigment, then brush it across a piece of wood. The thin layer of beeswax dries and it’s in layering the coloured wax you create an arresting piece of art.
The process of creating art this way is peaceful, akin to a walking meditation, as the image emerges through thin layers of wax. Andrew says the process of Encaustic painting can tell you a lot about the person.
“You look like someone who likes to party,” he comments on my partner’s abstract piece.
Through layers of tinted bees wax, Andrew creates imaginative, luminous landscapes combined with mixed media, which he displays and sells in their barn at the back of their property. Tara Wilkinson is a talented fibre artist and photographer who has turned their old chicken coop into a colourful gallery – the Love Nest Studio Gallery.
The next morning, we run into Craig Alexander at brunch, who is celebrating his birthday with friends. I order a glass of local Lighthall sparking wine and arrange to send it over to his table. A few days here and I already feel part of the community.