Eganville -- Wildflowers, butterflies and bees coloured the back roads for this past weekend’s Madawaska Valley Studio Tour (MVST). One of the first tours to be established in the late 80s by a small collective of artists in the Wilno-Killaloe area, the self-guided driving tour of artisanal studio-homes has grown to include over 30 of the finest artisans in Ontario and now ranges from Combermere to Eganville.
Initially an annual autumn tour on the first weekend in October, MVST has expanded to include a mid-summer weekend to encourage cottagers and summer visitors to explore the creative artisanal work in the area.
“If it weren’t for this tour, I would have no idea of the amazing artists who live and work on the backroads,” says a Toronto-based cottager.
Although many of the studios are open during summer and many of the artists also display and sell through local galleries or exhibitions, a colourful brochure, website and the distinctive Autumn Leaf signage encourage visitors to explore beyond the familiar Hwy. 60 corridor. The longer established western part of the tour in the Killaloe-Wilno hills is perhaps best known to visitors but a growing number of studios are located near Eganville.
In her studio home in Eganville, Genevieve Townsend displays her vibrant works of art in acrylics and watercolour, inspired by both the natural and fanciful worlds.
“It’s been difficult working in the bubble of isolation during the past year,” she says.
This is her fourth year on the tour and she is happy to be welcoming customers once again. Guest artisan at the studio, Tammy Stuart is the new owner of the well-known Opeongo Soaps which uses locally sourced goats’ milk.
On Wittke Road, off Hwy. 512, the studio of painter Kathy Haycock is surrounded by a vivid blooming pollinator wildflower meadow. A long established award-winning Canadian artist, Kathy is also part of the Wild Women trio of wilderness painters which includes Wilno artists Joyce Burkholder and Linda Sorensen. A plein air artist, Kathy is inspired by her wilderness travels in the Ottawa Valley, the Canadian north and the American Southwest. As well as her vivid canvasses, her work translates beautifully as reproductions and as giftable items such as mugs, jigsaw puzzles and calendars. Kathy also missed the interaction with her customers during the pandemic lockdowns but like many other artists discovered a bright side in the new willingness to purchase online.
“When people order art they have seen and liked from my online studio, they are even more thrilled with the actual piece which is even more vivid and alive,” she said.
Just down the road at her Starfield Studio, Chris Peltzer exhibits her still-life, landscapes and whimsical paintings done in impressionistic style. Part of her work, as it is for many of the area artists, are commissioned paintings of cottages and homes or a favourite view from an art-lovers deck or dock. She works in oils, pastels and coloured pencil and her work is also displayed locally at the Rusty Lantern, the Bonnechere Library and the Granary Restaurant. Her studio is open to the public throughout the season and she, like most of the artists on this summer tour, also takes part in the long-established autumn tour.
Pikwakanagan artist Sylvia Tennisco also explores change and growth in her art. Part of a generation who were raised off reserve during the ‘sixties scoop’, Sylvia returned to Pikwakanagan with a visual arts diploma and began to explore her own Algonquin history and culture. The symbolism of Algonquin birch bark baskets, the great canoes which carried out trade on the Kitchissipi and the role of the ‘grass dancers’, who open the Pow-Wow, are all translated into her paintings. Her detailed interpretation of the Nations attending a woodland market is a central piece in her studio. The painting titled ‘Anishinaabe Marketplace’ isn’t for sale although greeting cards of the image are available.
For Killaloe-based internationally known glass artist, Tanya Lyons, the tour brought welcome excitement and energy back into her studio.
“People are telling me that doing the tour is a perfect transition from the isolation of the past months,” she said.
COVID-19 has also provided new inspiration for the conceptual artist who has recently received a Canada Council grant to explore change through the medium of glass. Part of that project, in conjunction with Killaloe’s Ottawa Valley Arts Outdoor Studio (OVCAOS), is her Pop-Up installation at Shaw Woods where a series of small birch bark canoes ride the waves as “we all rode the waves of the pandemic together but in our own little boats.” Three larger dramatic glass installations also travel the waves on the Holland-America and Tui cruise lines. Tanya is perhaps best known for her glass dresses, several of which are displayed in her studio alongside smaller wearable glass art and garden sculpture.
True to its roots as a collective promotion, the studio tour experience encourages visitors to explore the area restaurants, accommodations and other attractions. If you missed the summer tour, the autumn tour takes place on October 1, 2 and 3. Brochures are widely available throughout the area or you can find more information at www.madawaskastudiotour.com
Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader