Guest Written by Chelsey Rae Hooker with edits by GAC
Every year since 1985, Guelph artists have chosen a crisp autumn weekend during which they open their doors to the untamed masses so that we may obtain a brief glimpse of their worlds. I should preface this article by stating that though I am creative in many ways, by no means do I have any extensive technical knowledge of art. I enjoy art, appreciate it, and want to surround myself with it in my day to day life, but, like so many others who attend these wonderful tours, I cannot tell you much more about it beyond what I like and what I don't like. This is what makes the Guelph Studio Tours such an amazing experience. You don't need to be a seasoned aficionado to partake in the event; you don't need an in-depth understanding of art, all you need is curiosity and appreciation for it.
Decked out in Fall gear with our 10 month old in tow, we set forth from the Red Brick to see what this event was all about. Directly across Douglas Street we found our first studio: Necessary Arts Co. From the brightness and freshness of the space, you would never believe it was a basement studio. There were numerous artists' work displayed, but I was immediately drawn to Marnie Dallan's colourful paintings of nature. Her paintings are organized and defined but at the same time vibrant and whimsical. Marnie's two daughters and her husband were there to support her; the little girls running and playing in the background, present but in no way disruptive. This was unique as it was the only studio stop we made where the art was family experience.
Necessary Arts Co. is a shared artist space which is wonderfully conducive to networking, collaboration, and group events. Their goal appears to be to provide artists with as many resources as possible, ranging from coworking space, internet, sewing machinery, relevant literature, and general support at a lower cost than private studio rentals. This location was a perfect first stop for our tour as it is an excellent depiction of how I understand the Guelph artists' community to be: respectful, collaborative, and unpretentious.
Following our Tour map, we headed to Tom Dietrich's space overlooking Wyndham St, our second studio visit. After we had browsed for a few moments, Tom explained to us how his work was inspired by observing how humans interact with nature both directly and indirectly. He explained how humans no longer think of themselves as organic beings despite being intrinsically tied to the natural world and how this disconnect is increasingly prevalent in urban centers. Many of his canvasses are broken landscapes and earthy abstracts on a rich red backdrop which gives the studio a sophisticated but comfortable feel.
Our next studio visit was a short walk from downtown on Arthur St North. Michelle Miller and Jenny Yermit's studio was the only home studio we visited that day. We climbed the two sets of stairs up to the loft to first see Jenny's work. The loft was beautifully finished and she had decorated it playfully with Christmas lights and several of her plush creations, called Yermits, all around. Some prints and buttons were also available, but as my daughter was enamoured with the colourful plush creatures, that is where most of our attention was focused. We selected one that caught our eye, made our first purchase of the day, and my daughter and her blue Yermit have been inseparable ever since.
We walked back downstairs to the Mimi Jewelry space where there were elegant displays of intricate wire art jewelry placed carefully on natural white on white stones. Everything looked very soft and delicate. There is a small room at the back of the house overlooking the yard where Michelle Miller's beading desk is set up neatly. The jewelry designs range from large complex necklaces to smaller, more subdued pieces such as earrings. Everything about the Mimi studio is soft and elegant, including the artist herself.
From there we proceeded to the Trafalgar Building on Woolwich St. where the entire 3rd floor is full of artists' studios. As we climbed the narrow stairway, the atmosphere became more and more industrial. Exposed brick walls, old-school radiators, large factory-style windows, everything was exactly as you would imagine an industrial chic studio loft with the added charm of having an amazing view of the Eramosa River. The first studio we entered had comfortable furnishings surrounded by the most provocative artwork of the day. Antique purple boxing gloves cradling an egg, miniature shooting range targets on old wooden cutting, and paintings of the human skeleton and internal organs were displayed throughout the space.
Several amazing artists are permanent residents of Open Art Studios representing a wide range of artistic media. At one end of the building in a corner studio, Lynn Chidwick creates gorgeous stained glass installations while at the complete opposite side of the building, Tammy Ratcliffe prints delicate designs on Japanese paper. In between there are abstract paintings, portraiture, and photography.
Becky Comber's Photographic Collages
Becky Comber and Heidi Berger's studio caught my eye with some mixed media artwork contrasting delicate paintings with rougher found items such corroded metal sheets. Their workspace is set up right in front of the window and there is a small seating area a bit farther back. On the wall, I noticed some gold ballet slippers which I asked about. The slippers were not in fact an art installation, but had belonged to Heidi Berger as a girl. Heidi explained that she simply found it important to always remember where she came from. As I photographed them, she requested a copy of the image stating that she had never really thought about it until just then, but they were a very important part of the space for her; of course I was happy to oblige.
We made our descent out of the Trafalgar Building via the freight elevator (which can only be described as terrifying but generally regarded as safer than carrying the stroller down the stairs) then proceeded onwards to Blue Iris Studios to see pottery, jewelry, and textiles. Iris's studio is situated in the walk-out basement of a beautiful Victorian home. A showcase of colourful pottery is the first sight as you enter the studio, followed closely by a warm, welcoming smile from Iris Dorton, the studio's owner. Both the pottery and the jewelry is displayed in a neat, uncluttered way, with very little to distract you from the artwork itself. A piece which caught my eye was a silver necklace with a small medallion-like pendant. Iris explained how she had found a sprig of Queen Anne's lace outside and pressed the flower directly into the silver prior to it setting to create an impression on the pendant. With Guelph being such a green community, I've not been surprised at all by the number of artists inspired by its natural landscape. Farther back within the studio is Sidney Sproule, a textile artist who refurbishes textiles into cleverly functional items. While perusing the French Press cosies, purses, and bags, we were stricken with nostalgia at some of the textiles used: a Hudson's Bay blanket that once was a staple in every home, Cub Scout badges, and hockey patches. Sidney passionate about textile work and every piece she has made has a story. This was a wonderful way to breathe new life into textiles and fabrics.
Now late in the afternoon, our group decided to stop at one more location, the Dublin St. Church. There we found a plethora of artwork ranging from blacksmithing, to painted miniatures. As this was a community display, this site was not actually a working studio. The variety of artists and mediums made this a lovely studio tour stop nonetheless.
As it we were heading out of the church, we noticed another studio tour sign just a few houses down from our location and we decided that we had enough time for one final stop. Maria Pezzano's work was on display featuring a host of mixed media artwork that was bright, colourful, and unapologetically girly. The space echoes Maria's personality is open and vibrant with a homey feel which can likely be attributed to the antique door and windows looking out onto Dublin St. In the adjacent space is some photography work highlighting Guelph's natural foliage. Having visited every studio within walking distance of the downtown area, we decided to end our tour there for this year.
To see a piece of artwork hanging in a gallery is lovely. You can appreciate the techniques applied, the subtle nuances, the medium used, and contemplate which pieces speak to you in some profound and personal way. To see artwork within an artist's studio however, you learn so much more about the person who created it. The entire setting is essentially a reflection of their personality and their process as an artist that has taken years to develop. To anyone who has never taken part in the Guelph Studio Tours, I urge you to come out and meet these wonderful individuals in person. I can honestly say that the artists I met throughout the day were kind, welcoming, and genuine people and we should all devote a little more time to supporting them, even if that just means coming out and shaking their hand at an event. To all the artists who opened their doors to the public, I simply would like to say thank you.