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Not Just Playing Around: Art as Play and The Children’s Art Factory

By: Sonya Poweska

One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet with and getting to know the artists in each and every community where I have worked. In each community, there have been a few special artists who have inspired me and re-ignited my passion for what I do. If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of Melissa Mazar, owner/operator and creative genius behind The Children’s Art Factory, than you are missing out. Melissa has created a world in which art, creativity, play, learning, and imagination all go hand in hand. She says that the she is inspired by the children, but Melissa is also a real source of inspiration to all of those who have had the great fortune of getting to know her.


Over the years, Melissa has participated with Guelph Arts Council in a number of ways—she has been an artist, an event participant/coordinator, a member, and a Guelph Arts Council Youth Award recipient. In each of these capacities, she has brought a fresh and amazing perspective. With the launch of her new video, which premiered at this year’s Guelph Film Festival, Melissa continues to educate us that art is play and that children will amaze you with what they can learn if they are given the opportunity to explore life through art.

While this might not be a new concept, each and every time I talk with Melissa I am struck by all of the ways that she has engaged children to learn through art. In Art is Play, Melissa states that by letting children experience art as play, they are able to learn valuable negotiating skills and are encouraged to explore and discover new concepts while also making their own rules. This philosophy is carried over into The Children’s Art Factory where children are free to paint on the walls and windows, slop around with soapy water, mix potions and magic concoctions, and define their own parameters for play. Key to this learning is a concentration on the process of art rather than the product. This, Melissa confesses, is what drew her into creating The Children’s Art Factory in the first place. All too often, classes and activities concentrate on leaving a space with a completed piece of art—this becomes the focus of the activity (especially around the holidays). Melissa offers an inspired and creative alternative to traditional programming by allowing kids to take charge and let their imagination run wild. Creating isn’t the goal, the goal is creativity. To me, this is perhaps the most powerful message that Melissa shares. In this regard, she is educating the parents as much as she is encouraging the children.

Art is Play is directed by Oscar-nominated artist Erin Faith Young. It is a terrific short that allows Melissa to impart just some of her wisdom while the camera explores the magic of her space. It’s pretty obvious that every child present is happily engaged in art as play. While these moments may seem playfully innocent, Melissa, as well as the children's parents, are imparting lessons on their children that will last a lifetime and will shape the way that they, as adults, negotiate the parameters of the world in which they live, work, learn, share, and play. 


Click image above to see mini-doc.

Melissa offers opportunities for children, parents, caregivers, and community members to engage with her in a variety of ways. Drop-ins, birthday parties, or “scheduled classes” (which Melissa says are coming) are all offered in her space. One thing to know about Melissa is that she is an ever-present face in Guelph and can be seen at a variety of community events including Art on the Street. And for those who just can’t make it to any of the above events or activities, The Children’s Art Factory also makes their “kits” available for purchase just in time for the holiday season. She doesn’t even stop there! As an entrepreneur, Melissa offers informal mentorship opportunities to community children by setting up pop-up shops/stands in front of her store. It continues to amaze me the ways in which Melissa and The Children’s Art Factory inform and shape the experience and voice of the children who play, the caregivers who support, and the community that is developed as a result.

Remembering Beryl Dawson

It is with great sadness that we recognize the recent passing of Beryl Dawson. In addition to being a multi-talented artist herself, Beryl owned and operated Wellington Artists' Gallery and Art Centre with passion and dedication. There, she fueled and inspired local artists while making their work available to the wider community.

Beryl was a latecomer to art, discovering a hidden talent through art lessons, which then burgeoned into a dream to open her own art gallery after she retired.

Former Executive Director of Guelph Arts Council, Sally Wismer, communicated regularly with Beryl Dawson at the time she was setting up the Wellington Artists Gallery in 2008. "I can certainly attest to her determination and her commitment to providing exhibition space and other opportunities for local artists. She put her heart and soul into this successful gallery venture," Sally shared.

Uta Strelive, a longtime member of Wellington Artists Gallery (WAG), met Beryl through a call for submissions for the new gallery. Of Beryl, Uta says, "She was a person I can only describe as the most energetic, fair, and kind, but very strong at the same time. She was an incredible leader to us and what she did for all the members – it was mind boggling how hard she worked and what she did behind the scenes. We miss her so much and we realize now how much work there was we didn't even know about."

WAG was impressively active, with a different themed exhibition every month. The lower floor of gallery is dedicated to the monthly shows, featuring a range of talent, from individual artists and groups to homeschooled kids in the neighborhood who had no other venue to show their work

Beryl promoted and encouraged artists whenever she could, even when they were just starting out and maybe didn't have a lot of faith in themselves as artists just yet. According to Uta, this had a profound influence on those involved, "and people got better and wanted to work harder."

Beryl passed away peacefully on Thursday, October 9, after a short battle with cancer. She asked that the gallery be kept open and running and the gallery members have come together to keep the dream alive. John McGill was kind enough to respond to our inquiries about the future of the gallery, saying, "We are in the process of re-organizing the Wellington Artists' Gallery and trying to fill the huge void left by Beryl. It will be a challenging year ahead, but we are working hard to ensure that the gallery continues on the way Beryl wanted it to. We have a great group of members who are determined to see this happen."

The gallery's 2014 season is drawing to a close, but we hope you will continue to support the continuing efforts of Wellington Artists' Gallery, and the legacy of this amazing woman.

Guelph Artist Sylvia Woods Exhibits Renaissance-Inspired Paintings

Guest-written by Shannon Jill Bray with edits by GAC


In her new series of paintings, Flora, Guelph artist Sylvia Woods looks at the symbolic use of flowers in artworks from the Renaissance period, drawing from an era in which the practice of “reading” a painting could be quite literal. The paintings featured in this show are titled with their symbolic meaning, for instance “Tulip, Transience”, “Iris, Divine” and “Peony, Nascent”. The last one is particularly interesting, the symbolic meaning coming directly from how the flower was used. ‘Nascent’ means birth, and the peony was at one time used as a narcotic given to women during childbirth.

We asked Sylvia to tell us a bit about her time in Italy, as a student 23 years ago and how it influenced her work.

“We were allowed into the drawing rooms in the Uffizi Gallery, and wandered the lane ways and church aisles soaking in the art and ambience of Florence. There's nowhere in the world quite like it. I returned this past April to stay for two weeks and found it quite emotional, after painting Renaissance symbols for a few years, to see the original works again in a new light and with a more mature eye. Essentially, Florence hasn't changed, and it has often been cited as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. What makes it so wonderful for me is that you can imagine yourself transported back in history to a time where so many things were being discovered in science and the arts, when beauty and excellence in craftsmanship were highly valued. To me, the symbolic language of the natural elements, which were commonly understood in the past, is a language that acknowledges the essence and importance of creation in communication. The natural world literally spoke to the people of the past symbolically, making ordinary moments extraordinary. It has been delightful researching and bringing some of these symbols into my work as the subject over the past few years. I find that people respond to symbols and have fun reading the names and connecting the natural elements with their meanings.”


Calling upon her time spent in Florence, Woods has used a lost vocabulary of symbolism to inform the character of her vivacious, portrait-like floral works.

Flora opened last week with a celebratory reception, in conjunction with October’s Fourth Friday, to great success. Enlivened by a swanky three-piece Jazz band, food, and wine, the art event was attended by 80-100 people, including family, friends, friends of friends, and past clients, as well as a few people who came in 'off the street' as a part of the Fourth Friday celebrations. Sylvia says it is “inspiring to hear others’ insights into the work and catch the excitement of connecting flowers with meanings. It felt great to have all of the work hanging together, and to share it with so many people.”


Flora is now on exhibition in downtown Guelph at Catch-23, located at 23 Wyndham Street North, 2nd Floor, and can be viewed by appointment until November 9.

You can see more about Sylvia and her work in our member directory VIEW PROFILE>

Bunny Safari Named Recipient of 2014 Guelph Arts Council Jane Graham Memorial Award

By: Sally Wismer

Guelph Arts Council is pleased to announce that the 2014 Jane Graham Memorial Award goes to Guelph ceramicist/photographer Bunny Safari.

Bunny has been working in ceramics since 1998, although has more recently turned her attention to incorporating film photography into her ceramic work. Using vintage camera equipment, she has realized that her photography has given her the opportunity “to focus on what I see through the camera lens and its relation to a functional ceramic piece.” In order to continue this project of cross-pollination of media, Bunny submitted her application as a request for assistance to attend a 2015 workshop on “historical” photographic techniques to help her understand which processes or combination of processes best suit ceramics. The jury was impressed with Bunny’s well-thought-out plan as well as her commitment to explore early photographic techniques that will help her meet the challenges of and move forward on combining her ceramic and photographic visions.



Both Guelph Arts Council and the jury panel were extremely pleased with the applications for the 2014 Jane Graham Memorial Award, the range of artistic media represented, the varied career stages of artists and the range of professional development opportunities being sought.

Established in memory of local artist Jane Graham following her untimely death in March 2005, the Guelph Arts Council Jane Graham Memorial Fund is managed by the Guelph Community Foundation. As a result, Guelph Arts Council is annually able to assist visual artists residing and actively practising in Guelph or Wellington County, helping them to pursue professional development opportunities that will contribute to individual personal artistic growth.  

For more information about the award program, contact Guelph Arts Council at 519-836-3280 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  For more about Bunny Safari, you can visit her website at http://guelpharts.ca/craft/bunny-safari

Guelph Studio Tours a Wonderful Experience

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.


1becky-comber-studio-tour-bychelseyraehookerBecky 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.

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