No matter where you live in Canada, there are artists nearby who are inspired by the place you share. Some places however, have richer creative soil than others, encouraging a bumper local arts crop.
One of those places is Stratford, Ontario, an atypical community of 30,000 people at the heart of a rural county in southern Ontario. Because of the presence of the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest repertory theatre company with a six-month season in four theatres, there is a preponderance of creative talent drawn to and thriving within the small city. The city supports a spring-to-fall thrice-weekly Art in the Park, along with several commercial, artist-run, and publicly funded galleries.
I lived there for 11 years and got to know many of these artists. When it comes to paintings and other artwork, I’ve adopted a “shop local” strategy. While I have a few pieces that simply caught my eye while on travels, there’s something special about knowing the hand and the personality that shaped the works on your walls.
Here’s a slideshow of my present collection of Stratford-based artists:
Marc Bauer-Maison, born and raised in France, is inspired by Sumi-e Japanese and Chinese minimalist painting style. He captures the changing seasons of the Ontario landscape – spring forsythia, summer tiger lilies, multi-hued fall maple leaves, birch trunks in snow. He paints animals, larger landscapes, and portraits of dancers and other women, all captured in spare, swift strokes of watercolour. He exhibits frequently in France, including at Carrousel du Louvre, a section of the famous Paris gallery that shows contemporary work .
Leslie Watts creates hyper-realistic portraits, still lifes, and landscapes, experimenting with many techniques. My favourite are her egg tempera paintings on paper, which shimmer with captured light. In recent years, portraits of hers have been included in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.
Lucinda Jones is a printmaker whose creates abstract designs using bold colours and textures inspired by nature. She runs a framing shop in Stratford and has a second career as a jazz / torch singer.
The works I have by Janet Hill are from an earlier phase in her career – a pair of small oil paintings of robin eggs in nests. She painted for many years while also running a retail business and, at one point, decided to focus on her art full time. She was an early adopter of Etsy and online eBay auctions to sell her works, which now have found an international audience. When she posts that an original work is for sale, it is snapped up in moments. She keeps her large fan base happy by selling reproduction prints and cards and has branded her style “Glamorous | Chic.” Janet is now writing and illustrating books – the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, did a video feature of her working method for her 2016 picture book, Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess.
Alan Johnson, now based in Skaneatales, NY, lived part-time in Stratford for many years. Best known for his paintings of Central Park, NY, when in Stratford he was inspired by the city’s industrial buildings, quiet residential streets, churches, and riverside paths.
I have included a landscape painted by the late Ruth Knechtel Moorehead, who grew up in the Stratford area and returned there in her retirement years. She painted all her life, giving her creations to friends and family members as gifts. This one belongs to her son, my partner: the split-rail fence along the road gives it that Southern Ontario feel.
And finally, last but certainly not least, I have eight small watercolours from Edward “Teddy” Payne. He paints whimsical scenes of everyday home interiors, landscapes, countryside, houses, battle scenes from the Second World War, and remembrances of his beloved England.
How to describe Teddy to someone who has not met him? No less than the film and stage star Christopher Plummer calls Teddy a “bon vivant.” Now 91 years old, Teddy continues to live in “The Studio” – a sprawling brick-walled loft above main-floor shops where he hosts frequent parties and is surrounded by women visitors, who he flatters and charms, drawing on his maternal Italian heritage. He not only paints but writes poetry, novels, recipe books, and creates small publications combining his illustrations with musings. One of the best is The Art of Woo: A Gentleman’s Guide to Courting. He earlier wrote two volumes of memoirs: An Apricot Blooms in the Desert is about his childhood in England, his Second World War service, and post-war work years, including a stint in Sudan. The Streets of Odeon picks up his story as he immigrates first to the U.S., then later to Canada.
All of Stratford artists have one thing in common: there’s something about the place that inspires them. And there’s something about their art that inspires me, in turn.
Main art: Marc Bauer-Maison, Forsythia and Bird