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Christmas Market at the Alton Mill Arts Centre

November 25, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield 

Christmas has come with more in-person freedom than last year and people can turn up to the Alton Mill Arts Centre to enjoy the riches of one-of-a-kind treasures, the many participating artists of Headwaters Arts and the Mill have ready for you.

The 19th Century Alton Mill is picturesque and welcoming at all times of year, yet, the charm of the Christmas season makes it even more alluring.

Headwaters Arts has its annual artisan gift and art show: “Artful Giving Show,” a delight of items and works of art, hand made by Canadian artisans and artists, 20 members of Headwaters Arts to treat and tempt you and which runs from Nov.10, 2021 until Jan. 2, 2022.

The list of contributors includes many names familiar to patrons of the Alton Mill but there are new names too.

A member of Headwaters Arts for just a year, Elizabeth Bryan, is calling her weaving business Weaver Bee. She was encouraged by friends to enter her work in the Artful Giving Show. A weaver for 30 years, beginning during a time when she was at a night school class in Toronto and added a weaving class from interest.

“It was one of those classes you just sign up and go at your own pace, like a little club. It’s been a hobby for a really long time,” Ms. Bryan told the Citizen.

Wanting to expand a hobby into a business, she did courses with the Small Business Enterprise in Orangeville and was awarded a grant, “I bought a new loom with it,” she said.

What attracted Ms. Bryan to weaving is her love of playing with colour.

Her comment, “When I first started, I just put things together to see what happened, it was a lot of fun. With more experience, I do know how it’s going to look but it’s still fun.

“And at the shows, it’s really nice to meet people to see their interest in the weaving. I will be at the Mill next Friday and the next morning. Everyone takes shifts.”

Vivian Fleisher’s first time at the old mill in Alton was the early ’80’s.

She said, “It was beautiful but it was really rough. It’s really nice to be back to the Alton Mill Arts Centre, for the first time this summer [since the ’80’s]. I immediately joined Headwaters Arts in August, to be in this capacity. I love it.”

Ms. Fleisher’s offerings at the Artful Giving Show are cards, which are each original works of art in a greeting card, frameable 5”x 7” at $6 each. They are three colours or black and white.

She said, “I’ve been an artist my entire life doing landscapes and animals and I got into print making at Guelph. I never thought about it before but I absolutely got into it. Then I did a lot of Lino printing. I think Lino printing does inform my painting.

“For a long time, I’ve been doing animals. I really don’t do people but now it’s started to get into my head. I found some old photos and I love the idea; with animals I want get into their interior life.”

Living on a farm, a lot of the images Ms. Fleisher creates are “just what’s around here. We’ve kept chickens; they’re great. We do have guinea fowl and they have such texture and they’re a lot of fun to have around. My studio is above the granary on a farm, a big space. It’s that happy space; this is that point in my life when I can really go for it.”

Susan Powell, the media contact for Headwaters Arts talked about the show, saying, “There are so many pieces of so many varieties of things; I think people are in a place now they don’t want a lot of junk and have come back to sending cards. Maybe, people are wired to each other more after being so isolated. There’s pottery; some prints, paintings, tote bags; one artist does paint pouring with coasters; a lot of different fibre art, some of it as wall hangings. There are woven scarves and purses. One girl has paintings and candles.” 

In a press release from the Alton Mill, Powell also included on the list of choices “handcrafted jewellery, wood bowls, textiles, woodcut/lino prints, watercolour, acrylic and oil paintings, hand painted Christmas ornaments, cards and delicate ceramic creations and funky functional pieces all handmade.”

As a side note, Susan Powell’s recent entry, her painting “Yellow Day,” to the McMichael Gallery En Plein Air Competition was shortlisted as one of 30 from a list of 150 submissions from 77 artists. Very exciting news for her.

There is much more to browse at the Alton Mill Arts Centre. Still on the ground floor is the Noodle Gallery, where the whimsical and unusual are the spirit of the gallery, paintings – yes – but artisanal products and other works of art.

Walking through the cafe area, we come to the fabulous Gallery Gemma Jewellery, founded and owned by Anne-Marie Warburton, one of the Mill’s longest-term tenants, at more than 15 years.

Anne-Marie Warburton spent years in learning her trade of jewellery making in precious metals and stones and continues to travel to take specialist courses. Her remarkable shop in the Alton Mill is known across North America. 

In addition to her own fine work, Ms. Warburton brings in pieces from designers and makers of original, startling and beautiful jewellery.

Following through to the Rare Threads Gallery, the shopper/visitor is treated to a range of wearable art in a myriad of textiles and unusual ideas. Standard clothing items take on new looks and approaches, many of them unapologetically style benders. 

There are two staircases and an elevator for access to the upper floor, where the artists’ studios are open for visiting and a chance to acquire original works of art. Many of them offer workshops, which is a thought as a gift for the person who “has everything.”

There are 15 studios, which all mainly house single artists, with the exception of The Hive, the Encaustic Studio run by Kim Kool and Karen Brown, encaustic artists. Encaustic is the art of painting with bees wax and paint.

Likewise, the Southern Ontario Visual artists studio is home to three artists, Robert Chisholm, Lynden Cowan and Daureen Murphy. All of them are from the Maritimes but that is where what they have in common ends, so their “about” tells us.

The other galleries are given to one artist in each of them. They are as different from each other as art and philosophy in a general sense will take them and every conversation is an open door.

Mark Grice, famous equine artist and more, has his own entrance into the Mill outside and Jason Duclose is in situ at the forage of the old black smith shop.

If this is your first visit to the Alton Mill Arts Centre, it is probably not your last, for you could find yourself longing to return to this venerable arts centre. This may be one of your favourite Christmas – any time! – shopping sprees.

The Artful Giving Show is on until Jan. 2. For all the details, go to

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