Meeting the wonderfully talented artists on show at Alton Mill

December 21, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

What is wonderful about the Alton Mill Arts Centre in Alton is being able to  meet the artists whose work is on display either in the Centre or/and in their own studios. A person can meet them, talk to them about their work and, in many cases, attend their workshops. 

Sunday afternoon seemed a good time to get to know at least a few of the artists who have their studios located upstairs at the Mill. So, we popped into the office to say hello to Pearl Schachter, manager of marketing, and went with her upstairs to meet Karen Brown, the most recently installed of the artists, and the new co-owner of The Hive, the Encaustic studio. 

“Encaustic is an ancient beeswax based paint which is applied and heated to create rich layers of unique depth and luminosity,” says the studio’s hand out card.

Encaustic artist Karen Brown was happy to elaborate about the art form and why she and Kim Kool, another encaustic artist,  have taken over the studio.

“Andrea and Dan were here for eight or nine years,” she began. “When they said they were closing the encaustic studio [for personal reasons], the community panicked. I had been doing mobile workshops and liked the idea of being settled in a studio and Kim had been mobile too. So, I called her and asked her, ‘What you think about taking it over ?’ I couldn’t handle it on my own and she didn’t say no right away.”

They opened the studio, now under their auspices, on October 1 with a good take on workshops: “We want to keep the essence of the Hive, although Andrea and Dan did more technique. Kim and I are offering workshops for beginners where they get to go home with a piece in wax. We do photos in encaustic which is really popular.”

Here is how that works: “You send me a photo over email and I print it on hand-made paper. Then, in the workshop, you put your photo into an encaustic painting. There are some beautiful and unique results.” 

As well, she said, “We do advanced classes; we let people come and use our stuff and charge for it by the hour. They like it because it’s hard to have all this in your home. Encaustic means using heat with the beeswax.”

Naturally, they have their our own original paintings for sale too. 

“People love the encaustic,” said Ms. Brown. “We’re going to  be fine here.”

Relatively new to the Alton Mill is Sherry Park, portrait artist in oils, primarily, while she also does watercolour paintings of nature and flowers.

“I’ve been here since March,” she informed us. “I went to OCAD University (formerly Ontario College of Art and Design) to study painting and visual arts for four years. I painted in Florence (Italy) for a year as part of the course. I still go to a portrait sessions at a studio in Brampton. You can go and just sit in on the sessions to paint the models.”

As we looked at her quite interesting approach to faces, she went on, “I started painting when I was five years old. After OCAD, I did pharmaceutical technology and I have been doing that for 15 years. I’m still doing that work. It gives me good balance. At work, there’s lots of interaction with people. Then, painting is creative and you work alone. It’s very engaging.”

In a studio big enough for three artists, Lynden Cowan, Robert Chisholm and Joanne Lomas display their work and create more. It is, at once, a busy and a calm place to visit. 

Ms. Cowan has a list of commendations and awards that have seen her work displayed in London, England with the Viva Canada and, in association with the Circle Foundation, to Lyons in France, which pleased her very much.

She and eight other artists have formed their own group, Southern Ontario Visual Artists (SOVA), doing four shows a year only. Beside those, they each participate in other shows throughout the year. Four of them travelled together to the Maritimes to enjoy the inspiration other scenes could offer.

Ms. Cowen’s style loves the detail of nature, which she reflects in imposing paintings, with boldness and rich colours, not straying particularly from nature’s own choices. Her paintings offer a challenge to the viewer to see into her detail and, perhaps, wish to be there.

Mr. Chisholm’s, SOVA, works are primarily long landscapes, tending to big paintings and he was working on one while we were there. It was, as he told us, by the rail junction at the Tim Hortons on the west end of Orangeville.

Across the hall is Margaret Sarah Pardy, another Alton Mill member of SOVA, who discovered a few years ago the art of black painting, as it were. In her case, she buys hard boards, painted stark white and, then, covered in black, perfect for scratching out art. Fabulous.

She has a tool with five little needles or pins bonded together and installed in a small holder, which she uses, holding it this way and that, to make different strokes and angles. Some of her pictures are straight white on black; some, she involves colour into the white, once she has etched out the details of the figures. 

Wildlife dominates Ms. Pardy’s work and she travels the country to observe them, especially in animal sanctuaries, and continues to engage in workshops with eminent Canadian wildlife artists.

One of her paintings is going to be installed in the Ontario parliament buildings at Queen’s Park next year. She is quite excited about that. This year, she was also accepted into the Ontario Society of Artists.

Our next studio-of-call was the office/studio of Margi Taylor-Self, the longest-term artist’s studio at the Alton Mill, at 15 years. Ms. Taylor-Self loves the Alton Mill.

Says she, “We were here before the Arts Centre was official. It’s just everything: so much inspiration. Some mix of quiet time to work and then there’s interaction with the public and other artists.”

Ms. Taylor-Self handles the leasing side of the Mill’s affairs and is looking for the right person to lease a corner studio; could be someone who does visual art that is not painting.

The main floor of the Alton Mill is given over to artisans and galleries. For longevity at the Mill, after Margi Taylor-Self, Anne Marie Warburton with her Gallery Gemma has been there the longest. Ms. Warburton’s space is a glamorous jewellery gallery, offering her work and that of selected jewellery designers from around the world. Ms. Warburton decided mid-career to re-invent herself. She abandoned her sales work and went back to school to study making jewellery at a very high end with precious metals and fine gems; she went back to school to also study jewellery as a business.

For this Christmas season, Gallery Gemma is open Monday, Christmas Eve, using the smaller entrance into the Alton Mill, as the rest of the Mill will be closed that day.

The new Rare Threads gallery, as it were, a beautiful space running adjacent to Gallery Gemma, will also be open Christmas Eve.

Over this coming weekend, as every weekend, Alton Mill, Headwaters Gallery, Noodle Gallery, the artists’ studios upstairs and Mark Grice downstairs are all open from today, Thursday, through to Sunday.

Anne Marie Warburton commented on her extra opening hours, “When men want to shop, they don’t look up our website, they just drive here and show up. What would be a better Christmas present than something hand-made?”

For a full list of artists, artisans and galleries, check the website

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