28 July 2011


From the first time I stepped foot on the land that we now call Small Pond Arts, I saw a show happening here. 

We visited the property for the first time in the fall of 2009 while searching for the perfect place for our dream to take hold.  As we walked the paths in the woods, I saw not only myself here, but I saw future artists and audiences here.  The shape and layout of the property would be perfect for a site-specific travelling performance.  On July 24, 2011, this dream was finally realized with Cornography.  My vision was for an afternoon of art about food, where audiences would be led from location to location to discover theatre, music, puppetry, installation and visual art. 

Illustration by Milé Murtanovski

I put out a call for submissions inviting artists of any discipline to respond to the theme of “our twisted relationship with food.”  I have always been a lover of food, and the subject has been much on my mind since moving to the agricultural area of Prince Edward County.  I’ve watched too many documentaries and read too many books about our modern food system, which is so deeply dysfunctional and fragile.  Since we moved here we have grown closer to the food system; within our first year at Small Pond we started growing some of our own food, and after becoming friends with some local farmers we've gained a greater appreciation for the work that they do.  There is so much to say on the subject of food that I wasn’t too surprised when almost 40 artists responded to the call with a dazzling variety of takes on the theme.  As the months went by, the pieces of Cornography fell into place one by one, and the shape of the day took form.

A small portion of the bounty coming from the Small Pond garden
Out-of-town artists started arriving a few days before the show and Small Pond was once again a veritable hive of activity, with elaborate installations being built, rehearsals taking place, artwork being delivered, and much mowing of paths and performance areas.  Then there were the preparations for the meal; if we were going to have 40 artists doing a show about food, we obviously had to feed them, and we had to do it in style.  We planned for the day to conclude in The Great Artists’ Feast, a dinner party held in their honour.

Mary Macdonald working on her installation to make lasting
You never know how these things are going to turn out.  All you can do is be as prepared as possible and hope for the best.  The day finally arrived and the weather was glorious.  All the artists showed up.   And, rather importantly, so did the audience.  The visual art was displayed in the barn, and the show began with a dozen visual artists introducing themselves and their work.  The audience was then led to a Punch and Judy show performed by myself and Trevor Jablonowski, wherein the notorious puppet Punch falls in love with a cob of corn, much to Judy’s misfortune. The audience actually booed at one point – what a great compliment!

Punch and the Corn Cob
Everyone loves a puppet love triangle
Two artists from Florida, Rachael Kerley and Giang Pham, had arrived a few days previous on a week-long artist residency. Their sensual, interactive installation Sacrament, Wash, Passage, Altar took place in the ‘salon du silo,’ the garden area that surrounds the silo.  It was a meditation on the grains of eastern and western cultures: corn and rice.  At Sacrament people were given small bags of pop corn and Rice Krispie squares to munch on; at the Wash station they were offered (and often accepted) a corn oil and rice foot rub; in Passage they walked on a path of rice and corn; and at Altar they were met with an array of glass jars containing oil, water and grains.
Our good friends Bay Woodyard and Gavin North of Honey Pie Hives and Herbals performed a puppet-filled Travelling Medicine Show.

The Traveling Medicine Show
Children were led away to the Art Barn to make corn-husk dolls with Cynthia Dinsdale, and the DitchWitch Brigade from Toronto (Eve Wylden, Antje Budde & friends) presented an excerpt of their play called Miss Toronto Gets a Life in Parkdale.

Children of the corn
Eve Wylden in Miss Toronto Gets a Life in Parkdale
Local songstress Melissa Larkin performed next, filling the art barn with the sound of her tantalizing music and spoken word.  The audience was then led to the spot behind our house, where Guy Doucette, Pat Larkin and Koren Bellman performed a musical puppet piece called Doctor Frankornstein and the Stalking Terror.

Melissa Larkin
Dr. Frankornstein and the Stalking Terror
In the back field our audience met Mary Macdonald and her installation to make lasting.  Mary had been at Small Pond every day that week, mostly perched atop a ladder in our back field as she built a large cage of buckthorn branches.  During Cornography people were invited to write their favourite foods on recipe cards which were hung from the structure. 

Close-up of to make lasting by Mary Macdonald
I had invited local visual artist Chrissy Poitras of Sparkbox Studio to participate in Cornography, and was surprised and delighted when she told me she wanted to do a piece of performance art.  For the performance we laid down a long runway of white felt in the middle of a tall field of grass.  People were asked to take off their shoes and walk down the carpet to where Chrissy was waiting for them, wearing a white dress and blindfold.  She then proceeded to eat a pomegranate as messily as she could.  The audience fell completely silent, mesmerized by the scenario; a little bit of magic taking place under the big blue sky.

Chrissy Poitras just prior to her performance
Jeff Keary gave a lecture on the subject of salt and its insidious nature.  Then Katy McIntyre led a piece we called Cornfield of Dreams.  She passed out pens and paper corn cobs to people and asked them to finish the sentence “My dream of the future of food is…”  Once they’d written their dream, they held them aloft and were led in a procession through the woods, passing young fiddler Luke Norton.  The woods open out to a huge field where people "planted" their dreams atop stakes. 

The procession of dreams.  Photo by Phil Norton.
Luke Norton fiddles in the woods.
"My dream for the future of food is... a garden for every home."
Our final act of the day was Arlene Bishop, a musician I have admired from afar for years.   Arlene’s music is quite simply spell-binding; lucky for us, she’ll be back at Small Pond August 26, 27 and 28 as the musical guest for our shadow puppetry play The History of Shadows.

Arlene Bishop
The Cornography performances and programming may have been over, but there was still one final act: we had to eat!  Long tables were put end to end in the shade of the Manitoba Maple in the front yard, and an abundant buffet of local food (much of it from our own garden!) was laid out.  The Great Artists’ Feast began, and it was so satisfying to sit back and watch all the artists sitting shoulder to shoulder with one another, breaking bread.  The meal was put together by one of my oldest and dearest friends, Tanis De Sa Pereira and her two teenagers, Spencer and Sydnie.   Not only are they great cooks, but having them play such an integral role in the day just added to the warm feeling of being amidst family.

The Great Artists' Feast
As you can imagine, it was a full, full day – full of energy and imagery and ideas, full of friends and laughter and surprises.  Our community was incredibly receptive to Cornography; clearly we have touched on a subject matter which is vital and relevant to them.  The quality and scope of the art was undoubtedly impressive.  Therefore Milé and I have already decided that we will do it all over again; artists, start simmering your ideas and stay tuned for details about Cornography 2012, coming to Small Pond next July!

Krista and Milé give thanks.
Huge thanks to everyone who participated in Cornography, artists and audience alike.  You have shown us what is possible, and we are forever grateful for all that you brought to the table.

Impromptu dinner table art by Celeste Hill.

17 July 2011

Picton Picturefest

Last weekend Small Pond Arts hosted its largest event to date, Picton Picturefest.  The fledgling  film festival was the brainchild of lifelong friends Peter Knegt and Jennifer MacFarlane, who grew up in neighbouring Trenton.

The brilliant poster that so beautifully captures the Small Pond Arts farm by Meagan Durlak and Sebastian Speier
Small Pond Arts was Picturefest headquarters, and over the course of the weekend some 70+ people camped in our woods, watched an outdoor film screening of The National Parks Project, enjoyed a concert by Kris Ellestad, chased fireflies and laughed well into the night around the roaring campfire.

Shooting a scene from Cirque du Foret in the silo.  Photo by Maddy Pilon. 
Amongst the merry band of cinephiles who descended on Small Pond were seven young filmmakers from across Ontario.  Over the weekend they were mentored by established filmmakers and the group wrote, shot, and edited an extremely entertaining short film, Cirque du Forêt.  Not only are Milé and I in the film, but it was all shot at Small Pond and includes some of my puppets as well as artwork from many of our resident artists.

By all accounts the inaugural Picturefest was a smashing success.  The screenings were well-attended, the community rallied behind the festival providing support and sponsorships, and to the relief of one and all, no major disasters presented themselves!

Outdoor film screening at Small Pond.  Photo by Ian Lefebvre.
I first saw Peter more than a year ago at a Creative Minds networking event at Angeline’s, where he bravely stood up in front of a room full of strangers and pitched his (crazy?) idea of starting a film festival in Picton.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him that night, but as luck would have it, the following morning I saw him standing on the ViaRail platform in Belleville, as we both awaited the train to Toronto.  I approached him and introduced myself, and in the months that followed he visited us numerous times as plans for Picturefest unfolded.  Peter eloquently chronicles his experiences in his article, How To Start Your Own Film Festival: The Story of Picton Picturefest.  Peter and Jennifer are a true inspiration; they are two amazing young people who had a dream and worked their backsides off to make it happen.  Bravo, my friends!

Picturefest organizers Jennifer MacFarlane and Peter Knegt -
the newest members of our extended Small Pond family
We were thrilled to be able to provide our space as a venue to the Picturefest folks, secure in the knowledge that an infinite number of happy memories would be made here.  We look forward to future Picturefests, and to all the other unknowns that lay ahead for Small Pond.  Should you see us on the train platform of life, please do stop and say hello; who knows what magic we may be able to conjure together? 

11 July 2011


Kris Ellestad rocks out.

On July 10 Small Pond Arts played host to Calgary's Kris Ellestad for the Picton Picturefest Afterparty, closing out four days of film screenings, youth workshops, parties, and merriment. Kris and his awesome band played in our Art Barn which had seen (and heard!) fabulous music nearly a year ago during Splashdown! --but this time it was on a fresh new cement floor. This renovation was a long time coming and involved a lot of very hard work by many helpful folks.

The Art Barn in the spring of 2010.

Prior to the reno, the barn (which hitherto housed horses) had already been put to use in several artistic ways: it was studio space for painter Amitesh Verma, it became a museum during Stickfest, and Krista held a lantern-making workshop in there during Culture Days last fall. The space was great, but the floor was uneven, having been chewed up by hooves and horeshoes over many years.

So we enlisted our friend, David Riley, for his expertise in construction and he told us the first thing we had to do was dig a channel around the inside perimeter of the barn. Great! How hard could that possibly be? How long could that possibly take?

As noted in this post, the soil in much of Prince Edward County is incredibly rocky, and digging deeply with mere shovels isn't always an option since you're likely to hit bedrock after only about two feet. So, to answer the first question above: pretty hard, buddy; and to answer the second: seemingly forever.

Honourable Barn Channelers.

Above is a montage of most of the helpful people who helped us dig the Barn Channel. Clockwise from top right: Krista, me, artist residents Nina Hartt and Kris Forge (Toronto), artist residents Urs (Germany) and Kim Thompson (Toronto), a few young ladies from the Otesha Project that camped overnight, and, dead centre, artist residents Catherine Mellinger and Joel Brubacher (Toronto). We thank you all.

Many of the rocks excavated from the channel were hauled over to our new outdoor bake oven site (more on that in the future).

Kingbirds freak out.

Babies need feeding.

Unbeknownst to us, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus (I'm not kidding!)) had made their nest in the downspout of the barn's gutter, but we decided to let it stay just in case there were eggs in it. Needless to say, that whole family (now with three chicks!) put up with a lot of noise during the reno.

String Theory in practice.

Several weeks later (we worked hard but intermittently...and we also concurrently began work on our bake oven!) we were ready to install the foam forms that would contain the concrete as well as insulate the floor against winter frost. Dave and I used a laser level to mark lines around the inside so we would have a consistent point to measure down from, ensuring the tops of our forms would be at the same height. String was strung to help with these measurements.

Formed forms.

This stage didn't take nearly as long as the digging, but it did require a relative degree of accuracy, if not absolute precision. I left the mathematics to Dave.

14 yards.

Believe it or not, after weeks of taking out dirt, we now had to put it back in. To stabilize the foam forms and provide a ground the cement can grab onto, we ordered a bunch of screenings (i.e. gravel) from local suppliers C.B. Fennel. That pile is 14 yards (I'm still confused about that measurement) and, apparently, too much --but we used lots around the outside of the barn (with cardboard underneath to prevent vegetative growth) and some will go into our bake oven, minimizing wastage.

In the last shot you can see the right hand door that we had to remove so we could get a good pour without having to over-customize the forms. This door slides inside the barn (the other on the outside) and will have to be cut shorter before we put it back.

The gravel channel.

Not shown above is all the gravel that had to be brought in and raked to cover the floor's surface, bringing the top of the gravel four inches down from the tops of the foam forms (minutes before the cement truck arrived, this was changed to three inches, requiring less concrete).

Here we go...

I can't remember the yardage on the cement, but it was significantly less than that of the gravel. Once again, Fennel's came through with the delivery.

Maximum insertion.

This is as far as Dennis, the cement delivery guy, could get into the barn, requiring somebody to haul the cement to the far corners of the barn in a wheelbarrow.

That somebody was me.

I'm not complaining, but a wheelbarrow full of wet cement is heavy --but it had to be done and I was up to the task. Another friend, Peter Blendell, came by to assist in the pour because he had even greater expertise in this than Dave. It was a day of glorious teamwork.


Cement waits for nobody so you have to work quickly, spreading it around to the desired areas, making sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies of the gravel. Dave and Peter did most of this, ankle deep in cement, but Krista (in the green boots) was there with a ready shovel, helping out.

Smooth operators.

Dave and Peter run the screed across the cement, smoothing it out. It's not as easy or as fun as it looks because wet cement is heavy and hard to push around.

Cemented into a corner.

We split the floor into two halves, making the pour more manageable; we did the far side first, then the near. It was actually kind of fun watching both Peter and Dave Spider-Man their way out of the tricky corners.

Almost done?

Nope. Although the floor looked pretty good even at this point, there was still one more task to perform...

Smoother operators.

Peter and Dave started, to  show us how, then Dave, Krista, and I continued, then Krista and Dave finished the floor by trowelling the cement into as smooth a finish as we could manage. We're quite happy with the slightly imperfect, handcrafted finish.

Finished, but for the decorations.

The finished floor is more reflective, giving the space a brighter look. Also, removing the three non-supporting posts in the middle gives us more room to play with. Here Krista readies the stage for the band with her wonderful patchwork banner and paper lanterns.

My apologies for this hastily-patched-together panorama and for the lack of proper "before and after" shots, but you can click here to see the space as it was the last time we had musicians play in the barn.

Kris Ellestad rocks out (reprise).

The audience was outside and the weather was amazing (if buggy).

Beautiful music.

Seriously: go to his website and check out some tunes.

Low-tech music videos.

Local illustrator Carl Wiens had recently acquired a few reels of 8mm home movies and brought them (along with his gorgeous vintage projector) to show them on a makeshift screen on the sliding door to the right. The band couldn't see the images, but it was uncanny how, quite often, the music seemed to sync up with the movies, creating a score to decades-old memories, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always fun.

One small step.

We had about a wheelbarrow's worth of cement left over from the floor pour, so I quickly made a form out of some leftover wood and made a step to make climbing up to the Silo Patio a little safer.