31 October 2014

Autumn Crazy

Prince Edward County is a crazy place to live in the summer. Crazy-beautiful. crazy-touristy, crazy-busy. Yet throughout it all, there is an understanding that come Autumn, the leaves will turn brilliant colours and things will slow the hell down. Apparently our lives did not get this memo (although the leaves did change colour).

September saw us hosting Stickfest, another Creative Rural Minds networking event, plus trips to Calgary (my sister's surprise wedding!) and Barrie for Culture Days, where we built a cardboard village with a few hundred strangers. 

October saw us hosting our annual Scarecrow Festival, and I dashed off to Toronto to work on Clay & Paper Theatre's Night of Dread as I do every year (great photos HERE).

Me & Sandra Henderson have been working on
Night of Dread together for 7 years!

Then there was the Picton Zombie Walk, presented in collaboration with the library, which has over the past four years turned into a hilariously family-oriented activity. 

Me and my ghoul-friends post-Zombie Walk

For months, Milé has been working on an epic painting project, To the Sound of Trumpets, commemorating the centenary of the start of WW1. 

The 100 paintings he's created have an incredible range both in content and style. The show opens in Picton November 11, 2014; details HERE, great article from the Toronto Star HERE.

November 15 is right around the corner, bringing with it the Firelight Lantern Festival. We're in the midst of hosting 20 lantern-making workshops all over the County, and planning a very special celebration for our community. A few days after that is over, I'm flying to Cambodia, bringing my project Puppets Without Borders to a group of 100 kids in collaboration with Let Us Create.

I have to admit, it has been a little much, all this muchness. When you're a freelance artist and a generally yes-minded person, it is difficult to say no to anything.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, as it were, it's time to get ready for winter. The firewood is piled high on the front porch. 

Yesterday I took down the silo banner. Normally our old banners get ripped up to be recycled into puppets and things, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye to this gorgeous woodpecker by Leanne Shea Rhem, so I hung him up in the barn.

A soft rain is falling today, and there are no appointments on my calendar. I'm going to sit by the wood stove and enjoy some peace and quiet. All this work provides much to reflect on. What I've been doing, and what all of these activities add up to. Snatched from the jaws of busy-ness, days like today are to be cherished.

Sumac against naked silo

23 October 2014


Four and a half year's ago, we had our first close encounter with a blackbird here at Small pond. Earlier this week, we were confronted with this slightly more intense sight right out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds:

I had gone into the kitchen to get some water and a quick glance out the window revealed a bunch of birds on our front yard. I filled my glass and, while taking a long, cool drink, I looked outside again and realized that "bunch of birds" numbered in the dozens. I called out to Krista to come and look while I got my camera and by then it seemed there were hundreds gathering.

I couldn't get a great shot capturing the whole scene from inside the house, but I was worried opening the front door would scare them off. Krista thought they might be crows so I risked it and went outside and caught a few seconds of them on video before they took off.

Krista was watching through binoculars by now and it turns out they were Brewer's Blackbirds. Minutes later they were flying off in the distance behind the silo, heading east...

13 October 2014


Today is Canadian Thanksgiving, a day in which we take stock of all the things we're thankful for. I'm not too much into traditional holidays, but I can get behind this one. I am so grateful for the abundance of love and laughter that was on display this weekend at our annual Scarecrow Festival.

Families from far and wide came together to make their own scarecrows... and there were some very unique creations!

Proceeds from this year's festival are going to Puppets Without Borders, bringing puppetry and art to kids in Cambodia.

This is our fourth year hosting the Scarecrow Festival, and it is always a ton of fun.

Little-known fact: scarecrows make great travel companions!

We are grateful to our volunteers who helped us out this weekend: Terry Veevers, Debra Tindale, and Brie Kaduc-Stojsic (pictured below, right).

We are deeply thankful for our sponsors, who have supported this festival year after year: Picton Home Hardware, George Emlaw, and City Revival. We couldn't do it without you!

Special thanks to Sandra Sharpe (nee Clarke) who brought her two granddaughters to the festival. Sandra grew up in our house, which was in their family for more than 80 years. Sandra showed the girls around the house, telling them stories from her time here. We are thankful to have this special relationship with the Clarke family.

Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you to everyone who made this weekend such a tremendous success.

17 September 2014

The Rat King

I spent last week working in Toronto at Oasis Skateboard Factory through the Ontario Arts Council's Artist in Education program. OSF is an amazing alternative school where students earn high school credits by creating their own brand and running a skateboard business / professional design studio. If such a magical place had existed when I was a teenager, I may have graduated high school, too!

I've worked with teachers Lauren Hortie and Craig Morrison before, and they are incredible artists in their own right. Lauren came up with the idea of using a "Rat King" as a theme for the video. Do you know what a rat king is? I didn't either... and if you have a rat phobia, you may want to skip reading this next part. Sometimes - and this is a true thing! - a bunch of rats can get their tails inseparably tangled together, forming in essence a creepy super-rat. Do a google image search if you dare!

Lauren introduces the Rat King theme
Our project for the week was to make a shadow puppetry promo video introducing the 2014 OSF crew. So naturally, each of the students started by making a rat with their name on it. Rats often have a negative association (like teenagers, perhaps...?) but they are also intelligent and highly resilient (teens are, too!). The work these students produced was really impressive.

The second item they had to create was a paper-cut portrait of themselves, and lastly, they were to create a puppet image to represent themselves.

We layered these images together using an overhead projector, creating a moving collage for each student. In addition, we interwove a weird little narrative featuring a character we called Gargantua.

Shooting the final scene with a couple of students
I think it turned out pretty great! I've definitely never done a shadow puppetry project with quite this tone before, but if you want to engage students you've got to match the project to their skills and interests, and I think we succeeded in doing that here. Check out the video below!

15 September 2014

A Sticky Story

This past Saturday I was at Sandbanks New Waves music festival, providing some children's programming. Between painting murals and helping make puppets, I took a quick break to go to the beach. You see, our annual Festival of the Stick was on Sunday, and I thought we could use a few more sticks. The beach is a great source for sun-bleached, bark-stripped sticks, and within a couple of minutes, I'd loaded up my arms with a bounty. I headed towards the parking lot, taking a shortcut along a narrow path through the sand dunes. I was almost there, when lo and behold, two policemen were walking straight towards me. I smiled as they approached; I knew they were looking for people doing less-than-legal things away from the main festival site. But I was not to get off so easily. "You're not supposed to take sticks from a provincial park" one of them said, "It's part of the ecosystem." Uh, whoops. "Do you want me to put them back?" I asked, still smiling. "No, you can just throw them in the bushes here." I did as I was told, but I held out the other treasure I'd found. "Am I allowed to keep this?" I asked.

My treasure
The cop admired my find, speculating that the jawbone was probably from a deer. "We'll pretend we didn't see you with that," he said, and we went in our separate directions. 

Thankfully, when Sunday rolled around we weren't faced with a stick shortage, because those who attended Stickfest were well aware of the cost of admission: one stick. Two by two and four by four, they pulled in to Small Pond, got out of their cars and climbed off their bikes, approaching the Museum of the Stick with sticks in hand.

Wood carving from Ghana depicting women making Fufu with... big sticks 
We had lots of new acquisitions to the Stick Museum this year, including many sticks in our International Collection. I wonder how many were acquired in less-than-legal means...

Young and old enjoyed perusing the museum, and enjoying the classic Stickfest activities of stick painting, and stick-snack eating. Dogs frolicked with sticks, kids ran back and forth to the silo, and people had the opportunity to try out stilt-walking.

It was a glorious day, filled with friends, laughter, and lots and lots of sticks. Our museum will be up for the next few weeks; if you'd like to check it out, just get in touch. We always welcome donations to our permanent collection if you've got a special stick that needs a home. Until next year, remember to stick with love...

- Martin Luther King Jr.

16 July 2014

Barn Quilt

Barn quilt and bonus dog, Harvey.
Some time last winter I got an email from Pat Dubyk telling me that she was trying to start up a barn quilt trail in Prince Edward County. I had never heard of barn quilts before, but a quick image searched turned up hundreds of examples. A barn quilt is a large piece of wood that is painted to look like a quilt block and mounted on a barn or other building.

I ran into Pat this spring and during the course of our conversation I started thinking about a quilt that was made by my maternal great-grandmother, Luella May Dutton (Barker). I remember this quilt as a staple object from my childhood, my mother tells me it was given to us around 1973. 

Sitting on great-grandma's quilt, left to right:
Me, my cousins Aaron, Joelle and Christopher,
family friend Kristen(?),and my cousin Deanna.
I suspect this may have been at a birthday party.

After not having seen the quilt for a decade or more, it recently turned up in my life again. My youngest sister Caitlin gave it to me last year, as she was moving to Sweden and didn’t want to take it with her. The quilt is in pretty bad shape now, with almost all of the patches missing. My mother explains, “Some of the fabric was decades old, some of it belonging to my Great Grandmother, Lillian May Barker (Luno) which was why some of the fabric sections did not hold up well, and deteriorated rather quickly. It was customary in “those days”, to stock pile fabric, as there was always a quilt on the loom being worked on. Some fabric could sit for many years before being worked into a quilt.”

It turns out the pattern on the quilt is known as Grandmother’s Fan. I had a pattern. We have a barn. We clearly had to make a barn quilt!

Milé designed the pattern in Photoshop:

Although many barn quilts are only one block, we thought it would be more interesting to do a 4-block square due to the large amount of negative space in the design. I primed the 4’ x 4’ board with exterior paint, and Milé penciled the pattern in.

I used green painters' tape to mask off all the square lines. Although I’m pretty good painting freehand, I wanted the lines to be really crisp. We always have lots of latex paint on hand, so that’s what I used, doing several coats of each colour. Finally I sealed it with a spray sealant.

The finished quilt, installed on our barn.

This photo of my great-grandmother was taken by the garage of her home in Mt. Elgin, Ontario. I remember playing at her house as a small child. I loved banging away on her piano and sifting through her tin of buttons. Her house had such a distinct smell, and there were always interesting things to discover: wind-up toys, shelves of Reader's Digest magazines, a crocheted Barbie toilet paper cover, and a tin of date squares or cookies awaiting appreciative visitors.

My great-grandma passed away in 2001. Our barn quilt is dedicated to her.

We're quite happy with it, and I think my Great-Grandma would be proud.

25 June 2014

Cardboardia Rises Again

(Note: if you are looking for the *amazing* "Made in Cardboardia" from Russia, click HERE.)

This past Saturday I found myself headed to Kingston shortly after dawn with my husband Milé and a van full of cardboard. I had a mission:  to build a creative kingdom for kids, namely Cardboardia at Skeleton Park Arts Festival.

I've done Cardboardia a bunch of times: at Clay & Paper Theatre's Day of Delight, in our Art Barn for a very cool toddler's birthday, and at Skeleton Park last year. You can tell that I've got a cardboard project coming up when I start skulking around back alleys on recycling day.

The key to a successful Cardboardia, for me, is prepping lots of stuff in advance, and having some spectacular volunteers willing to show up early in the morning to help set it all up.

Cecilia and Elaine conjuring the very popular bat cave
Rogier and Rachael building the city
Although I got a bit fancy putting googly eyes on bats and bees, much of my advance painting used simple black outlines. I brought along tons of art supplies, and the whole cardboard village turned into one giant 3D colouring book.

Inside the bat cave
New this year, I also created an art gallery, so kids could sit and make whatever they wanted and hang it up.

This group of boys hung out for hours, building boats which became cars which became trains. They even built themselves a train station and made themselves drivers' licenses.

But the quote of the day goes to some anonymous little boy who asked Milé in all sincerity, "Do you know where the Queen of Cardboardia is?"

Here I am... with a cute little creeper behind me!
Speaking of Milé, he was doing some entertaining of his own as a "short order cook" on stilts.

I was really touched that Cardboardia was immortalized on this year's festival merch (illustration by Kevin Merritt).

Now for the challenge of re-training my brain to stop ogling piles of recycling... it's hard to resist a good pile of cardboard when all you see are the possibilities!

22 June 2014

Creative Rural Minds

Last week we hosted one of our largest events to date, Creative Rural Minds, with more than 120 people in attendance. It was a networking event for creative types and entrepreneurs designed to stimulate conversation and collaboration in Prince Edward County. Organized by myself and local filmmaker and council candidate Lenny Epstein, it was inspired by the Creative Minds events that took place from 2009 to 2010 as a product of our local Economic Development Office.

Logo by Milé Murtanovski

As the event got started we had live music by Cole Norton as the Picnic PEC food truck served up some good eats. 
photo by Dougal Thomson

We paired up strangers at the name tag station, where they had to draw portraits of each other on their name tags - in 30 seconds or less!
photo by Dougal Thomson

Then we had some short presentations; first up Peter and Alice Mennacher related their experiences as creative pioneers in the County; their Blizzmax Gallery in South Bay is now in its 21st year, and the County has sure seen a lot of changes since they first opened their charming barn gallery all those years ago.
Peter and Alice. Photo by Dougal Thomson

I made a short presentation about the Firelight Lantern Festival, and then Lenny announced the launch of the Prince Edward County chapter of the Awesome Foundation. The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences is an ever-growing, worldwide network of people devoted to forwarding the interest of… awesomeness! The idea started in 2009 in Boston, and now dozens of local chapters of the Foundation distribute $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. Awesome PEC is a group of ten locals (I'm one of them!) who will each contribute $100 towards a fund to make the County more awesome. Grants and can be used for any type of project that benefits the County and are awarded with no strings attached; projects should be able to be completely accomplished for the $1000 awarded. Deadline for the first round of applications is August 1, 2014, and we hope to award the grant quarterly. Think you’ve got an idea that will make the County more awesome? Apply online!

What a turn out! Photo by Marc Keelan-Bishop
Following this exciting announcement the crowd mixed and mingled as DJ Ombudsman spun some sweet tunes. 
Photo by Dougal Thomson
This is just the first of the Creative Rural Minds events - we're planning more to come! If you'd like to join our mailing list contact me at krista(at)smallpondarts(dot)ca. We also welcome your comments and suggestions about future events.

Thank you so much to all the wonderful folks who helped make this happen. See you next time!

Photo by Dougal Thomson