So there I was this past Saturday, starting out on a walk to various parts of Queensborough to fulfill a couple of errands. It was a pleasantly warm fall day, perfect for a stroll to take some photos of the Halloween decorations that have been installed at homes throughout the village; that was one of my errands, as it happens. (As I have mentioned before, Queensborough is kind of a magical place for Halloween, and I think this year is going to be one of the best yet. Details on that soon. But I digress.)
Anyway, as I made my way south from the Manse on Bosley Road, an unusual sound caught my attention: a piece of classical music being played in the open air. It was coming from the east, from the far end of wee King Street, and as I swivelled my head in that direction I saw a vehicle parked there, back hatch open and some orange cones around it. The music seemed to be coming from it:
“Well that’s something a little different,” said I to myself, curiosity aroused. But I need to complete my brief Bosley Road mission before checking it out.
Happily, the vehicle was still there as I returned to the intersection and headed east on King Street. As I approached, it slowly dawned on me what I was seeing:
It was an artist at work, painting a Queensborough scene!
People, this is something that was a lovely part of my long-ago childhood here in Queensborough, but that I hadn’t seen in all the years since. My heart leapt with joy.
For those who don’t know the story of Queensborough’s close connection with (mostly) amateur artists back in the middle of the last century (when all the world was young), I refer you to a post I did on that topic here. The brief version is that in the 1960s and ’70s, artists Mary and Roman Schneider – both refugees from war-torn Eastern Europe – ran the Schneider School of Fine Arts in the hamlet of Actinolite, which along with Queensborough constitutes the sum total of clusters of settlement (and, once upon a time, commerce and industry) in Elzevir Township. Art students from all over Ontario and beyond would come to the Scheider school for a few days at a time, sleeping in rustic cabins and visiting scenic spots to set up their easels and sketch and paint. Pretty, historic little Queensborough was, needless to say, a favourite destination, and when I close my eyes I can still picture my eight-year-old self peering over the shoulder of one of the artists as he or she worked, and catch the distinctive scent of the oil paint. To me it is a magical memory.
And this past Saturday, that magical memory came to life!
Of course I stopped and spoke to the artist, who was Nicole Amyot of Ottawa. (The driver of the van, her good-humoured and patient chauffeur who waited and listened to the music as she worked, was her husband, Ron.) Nicole was working as quickly as she could, and didn’t stop working as she chatted, but was patient and friendly as she answered my questions. It turned out that she was revisiting her own past, just as her presence allowed me to revisit mine.
She had first come to Queensborough, she told me, about 40 years ago as a student at – you guessed it – the Schneider School of Fine Arts. Throughout the years since she has continued as a painter, though she modestly but firmly told me that she does not consider herself a professional artist. Remembering the scenes she had painted all those years ago, she and her husband had made a weekend excursion back here, lodging overnight in nearby Tweed and stopping at two or three places for her to paint those scenes once again.
The painting that Nicole was working on was a scene that is pretty much the heart of Queensborough: the Black River running over the dam that once upon a time provided the water power needed for the sawmill and grist mill that still stand alongside it. (The mill too is in her painting.) It was a joy to once again watch a talented artist skillfully and quickly reproduce a pretty Queensborough scene on canvas, to see her artistic judgement at work as she considered what and what not to include, and how best to represent what her eyes were seeing.
I didn’t want to bother Nicole or slow down her work, so I made my stop brief. As a trained journalist, however, I of course collected her phone number so I could make contact again if need be.
Because hey: there might just be a wall space in the Manse where her pretty painting – which on that pleasant fall day magically brought together my present and my past – needs to be hung…