How many places with a population of around 75 can you think of that could round up more than 100 pieces of art – including one by a member of the Group of Seven – featuring or inspired by that place? I mean, maybe over yonder in England where they have all those quaint villages and dazzling pastoral views. But here in Canada? In Eastern Ontario? Not too many, I don’t think.
But (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure) I’m here to tell you that Queensborough can proudly, and truthfully, make that claim.
And what’s more to the point, we’re going to show those works of art, on a very special day this month to which you are invited, and that is going to knock your socks off. I mean it.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Queensborough is the place to be for an event called Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art. Did I mention that there will be more than 100 works of art on display? Given that submissions and loans of art pieces for the show keep pouring in, the final number may well be considerably higher. Every piece features a Queensborough scene, was inspired by Queensborough, or was done by a Queensborough-area artist. I trust you will agree with me that this is pretty fantastic.
Oh, also fantastic? Admission to this splendid show is free! And some of the works will be for sale!
But there is so much more about Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art day. So much so that it’s going to take me more than a single post here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to get to it all and do it all justice. (Stay tuned, for example, for a post about a theme song composed just for this event, along with its video! Not to mention one about the thrilling [and, obviously, delicious – not to mention classic Queensborough] food options that will be on offer during the day.)
But let me try here to give you an overview of the day, which is being organized by the hard-working volunteers of the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. I assume you have already marked Aug. 24 in your appointment calendar. If you haven’t, better hustle off and do that now.
Perhaps first I should give you a bit of background on why Queensborough has been such a magnet for the visual-arts world for as long as anyone can remember. Mainly, it’s because it is such a beautiful place.
(I’ll never forget the time a few years back when a city couple came by the Manse to pick up a couple of vintage kitchen chairs that I was helping the Hart’s-Riggs Women’s Institute sell off. [The ladies were surprised to learn that people would pay good money for those classic midcentury kitchen chairs, which they had been prepared to toss into the dump. It was fun!] Anyway, it was a glorious summer day, and as the city couple’s SUV pulled up in front of the Manse the wife hopped out and exclaimed, “I have no idea where I am, but it is gorgeous!” She was right, of course.)
Queensborough’s location on the Black River, with a dam and waterfall right in the heart of the hamlet, make it an area of “outstanding natural beauty” (as the hosts often say about places in the rural U.K. in a BBC program that Raymond and I have become addicted to, Escape to the Country). In addition, our hamlet contains a number of lovely historic homes and buildings – some beautifully restored and kept up, others quaintly fading. (The latter category is a magnet for artists.)
But there is another reason why Queensborough has a special place in the Canadian art world – and this is what brings us to the Group of Seven angle. Back somewhere in the middle of the last century (early 1950s or thereabouts), the Madoc Art Centre was established on a stretch of Highway 7 just a bit south of Queensborough.
In 1963, the centre moved a bit east and south to the Elzevir Township hamlet of Actinolite and became the Schneider School of Fine Arts, run by a husband-and-wife team of respected artists, Roman and Mary Schneider. (You can read a previous post by me that includes photos from the site of the art school here.)
One of the instructors for students who came each summer from near and far to learn and to hone their technique was none other than A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven, Canada’s most famous artists. (Talk about learning from the best! You can watch a nifty National Film Board video about Jackson here.) Another well-known Canadian painter who taught at the school was Donald Fraser, a scenic painter for the CBC. And both A.Y. Jackson and Don Fraser came to Queensborough and painted!
A huge highlight of Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art will be your chance to see an original A.Y. Jackson painting of Queensborough. It shows a 19th-century home (still standing, and still lived in) and a blacksmith’s shop that once stood on the southeast corner of the small “block” that constitutes “downtown” Queensborough. I remember that blacksmith’s building from my childhood here, though it was no longer in operation. (I’m not that old!) What a thrill it was when this painting by a Canadian master suddenly came to light before our Historic Queensborough Day in 2017. The owner graciously lent it for display on that day, and visitors crowded around to get a glimpse. That same owner has once again kindly lent the picture for Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art, and it is sure to be the main attraction.
Don Fraser, meanwhile, ended up moving permanently to Queensborough and remained inspired to paint local scenes – “the rocky bush and crumbling barns of the Laurentian Shield,” as his online biography puts it – to the end of his life. There will be several Donald Fraser canvases on show on Aug. 24, and some of them will be for sale – your chance to have a piece of Canadian and Queensborough art history of your very own.
But it wasn’t just the famous artists who taught at the art school who came here to paint; their students did too. I wrote here about my happy childhood memories of the art students invading our hamlet en masse on pleasant summer days, setting up their easels at various spots and working away. We kids loved to look over their shoulders, fascinated to watch them mix their paints and magically re-create on canvas the scenes that surrounded us every day.
As a result of all this artistic activity, Queensborough became something of a destination in the art world. While the Schneider School of Fine Arts closed quite some time ago, painters, photographers and other artists still come to Queensborough very regularly to be inspired by the views in our hamlet. Here’s Nicole Amyot of Ottawa, who stopped in one day a couple of years ago (I wrote about that here) and single-handedly brought back for me those childhood memories of the artists behind their easels in Queensborough:
As well, the Queensborough area can boast a remarkable number of artists who actually live here: painters, fabric artists, sculptors, photographers, woodcarvers and more. Their work, too, will be on show on Aug. 24, and trust me: you will be impressed.
One of the most famous of Queensborough’s artists is, of course, Goldie Holmes, a renaissance woman who wrote songs and poems and was a pillar of her church and community in addition to being an outstanding folk artist. (I wrote about Goldie and her work here, and in that post is a link to an interview that she did with Sylvia Tyson for CBC television. Her comments in it about life in Queensborough are absolutely splendid.) We are thrilled that Goldie’s famous Queensborough quilt (much admired by Tyson in that video) will be on display as part of Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art, thanks to a generous loan from the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. I suspect it’ll be at least as big an attraction as the A.Y. Jackson painting – because Goldie was our very own artistic superstar.
But there’s going to be so much more to see and do on Aug 24! In addition to the art show itself, you can:
- Watch artists at work throughout the village. They’ll answer your questions and be glad to show you what they’re doing.
- Enjoy lovely, quiet music by strolling minstrels (two young professional singers who have kindly agreed to take part in the day)
- Take a self-guided walking tour of historic Queensborough
- Steer your kids to children’s art activities
- Enter a draw to win a painting of the Black River by Grimsby, Ont. (formerly Madoc) artist Bob Hudson, very generously donated by the artist himself
- Listen in on an interview with Tweed-area artist Audrey Ross, who’ll share her memories of attending the art school as a student
- And here’s almost the best part: amazing food! (This being Queensborough, of course you knew there’d be amazing food.) At the Queensborough Community Centre (our historic former one-room schoolhouse), there’ll be a barbecue featuring the ever-popular peameal bacon on a bun and (a first for Queensborough), veggie burgers for the non-meat-eaters among our visitors.
- Meanwhile, in the absolutely stunning Orange Garden created beside the Orange Hall by Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, you’ll be able to get those amazing church-basement (as I like to call them) sandwiches that only church ladies know how to make: egg salad, tuna salad and so on, cut into cute little triangles and so delicious that you can eat about a hundred of them and still want more. It was the brainwave of tireless Queensborough Community Centre Committee volunteer Elaine Kapusta to serve up those sandwiches for sale, and I just know they are going to be a major, major hit. (I know at least one person who is coming to Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art just for the sandwiches.)
Really, it’s going to be an incredible – and dare I say it, historic – day. If you love art, Queensborough, local history, food, rural communities that are doing cool things – or, as is very likely, all of the above – then please join us!