Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nova Scotia Beckons: Lobster, Lighthouses and Lithographs.






Culinary and Artistic Rambles in Nova Scotia

Somewhere between the lobster corn chowder and the pan seared Digby scallops, I started to speculate about what it would be like to live here. By the time I got to the lemon tart and fresh raspberries, I was discussing with my dinner companion the logistics of selling my home and moving here.

Parts of Nova Scotia have that effect on visitors.

I was comfortably settled in a corner table of Tempest, a fine restaurant on the corner of Front Street and Central in Wolfville.

As we finished our main course, we watched the lawyer in his office across the street put on his suit jacket, hoist his briefcase and set out on his walk home. It wasn’t just the sight of a lawyer who still wore a shirt and tie, or a lawyer who walked home from work that was intriguing. I could imagine dinner waiting for him in a high ceilinged dining room in one of the large clapboard homes, maybe one painted white or pale yellow or blue, like the ones we had seen in the centre of town.

Others walked by – exercising their dogs, completing errands, just walking for pleasure as the sun turned the historic Acadian dykes to pink and gold.

The scene was a graphic explanation of why so many artists have either been inspired here, or have migrated here. Nova Scotia has become a Mecca for the artistic spirit, and in that process, has developed into an art lover’s destination as well.

Artists are notoriously retiring in nature, however, and finding them can be a challenge. The Studio Map, a year-round guide to Arts & Craft in Nova Scotia, is the answer. Originally created as part of the annual Studio Rally Weekend, a two day celebration of art held each spring when all the artists open their doors to the public, it has evolved into a useful year-round guide and the art lover’s best friend.

Through the Guide, I found artists who worked in every media, from watercolour, oil and graphite, to glass, clay and wood. The map/guide is an inspired pairing of the descriptions of the art work and the location of the artists of Nova Scotia with the several driving routes that the province has developed in their Doers’ & Dreamers’ guide. With a copy of each guide in hand, a visitor can discover the heart of Acadian culture, as well as the best places to stay and dine.

The Studio Map's directions to the homes of artists whose work is for sale are detailed, and often quirky. For example, visitors are led to Kathryn Gordon’s studio with directions like these: “At the Huey Lake/Mount Pleasant sign, turn left between the red barn and the white church. The studio is the fish shack at the very end of the lane.” Gordon transforms glass into one-of-a-kind beads that she fashions into wearable art in her ‘fish shack’ studio in Lahave.

The Studio Map brought me to The Tangled Garden in Grand Pre and to Beverley McClare who was one of the co-founders of the map. Actually, I had already fallen in love with McClare’s jams and jellies at the One of a Kind craft show in Toronto. I remembered them not just because the products were delicious, but also because they bore labels with a reproduction of a George Walford watercolour painting and were enclosed in wooden gift boxes painted in soft greens and blues.

The Tangled Garden is in fact a real garden, a living piece of installation art that visitors can walk through, ideally with a bowl of McClare’s freshly made lavender ice cream in hand. Her sculptures are a whimsical surprise along the garden paths. The cottage-like store displays her mustards, vinegars, flavoured oils and jellies as if they were works of art. On the top floor is George Walford’s studio, where he displays the large mixed media paintings he is doing right now, complex explorations of texture and colour. Formally trained at the Luton Art School in England, he fell in love with Nova Scotia some thirty years ago, and is still finding his artistic inspiration here

On the Lighthouse Route, I found the Mariner King Inn in Lunenburg, and enjoyed a bowl of green olive tuscan soup with shrimp and scallops at the highly rated Fleur de Sel Restaurant, before I hit the art trail. The Studio Map took me this time to Joan Bruneau’s pottery shop – it is one of her vases that was chosen as the cover art for one of the Art Rally posters. Then I walked to Bradford Naugler’s folk art studio.

In nearby Chester, a picture perfect coastal town, I visited Chez Glass Lass, where Sharon Mcnamara and Paul Palango create fused glass dinnerware settings that are now collectibles, and the studio of Jose Valverde, a transplanted Spanish painter.

Right now is the perfect time to visit Nova Scotia but the Fall is also a good time. In the Fall, the many trails of the province are much quieter, hotel rates are lower, the weather is surprisingly mild, and most of the artists are busily working on their next creation. While many of the galleries and studios are open daily, a phone call to any of the artists will open the door for you, especially if you are in a buying mood.

Adriane Abbott, co-founder,with Beverley McClare, of the Studio Rally and Map, describes the guide as a ‘catalogue of characters’. “The artists on this map are sociable and derive real pleasure from the interaction and feedback your visit provides.”

She has this advice for the art loving tourist: “Take the back roads and the far roads. Laugh a lot. Don’t get mad at the navigator; delight in the fact that you are seeing the same incredible view twice. Eat well. Visit the studios, enjoy the people, and if their work moves you, for heaven’s sake, shop!”

My last stop was the iconic Peggy’s Cove. On the patio of the only bed and breakfast in town I watched the sun set behind Canada’s best known lighthouse. It was clear why this is such an artsy island. Sky and boats and reflections in the water conspired to create a scene ready for pigment and canvas.

There is no lack of inspiration on this coastline.

If You Go

Studio Rally/Studio Map

Adriane Abbott

PO Box 41

Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S.

B0J 2L0

Tel: 902-827-7117

www.studiorally.ca – the website has the studio map complete with photographs and a short description of each artist’s work and contact information, or you can request a copy by mail.

Nova Scotia Department of Tourism & Culture

www.novascotia.com

tel: 1-800-565-0000

Ask for a copy of the 2009 Doers’ & Dreamers’ Guide. I found Tempest, and the comfortable Tattingstone Inn in Wolfville through the Doers’ & Dreamers’Guide issued by Nova Scotia Tourism. The publication, over four hundred pages long, is one of the best organized and most detailed driving guides I have discovered anywhere. It tells you about museums, places to stay and sites to see along several routes around the island province. In addition to the well known Evangeline Trail, there is the Lighthouse Route, the Cabot Trail, the Sunrise Trail and several others. It’s a practical and informative book.