by Sharon Jackson
KAGAWONG—Barbara and Richard Edwards hosted a social gathering of colleagues, friends and neighbours at their gallery recently. The special occasion was to celebrate 20 years of fine arts and gifts crafted by local and regional visual artists housed at Edwards Studios and Art Gallery
A variety of refreshments and delicious finger foods were offered while Jim Smith played saxophone and invited guests chatted and enjoyed an opportunity to offer their congratulations.
Mr. Edwards thanked everyone for coming stating, “we have really enjoyed people’s support. When we took over this space the building had been unused for 30 years.”
“In 1996, we were approached by the Township about opening a gallery in the Old Mill Building,” Mr. Edwards began. “The Historical Society had installed new windows and the transformation it created showed its potential.”
The duo had been involved in many galleries and were well aware of how much time and effort such an undertaking would entail. While on vacation in Mexico, the decision was made to not take on the endeavour. However, when they returned everyone asked when the gallery opening would take place. That was March. The gallery opened in June with a little help from their friends.
“A lot of people helped get it ready,” he stated. “There was incredible support. It could not have been possible without you.”
“I am really impressed with the turnout; this is awesome,” Mr. Edwards continued. “Jim’s music adds so much. Both he and (wife) Joanne were here 20 years ago when we first began. This has been a wonderful experience; we have enjoyed it so much.”
Mayor Aus Hunt was in attendance and said, “we are very fortunate to have you here (in Kagawong).”
In 1976 Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) art teacher Jacquie Gordon met Mr. Edwards at an art show in southern Ontario. Ms. Gordon invited her new friend to lead a silk screening demonstration for her high school students. This was the first taste of Manitoulin Island for Mr. Edwards. In 1983 the couple built their home studio in Kagawong and became permanent residents 10 years later.
After moving to Kagawong, the couple worked from their home studios until transforming the upper story of the historic Old Mill into a working studio and art gallery.
Mr. Edwards has conducted workshops in many locations over the years, predominantly plein air (French for ‘the open air’) classes in watercolour, acrylic and oils. He has been the instructor of the La Cloche Art School for the past 26 years. Edwards Studios has led countless workshops and demos since opening in 1996: everything from fashion shows, jewellery making, paper making and painting.
For the 2016 season they will be holding fused glass workshops led by Ms. Edwards. The technique uses pieces of coloured glass and transforms them using a layering method which is then kiln fired to create plates, wall hangings, ornaments and other beautiful pieces of art. There will also be demonstrations and workshops in pottery, spinning, weaving and lamp work bead making.
The art gallery which is flooded with natural light and charm, showcases paintings, weaving, pottery and other items. The gallery opened its doors to the public for the season during the Victoria Day long weekend and runs until the Thanksgiving weekend.
While neither of them come from artistic background Mr. Edwards “can’t remember when I didn’t draw or paint.” When he was in school, people told him all the time that he would be an artist. He did not believe them. “Barb is always drawing,” commented Mr. Edwards.
Mr. Edwards feels that it is amazing that for a village the size of Kagawong it boasts both a museum and an art gallery. When he and his wife were first settling into the gallery space 20 years ago, their friends from the city thought they were crazy. They were impressed, however, with the building and the area, but there were no people.
When first exploring the Island as a potential permanent home, they visited other communities, “but we always came back to Kagawong,” shared Ms. Edwards. The couple had a Top 10 list of must haves for where they would make their Island home and luckily Kagawong had all 10. Some of these included year round road access, a school for their then young children, a library (as they both love to read), a beach for swimming and a post office.
The view of the Channel through the building’s north facing windows provides “perfect light for painting,” shared Mr. Edwards. “You can look out the same window each day and the water is never the same,” he noted. Mr. Edwards’ love of nature and water is evident in his creations and many of them are of bodies of water. He enjoys the four seasons as they offer a variety of appealing and inspirational subjects for painting.
A new addition to the gallery’s collection, ‘Moonlight,’ depicts Kagawong’s must see Bridal Veil Falls; the moon shines above offering an almost haunting glow in the night sky reflected on the water.
Mr. Edwards is getting ready for LaCloche Art School, which runs from July 11-15. During the second week of classes while Mr. Edwards is away, Ms. Edwards will welcome visitors during the Manitoulin Art Tour, which runs from July 15 to 17. The couple has been a part of the tour since 1996.
There is always time to give back to the community in their already busy lives. Ms. Edwards sits on the Library and Museum Boards and Mr. Edwards was on Billings Economic Development committee for many years. Ms. Edwards said she feels Kagawong has a strong sense of community and Mr. Edwards finds people are “fairly progressive; not afraid to try something new.”
The support of the full-time residents in the village is the basis of the gallery, stated Mr. Edwards. Many have become their friends, bringing visiting family and friends to the gallery.
Approximately 15 artists from Northern Ontario showcase their work at the gallery including pottery, wood workers and textiles.
Edwards Studios is a working studio, “so there is always glass work, painting, weaving and framing underway as well as custom framing,” shared Mr. Edwards.
The couple is hosting an art show in September at Artists in Elgin featuring Mr. Edwards original serigraphs and Ms. Edward’s fused glass.
Mr. Edwards has been involved with the La Cloche Art Show for numerous years and this year his painting ‘Clear Water’ was awarded first place in Watercolour.
Their son Morgan is a graduate of Ontario College of Art and Design and daughter Kendra is a graduate of the University of Ottawa. Morgan’s paintings can be viewed at the gallery and Kendra’s graphic designs are at the Outpost General Store in Little Current and Mudge Bay Mercantile in Kagawong.
The gallery is open daily to the public from 11 am to 4 pm with the exception of Mondays. For more information visit them online at www.edwardsartstudios.com.