Art community ties run deep

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At first blush, the Creemore Festival of the Arts looks like a well-oiled machine, drawing thousands of visitors each fall, but it wasn’t always so. How did this tiny village become known as an arts hub?

Potter Paul Vorstermans recalls an arts event being held in 1977 to mark the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne.

“Initially, it was intended to be a one-off but it was so successful we decided to do it again,” he said.

For the next several years, some version of the festival was held annually around Thanksgiving. A group of volunteers headed by Olive Adams also organized Tea and History sessions, membership dinners, a home and garden tour, and craft shows. Vorstermans says that by the early 1990s everyone had burned out, and it seemed that the festival was a thing of the past.

Vorstermans says Adams had a vision of creating an arts centre in Creemore, but never succeeded in attracting a wealthy benefactor to bankroll the project. While the arts centre never came to be, “The concept was great,” he said. “The festival helped create an arts identity for the community and the general ambience was a cut above. Creemore was not just another small village.”

When painter Peter Adams first became involved with the Purple Hills Studio Tour, it consisted of a map of mostly rural locations throughout the area.

“Artists in the middle of nowhere tended not to get much traffic so it eventually evolved into the Arts Festival in Creemore,” said Adams.

He joined the tour in 1999, having moved from Toronto to a friend’s cabin south of the village.

Coming from the city, Adams knew nothing about Creemore but knew he wanted to be somewhere with access to the outdoors. The local landscape had a big impact on the direction of his work.

Early on, Adams was introduced to John Wiggins, whom he refers to as Captain Creemore. He believes that Wiggins’ vision was key in the development of Creemore as an arts hub. Before the launch of Creemore Springs Brewery, Wiggins made the building available as a bare bones gallery space.

A group of 15-20 artists eventually came together to launch the Mad and Noisy Gallery but Adams says it was a real community effort.

“These were people who believe in community, not just in art,” he said. “The gallery was a gathering place where weekenders would drop by after the farmers’ market to catch up.”

In addition to being a place for artists to show their work, the gallery hosted concerts and workshops and offered art lessons. Eventually the member artists sold the gallery to the administrator, not because they stopped believing in the project, according to Adams, but because running the gallery was an incredible amount of work.

Adams says it’s unfortunate that the gallery eventually closed, but believes the new Village Green is trying to fill the cultural gap. He says there were discussions about trying to turn the old school into studio spaces like the Tremont Studios in Collingwood, but the flood plain designation meant that was not feasible.

Adams has since moved to Collingwood but says many people still think of him as a Creemore artist. He continues to show his work year round at Lagom, and says he intends to stay involved with the festival as he feels a deep attachment to Creemore.

Photographer Peter Dusek operates a small gallery on Mill Street. He lives in Hockley, and became aware of the space through fellow artist Heidi Leverty, who had rented it previously. Initially, he committed to a very short lease, but things went so well he decided to stay.

“My customers are people from Oakville and Toronto with weekend homes up here. I can service them from here without paying Toronto rent and dealing with the horror of Toronto traffic,” said Dusek, who is heading out on Sunday for an Arctic residency that will commence with two weeks on a boat.

He admits that the winter months are slow, and says he may reduce his hours after Christmas, but has no plans to leave Creemore.

Artists on Location will feature more than 80 artists in stores, studios, and at homes in the village from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Paul Vorstermans will be showing a limited number of pieces at Mad River Pottery, 113 Mill St.

Peter Adams will be at Lagom at 172 Mill St.

Peter Dusek will be at 151 Mill St., with fellow photographer Heidi Leverty.

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