The Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club: Creativity Abounds in the Heart of the Almaguin

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The Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club: Creativity Abounds in the Heart of the Almaguin

May 1st, 2018 by Jennifer Lewis, BFACC Member

Rugged rock outcroppings.  Towering trees.  Autumn splendour.  Diverse wildlife and landscapes.  Forests, farms, shining lakes and rushing rivers – an abundance of inspiration for the artist or artisan.  So it is not surprising that the Almaguin Highlands are home to some extremely creative and inspired people.  But a thriving artistic community takes more than just picturesque surroundings. So what is it that makes our area so special?  As a relative newcomer to the region, I have some ideas about why Burk’s Falls boasts a thriving Art and Crafts Club with a long, rich history and an Arts Centre that is a veritable community hub. First, however, allow me to take you back in time.

In 1950, a small group of individuals from Burk’s Falls and the surrounding area – Mona B. Darling, Josephine Dempster, Dot Gerow, Carrie Lawson, Clarice Hartill, Grace M. Metcalfe, Emily McNaughton, Naomi Parker, Helen Pink, Kay Purdie, Betty Minogue, Carrie Stewart, Berthe Rogers and Gertrude White – established a club for artists, primarily recreational painters.  In the early years, the club hosted local instructors and held art classes in the basement of the Burk’s Falls United Church.  Interest and membership blossomed.  Following in the footsteps of the Group of Seven who first exhibited their works in local agricultural fairs, early members displayed their pieces annually at the Burk’s Falls Fair, now the Armour, Ryerson and Burk’s Falls Fair.  Within a few short years, club members were showcasing their work and entering juried exhibitions farther abroad, from Toronto to North Bay.

Around the same time the club was establishing a foothold in Burk’s Falls, a movement was afoot farther north.  1949 saw the inception of the Northern Ontario Art Association, which has since grown to a non-profit organization with 15 member art clubs representing over 400 individual artists in a region bounded by Burk’s Falls, Kirkland Lake, Moonbeam and Sault Ste. Marie.  The mandate of the NOAA was and remains the furthering of art education in Northern communities, and the promotion and appreciation of original works by Northern Ontario artists.  In 1954, the Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club joined the NOAA as one of the first handful of member clubs, beginning a long and successful partnership in the promotion of fine art and arts education in this region.  Each year the Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club boasts strong representation at the NOAA’s annual juried exhibition, with many past and present members having achieved NOAA annual finalist status, awards and “letters” signifying acceptance into seven juried shows.  2017 marked the NOAA’s 61st Annual Juried Exhibition and of the 38 pieces selected, an impressive 6 originated from the Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club. Each annual exhibition tours the member clubs for one year, spending time in all member club communities, including Burk’s Falls.

Through the decades since the club’s beginnings, trends in media and artistic methodology evolved, club members explored and mastered various techniques and club membership grew to include not only painters, but also artisans and craftspeople.  Members enjoyed workshops by renowned artists and artisans, trips to Ontario galleries and hosted events commemorating community, provincial and federal milestones.  Several past and current club members created logos for community groups and events, and won prestigious awards for their works and community volunteer efforts.  The club held shows throughout the region and collaborated on several projects including community murals, collages and limited edition prints.  Membership with the Almaguin Highlands Arts Council, founded in 2008, provided further support and promotion of the arts in the community.  Through years and decades, camaraderie, community support and artistic enrichment prevailed and the group celebrated every success from first paintings to NOAA acceptances to awards of lifetime club memberships for 25-year members.

Following her term from 1989-1990, past club president Laura Wieske expressed her dream that the club might one day have a permanent place to call home – a location for members to meet, create, hold workshops and display their work for community enjoyment and for sale.  This dream began to come to fruition in the mid 2000’s when the club opened its first seasonal summer galleries in downtown Burk’s Falls, then Magnetawan.  But it was in 2009 that a permanent home was suggested by Burk’s Falls Council: a character-filled heritage building on Yonge Street in downtown Burk’s Falls.  And so began the annual summer season of the Burk’s Falls Arts Centre, a cherished downtown destination that has since expanded its season to span spring through to Christmas.

Now, under the bright yellow awning at 113 Yonge Street, the coming of each spring is celebrated with a fresh collection of art and crafts created through the long winter months. Summer welcomes a new selection of art and the bustle of the peak tourism season.  Autumn brings cozy knits and rich, warm colours.  And the holiday season culminates in the club’s annual Christmas Show and Sale which sees the Arts Centre resplendent in twinkling lights, Christmas finery and holiday crafts, and alive with the sounds of holiday fellowship and the sweet aroma of warm apple cider.  Whatever the season, area residents and seasonal visitors are greeted with a wide variety of handcrafted items including original artwork, quilts, knitted, sewn and woven items, stained glass, woodwork, jewelry, pottery and soaps – and the opportunity to meet and chat with the talented individuals behind the arts and crafts.

In addition to the collection at the Arts Centre, the club also displays pieces for sale in a number of local venues and businesses including the Wooden Roo, Burk’s Falls, Armour & Ryerson Union Public Library, Bakery by the Bridge, L’Egance Day Spa, Townships of Strong and Perry Municipal Offices, Northern Nerds Technology and Visitor’s Centre and local medical and dental offices.

After more than 65 years, the Burk’s Falls Art and Crafts Club remains a vibrant, energetic and welcoming mainstay of Burk’s Falls and the surrounding community.  Since the club’s origins, a common thread for all club members is a feeling of inclusivity, encouragement, support and mentorship.  Newcomers to the Almaguin community are welcomed heartily, and the unique abilities of each member contribute to the rich tapestry that is the club’s membership.  Past and present club leadership is recognized not only for their artistic talents, but also their abilities to lead the club in new and creative directions.  For many members, the club has served as an invaluable introduction to the Almaguin community, allowing them to make connections, strike up lasting friendships and both put down roots and spread their artistic wings.

But I believe there is a more fundamental reason for the club’s success and longevity, and it has to do with the nature of the community’s citizens.  We are not just casual observers of the rugged beauty around us; we’ve chosen to immerse ourselves in it.  We are resourceful and practical. We are tough and we help one another without question.  We are creative by necessity.  We remain in touch with the old ways of doing things.  We revel in the glory of summer and work hard to prepare for winter.  We welcome the spring and celebrate the colours of autumn.  We read the sky, the trees and the water.  We all travel the back roads with an artist’s eye, noting the play of light on the rocks, the jagged silhouette of the treeline, the contours and colour values of the distant hills.  We improvise and create, all of us.  So it comes as no surprise that we are a community of artists and craftspeople, creating to fill needs and solve problems, to honour and preserve the ways of those who were here before us, to emulate and pay homage to the landscapes in which we immerse ourselves, to bring pleasure and satisfaction to ourselves and others during the long winter months, to bond with and support our neighbours. We learn from one another and appreciate the opportunity to weave our unique abilities with those around us to create a tightly knit, supportive web – exactly the right conditions for an art and crafts club to grow, evolve, thrive, and enrich its community.