Almonte and Its Thriving Arts Scene

Galleries and studios abound in former Ontario mill town
July 21, 2015 Updated: July 23, 2015

The town of Almonte, a bustling arts community about 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa, was once the location of seven textile mills powered by the bubbling, tumbling, beautiful Mississippi River.

Today, the Mississippi, a tributary of the Ottawa River, provides energy for art galleries, summer walks and festivals, and good food. Current exhibitions and displays at some of Almonte’s galleries are attracting lots of day-trippers.

The Art of Quilting

At one end of Mill St., the town’s main street, and up a little hill to Mary St. is the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum. Its exhibition, “Inspired Creations by Almonte Crazy Quilters,” marks 25 years of the Almonte Crazy Quilters’ existence, founded by Marie Dunn, still a linchpin of the group.

The quilts on display this year in the large exhibition gallery of the museum are superb examples of both traditional piecework quilting—by hand and by machine—and quilts as storytelling narratives.

Traditionally, quilts were made by many hands, and a quilting bee was an important social occasion. The Almonte Crazy Quilters, whose membership ranges from 20-24, meet once a month. In some of their quilts, we can almost imagine bits of conversation underway at their meetings.

A quilt by Mardi Coady, for example, titled “Fenestrella” consists of four rows of patterned piecework. Hung near the entrance to the gallery, it is one of the first quilts the visitor sees. Its pattern suggests windows in rows—perhaps the windows of an old apartment building? In fact, “fenestrella” is an architect’s term for a niche in a wall.

“Defenestration,” on the other hand, means throwing someone out of a window. Who saw what from these vibrant blue and yellow windows? Was anyone there?

Further back in the exhibition hall one finds “Happy Villages,” a group of 10 quilted 14-inch squares presenting views of rooftops, chimney pots, and the blue sea beyond—views one might see looking through a window on a summer’s day somewhere far away. Ten of the Almonte Crazy Quilters made the village squares and credit the work of American artist Karen Eckmeier for their inspiration.

The quilts are superb examples of both traditional piecework quilting—by hand and by machine—and quilts as storytelling narratives.

Two large free-hanging quilts particularly hold the visitor’s eye. Barbara Cotterill has designed and stitched a quilt having no “front” or “back.” Her “Asiana” is a visibly integrated, two-sided artwork of exceptionally fine design—each side related to the other, but neither a repeat of the other. Pauline Rorwick, too, pulled off a technical feat most elegantly in the work she titled “Whole Cloth Quilt.” Her quilt, which is not pieced, is made of white cloth and white-on-white embroidery, and is stitched in intricate design, both front and back.

The quilting exhibition ends July 25. From July 28-Sept. 9, the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum will show “Timeless Textiles,” an exhibition of work by the Kingston Fibre Artists’ Association. “Waterfalls,” a sculptural installation of crocheted work fabricated from cellophane by Ottawa artist Gayle Kells, runs from Sept. 29-Nov. 28.

The museum will host its 20th Annual Festival of Fibre Arts on Sept. 12-13, a two-day extravaganza showcasing demonstrations, vendors, and crafts exhibits—everything from rug-hooking to lace-making—and all of interest to hobbyists and professional artists alike.

Art from Natural Materials

No more than a 15-minute walk from the museum—do stop and have an ice cream cone or a savory crepe and bowl of soup—the visitor will find a number of interesting galleries along Mill Street in the vicinity of the Almonte Old Town Hall.

A block further is General Fine Craft, Art & Design. Founded two years ago by ceramic artists Chandler Swain and Richard Skrobecki, the gallery showcases pottery and sculpture; wall hangings and warm shawls; painting, collage, and jewellery; and works on paper and wooden stools to sit upon—all at the same time. What matters most is that each work is an excellent example of the artist’s hand and eye, and beautifully made. From the outset, Swain and Skrobecki have placed no restriction on medium for the work of any artist they select to show.

In the far corner of the gallery is a display area showcasing the work of the artist-of-the-month. This month’s featured artist is Stefan Thompson whose exhibition, “Leaf People,” is a display of drawings and small sculptures.

The artist has used only natural materials—charcoal and soot, beeswax and bark, for example—in his work. His drawings of animals are unparalleled. Each has a veracity of expression which tells us the artist sat quietly in the woods and let the animal look at him. One might even imagine that he asked permission of the squirrel and the rabbit before sketching their portrait. In much of Thompson’s work, we can see an animated line, one drawn from the movement of wind through grass and leaves.

“Leaf People” is on display until Aug. 2. From Aug. 4-30, gallery visitors will have an opportunity to see “Quiescence,” still-life paintings and portraits by Katherine McNenly described as being “in the realist tradition.” A group show of wood-fired ceramics—both pottery and sculpture—follows, running from Sept. 1-27.

Around the corner from the gallery is the very new Sivarulrasa Studio & Gallery located in the old Thoburn Mill at 83 Little Bridge Street. Sanjeev Sivarulrasa opened his gallery seven months ago with an exhibition of his own night sky photography. In April, he curated an exhibition of work by five regional artists titled “Celebrate Spring.” The gallery’s current exhibition is “Enchanted Spaces,” a display of painting by Eliane Saheurs, who draws on her memories of mountain walks and rockfall in her work.

Across the street from both galleries is Hello Yellow, a candle and gift shop featuring “cheerfully made goods” that is already preparing for Handmade Harvest, a food, drink, and craft show to be held Sept. 12 at the Almonte Agricultural Hall. Right next door is Lola Dot Studio, a weaver’s workshop and studio.

Maureen Korp, PhD, is an independent scholar, curator, and writer who lives in Ottawa. Author of many publications, she has lectured in Asia, Europe, and North America on the histories of art and religions. Email: miki.korp@gmail.com