Prince Edward County’s iconic studio tour is celebrating a milestone anniversary with more artists, more locations and a commemorative book
TALKING TO DALE WAINWRIGHT, THE CHAIR OF THIS YEAR’S PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY STUDIO TOUR made me think of something Peta Hall, founder of the tour, an acclaimed potter and arts activist, one of those diminutive women who punch far above their weight, told artists at a meeting about 15 years ago. “Remember,” she said, as volunteers and artists fidgeted on town hall chairs. “The tour is not about you making money.” Spontaneous laughter and groans, and one or two feigned falling off their chairs, but she went on. “It’s about welcoming the public in to your workspace to show them what you do and how you do it, maybe talk about why you do it. It’s a chance to share your creative process.” The grumbles turned to nods and murmurs of agreement, because, of course, they got it – art is about communicating.
This year, the Prince Edward County Studio Tour is celebrating its 25th birthday with gusto: 28 locations, 38 artists, a commemorative book of art paired with poetry – cleverly called the County CollAboRaTive – and two, one-day exhibitions of works collected from this celebratory keepsake.
“The book was a beautiful way to mark our quarter century,” said Dale adding that she knows that visitors will be anxious to get their hands on it during the tour that takes place September 21st to 23rd.
About 300 artists have taken part in the tour over 25 years, and there are new people to discover every year. That’s why regular tourists keep coming back, for the kaleidoscope of talent and chance to visit all kinds of workplaces from humble outbuildings to swanky purpose-built studios, to (barely) renovated goat barns. That last was my photographer husband’s, back when he worked in a romantic but slightly stinky old barn.
I’ve been involved on-and-off with the studio tour for 20 years as visitor, participant and cheerleader. I even ran it one year, when Peta stepped down as chair. She went on to build a school in Africa. I went on to never chair another committee. But we all survived. The current chair, Dale, is energetic, innovative and, unlike me, super organized. She is not an artist herself but a passionate supporter of the arts with a strong aesthetic sense. It’s just one aspect of running an event like this, and Lord knows there are many. Dale takes it all in stride, coordinating generous local sponsors and the artists who handle most tasks from designing ads to putting up roadside signs. Like so much in rural communities, the Prince Edward County Studio Tour runs on volunteer power and local sponsorship.
In 1994, the studio tour was little more than a handful of Bloomfield artisans opening their doors to the interested, the curious or those who discovered the tour purely through happenstance. The guide was one folded page, with 12 artists (in black and white) and 50 affordable line ads for B&Bs and food and gas, to cover the printing cost.
Today it’s a full-colour, 14-pages-plus-map yearround guide to artists all over the County. The map makes it clear why the tour has grown to three days. You’ll need at least that to visit all the painters, potters, glass and fabric artists, jewellers, sculptors, photographers and woodworkers in every part of the County.
Always friendly and diverse, it quickly became one of the most popular studio tours in Ontario – even before the County was “discovered” by lifestyle magazines and began popping up on Top Ten Destination lists.
Regular studio tourists plan their route to catch up with their favourites, such as Annik Despres, currently Vice-Chair of the PEC Arts Council who received the Otto Rogers award at Art in the County 2018. And meet new artists, who, this year, include painters Diane Kehoe and Renee Hiltz and sculptor Paul Verrall.
If you haven’t yet experienced the Prince Edward County Studio Tour, I urge you to treat yourself. It’s a splendid excuse to explore the County in the true spirit of rural studio tours, and it has much of the polish of an urban art crawl, too, with welcoming creative people inviting you into paint-spattered studios. Along the way you can appreciate the things that inspire them to live and work in the County, including, of course, all those wineries.