Originally published in Muskoka Magazine in December, 2008.
Made in Muskoka
By Andrew Hoshkiw
Walk down the main street in any village or town in Muskoka and you will find an array of handcrafted items.
“We certainly have the reputation of Muskoka as an absolutely glorious and incredible place to be and perhaps that, as well as the range and breadth of artists that we have, makes us very distinctive,” says Elene Freer, curator and co-ordinator of Muskoka Arts and Crafts.
Many consider the region to be an art mecca of sorts, drawing artists from far and wide.
Freer attributes the high number of artists to a financial shift in the 1960s and 70s that saw rent prices skyrocket in the Toronto area, driving artists elsewhere to find affordable gallery space.
“From there it really just began to blossom because like attracts like,” Freer says. “When I first moved over here, someone told me, and this is just anecdotal, that outside of an urban centre, Muskoka has the highest concentration of artists.”
Freer believes the number of art tours, exhibits, galleries, concerts and the like support that point.
“It just speaks to how many people are here, the strong interest there is in the arts. It’s a growing industry,” she says.
It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed. This past spring, Muskoka became a designated arts community.
“Declaring Muskoka a designated arts community was a huge step. I see that as opening the door for a grass roots organization to do something,” says Steve Inniss, interim chair of Creative Muskoka.
Although it is still in its infancy, Creative Muskoka aims to strengthen the arts sector by stimulating awareness of the creative sector and demonstrating its potential as an economic driver.
“One of the initiatives we’re trying to implement is a cultural mapping exercise. This is an opportunity for us to identify all types of arts related individuals and organizations and be able to take that and find out where there are opportunities to build on our strengths and to do more for the arts community,” says Michael Lawley, executive director of Muskoka Tourism, one of the key players in the project.
While many people enjoy browsing through an art gallery or attending a concert or theatrical performance, the arts play a much more integral role in Muskoka than most people realize.
“Art runs as a thread through everything,” says Amy Taylor of Muskoka Community Futures, which is also involved with Creative Muskoka.
“We’ve got to promote the arts. It’s part of a healthy community and it’s part of what makes an experience in Muskoka.”
Art collectors and those looking for their own piece of Muskoka don’t have to look far. In this issue of Muskoka Magazine, we’ve handpicked a few things we think you’ll enjoy.
Muskoka Jewellery Design
68 Main Street East, Huntsville
What if you could have stunning fine jewelry that also reminded you of Muskoka? You can with creations from Muskoka Jewellery Design.
Joseph Reijnen is very proud of his Muskoka Landscape Collection of fine rings and bracelets. The series consists of tiny fish, birds, trees and other such images “We make handmade jewelry and repairs, in the back in our studio,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
The family-run business features an amazing collection of one-of-a-kind jewelry designed and constructed by the shop’s in-house metalsmiths.
Forever preserve Muskoka in silver, gold, platinum, precious or semi-precious stones, with a creation from Muskoka Jewellery Designs.
Gail Wilson Stained Glass
3855 Highway 118, Port Carling
When glass talks, Gail Wilson listens. She often sees the shapes in the glass before cutting it and designs the piece around that inspiration.
“My work is not conventional stained glass. It’s more fine art,” says Wilson. “I try to make it a piece of art. I try to make it impressionism and realism.”
Of particular note is her Muskoka collection of historic buildings, boats and other familiar shapes of times gone by.
“My work is unique because I don’t always have the same theme,” she says. “It varies, the subject matter is always a little bit different.”
Medieval Stoneware Pottery
210 First Street, Gravenhurst
Pottery is Jonathan Bullock’s passion. At his homebased studio he creates a variety of pieces, with dish sets, vases, plant holders and other small items being his most popular work.
“I’m not like a regular potter because I don’t want to get trapped into a production line,” he says. “I try to diversify. Every year I try to make different stuff.”
Using presses of leaves and lilly pads, castings of doorframe mouldings and glazes of crushed minerals, Bullock’s work is characterized by unique shapes and vibrant colours.
“It’s all food and drink safe, because I know everything that goes in it,” he says. “The difference between my work and a lot of others is that I hand carve everything.”
Marni Martin Fibre Studio
725 North Mary Lake Road, Huntsville
No one knows silk like Marni Martin. Using a loom, she weaves the delicate material in intricate ways to produce stunning wall tapestries and wearable art.
“I like to do both aspects,” says Martin. “The wearable things that have purpose and then the art pieces, which have more of an emotional purpose.”
Martin also experiments with other styles, such as fern printing on silk.
“Living in Muskoka is a huge influence on me,” says Martin. “The natural world and the colours of the trees are something I try to capture in the work.”
T-Bone BBQ Art at The Big Bead
58 Main Street East, Huntsville
Terry Glover’s colourful, cartoonish carvings are a unique Muskoka find.
“I make them out of pine and spruce,” says Glover. “I cut them with a jig saw and then use angle grinders to carve them. They all seem to have personalities and no two are alike.”
Glover was a chef for 25 years before moving to Huntsville four years ago where BBQ Art was born.
“Carving fish gives me a lot of freedom with colour and design,” says Glover, affectionately known as TBone. “I have sold a fair number of birds and moose and bears, but there’s some sort of attraction to fish.”
Jim Carter Metalwork
1435 Falkenburg Road, Bracebridge
Nobody knows metal like Jim Carter.
“My body’s been hammering steel for almost 30 years. My shoulders and arms are wearing out,” says Carter.
That said, Carter’s exquisite metal artwork, hammered from raw steel, is a labour of love.
Using old methods, as well as new techniques, Carter creates functional ironwork for the home and garden. He specializes in small pieces, such as hooks, candlestick holders and other curvy creations.
Carter also does woodworking, making unique black cherry cutting boards that rival his metal work in creativity, functionality and beauty.
Wild Rose Designs Gallery
1146 Highway 141, Rosseau
Nothing adds a personal touch to a home like a sign indicating who lives within. But a handcrafted sign does it with class and that’s where Ingrid Zschogner of Wild Rose Designs comes in.
Although she’s a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to art, Zschogner specializes in handcrafted signs.
Zschogner does both the design and rendering, including delicate carvings of motifs and even gold leafing.
“I really enjoy doing signs, for the last six years. I really enjoy doing 3D carving and fun things, like when people commission me to do funny signs, like a heron sipping a glass of wine to represent their cottage.”
118 Highway 60, Huntsville
Jack Fice has a unique talent for taking wood from turn-of-the-century buildings and turning it into new, beautiful furniture.
“I go all over Ontario and salvage old houses and barns that are scheduled for demolition,” he says.
Old doors, floor boards, trim and ceiling beams, these are the sorts of things Fice uses to make his creations of tables, cabinets, shelves, drawers and other such items.
“The fact that things are made with salvage, everyone really digs that. We’re not cutting down trees to do it,” he says.
145 Muskoka Road South, Gravenhurst
Who says fudge only comes in chocolate and vanilla? Randy and Henny Brown’s gourmet store of cottage goodies begs to differ.
“We make over 100 different flavours of fudge, all made in the store,” says Randy. “In the spring we introduce strawberry fudge, in the summer we do key lime and creamsicle fudge. Right now we’re doing a promotion on our apple pie and pumpkin pie fudges and at Christmas we do cinnamon crumble, rum and eggnog and candy cane fudges.”
As if that weren’t enough to make you salivate, Cottage Cravings also has a variety of chocolates, candies and baked goods.
63 Main Street East, Huntsville
Walking through the old-fashioned entrance of the Nutty Chocolatier is like stepping back in time.
The floor creaks under your feet as you browse the endless aisles of candies, chocolates, gifts and gourmet items.
There quite literally is something here for everyone, but the most popular creation is Pecan Puddles.
“They’re like a big squashed turtle,” says owner Nancy Wenger. “It’s chocolate caramel and pecans. We also make our own marshmallow brooms with Belgian chocolate to cover it.”
Many of the store’s offerings, including peanut and almond brittles, chocolate truffles and fudges, are handmade with no preservatives.
“We’re a finer store,” says Wenger. “It’s the best ingredients we could possibly put in. Everything about our product is based on the look of our store, old-fashioned and hand done.”
5 Manitoba Street, Bracebridge
Marty’s Café has a sweet reputation.
“We’re known worldwide for our butter tarts,” says owner Marty Curtis. “They’re made with love, that’s the key ingredient. It’s a 100-year-old secret nuns’ recipe from Quebec.”
In the summer, the café sells 1,000 tarts each day, made fresh the previous night. The tarts have been featured in various newspapers and magazines around the world, as well as Lonely Planet travel guides.
“We’re also known for our lemon-blueberry cream cheese-filled muffins, our homemade breads and soups, our biscottis and cookies.”
3145 Muskoka Road, Bala
Got a sweet tooth? Docktails has the solution. One of its most popular mouthwatering creations is Heavenly Goo. This fudge creation blends vanilla, caramel and chocolate into a sinfully delicious concoction.
But that’s just the icing on the cake. There are plenty more flavours where that came from.
“Being in Bala, we have a number of variations on cranberry,” says owner Beth Anne Burgess. “Right now we just have Cranberry Nut, Cranberry Fluff and Cranberry Raspberry.”
Besides fudge, Docktails offers lots of local products, including Yummies in a Jar jams, Muskoka coffee, Iroquois cranberry products and Canadian gourmet foods.
“We also have an assortment of Muskoka-style entertaining products,” says Burgess.
“Which is what Docktails is about – the idea of cocktails on the dock. Things that have great flavour but don’t take a lot of time to prepare.”
Muskoka’s top-notch theatres
Looking for something to do in Muskoka? Why not check out a play or concert? Muskoka has three fantastic theatres and a lineup of performances that are sure to entertain.
Bracebridge is home to the Rene Caisse Memorial Theatre, a new state-of-the-art facility that opened last year. It features 300 seats, including a balcony and two boxes.
In Huntsville, the Algonquin Theatre awaits. Offering outstanding performances, the theatre welcomes musicians, comedians and theatrical acts of international acclaim.
History lovers will surely be impressed with the Gravenhurst Opera House. In the past 100 years it has had many great musical and theatrical performances grace its stage and that tradition continues today.
Muskoka Place Gallery
1128 Foreman Road, Port Carling
For those who long to learn how to paint, make crafts or experiment with other artistic endeavours, this is the place to do it.
“We call ourselves a learning community of painters, so it’s for people of all levels,” says gallery director Gayle Dempsey. “It’s a good place to learn because of the quality of the instructors we have, and it’s also a very comfortable space to work in.”
Typically the classes are eight to 10 people in size, making for a small, intimate setting where there is lots of attention for each student.
Classes range from basket weaving to acrylic and gesso painting sessions and everything in between.
The Spa at Deerhurst
1235 Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville
Everyone deserves to pamper themselves once in awhile, but there are a few uniquely Muskoka ways to relax. Take Deerhurst’s Muskoka Maple Sugar Body Scrub, for instance. This treatment, comprised of locally-made products, is a sensual experience not to be missed.
“We mix the sugars with a maple oil, and that creates the exfoliant for us,” says spa director Nicole Verzyden. “And then the treatment is finished with a maple body lotion.”
In addition to its mouth-watering scent and decadent taste, maple is very good for the skin. It contains trace elements such as zinc and manganese to help promote healing, and the sugar helps with skin circulation.
Tagged: , words , text , writing , reporter , journalist , journalism , arts , culture , editor , editorial , magazine , newspaper