By PAUL GESSELL
Deer, coyotes, and wild turkeys all come sniffing around. Some nearby residents can be seen taking their goats for a walk. The ghosts of children past surely play on the rusting teeter-totters behind. The Gatineau River is just a hop, skip, and jump away.
We’re talking about the Farrellton Artists’ Space, a one-year-old co-op located in what once was St. Joseph’s Elementary School in whistle-stop Farrellton, a 10-minute drive north of Wakefield on Highway 105.
The red brick school closed about seven years ago and was largely unused. Then, last year, a group of artists in the Wakefield area approached the owner of the school, the Commission Scolaire des Portages-de-l’Outaouais, with an idea. The French-language school board was extremely supportive and agreed to allow the artists to transform former classrooms, labs, and offices into studios.
The rent is far cheaper than for equivalent space, if such space could be found, in Wakefield, Gatineau, or Ottawa. The creation of artists’ studios is definitely a smart re-purposing of a vacant building. But all is not perfect — the roof leaks. Nevertheless, the artists are thrilled with the space. Some even live close enough to walk to work every day.
In the daytime, the large, former classrooms-turned studios are filled with natural light. Compare that with, for example, Enriched Bread Artists in Ottawa, where members of the collective work out of small, dimly lit cubbyholes. And EBA does not have a waterfall in the backyard nor do wild animals visit it.
After a year of operations, the Farrellton artists are ready for the world to visit what is definitely the most bucolic art laboratory in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Consequently, there is an open house Thursday, June 5, starting at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday, June 8, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Some of the area’s top artists are among the 21 currently renting space in the old school. They include the pottery duo of Maureen Marcotte and David McKenzie, fibre artists Hannah Ranger and Diane Lemire, and painters John Barkley, John Marok, and Stefan Thompson.
Some of the artists use their studios in old classrooms to hold art classes. Painter Nathalie Poirier holds regular life drawing classes, while Kathryn Drysdale is mainly pre-occupied with dyeing wool, but also uses her space to offer painting classes.
Many of the artists produce work in more than one medium and use the Farrellton studio for part of their art practice and a home studio for work in a different media. Marok, for example, just does goache paintings at Farrellton and oil paintings at home. Janice Moorhead paints at Farrellton and creates her glass artworks at home.
The co-op is hoping to turn one area into a darkroom for use by all of the tenants (and maybe outsiders in the future). A joint print-making facility is also on the drawing board. Maybe one day there will be an official art gallery.
Farrellton Artists’ Space is located at 42 Chemin Plunkett in Farrellton. Head north from Wakefield on Highway 105 and, just before the bridge across the Gatineau River at Farrellton, turn left onto Chemin Plunkett. Drive past St. Camillus Church and the concrete block parish hall and pull into the parking lot in front of the former school. Visit here for more info.