Art in the County Opening: Generosity on Display

COMMUNITY SPIRIT (From Left) Laurie Gruer, Monica Klingenberg & (Right) Alysa Hawkins present Bruce Dowdell with the 2023 Community Arts Builder Award. (Submitted Photo)



Louise Penny’s first Three Pines novel is called Still Life. It opens with a would-be artist entering a prized, secret piece of art in the local art show, which is, naturally, being juried by her closest friends. The work, called Fair Day, portrays the last day of a county fair.

Both the artist’s best friends and closest enemies on the jury agree it is terrible. One of those juror/friends, “in trying to grasp what she was looking at, and trying not to make the obvious comparisons, felt that it was a little like a cave drawing put on canvas. If Neanderthals had county fairs, this was what they’d have looked like.”

“In bold, bright colors the work showed the parade just before the closing of the fair. Pigs were distinguishable from goats only because they were bright red. The children looked like little adults. In fact, thought Clara, leaning tentatively forward as though the canvas might deal her another blow, those aren’t children. They’re small adults. She recognised Olivier and Gabri leading the blue rabbits. In the stands beyond the parade sat the crowd, many of them in profile. All the cheeks had perfect round red circles, denoting, Clara supposed, a healthy glow. It was awful.”

The art show judges shudder collectively and discuss the various ways in which they cannot reject the work quickly enough. When suddenly, on a second glance,

“Clara saw it. Just a flash, something niggling on the outer reaches of her consciousness. For the briefest moment Fair Day shimmered. The pieces came together, then the moment passed. Clara realised she’d stopped breathing again, but she also realised that she was looking at a work of great art. She didn’t know why or how, but in that instant that world which had seemed upside down righted. She knew Fair Day was an extraordinary work.”

The sequence captures something about all works of art, and maybe also all small towns. Prosaic, until you enter them fully, an act that requires a surrender — or just being caught off guard. The Art in the County Opening Reception and Awards Night, held last Thursday evening, was just such an event. About 100 festively attired guests gathered outdoors on a beautiful summer evening to pay their respects to works of art made by their friends and neighbours. As usual, the whole thing was beautifully presented — sponsored by Gilbert and Lighthall Marketplace, with catering from Huff Estates, the Royal, The Marans, and PECish — perfectly chilled glasses, glinted pale gold and pink as a red sun slowly set on the green shingled barracks of our extraordinary 1940s military base, which is itself, even more extraordinarily, being restored as a living work of history and art by the team at Base31.

If the speeches were, perhaps, just on the verge of going on too long, it was only because they were so generous, anxious to leave nothing and nobody out. The evening was full of that kindness, even to excess, that marks much of life in the County. There were so very many prizes – five Jurors’ Awards, five Honourable Mentions, the Maison Depoivre Award (Krista Dalby); the Carson Arthur Award (Colleen Green); the Akasha Art Projects Award (Graham Keenan); the Oeno Gallery Award of Excellence (Josh Connell) — you couldn’t help feeling sorry for those entrants who went unremarked, but then again, the 112 works selected for the exhibition were chosen from a much larger field of entries — everything on display was already a winner. And unlike in Louise Penny’s novel, the jurors of AITC show were not locals — works for the exhibition were selected by Lisa Creskey, a ceramicist from Quebec, Chung-Im Kim, a textile Artist from Cookstown, and Rick Rivet, a painter from Belleville. The jurors’ awards and honourable mentions were also selected by this trio. Visitors to the show will be able to vote on the People’s Choice and Children’s Choice awards, which will be announced at its close.

The crowd pleaser of the evening was the sixth annual Community Arts Builder Award, sponsored by Laurie Gruer, Monica Klingenburg, and Alysa Hawkins of Chestnut Park. The team selected the much beloved Bruce Dowdell, also known as the Mayor of Milford, in recognition of Mr. Dowdell’s 25 years of service with the Marysburgh Mummers at the Mount Tabor Community Playhouse. Mr. Dowdell has been responsible for behind-the-scenes “technical direction,” or stage work and lighting, on 60 theatrical productions.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Dowdell, who is in his eighties, said he loved to use his design skills “to showcase all the exceptional talent that we have here,” and noted how much pleasure there was to be had in seeing how quickly a young person could grow in the theatre. He had witnessed, he said, newcomers move from a walk-on role as an extra in their first production to, sometimes, a lead role after just two or three years. He honoured the Mummers’ tradition of giving a part to every person who showed up to audition.

The words echoed the faith, trust, and support on display at this 30th anniversary edition of Art in the County, which is presented by the Prince Edward County Arts Council and the Elizabeth Crombie Real Estate Team. Since 1993, AITC has hosted over 62,000 visitors to the County, and sold over $380,000 worth of art while doing so. This year’s iteration runs until July 2. Don’t hesitate. It’s gorgeous.

Where, When, and How: Building 17, Lecture Hall, Base31. Daily 10 am to 6 pm, closing at 5:00 pm on Sundays and 2:00 pm on the last day, July 2nd. There is no charge for admission; a donation of $5.00 per adult to support Art in the County is welcomed.

A complete list of award winners can be found at the Art in the County website. As can a complete list of sponsors.