If anyone asked me where to find high quality original artwork, I would have suggested a gallery in a large urban centre such as Toronto. However, I recently visited
Oxford County, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a large number of talented artists located there. Oxford County is a gently rolling rural area straddling the 401 corridor about 30 minutes east of London with only three urban areas:
Tillsonburg. I visited several artists in their home studios and was impressed with their talent. The best way to check it out for yourself is to take in the annual
Artists Studio Tour
, scheduled for May 1 & 2. The tour has been greatly expanded this year, with 44 local artists opening up their home studios for viewing everything from the traditional painting arts to stone carving, stained glass, jewellery making, woodworking and weaving. I previewed some of these studios.
Mary-Anne Murphy is an international award-winning artist whose primary fascination involves capturing the details of everyday life, explored in a variety of subject matter. She uses both charcoal and graphite as a medium to create highly representational drawings. Stunningly realistic, her work devotes great attention to the finest detail forcing me to remind myself that the portraits I was looking at were not black and white photos. She specializes in portraits, but her gallery is eclectic, including everything from nudes to animals, nature to automobiles.
Another internationally acclaimed Oxford artist,
Shirley Clifford uses a clay medium. Her works include a variety of pottery types from purely artistic to functional. Her personal specialty is gold-lustre
Raku pottery, which has a distinctive orange-gold lustre, formed by being fired to 2,0000 F, then sprayed with a special chemical to achieve the orange lustre effect, then cooled in an air-tight chamber of sawdust. Her propane-fired kiln allows each piece of pottery to be touched by flame, providing every piece with its own distinctive glaze pattern. Her skill as a potter was apparent with an ad hoc demonstration at the potter's wheel. Within four minutes, a shapeless lump of clay was quickly transformed with her magical fingers to a low, cylindrical vase, then a higher, curving vase, and finally a delicate open bowl.
I also visited
Sue Goossens, a nationally-recognized watercolour artist. Sue enjoys a distinctive watercolour style that focuses mainly on landscapes, particularly fall and winter scenes. She uses only
transparent paints that bring out the vibrant colours of nature at its best, and her clever use of greens, golds and earth tones evoke a feeling of radiant warmth. Sue is the organizer of the Artists Studio Tour, and her home gallery is a featured stop on this year's tour.
Another young, talented Oxford artist,
Shane Norrie, has gained international acclaim for his work in ceramic sculpture and painting. All his works are unique, thought-provoking and eye-catching. His recent products are thinly-thrown, textured pieces, reminiscent of the ocean and its surroundings. One of the most distinctive pieces that I saw in his home was a double-ended boat sculpture. He has recently been featured in two Canadian magazines and on an episode of HGTV's Pure Design show.
Oxford boasts an active arts community, with
Creative Arts centres in both Ingersoll and Tillsonburg. Both offer pottery and fine art groups, as well as a gallery and sales area, and the Ingersoll centre boasts a large quilting group as well.
Highlander Photography offers a photo gallery that is dedicated to the display and sale of fine art photography from
talented local photographers. Probably the most exceptional art gallery site in Oxford is the
Woodstock Peace Lighthouse. Built in 2000 by the Studite fathers, it is a 10-story octagonal lighthouse, and showcases 90 pieces of original
Byzantine iconic art, as well as paintings and drawings of lighthouses.
So if you are looking for that matchless piece of art, forget the big city galleries and take a leisurely drive to rural Oxford County where a plethora of talent awaits you.
Gene Chambers is an author of three secondary school textbooks on computer studies in data processing, and a travel writer.
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