Photographer and University of Kentucky Educator James R Southard was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and their environment. ________________________________________________________ LAKE ONTARIO
I knew that Lake Ontario includes the most populated region of Canada, so I felt that I’d be spending much of my time with contemporary artists and in fine art museums. To me, Toronto has always been the art capital of Canada as I had met so many artists working there over the years. Also, after a few weeks of being on the road for the most rural stretches of my trip I was eager to be in a metropolitan area and to catch up with the Canadian contemporary art scene. On the U.S. side of the lake, I was making a point to stop in a small town known for its historic role in the War of 1812 and not known for modern art. I was aiming to have a well-rounded tour of the Lake Ontario region. This was going to be my last chance to visit a small American town before I would stop at the larger Rust Belt cities on Lake Erie.
Toronto – Eric Kostiuk Williams is a Canadian illustrator whose work has been hitting the pages of Now Magazine, Dazed and Confused and the Believer. His comics exhibit his response to the gay community’s concerns in Toronto and his career is just taking off. I spoke in length with him about the Canadian comic world and how tight-knit it is, though all the successful comic artists still need that day job. Apparently being a well-read and distributed artist in the comic world still doesn’t pay enough to live and work in Toronto.
Toronto – Eric Kostiuk Williams’ subject matter and the plot locations in his work are real places he often goes to in Toronto. I was eager to see some of these important locals to his work, so he showed me. The Beaver is one of the bars you often find in his work and it now has a mural he just recently finished.
Rochester, NY- The studio visit with David Lane started with the amazing smell of leather. He has a great setup where he works on fine leathers for accessories such as watch bands and wallets among other items. During the day he’s an art teacher at the local public school but when he is not in the classroom he is a world-class leather worker. You can find some of his work in Esquire as well as in high-end watch publications. I was wondering why he still taught if sales were good, but he is always worried about his client base drying up and leaving such a reliable supportive job like education. Believe it or not, the artisanal leather world is rather competitive.
Rochester, NY – As you’d imagine, a leather worker also has an interest in other traditional products such as pipe tobacco, bourbon and scotch. We ended up spending a good deal of my interview discussing liquor infusions. We spoke the same language.
Toronto – I made a visit to the Tiff Bell Lightbox Film Reference Library. There I spoke to the Senior Manager of the Film Reference Library, Michelle Lovegrove Thomson, about their archive which is full of film, slides, media and assorted historical promotional materials. All of which is open to the public. She said mostly academics utilize the records for their research and I was wondering why more video artists and filmmakers didn’t spend more time with this amazing archive.
Toronto – I was hearing more and more in Toronto on how difficult for artists it is to find studio space in a rapidly developing city. I met with Erin Candela who works for Akin Collective. They work hard to find unused commercial spaces in the city that are in limbo which could be used as art studios. They have hundreds of spaces throughout the city. We had a long discussion that seemed so familiar to other cities. Local governments loves to tout how they want to support the local arts and allow “creatives” to stay in their city, though they take away funding for programs that would do exactly that and would encourage new construction in the only places that artists can afford. I think it’s pretty safe to say that artists don’t believe in any of the lip service they hear from their politicians.
Sackets Harbor, NY – Frank Shattuck is a tailor. And I mean classic bench tailor who trained under southern Italian masters. His suits and hunting jackets are legendary and he now has his workshop up in Sackets Harbor. Want a suit? Get in line. He has clients from all over the world.
Sackets Harbor, NY – Frank Shattuck moved up to the small town of Sackets Harbor awhile back for a girl and decided to stay after the break up. He loves it up there and enjoys the authenticity of the surrounding community. People love to work around here, he told me.
Sackets Harbor, NY – While he maybe a master tailor, Frank Shattuck is also a boxer and sometimes actor. I found that he likes to fill his days with a variety of tasks. The man isn’t idle too often.
Sackets Harbor, NY – With the heavy rains from spring and summer, the water levels are very high. This heavily affects the local businesses, as most of the towns that surround the Great Lakes rely on tourism and aquatic related activities.
Sackets Harbor, NY – My last night on Lake Ontario was a dark and brooding one.
I hadn’t been to Toronto since the late nineties and I totally missed how big and international Toronto has become. After visiting museums, galleries and stopping into gallery openings, I learned it is a rather competitive city to be an artist in. After speaking with a few curators and artists, I also learned that this would be one of the most expensive cities on my trip to be an artist. Studio space is a big subject of concern all over the city. When crossing over to the U.S. side of Lake Ontario, studio spaces are no longer of serious concern. In fact, much of northern New York reminded me of central Kentucky. Lots of talented craftsman working in small communities in oversized workshops who happily moved there from larger metropolises. It was a point of pride for many of the people I’d meet. When many of the folks in Sackets Harbor heard I was there for this project, I was immediately pulled into a dozen or so conversations and introductions to other locals of interest. The civic pride I kept finding was endearing.
Photographer and University of Kentucky Educator James R Southard was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and their environments.
To me, Lake Huron was the most mysterious of them all. It is one of the least populated areas, as a map shows only undeveloped shoreline and small towns dotting the coast. It also has a long history of rough weather and shipwrecks, so I came to Lake Huron feeling it would be the most haunted as well. Being it has so few cities surrounding it, I was expecting to find few artists and more vacationers. Still, I arrived to the lake looking for craftsmen and preservationists working on historic sites and boating in a variety of ways.
Thessalon – I drove out to the small town of Thessalon, to visit Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. They are working with the North Shore communities to build collaborative projects that respond to local issues. They also provide training and consulting services to the community. I kept finding people that moved up from southern Ontario to live and work in the hopes of being more connected to the region.
Big Basswood Lake – I was planning on swimming in each great lake, but due to the temperature and algae blooms, that opportunity never happened. It wasn’t until I reached Basswood Lake on the north side of Lake Huron, that I found got the opportunity. The lake was spring fed, so I could see straight to the bottom no matter how deep it got.
Big Basswood Lake – While interviewing the Sault Ste Marie Artist, Andrea Pinheiro, she asked about my accommodations in the city. Her response, “Nonsense, you are coming up to Basswood Lake and staying in a cabin.” The generosity of northern Ontario folk is staggering. Not once did they ask for money from me for the housing and meal. Great cabin, lake, meal and conversations that went late into the evening.
Manitoulin Island – It was a gray chilly day when I took a long ferry ride from Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula. I was sad to be leaving Northern Ontario.
Southampton – The Chantry Island Marine Heritage Society took me out to their lighthouse, which they’ve been working on for years. Without government funding they’ve done the labor and craftsmanship required to repair this lighthouse themselves. All the volunteers are retired citizens of Southampton. Rob Campbell, in the photograph, is a retired dentist.
Southampton – While touring Chantry Island I met a local historian, Mike Sterling. This retired award-winning mathematician has been coming out to the island to help fix up the cottage and lighthouse for years.
Chantry Island –The island is a migratory bird sanctuary. The local heritage society has been visiting for years, restoring it to its original state. The work features traditional carpentry.
Chantry Island – The island has been getting smaller as the lake’s water levels reach record highs. Many of the marinas and infrastructure surrounding the Great Lakes are out of commission with the waters as high as they are. This is greatly affecting summer tourism, which most of the small communities surrounding the lakes rely upon.
Southampton – While on the tour of Chantry Island I hooked up with the local historian, Mike Sterling. After retiring, he started building instruments that rely on geometry and mathematics at the core of their design. Mike built this Bernoulli Involute years ago and has created his own type of script music to accompany the instrument.
Southampton – Since retiring, Mike Sterling has been working in his studio above his family.
My last evening on Lake Huron was spent wandering the streets where I came across the war memorial. A cross fashioned from metallic oil on canvas, the memorial faces the waterfront and the US. It inspired thoughts about the shared history and sacrifices of America and Canada.
Lake Huron was where I got to see both northern and southern Ontario. People around the lake were just as friendly as Lake Superior and were just as interested in my project. I also kept finding people who moved up there from the more populated southern Ontario. The slower pace of the towns reminded me very much of home. You didn’t need more than one job to make ends meet in many of these small towns; one job pays the bills. While on Lake Huron, I also had the chance to get out on the water and visit a few islands. The water was just as choppy as I imagined, though the locals seemed quite comfortable in the waves. For the first time, a camera was turned on me while I was in Southampton. A local newspaper shadowed me for one of my photo shoots with the heritage society. I didn’t realize my project would draw this much interest from anyone outside of my crew of fellow photographers. The project started to feel more meaningful. Not only is this project a collection of images I photographed from my interactions with creatives in these communities, but I was bringing their story to a broader audience back home. To many people I was speaking with, this became important.