Merrickville, Ont. welcomes artists from Newfoundland and Labrador for special workshops

The village of Merrickville, Ont. is hosting artists from Newfoundland and Labrador this weekend, with local artists able to share their style and skills through intensive workshops.

Organizers say the project aims to build bridges with colleagues from other parts of the country, who might not have worked with certain types of art.

Inuit artist Heather Angnatok is from Labrador, and is one of three artists from Newfoundland and Labrador taking part in the glass blowing workshop.

“The last conference that I attended we did a jewellery workshop, so I was able to take that back home and now I do small pieces of jewellery and I make earrings,” Angnatuk said. 

She’s always looking for ways to add different techniques to her traditional artwork, which usually includes plants, furs and other raw materials.

“Being a traditional artist, you kind of stick with your own background and what you grow up to do and how you expand your own work,” she said. 

“Learning different techniques and projects is always amazing and in some way or form, you can always, somehow, it finds its way back in a piece that I do,” Angnatuk added. 

A piece of glass being cooled at the glass blowing workshop in Merrickville, Ont. on Saturday. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador reached out to the village of Merrickville last year to see if they would be interested in hosting workshops for their artists from rural communities.

“Some of them are living in small communities of maybe 500 people, so there is not a lot of people to bounce stuff off of,” said executive director Rowena House.

“So bringing them together they not only get to experience a large area, but they get to talk to different types of artisans and then that brings them back to their own creative practice and they are able to incorporate that into and grow their practices that way,” House added. 

“I’m trying to broaden the horizons and to say, ‘OK, this is something that could happen in Hopedale, N.L., or it could happen in Nain,'” she said. “It’s very important for them to be able to see outside of their own home communities.”

The workshops are being held at Gray Art Glass. The Merrickville Artists Guild says something like this has never happened in their nearly 40-year history.

“This is the first time we’ve had such a prestigious organization such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council come to our community to actually do this,” said Nick Previsich. 

“I think it means two things; Merrickville has always been viewed as an arts and craft community, and the Guild really is a big part of that. We work really hard to let the public know that we have a great deal to offer.” 

Glass blower Toby Moriarty teaches artists from Newfoundland and Labrador during the glass blowing workshop in Merrickville, Ont. on Saturday. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

The craft council visited Westport in 2020 for the same experience, and this year a total of nine artists are getting hands on workshops over three days in glass blowing, jewellery and leather making.

“Having them be able to see the glass blowing, because that’s something they haven’t seen before, is really interesting, so I’m hoping that they are going to be able to incorporate that into their own work,” House said. 

“(some communities) are only connected by plane, so having the ability to broaden the horizon on your artistic practice and seeing what other people are able to do that it is very important to your creative process,” she added. 

“They are going to be in there for four or five hours and by the end of that period of time they will have produced three or four products themselves, and their confidence level will be raised and they will have a new skill to add to their repertoire,” Previsich said. 

These types of workshops could also help local artists here, network, and learn new skills, he noted. 

“We’re open for business. We would love to have these kinds of arrangements and, if possible, have some of our artists go to other communities to learn from them as well,” he said. 

The artists in town will also be attending the Northern Lights conference in Ottawa from Feb. 7 to 11, which showcases Arctic and northern culture, and highlights northern economic development, bringing the eastern arctic to the southern area.

The event includes trade shows and cultural performances, with at least 115 artists from all over the eastern Arctic attending from Nunavut, Nunavik, Labrador and Nunatsiavut.

While Angnatok admits she was nervous to try the glass blowing workshop, she’s excited to have picked up a new skill.

“It will be really interesting how I can incorporate glass blowing into some of the projects that I do,” she said. “That’s what we do best, we share what we do and we learn from each other and it just carries on.”

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