In the summer of 2016, Louise Cloutier hung out a new shingle in the village of Pugwash. After 35 years of teaching art to high school students, she made her dream of having her own studio a reality when she opened ArtQuarters in an old house on King Street.

“This had always been my intention,” Louise told me at the studio’s official opening. “When I graduated from McGill in 1980 and launched into my teaching career, I knew when I retired, I would like to do something like this.”

It was worth the wait, and not just for Louise. As a wannabe-artist whose brain freezes up the moment a paintbrush is in her hand, I was delighted to devote one night a week for twelve weeks at Louise’s new studio. My “summer of art” saw me create not only with paint but with cloth and string and ripped paper. I came away with several pieces of art I’m proud of – and no brain freeze!

Art isn’t new to Pugwash, however. For at least 25 years, the Mixed Palette painting group, comprised of women and men of various ages and skill levels, has met every Thursday morning in the board room of the village hall to paint and chat.

“We call it our ‘mental health group’,” says Heather Cunningham, who joined the group in 1994. “We sit and talk as we paint. It’s good therapy.”

Heather became a lifelong member after a simple invitation issued in the parking lot of the local Co-op.

“Trink Hudson said she was going to painting and told me to come with her. I said, ‘I can’t paint’ and Trink said ‘I can’t either!’ I still can’t paint but I like what I do,” Heather laughs as she sketches the outline of a lighthouse on the canvas lying on the table in front of her.

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You don’t paint for two decades if you don’t have some talent, and Heather’s paintings, along with those of other current and former members of the group, hang in many homes and cottages in the Pugwash area. Every summer, the Mixed Palette Show and Sale at the village hall gives visitors and locals a chance to admire, and purchase, the group’s paintings. This year the show and sale takes place in August during HarbourFest.

Bringing artists together for support and encouragement was the seed that blossomed into the Pugwash Artists Collective ten years ago. New to the village, painter and writer Norene Smiley was looking for opportunities to talk about art and be challenged in her work.

“That’s what I was missing in my new rural community,” she says but owning a popular café meant it didn’t take long for Norene to discover the local painters, potters, sculptors, and rug hookers who were working on their own.

With a laugh, Norene admits she thought of the group’s first get-togethers as “a lonely artists club”, but as the women got to know each other and share their individual interests and ambitions, they decided to host a show, and the Pugwash Artists Collective was formed.

Since 2010, they’ve held themed shows in Tatamagouche, Pugwash and Oxford, and their ninth show, “Peace”, takes place this July during the Gathering of the Clans
in Pugwash.

Art is very subjective – we like what we like – and North Shore artists offer such varied creations, from painting and sculpture to weaving and collage, we all can have at least one piece of original art in our homes. Putting a spin on the Buy Local movement are these anonymous words of wisdom: “Buy art from living artists. The dead ones don’t need the money.”

On the other hand, why buy when you can make? Indulge in your own “summer of art” and get your hands dirty, sticky, or muddy. Louise Cloutier believes anyone can do art, and I vouch for her teaching skills, not only from my own experience but from watching others create original works of art when they least expected to.

So if someone stops you in the grocery store parking lot and invites you to their rug hooking/painting/pottery/collage class, drop your bags and go.   

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Sara Jewell
Sara Jewell is the author of Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia. She’s also on a search for art, and as she discovered, the village of Pugwash is teeming with creativity. In this issue’s Field Notes column, Sara explores the opportunities available for anyone to indulge in a “summer of art”.