At a lively dinner party last night my neighbor insisted that I write about how artists are drawn to Baie Verte because of its beauty. I nodded my head, and sated with our delicious and happy dinner party, I said, ‘I’ll do it’.
When I organize a party at our local Baie Verte Hall, the back windows glowing in a stunning sunset over the marsh, I can easily collect about thirty artists who support themselves with their art and are acknowledged in the ‘outside’ art world.
There are artists living around every corner. We even have a yearly event called Art Across the Marsh in which the artists invite people to visit their homes and studios and see how they live.
But these days the small hamlet of Baie Verte is in quite an uproar about a recent article that described our area as desolate and depressing. When I say uproar, I mean that everyone is talking, which means that I heard from one or two people that someone ought to write a letter.
The neighbours have been talking about an article published in the Telegraph Journal by Mike Landry, about a friend of ours, artist Anna Torma. Up until a day ago there was a direct link to the article but on-line news is no longer free so this link may take you to the Telegraph Journal subscription page.
Landry takes pains to begin his article, a complimentary and extensive interview with Hungarian born artist Anna Torma, with a long description of his dreary drive to Baie Verte. His aim was obviously to contrast Anna’s lively and colorful work with the bleak surroundings of rural New Brunswick.
An evocative beginning for his article, truly, but the description of the roads he traveled said more about him than Anna. This was a man who really does not like the rural landscape.
His description immediately put me in my mind of my mother’s reaction when we bought our old house. She used the same word as him, desolate. And I think she went on to say it was devoid of life. She saw a flat grey horizon, possibly reminding her of her childhood in Saskatoon, where we saw a fabulous coast teeming with life.
“On any grey winter’s day,” begins Landry, “heading north on Route 16 from AuLac to Port Elgin is a desolate drive”. He continues to describe in detail his sunny winter drive through our delightful and picturesque part of the Maritimes. In his view the snowy hills and dales and the sun bleached barns decorated in icicles are depressing. I can’t help but think, in comparison to what? Long straight streets, shiny new high rises?
My opinion is that the writer, a man with a recognizably Acadian last name, escaped his rural background to live the young person’s dream in a big city, only to be transplanted back into the land that he once so happily escaped. His promotion, or otherwise, has left him with a fairly good job in Saint John, but bitter and envious of people who are ‘really’ living in Ontario.
Although it may have been his intention to draw attention to the vibrant art of Anna Torma through the juxtaposition with the lonely bleak landscape, he let us see into his heart. He misses the big city and his big dreams.
The older residents of Baie Verte, who have lived here all their lives, were offended by his description. But all the others, the ones like me from ‘away’, are keeping mum. We are content that our busy, ambitious friends from back home are not drawn to our quiet corner. We don’t want to advertise our little piece of paradise.
But still I feel that I must defend the honor of my born and bred Maritimer neighbours so I will tell you that not all the artists and writers here are transplanted Upper Canadian ‘hippy’, or the more recent term, ‘hipster’ drop outs.
One of my favorite artists is my neighbor, Noreen Spence, the one who suggested that I write in defense of our beautiful marshland. Noreen is a retired nurse in her eighties who walks every day and is busy bringing up her 18 year old granddaughter. She would not call herself an artist but her walls show the evidence of someone who examines, explores, and then feels the need to express.
In her reading room she has some humbly framed but beautifully captured water color paintings of the bay in its fall splendor of burnt orange and bright blue. And in the kitchen there is a fabulous rug hook hanging on the wall that is an impressionistic masterpiece of the bay.
With carefully chosen wool she has recreated the view I see from my window, but she did not follow a kit or a pattern; she just dug in and did the hard work of an honest artist, who tries to translate the beauty she sees into something from her own hand.
The bay outside my window draws me out every day. Sometimes I drop what I am doing, grab my camera and try to capture the beauty of our particular landscape. When my youngest child is picked up by the school bus I wander up the road, and then down an old railway path that leads me into the woods. The walk takes almost an hour but I don’t notice the time passing as I examine the tiny footsteps in the snow that show the busy social life of wild animals.
I look forward to every season, even the winter one that we are in right now. We can expect huge storms that bury us in deep drifts, frozen pipes, lots of nights around the woodstove, daily trips to the bird feeders, and the bay, in its arctic beauty offering up its daily feast for the eyes. The eagle swoops, the crows wait in the tree outside my window for peanuts and a small red fox whips across the white blue tundra of the frozen sea and out to the island to look for some dinner.
Far from desolate, the view outside of my window is alive and draws you into the natural world. When it has been a long cold winter I feed the birds and little animals every crumb of our compost. The fact that we are not living in a mass of humanity makes us more humane, and the fact that we have to depend on each other for help occasionally makes us live a less isolated life than in a city.
Artists do seem to be drawn to the area; it is a good place to think and create. But that Anna Torma, internationally acclaimed artist that she is, is also known for her parties. In the summer she makes goulash in a pot on an open fire and we all drink wine and sit on blankets under the weeping trees just as she did in her homeland.