Brooke Valley, Ontario – Lanark County
After years of living across Canada, Susie Osler was looking to relocate to a quieter place reminiscent of her formative childhood years living on a farm. With natural resources abounding – babbling brooks, dense forests, wide open spaces, fields of gold, rolling hills, crystal clear lakes and rich farmland – it’s no surprise that the terrains of Lanark County lured her in.
Now living on 140 acres of beautiful, lush land, Susie has all the mental and physical space she could ever dream of to inspire and influence her ceramic art. And she is not alone. Many creative minds call this area home, making up a strong community of artisans that each contribute their own unique beauty to the existing landscapes and spaces of Lanark County.
What is it about Lanark County that draws creative minds like yourself to the area?
On some level I’d say it’s affordability and the fact that we’re still close enough to cities like Ottawa and Kingston. But deep down, I think it’s more of a connection to the land and people. In the 60s and 70s, the first wave of the ‘back to the land’ movement came to this area. So generations before us have kind of broken ground and built up an innovative mentality. There is a certain creativity and self-sufficiency that has already existed here for decades, that I think is appealing to a creative mind.
And what about you, specifically? What is it that appealed to you about life in Brooke Valley?
The combination of cottage country, farmland and dense wilderness all in one really speaks to me and I found this area to be really real. There is a true mix of demographics here. The people who have moved here from urban environments mixed with the locals who have been here for generations makes for a pretty down to earth and real feeling. It hasn’t become gentrified. It’s not Disney-fied. It still feels like there’s still real connections to real people. Nothing about this place is contrived.
Have the local landscapes influenced your art?
Absolutely. There is just so much wonder when you spend time in nature and create a connection with it. It helps to slow you down. It’s humbling. It puts life and your role in it into perspective
There has always been a reference to nature in my work. Recently, my art has shifted from being very vibrant and encrusted with colour and life and natural elements, to being really stripped down. While still referencing nature, it’s in a much quieter and essential way, which I think is a direct reflection of my personal place in life.
As an artist, your mind must always be wandering from one idea to the next. But what does physical wandering mean to you?
Wandering is simply about setting aside your agenda and allowing yourself to explore. No destination is necessary, just an open mind. It’s a real exercise in being present. We are generally so busy and over-booked; wandering is a real luxury. We consistently keep ourselves distracted from beautiful, enriching, meaningful moments. Wandering is a real luxury.
You have been exploring this area for years now. What is one hidden gem you’ve discovered that visitors would be surprised to find?
Fieldwork is a place that people rarely know exists. It’s on a little dirt road and is a very unique place to visit. A group of artists collaboratively created outdoor installations and the intention was to create a place for people to discover or stumble upon. It’s a really great opportunity to wander at will, bring a picnic, take a walk and explore different ways that artists create and express within a natural setting. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Packing a picnic is a lovely and nostalgic suggestion. Is there anything else you think a visitor to the region should bring with them?
Their curiosity. And a field guide of some sort. There are lots of field guides, from trees to plants to insects to birds to mushrooms. I’d encourage them to start observing their surroundings. The more you look, the more you learn. You will surprise yourself, when you start looking at something, how much detail and beauty there is in it if you just give yourself a little bit of time to see it. There is great joy in the simple things.
Is there a particular time of the year that you prefer enjoying the simple things in Lanark County?
I have to say, no. I really love the four distinct seasons. In spring there is softness that settles in when the ground melts and the birds return. Summer is gardening and swimming season. It’s this crazy period of growing life that is totally astonishing. Fall is that shift from manic summer to a more introverted and content feeling. I love a good crisp day, and winter is so inspiring and slow and beautiful. We are lucky to be in an area where we can enjoy each of the four seasons to the fullest.
You’ve mentioned your love for gardening and cooking. Where is one place you go to indulge yourself?
Fieldhouse is a lovely spot. Last year, during the summer, on Thursdays they had a tapas and wine evening. I really hope they do that again this year, because it was incredible. They have the absolute best croissants. I actually don’t eat gluten, aside from the occasional Fieldhouse croissant.
As an artist yourself, where would you suggest a visitor go to unleash their own creative side?
A friend of mine, Anne Chambers, offers summer sessions out of her pottery studio nearby, which is a lovely experience. There is also Art and Class in Perth that offers drop in classes in all sorts of different disciplines. Those are two places to create something with your own two hands.
It would certainly make for a neat memory to take home. What do you think is the most memorable thing a visitor can do here?
If you are driving, turn your phone off and get lost. Literally, get lost. And enjoy it. Experience it. Embrace it. Then turn your phone back on and find your way home. That will honestly lead to a scenario that you will never forget.