WRITTEN BY JANET DAVIES.
Judy Plomer always wanted to paint, but her talent blossomed when she moved to Prince Edward County. She tells us her story.
“I first stepped into The County in 1976 when I came to meet my husband-to-be’s family who lived in Black River. Back then nobody in Toronto knew where I was going. They said Prince Edward County? Where’s that? Those were the years when there was angled parking in Picton, you might have seen the old photos? And no civic numbers on any of the houses! It was a very different place. Over the years we came back and forth to visit Jim’s family. We had our children, Rob and Jenn, and I got them involved in the sailing here, and, of course, they absolutely loved The County. About 2005 we decided to renovate Jim’s family home, and that’s when we decided to move here permanently.”
“I grew up in Toronto around Bayview and Eglinton, then I was in Don Mills, then Agincourt, then Pickering. I was slowly moving east! Jim was always in sales in the food business, and I was involved with the food business, too, but I worked a long time selling fragrance and cosmetics, traveling all over Ontario. Jim still works. He goes back to the city every other week, but he does a lot of business from home now, thanks the Internet. We finally got a fast connection, thank God!”
“I started dabbling in art in the late 1990s. My children were older and I finally had time to myself. It was something I’d always wanted to do. I didn’t study art at school, and it was not part of my growing up, but my grandmother on my father’s side was a painter. She died when I was young, but I remember her paintings, they were always on my mind. I got together with some people in Unionville and started painting and we did a few exhibits and shows – but Life got in the way.
In 2001 we purchased some rundown cottages on the old Willowlea Resort here in The County. We fixed them up, renamed them By the Bay Cottages, bythebaycottages.net, and since then I’ve been running the three cottages as another sideline to my life – 17 years now. I sometimes think about selling, but my renters are so great. The same people come back year after year, because they love Prince Edward County. They like an old-time cottage holiday. They don’t miss Wi-fi, which is good because I don’t have it! In all these years only one person complained. The others come to fish and swim, go paddleboating and canoeing. That’s what they love. These days I get more people looking for wine tours and restaurants, they want to know the hotspots and where to go sightseeing. It has changed. My Spring and Fall business is completely different to the Summer crowd – more women’s groups, art groups, cycling groups, that kind of thing, where in Summer it’s very much families.
I tell them where to go, things to see and do, but I keep some secrets to myself! I don’t want to divulge it all, you have to discover your own secret spots. That’s what drew us here. Jim had his reasons to come back, but I loved the peace and privacy and my secret places. In that way I’m like the older people here. The whole Black River region is still kind of undiscovered, and I am respectful of my neighbours. Old-timers and farmers and people who’ve been here for generations. They’d give you the shirt off their back. I don’t want that to change. When I came here I loved it. I think you either get it or you don’t. It’s beautiful and we’re lucky to be here.
I guess as a city girl I’d seen how places change. Growing up in Warden and Huntingwood area of northeast Toronto, we had fields behind us. I could see barns and cows from my bedroom window. Now they’re gone. You have to be careful to protect things or you lose them. I think it’s being handled pretty well in Prince Edward County. Sometimes I worry, but I also love the exciting things going on – the wineries and new businesses. Of course I’m spoiled because I have McMahon Bluff behind me and I’m surrounded by 250 acres that are Environmentally Protected.
This area is remarkable. Of course everyone knows Black River Cheese. We have some of the longest, oldest dry stone walls in Ontario, some of which are falling apart and neglected. But now local groups are springing up to rebuild and restore and protect them(check out MorrisonPointStoneWall.ca). We’ve got a bunch of farm-related homegrown businesses, honey and organics. Vicki’s Veggies has been going for years, and now there is a new businesses starting, places like Joachim and Amor’s farm and the Burkinshaw Farm around the corner.
Did I have a knack for art? Good question. I didn’t know. I wanted desperately to paint. Something in me wanted to paint, and when I started I realized how much I needed and wanted to get into The Zone. That quiet time where I was creating. So what was I to do? I took painting workshops. I studied under different artists and just kept working at it, but it wasn’t until I got to The County and settled in here, after 2006, I realized I really could do it if I wanted to. My husband relished his new life here. He reconnected with old high school friends, and they are great friends, but what was I going to do? Then I met Ann Wood and Terry Williams who were starting Arts on Main in Picton.
It was 2007. The timing couldn’t have been better for me. They interviewed me and invited me to join and so I became one of thefounding members – and it changed my life, because I got involved with other artists and arts events. It was wonderfully encouraging and I had opportunities to show my work. Even before I met Terry and Ann I had shown some work at Paulette Greer’s SideStreet Gallery. That’s how I really got started, and I am eternally grateful to Paulette. We’re good friends to this day and she still shows my work. Paulette promotes so many local artists, she has approximately 70 artists at any one time, and it’s not an easy way to make a living. A lot of us owe her big time. One of the highlights of my art journey was winning a jurors award at “Art in The County” in 2009 for my pastel painting “Passion for Poppies”. It was indeed an honour to be recognized in this very prestigious show in eastern Ontario.
I get inspired by my own property. We have one of the largest birch groves in the area. Unfortunately we are losing many of them just because they’ve come to that stage in their life. But every part of The County is inspirational, and everywhere is so diverse geographically. No wonder there’s so many artists! In Black River we’re on an environmentally protected river, heavily forested with herons and beavers and ducks and swans. Over in Waupoos, where it’s a more farming area, and now the vineyards, you find incredible hollyhocks growing wild! It’s gorgeous. Then there’s Sandbanks which is like a whole other world. My friend Aidan Haley introduced me to Beaver Meadow a beautiful secluded area to paint and get inspired . We’ve also gone traipsing through the woods in the Sandbanks forest. There’s Glenora with the water views. It’s spectacular. Aidan paints plein air. Me, I paint mostly from photographs, but I do some painting outdoors. I went to Algonquin Park for many years with friends in the Fall and I went to the Laurentians to study Gordon Harrison, an amazing Internationally known Canadian artist. I like going to workshops. There is always something new to learn. You keep your mind open.
When I first came to The County, I did courses at Loyalist College in Belleville. I got to know other County painters there and when we got fed up with traveling all that way we created our own group right here. We called it the pARTnership, and there were about 12 artists who painted every Wednesday at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Picton. It was great. We brought in artists to do workshops and I enjoyed it for years. But everything changes. I found I got more work done on my own and I really liked my quiet space to paint, so I left the group. Now there are lots of opportunities to paint with other people here. There are fantastic workshops at Baxter Arts Centre. I’ve done life drawing there and taken courses with visiting artists. A lot of local artists teach. You just have to get out there, ask people, you’ll find out what’s happening.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Making art can be tough for younger people. The number one problem is time. It was for me. And money, because it’s not a cheap hobby, materials cost a lot. But my advice is keep at it. Keep your mind open, keep working. I’ll tell you this for certain, if I get busy with other things and don’t paint for a while, it’s like starting over. You lose it a little bit. There is a saying Keep Your Brushes Wet. I didn’t know what that meant when I heard it, but I get it now.
I set a goal for myself in winter to produce new work. It’s a quiet time and I use it to paint and create new work for all the places I show in The County.
Arts on Main produces four shows a year, then there’s Sidestreet Gallery and now in the summer months The Local Store in Bloomfield. Another fabulous gift is Portabella Restaurant, (Don and Roy), and The Merrill Inn, (Amy and Edward), both in Picton , who wholeheartedly support local artists and give me and my peers the opportunity to show our work.
You have to be out there. The County is actually the size of Toronto. If you are in Wellington you’d better be in Bloomfield and Picton, too because they are separate markets. Another thing I’ve done for several years is curating the “The Gallery with a View” in the restaurant at Waupoos Estates Winery. They took a break from it last year, but they heard how people missed it, so they want to get the art back in there. They have a new restaurant manager, Guerin Sykes and he really supports the arts. He and I agree that wine and food and art go together.
Does my art sell? Yes, thank you. You never know with art, so many different tastes, but no matter what, there will always be a buyer out there for your work at some point. You can go months without selling anything, then eight pieces will sell in one month. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. But there are so many more people coming to The County now, and a lot of them are seeking out artists and galleries, looking for new things and something to take home as a memento. Can you make a living at it? I don’t know. I’m older, and I don’t really need to but I do consider it a job. I paint two or three days a week, which serious die-hard artists will say is not enough, but it’s enough for me. As for selling, even the best art won’t sell itself. I work at it, I make connections, I deliver my art, I keep my galleries well stocked – and I have a website, judyplomer.com. I totally rely on my kids to help with that! People can see what I do online, and if they love it they can call me. I also have created a lovely line of art cards, images of my sold work, called Déjà Vu. These can be found throughout the County. It’s wonderful to have people come up to me and tell me that they received one of my art cards.
Sometimes people want to take a painting home to see if they love it there. I’m okay with that. A work of art has to touch your heart, it’s an emotional connection. That’s why you can’t really buy art for other people. Have you ever seen something in a gallery and thought, I love it but I don’t need it, and you walk away? Then you can’t stop thinking about it. So you realize, I love it and I need it! I truly believe we need art. And I’m so happy that I have the opportunity to make and sell art here in The County.
For artists looking re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.