Art to the people

"Heading to the Beach" by Julia Festa.

The Peggy’s Cove Area Festival of the Arts returns, helping Haligonians discover the talents right next door


fter a 2020 pandemic pause, the Peggy’s Cove Area Festival of the Arts is back, featuring more artists than ever.

Running from July 7 to 18, the event will showcase over 100 artists. “People have been waiting for an opportunity to exhibit and hoping to connect with others,” says Debbie Smith, one of the festival’s organizers.

The festival kicks off at the St. Margaret’s Bay Community Enterprise Centre in Tantallon, where people can view an exhibition of artists’ work. There will also be 40 birdhouses that artists have curated for sale, with the proceeds going to local food banks.

On the first weekend (July 10 to 12), Paint Peggy’s Cove returns. The plein air event brings artists to the village, setting up their easels behind the Guard’s Museum, next to the tourist information centre. In real-time, they will create artwork outdoors for the public to watch and talk with the artists. When completed, the wet paintings will be available for sale in the village at 124 Peggy’s Point Rd. and across the street at the historic deGarthe Boatshed.

That event typically brings in about 3,000 visitors over the three days. This year, due to road work in the village, the artists will be in the area around the visitor centre, and not spread throughout the community.

The following weekend, the Studio Tour returns. Spanning from Prospect down to Mahone Bay and East River, the self-guided tour has 43 stops for the public to stop by and view creations in artists’ homes, galleries, and even greenhouses.

“The Studio Tour is going to be huge and exciting … lots of artists, lots of variety, very different types of art, not just paintings we have fibre and glass, wood, ceramics,” Smith says. “We’ve got lots of variety in our show.”

Patricia Lindley will be wearing many different hats during the festival. She is one of the event organizers, will be running the Paint Peggy’s Cove event, and will sell the freshly created paintings throughout the weekend, as she has for the past five years.

An artist herself, Lindley will open up her home studio and gallery for the tour on the following weekend.

“This past year, I’ve done a bunch of experimenting, and I will probably include some of that in the Studio Tour,” she says. “My medium is pastel … I do mixed media and do pastel over them. I like to mix it up, and when I move between mediums, I am always excited to move on to the next medium because I am not tired of it. I have some of the works I did over the winter, which are oil stick rubbings on some large plates that I had carved some years ago. You hang on to stuff and rework it and get new ideas.”

Lindley was the festival society’s first president in 2010.

“It started with three people having an idea, and they tried to launch something,” she says. “They didn’t have enough horsepower to make it work the first year, but it was enough to get people’s attention. It got more organized the second year. We set about creating all the structure that you need for an ongoing not-for-profit group.”

After more than a year of cancelled and postponed exhibitions, she hopes that the festival will reunite artists and audiences.

“The creative process in your studio if you can’t get out is a very solitary one,” she says, adding that people felt the festival’s absence last year. “We’ve been on the landscape for 11 years.”

Julia Festa. Photo: Submitted

Julia Festa has participated in Paint Peggy’s Cove and the Studio Tour for several years. She doesn’t have a studio at home, doing oil and watercolour paintings in a spare bedroom. When the weather permits, she prefers to work outdoors, where she has options such as a gazebo and greenhouse.

“I love painting flowers, nature, boats, the beauty of the coastal area, boating and seascapes,” she says.

While she was a nurse at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, Festa notices paintings next to the bedside of one of her patients, who was in her 90s. The discussion they had that evening persuaded Festa to pursue a passion of hers.

“I said, ‘I would love to be able to paint,'” she recalls. “She said, ‘What are you waiting for? I started in my 70s. Take classes, read books, practise.’ I thought, ‘What the heck—I think I’ll try that.'”

Festa’s motivation grew when her mother passed away. Looking for an outlet to distract her from her grief, she began painting.

She took lessons through many different avenues, including local recreation classes, private sessions with artists, tutorials, and YouTube videos. Much of her technique is self-taught.

“I started painting, and I found I could get lost in it—it was just magical,” she says. “I love gardening and being outdoors and enjoying nature. The more I practised, the more I took lessons. I started with oil, and then a few years ago, I took up watercolour, which is what I find the more difficult, but the reason I was happy with watercolour is it seemed to be more forgiving and easier for me. I love the watercolour too because it gives different texture and looks to what you are painting.”

Festa uses the revenues from her artwork, which she sells in local restaurants, to fund her supplies, so she felt a pinch from the pandemic.

“It’s put a damper on feeling artistic and expressive,” she says. “With everything shut down, I didn’t want to create things to have them in the house. It stifled me at times.”

Festa is eager to reconnect with current and future art lovers.

“It’s a great opportunity to remind people that it’s a beautiful area,” she says. “We have very artistic people here that do hard work to create works of art that they hope people will enjoy.”

Also on the Studio Tour, visitors will find clay sculptor Mary Jane Lundy, who has been busy creating flower pot and vase designs, plus Atlantic fish, seahorse, and “gossiping puffins” wall hangings.

For Lundy, this festival holds a special meaning. She and her husband were completing work on the studio in 2010 just as the festival debuted.

“It was very serendipitous,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Yes, this is perfect timing.'”

While she was raising her three children, Lundy spent a lot of time playing with clay when she attended NSCAD. Initially studying to painter, she shifted gears and graduated in 2003 with a degree in ceramics.

“When I got to clay medium, I just loved how it flowed through the hands, and that whole feeling of it was easier on the body than working with metal or stone,” she says. “While raising the kids, I was looking for a way to give back to the community, so I started an after-school program at the elementary school they attended and because I thought clay was a great medium for kids also.”

Mary Jane Lundy. Photo: Submitted

After 20 years, Lundy is moving to less realistic creations.

“I am tired of creating things people recognize,” she says. “Let’s make some different sorts of creatures or make the sculptures the birds and the fish brightly coloured, so they are more enjoyable and have more of a whimsical look to it.”

Lundy tried to make the most of the pandemic pause, with workshops offsetting the loss of the tourism business. She managed to have a show in October and another before Christmas, but hasn’t been able to exhibit since, so she’s keen to see people once again at the Peggy’s Cove Area Festival of the Arts.

“If they have never seen my work before, I love that expression of surprise,” she says. “These could be people that live up in Brookside that have never been down this road before and go, ‘Wow I never knew you were here.’ It’s that validation that what I am doing does make people happy, and you are spreading that joy to them.”

For festival organizers, building that connection between Nova Scotians and the province’s many artists is the measure of the event’s success.

“You get to meet the artist … You get to talk to them about the process and their work,” Smith says. “It’s a much more meaningful art experience than visiting a gallery per se. We also hope people will recognize that these are artists are here in our local communities, and it’s close to HRM, and these artists are here all year-round.”


This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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