The community can have a peek behind the scenes at Willowbank Sunday.
The student-run open house at the school of restoration arts will see its four buildings wide open to the public: the iconic estate that towers over the village of Queenston, as well as the newer barn and dry stone wall structure on the same property, and the former Laura Secord school, its second campus, down below.
“I’m very excited about the open house, as are most of the students,” says Sarah Bulman, the event organizer. “It’s a great opportunity for students to show off their work from the last year, as well as to show off our really cool campus.” The second-year student invites people to see the renovations and changes to the estate building, which were done to meet electrical and accessibility codes.
“I’m very pleased with how many students signed up to provide demonstrations about woodworking, heritage window restoration, blacksmithing, stained glass work, and stone carving,” says Bulman, adding there will also be a marketplace with books, tools, student projects and works, prints, and postcards. The funds from the sales in the marketplace will go back into the school, she says.
“There will be an exhibition of hand-drawn architectural drawings of buildings in the community — you might see your own house,” says Bulman. She and other students will be “floating around” to discuss projects, she added.
This event follows another student-driven initiative in the community.
Evan Karl, also a second-year student at Willowbank, was assigned a project for a conservation management plan, which included identifying what is important about a place, and what could and couldn’t be proposed going forward, he says.
“We were assigned Willowbank.”
“There is a history of tension between the students of Willowbank and the residents of Queenston due to historical issues that hadn’t been resolved,” observes the new Queenston resident, who says he used to be “afraid residents saw me as a rascal invading their village.”
“My project partner and I decided to look back, and ask residents what they thought was important about Willowbank,” says Karl. “We put a questionnaire in the local post office, and told residents we were planning a community event. We also mailed a postcard invitation, and some students went door-to-door to reinforce the invitation.”
They held the event in the Bright Parlour at the Willowbank estate house, on a weeknight. “I remember that at six o’clock there weren’t a lot of people there — maybe four or five,” recalls Karl. “The weather was bad, so we weren’t sure if people would make it out. But by 6:15 we were up to about 20 people, which seemed like a really good turnout. It meant a lot to us that so many people braved the elements to help us with this project.”
Three questions were asked of the groups of residents seated around four tables, a Willowbank student at each one, taking notes and moderating. “We were mainly focussed on discussion. It was a really positive interaction,” says Karl. The residents were happy to be invited to the school, and the students were grateful to the residents for coming in open-minded and willing to interact.
Karl is happy to report that since then, Willowbank students and staff have been invited to Pancake Tuesday at the church, and to the Queenston community cleanup. “Now people are optimistic, and we have started to see it bear fruit,” he says. “The enigma and mystery of the relationship are gone, and have been replaced by optimism.”
Karl, Bulman, and the rest of the students and staff hope to welcome not just their Queenston neighbours, but people from all over to enjoy their work and share their pride.
“If the day is nice, bring picnics and we’ll supply blankets,” suggests Bulman. The event
runs April 14 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.