Splotches of cerulean blue peeked out from the frothing titanium white clouds on the grounds of the 13th Street Winery in St. Catharines Saturday.
Striped patio umbrellas dotted the expansive property, protecting artists from the sun’s cadmium yellow rays. These artists are used to being exposed to the elements, and welcome a bit of fresh air. They prefer to be known as en plein air artists, to be exact.
Cindy Sheridan, the group’s founder and organizer, explained that she became interested in painting outdoors after taking a workshop in 2017 with NOTL artist and instructor Julie Ponesse. Sheridan formed Niagara Plein Air Artists in the spring of 2018, after spending a winter in Hawaii, where she enjoyed painting with the local plein air group. When she returned to the region, she looked for a local group to join, and finding one did not exist in the area, she started her own. Three years later, there are about 60 members, with outings that average about a dozen people coming out to paint.
The group communicates through a Facebook page where, along with the dates, times and locations of the next painting session, they share their day’s work. Plein air pieces are usually “small, often completed on the spot, or sometimes they are just thumbnail sketches or studies to work out values, colours, composition, etc. to be used as a reference for future art pieces,” explained Sheridan.
The group is always looking for new locations, and the grounds of 13th Street Winery, which is also home to the 13th Street Gallery, provided a superb place for some artistic inspiration. After some initial enquiries by member Carol Anne Diguer, Sheridan and the group were invited to the winery to paint on location. The group was supposed to return for an Art in April event, but subsequent lockdowns due to COVID put a stop to that. The 13th Street Gallery manager, Margie Galita, was happy the group was finally able to return for their Expressions Project event. The winery has launched a new line of Expression wines, and a portion of the proceeds from the wines will go toward supporting Canadian artists.
They have also established the 13th Street Winery Expression Award in honour of artist Karoly Veress, whose beautiful and dynamic sculptures grace the grounds of the winery. The winner of the award will be a deserving student in their third or fourth year at OCAD University in Toronto, in the sculpture/installation program.
Galita was pleased to have the artists at the winery, and loved seeing them set up around in various locations around the property. “It’s so pretty. It feels like you are in Europe with all the painters out there,” she noted. She said she would also like to showcase their work in one of the galleries onsite to promote artists in the Niagara Region.
Ten years after the 13th Street Winery opened, the 13th Street Gallery opened its doors, and now offers guests the opportunity to view and purchase a variety of paintings and sculptures. Exhibitions change regularly, with each drawing on the stories and the artists represented in their personal collection.
One of the artists on site for the plein air event was Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Win Henstock, who was elated to be able to get out with the group. “It’s beautiful here. It’s perfect, not too hot. The music is good too,” she said. “It’s a lovely place, and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves. It’s filling up. I’m going to have to add more people into my painting.” Henstock was dressed seasonally in all white, sitting in her red camp chair under her white umbrella, protected from the sun. She paints on her lap with her art supplies in a case beside her, and a stemmed glass of wine perched precariously in the cup holder, facing the main buildings where people are milling about enjoying wine, food from the bistro, and baked goods from the onsite bakery while listening to live music.
An art instructor with the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre, Henstock missed teaching during the lockdowns, but still painted in her studio or garden. “It’s just in my blood. It’s like a disease. You can’t help it. You lose yourself when you paint. You might have a few problems, but when you paint it takes it all away because you focus more on the art.”
Henstock recently joined the plein air group, which she learned about through Sheridan, a former student of hers. “She asked me one time should she start this plein air group. I said sure, go ahead. Because I was busy with the Pumphouse all the time, I didn’t really keep up with the group. Then when the pandemic hit, I heard that they were going out in plein air, which is fine to do. I thought I should go out with them because we’ve been shut in too long, right?”
Henstock continued with the group when safe to do so. “Because you’re outside, and we’re distanced, it’s not like you’re on top of one another, so I think it’s pretty safe. I’ve had two shots so I feel a little safer now,” she reasoned.
The artist acknowledges other instructors managed to teach online through the pandemic using the Zoom platform, but she felt she was not up to using the technology. She prefers to teach in person. “I’ve been getting calls asking if I’m going to start teaching again soon, so I told them as soon as we’re allowed to, I’m there,” she said enthusiastically. “I know that people have been doing them [workshops] over Zoom but I’m not really techy. My husband is in long-term care and he used to help me before. I have a student that’s going to help me with that, so I’m hoping to get more techy. It’s never too late to learn.”
More information on Henstock and her work can be found at https://whenstock.fineartstudioonline.com.
The 13th Street Winery and Gallery will be hosting Niagara’s Plein Air artists for the next two Saturdays, July 10 and 17. For more details visit: https://13thstreetgallery.com/event/art-in-april-niagaras-plein-air-painters/.
Niagara Plein Air Artists Facebook group is https://www.facebook.com/groups/294713191510252/. For more information about the free membership, contact Cindy Sheridan, founder and coordinator through a Facebook message, or at 905-401-1503.