Hidden Gems for Art Lovers – Extraordinary Talent You Need to Check Out

Three of our “hidden gem” studios for art lovers, and three of our talented YDH artists you will find when you visit.

If you want fine art, fine craftsmanship and extraordinary vision, you don’t have to travel far to find it. York Durham Headwaters is home to wonderful galleries and studios we know you’re going to love. The artists and artisans within are real, approachable people who are as passionate about creating as they are about sharing their gifts with the world. Allow us to introduce you to three of our “hidden gem” studios for art lovers, and three of our talented YDH artists you will find when you visit.

1402 Queen St. W., Alton Mill Suite 102, Village of Alton

Alton Mill

It’s hard to believe that the beautiful Alton Mill Arts Centre, in the rolling hills of Caledon, was restored from a derelict industrial building constructed in the 1880s. In fact, the building was nearly demolished for the land value, but brothers Jeremy and Jordan Grant of the Seaton Group were determined to revitalize it instead. Today, it is a centrepiece of the community of Alton that celebrates contemporary art and artistry.

The mill offers studio space to several independent artists where they can create, display their work, and conduct workshops. One of these cornerstone studios is Gemma Gallery. Here, jewellery designer Anne-Marie Warburton creates and showcases one-of-a-kind pieces ranging from $20 to over $20,000! The old stone walls and scarred wooden floors of the mill give this gallery a feeling of classic-elegance-meets-rural-charm. The large windows let loads of bright sunshine in to set the gems and metals sparkling.

“Each jewellery case in our cheerful gallery tells a story of a style of jewellery,” Anne-Marie explains. “Whether you love sterling silver, white, yellow or rose gold, or perhaps platinum, we carry interesting one-of-a-kind pieces. Our goal is to represent jewellery artists who have a compelling look and feel to their creative work so that it can be worn and treasured for its beauty while expressing the client’s unique personality.” Cultured pearls are a big part of Gallery Gemma’s collection. Anne-Marie and her team carry a beautiful selection of pearls from around the world, and offer a restringing service for existing strands of pearls in addition to most other types of jewellery repair.

When Anne-Marie, who graduated in business and had a successful career in marketing and sales, switched gears and founded Gallery Gemma, she thought her business’s strength would be in showing jewellery that can’t be seen everywhere else.  “I thought it was time to highlight jewellery artists from home and abroad,” she recalls. But what she didn’t expect was how important the custom design aspect of her business would become. “The design process begins with a meeting in the gallery (and now on Zoom) and we talk about a client’s dreams for their new jewellery. We want to know what they love and what they don’t love, what they want and what they don’t want. 

A trusted dialogue means recommending the right gems, the right settings and the best look. Especially in custom designed jewellery, the design must flow from really understanding the client, so that the design is not something imposed upon them, but unique to them.”

Today, Gallery Gemma is a successful business in the beautiful Alton Mill Arts Centre, and is thoroughly fulfilling for Anne-Marie Warburton. “While we have grown, so has the Alton Mill Arts Centre,” she says. “I am surrounded by fantastic artists every day and this fuels our passion even more. Nothing compares to the look on a client’s face when they take ownership of their custom design. When they burst into tears of joy, we get to share the highs and the lows in their lives as they use unique jewellery to commemorate special moments.”

Rolling Hills Studio

S10445 Side Road 17, Sunderland

Fairy Art

Tucked away in the wandering countryside of Sunderland, just outside of Uxbridge, is Rolling Hills Studio. Fabric artist Anja Kooistra is the founder of this hidden gem, located in a rustic barn on her property which she refurbished into her studio in 2018 as her business was expanding.

“When people arrive after driving down the long driveway, the first reaction is how beautiful I live here and the beautiful drive over the rolling hills to my studio,” she says. “As soon as people enter the studio, the first thing they say is how nice it smells in here—like pine—and then they are in awe as they walk past all the sculptures displayed on shelves along the walls of the studio. It’s a warm and welcoming new workshop space that can accommodate larger groups, and it gives me more space to create custom pieces.” 

Anja describes herself as an energetic host who is passionate about teaching, and loves to entertain her students in her fun, year-round workshops. She explains, “My philosophy is that I like to make people happy with my work and my workshop. I have loved working with my hands since I was a child and I really enjoy entertaining people. That is one of my strengths in making students feel relaxed and comfortable during the workshop, and my pride when I see them go home with a proud smile on their face saying that they will definitely come back for another workshop.”

Anja’s work reflects a deep connection with nature, and in particular with birds, which often show up in her pieces, some with comical appearances. She often focuses on the female form for, as she says, its limitless variety. She also has a unique way of working with recycled materials like natural fibres, vintage lace, and doilies to give them lasting life beyond their original purpose, and her process uses a non-toxic, environmentally friendly fabric hardener.

Each new season brings new sculptures for Anja to inspire herself as well as others. One of this talented artist’s major goals is to inspire women and girls with the opportunities that are out there. “I, myself, am living proof that dreams can come true,” she states. “Many of them come with winding roads, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but with a lot of determination and a bit of stubbornness, many goals can be achieved.”

357 Main St., Schomberg

The Olde Mill Art Gallery and Shoppe

The quaint village of Schomberg is home to the Olde Mill Art Gallery & Shoppe, a co-op for local artists and artisans who fill the walls and floor space of this unique location with unique fine art. Formerly the Schomberg Feed Mill built in the 1800s, the gallery still retains original features like wood floors, overhead beams and large spaces, adding charm and warmth to the building in its current iteration.

Currently, nine local artists have their work on display, and each one specializes in different art forms. Wood turners work alongside painters, jewellery makers, quilters and weavers (to name just a few different talents). All art is Canadian-made, and each artist has a generous space to display their work. In return, the artists staff the gallery in turns a few times a month.

Patricia Earl is one of these creative artists. “Painting makes me happy,” she exclaims. “Colours keep me happy. Once I start, it doesn’t take long to lose myself in a painting, forgetting all sense of time. When I am finished for the day, I am often spent or exhausted. It’s a wonderful feeling.” Patricia began painting when her children were young. Being an at-home mom, taking a two-hour class once a week was a way to do something just for herself. She began with folk art classes to learn the basics about paints and brush stroke techniques, before moving on to her own subjects in various mediums.

Today, she displays her paintings at the Olde Mill. “I enjoy being surrounded by the art on display as well as welcoming our visitors to the gallery,” she says. “We also have the space to demonstrate or work on a painting or our own medium while on duty. Visitors like to see artists in action.” For Patricia, the fact that guests can talk to the artists directly is what makes this location so unique. She says, “In my case, seeing the painting process intrigues those who have never painted. Learning of the inspiration of a particular painting of interest or the location of the subject of a painting may also resonate with the visitor.”

On canvas and on paper, in acrylics and watercolours, Patricia paints to convey the light, colour, and mood of what she sees and feels around her. “I don’t have to travel far to find subjects that inspire me,” she says. “The gentle rolling hills, farmlands, forests, and wild flowers that I love to paint are found in abundance in the King countryside and surrounding townships on the hiking trails, and in my own backyard.  I strive to preserve the beauty of King Township on canvas and paper before potential development changes the landscape forever.” 


Story by Katherine Ryalen

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