Are you a budding artist looking for a new challenge? Don’t have an artistic bone in your body but want a fun day out making art with friends anyway? Whatever your level of creativity, we have an art workshop for you! But unlike your typical “paint and sip,” where you walk away with an oil-painted canvas at the end of the night that looks like everyone else’s, we have something more special in mind. With a workshop at Rolling Hills Studio in Sunderland, you can walk away with your very own, one-of-a-kind fabric sculpture.
Ever heard of fabric sculpting before? It’s really cool. This unique artform results in magical creations that are sure to turn heads, for every sculpture tells a story frozen in time. Fabric sculpting is a process where actual fabric saturated with a universal hardener is draped onto a wire frame to create shapes that can appear to have life and movement to them. The different kinds of fabric you use will give your sculpture different textures and depth. Dry-brush your sculpture with colour once it has cured to make it come to life. You won’t believe the end result, and neither will passers-by as they spot your sculpture through your window, or even in your garden—that’s right: it’s outdoors-level durable.
Anja Kooistra is the maker behind Rolling Hills Studio. Having been creative her whole life, when Anja immigrated from the Netherlands, she had already formed the idea of starting a business for herself that would combine her artistic talent with her love of being around people. “I discovered fabric sculpting back in the Netherlands,” she recalls. “There is a woman who lives in Perth, and she brough fabric sculpting to Canada. It was so different and so unique that I thought to myself, I can do this full-time, too.”
Unlike many artists who venture into hosting workshops after establishing studios for their own work, the workshop aspect of Anja’s business was a must-have feature from the beginning. Fabric sculpting, she points out, is a more accessible artisan skill than many others—glass blowing, for example, or wood carving. There is less of a technical demand to make a magnificent piece and not much is required in the way of specialized tools. Plus, with fabrics being so easy to come by, guests can bring their own. Grandma’s doilies, your old camp tee-shirt you’ve been hanging onto, that bit of ribbon at the end of the roll which is too beautiful to discard—it’s all usable material.
The adventure that would become Rolling Hills Studio started in Anja’s dining room ten years ago with a few of her friends who, she laughs, “were willing to be my guinea pigs. I did that for a year and a half,” she says. “At one point, I started collecting so much stuff that my husband told me I had to move somewhere else.” That somewhere else ended up being the couple’s basement. With its large space and high ceilings, it was a better fit than the dining room. For the next five years, Anja grew her business here, but eventually that would become too small as well.
Thankfully, there is a barn on Anja and her husband’s property, and being such a creative person, it was only natural for Anja to consider renovating it. When her husband suggested that maybe it was time to move out there, Anja had no trouble envisioning what the space would become. “As soon as my husband said that, I already had it in my mind what it was going to look like, and I could picture my students working and doing fun sculpting. It would also give me space where I could work on my own projects. It was perfect.”
For the last three years, Rolling Hills Studio has operated out of this rustic, barn with a cozy, homey feel. “That’s what I always get when people come in,” Anja says. “They tell me it feels so cozy in here, just like home. They feel comfortable.”
For your workshop at Rolling Hills Studio, prepare to be entertained. It’s part of the package: learn a new craft, have fun with friends and family, and enjoy lively entertainment by a passionate host and instructor. “Guests come together, have fun, and are able to create something,” Anja says. “When they go home, they are proud of what they made, and they feel like they’ve accomplished something. They put their sculptures in their car and wave and say they’ll be back for the next one.”
In fact, much of the clientele at Rolling Hills is repeat business because they love the experience so much. “For me, it was easy to start with the workshops,” she states. “It’s just that social aspect I love. I always have fun when my guests come because I know we’re going to have a fun time making something. It’s my social outlet.”
That social element of her workshops is something Anja has missed incredibly while we are not able to attend in-person events here in Ontario. Her guests, too, have emailed frequently to ask when she will begin holding her classes again. “I can’t wait,” she exclaims. “Hopefully it’s soon that the lockdown ends, but if not, then we’ll likely be looking at the summer for when things can happen. But it’s going to be busy for sure. I feel it.”
Rolling Hills Studio is located at S10445 Side Road 17, Sunderland. Keep up with Anja Kooistra and her upcoming workshops, appearances and events at www.rollinghillsstudio.ca, or call (416) 884-0812.
Story by Katherine Ryalen