Living artfully in Vermilion
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Alberta's northeast abounds with wide-open spaces, pristine lakes, boreal forests and captivating heritage experiences. Explore NEAB this summer!
Vermilion, AB - As her brush glides across the canvas, Andrea Wilkinson’s face seems to soften. Stress lines vanish. A calm focus inhabits her gaze. People try a lot of things to relieve stress, manage their mental health and restore balance in their lives, but taking a painting class outdoors in Vermilion’s Heritage Park seems to have the desired effect for Wilkinson.
Not so for Wilkinson’s younger daughter Jess, who finishes painting quickly and runs a couple frenetic happy laps around the lawn, seeking to release pent up energy. Fortunately, Vermilion is rich in opportunities to recalibrate the inner compass, from therapeutic art experiences like the annual Art in the Park event each September, to Vermilion Provincial Park’s soothing nature escapes to the friendly vibe of the shops on Main Street. If there is an art to living well, then Vermilion is blessed with a creative touch.
“Especially during this time, the importance of art is mental wellness. This is a happy place to be,” says Heather Millan, gesturing towards the art that lines the walls of the new gallery she opened in Vermilion in September 2020.
The Upper Level Pottery and Art Gallery, on the upper floor of the Craig’s building, draws in those who appreciate art, introduces them to regional art and gives regional artists both a place to present their work as well as to share their talents through workshops.
Big, bright windows let in ample natural light to admire the works lining the walls. Brilliant muti-media metal and acrylic octopi, larger than life cat’s eyes, neon prairies and painted bison skulls somehow co-exist here, elegantly displayed among the whitewashed log beams, brick foundation and hardwood floors.
Launching a business during the pandemic took panache, but Millan is in the right place. There has been a creative strain running through Vermilion for years. In the last five years, the small town of some 4000 has seen an impressive run of new business openings and events, bringing a liveliness to the main street that is the envy of other prairie towns. Creativity, whether it’s expressed in local architecture, cuisine, outdoor sport or commerce, is the raw clay local entrepreneurs mine for their works.
But for Wilkinson and her family, what is manifested out of that creativity is not what matters most. Taking a peaceful moment to sit by the fish pond in Vermilion Provincial Park and skip rocks, sitting on the dock to dip their feet in the lake, the Wilkinsons are here for the process. They’re seeking the art in the everyday. As a destination, Vermilion provides the raw materials, but it’s up to each individual to refine their own experience.
“Creating something beautiful from nothing comes in all aspects of art,” says Millan. “For me, I start with a lump of clay and it becomes a mug, or a serving platter. It’s the creation of beauty.”
Among all artistic experiences the act of making art is one of the richest, and that is a main part of the annual Art in the Park event which takes place September 11, 2021.
Alongside showings and community events, Upper Level-featured artist and local Monica To will be giving workshops. So if you’re new to making art, or perhaps experienced but looking for some guidance, that’s something you’ll want to register for.
Found treasures constitute another kind of artistic pleasure, the kind generated by seeking out and curating items that will give you joy. This is the premise behind Underground Treasures, which shares a space in the same building as Upper Level, in the basement. Locally crafted goods and artisanal products, such as hand-knit stuffies, home decor and jewellery and accessories fill the space. Wilkinson and her girls find themselves happily lost as if in an abandoned ship laden with treasure.
Getting lost is itself an art form of sorts. Exploring somewhere new and opening up to new experiences is a way to give our brains a break from the mundane and restore wonder and excitement to our lives. Whether it’s nature, art or retail therapy, this is the creative promise of a visit to Vermilion.
WHEN YOU GO
- Art in the Park takes place Sept 11, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Check the full schedule here.
- Sign up for a three hour art class, with local art instructor Monica To, includes all you need for $35 (sign up from 9 to noon or 1-4pm Sept 11) - sign up here
- Explore the new Upper Level Pottery and Art Gallery - and maybe even join a class! Find schedules on their website.
- Unearth new treasures with a visit to Underground Treasures, basement level of the Craig's building on Main Street.
- No visit to Vermilion is complete without a visit to Vermilion Provincial Park. Find a mini-golf course, campgrounds, docks and hiking trails. Check out Burnt Rock Adventure Co for all your outdoor gear needs.