festival des arts

A couple of weeks ago I received a press release about the upcoming Festival des Arts, a week-long festival taking place in Québec’s Eastern townships. The dates were straightforward enough: July 24th through August 1st. The exact location, though – now, that was a bit more difficult to nail down. I visited the website and discovered why: it’s a festival spread out over two towns, and four different venues along the shore of Lake Memphrémagog.  Alright then. Sounds like a road trip.

After a little confusion accidentally(!) crossing the Canadian border in Derby, VT (where only some of the many town streets that serve as crossing points are marked…sheesh!) and a short drive North on 247 after going through an approved border crossing, the little elephant signs began to appear on the roadside. I had been to the website. I’d seen the pictures. I realized Georgeville’s Elephant Barn venue must be the first stop. And so it was: a large red barn with typical white trim, except for the huge white elephant on the side. The inside glowed with refurbished natural wood and soft lighting strung artfully from the ceiling. Every surface was covered in art: pastels, acrylics, oils, aquarelles (watercolors) and stained glass…along with glass and driftwood tables and a whole back yard filled with tall sculptures. And what a location! Views of the hills in the background, woods and grassy fields in the foreground. A natural setting for a lot of interesting, locally created art. My favorites here were all liquid acrylics from the same artist, Christine Pelzer. I liked her loose, fluid technique and the colorful, bold, architectural compositions that resulted from it.

Next stop was also in Georgeville, at the Murray Memorial Center. It’s an open, airy, gallery-style space with light paint and hardwood floors. The first thing that caught my eye upon entering was the works of sculpteur Matthieu Binette. His small (4-8 or so inches) faceless metal human figures are whimsical and invested with personality, while remaining fairly static at the same time. They don’t bend as much as they are gently curved into the flow of the larger work, while the single figures in shadow boxes stand against backgrounds painted with the subtle shapes of shadowy wings. (You have to see it: check out some pictures at Binette’s gallery website here.) When I mentioned to the artist that his figures reminded me a little of Giacometti’s figurative sculptures, he lit up: “yes, I did not know about Giacometti until one of my art teachers saw my sculptures and told me about him! Then I read a book, and learned about Giacometti.” He didn’t deny the resemblance, but having learned about the master sculpture after arriving at his own individual style seemed a perfectly acceptable explanation. Binette’s work, however reminiscent of anyone else’s, is nonetheless personal and certainly uniquely crafted – the metal he uses to create his figures comes from welded and melted coat hangers!

Two more stops on the afternoon tour (Town Hall in Fitch Bay, and the Art Nitsche Gallery in Georgeville) revealed fine bowls made from wood burls, imaginatively formed hanging stained glass pieces, many oil and watercolor paintings, more sculpture and many other fine objects d’art.  It was hard to take it all in during a single visit.

The Eastern Townships Festival des Arts runs through this coming Sunday. Take the drive, it’s both a rewarding trip and destination!

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