March 28-April 18
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 28, 1pm-4pm

It takes Elizabeth Johnson one hour and five minutes to travel from her home by Shoe Lake to her Dorset studio. The first part of the walk is on a gravel road that swerves past cottages and rock cuts, winds through the forest, and plunges down to Highway 35. There, the highway catches the end of Raven Lake, bisects a swamp, then charges up a hill and down the other side to her studio. For Elizabeth, it is a beautiful walk.  

Elizabeth knows every twist and turn, every rock, stream and burl. They influence and inform all the other forests, and rocks and swamps that she paints. What is so important about walking each day to and from work, in terms of her art, is that it is slow and reflective. All Elizabeth has to do is place one foot in front of the other, watch and listen, smell the sweetness of the woods and feel the pinch of winter on her face. “Such an uncluttered environment sweeps out the cobwebs in the mind and soul, leaving space for creativity and sheer joy,” says Elizabeth. “My brain drops right down into my feet. The rhythmic motion of walking drums out all the compositional and colour problems, before I have reached the studio.”  

This show exhibits the landscapes Elizabeth encounters on her hikes. Most of them come from her immediate surroundings; the rest, from her travels. Several paintings include a walking figure, others are scenes she thinks of or remembers as she is walking.   

For Elizabeth, having a show at the Chapel Gallery is like a reunion. Her last solo exhibition was 21 years ago. “The most exciting moment is walking into the gallery after the paintings have been hung and seeing a body of my work hanging in a different space. It’s a revelation. It looks so different, so beautiful, so together,” observes Elizabeth.    

Taking an idea to the painting stage takes a lot of thought, rearranging, and mapping out of the shapes and values. “By the time I am ready to paint, I must know exactly where I am going so I can paint with fresh, bold, and confident strokes. It must never look labored,” explains Elizabeth who was a high school teacher of French, and English in Guelph and Bracebridge.   

Over the years, Elizabeth’s painting has changed. At first, it was small, detailed watercolours. Now, she uses mostly oil paints and the size of the canvases and brushes has increased and the brushwork looser. “My work has moved toward greater abstraction and less detail. Colours have become more subtle. Children and the gifts and tragedies of ordinary life have challenged and expanded me. So, naturally, my painting style has changed and expanded, too,” reveals Elizabeth.  

Elizabeth has been painting since her early teens when her brother, John gave her a box of oil paints for Christmas. Primarily self-taught, Elizabeth has taken many studio courses, has gained knowledge from reading, studying the masters and practicing on her own. “I have learned the most about painting by putting in the hours and hours of just painting,” says Elizabeth. .  

By the time Elizabeth has reached her studio, she is energized by her walk and she has mentally painted a scene. “I turn on Bach as this music always makes my heart beat a little faster. The day is spread before me and I am in the starting blocks,” articulates Elizabeth. “But it’s not a race. It’s a meditative journey through the gift of this day to make something beautiful and original, carefully and gratefully and slowly with my hands.”  

Elizabeth prefers to paint on location. “When in nature, silence is my muse,” says Elizabeth often encounters people while painting. “People love to see painters by the side of the road. Once, when I was painting on an old railway track, a really tough looking dude on his Harley Davidson stopped and yelled, ‘Hey, what are you doing over there?’ I bristled at the interruption. He got off his bike and came loping toward me in his grubby black leathers. His eyes went from painting to the scene, back to the painting. Then, he burst out laughing while I held my breath. ‘I don’t believe this. How can you see beauty in this place? I live just over there on the other side and I’ve never seen anything beautiful about this old, rundown side of the track. But this is beautiful. Hey, you’ve made my day! Can’t wait to tell the other guys.’  He pumped my hand gratefully and went away chuckling and mumbling something about finding beauty in the strangest of places.”  

There are times when painting is such hard, mental work that Elizabeth says her head will ache. “But I love hard work, especially when I believe strongly that what I am doing will make the world a better, kinder, and more beautiful place.”  

Although Elizabeth enjoys exploring and painting the back roads and countryside of Canada, she is setting her artistic sights on other parts of the world. This summer, she will be hiking with her watercolour paints in the French Pyrenees. She is also contemplating combining her writing skills in some way with her art.  

“I hope the viewers at my show will be able to slow down and look carefully at my paintings and walk around in them. May they hear the silence in them, feel the chill of the snow, taste the salty air and smell the sun-warmed earth. These are the gifts of every day. These are the matchless rewards of slowing down and taking one’s vocation at a walking pace.”

        If you would like to receive e-mail notices of our upcoming exhibitions and shows, 
please send an e-mail with your request including your full name and e-mail address.

Located at 15 King Street in Bracebridge, the gallery is open year-round, Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm. It is closed during the last week of September and the second week of October as well as between Christmas and New Year’s Days. Please check the Calendar of Events for the actual dates. For a map, please follow this link.

Exhibitions are booked one year in advance.  To learn how to apply for a show, please follow this link: Exhibition Application.

The Chapel Gallery was opened in September, 1989. Housed in a reconstruction of the first Presbyterian Church in Bracebridge, the Chapel Gallery hosts exhibitions of art and craft by our members and other local and provincial artists. Exhibitions are selected by the Gallery Committee and change every three to four weeks.

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Muskoka Arts & Crafts Inc. is located in the District Municipality of  Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.