Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Heritage Designation Officially Approved

Sugar plum fairies swinging and twirling from the dining room light fixture.

Well, Christmas has come a little early and glows a little brighter for us with official town documents certifying that the Dusty Victorian villa is of architectural, associative and historic value.


Pride of ownership takes on a new dimension now that our home is officially recognized as a part of St Marys heritage. Originally from Montreal, having lived in Vancouver and Toronto, we are often asked, "Why did you settle in St Marys?” There are many reasons. To name just a few: gorgeous old architecture, unique topography creating lovely vistas, several little bridges crossing river and creek, majestic church steeples that can be seen from miles away, but more importantly, a well preserved downtown that is still up and running. We visited many small towns before coming to St Marys, and found a staggering number were just shadows of their former Victorian glory – "ghost towns" would be better suited to describe them. Even if St Marys is the exception, it is still very vulnerable. By seeking heritage designation for our home, we wanted to contribute to the preservation of this town. As owners of an antique home, we see ourselves as custodians and believe it’s our civic duty to protect it. We take great pleasure living in a unique old house, recognizing that its presence in St Marys landscape benefits everyone near and far, as well as future generations. 

Thank you to Trisha McKibbin, St Marys Museum archivist and manager, for making the entire process run smoothly and the experience most enjoyable.

The next step, the casting and installation of the bronze plaque, will most probably take place sometime in spring 2014.

Below is a certificate from our honourable Mayor Grose to commemorate our participation as a host site during Doors Open 2013 with The Dusty Victorian as seen in winter 1905 - a lovely gesture. What a great way to end the year.


The Dusty Victorian - December 2013

Wishing you all the best for 2014
(and reminding you not to forget your local animal shelter).

My hairy fairies, Violet, Chaz and Beauty.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Countess' Cedar Gown and Top Hat Christmas Decoration - Completed



Top hat in Autumn 2012
To change the top hat's colour from craft paper beige to red I used red tissue paper torn up in pieces no bigger than 3"x 3" and pasted them all over using a paint brush and a 50/50 mixture of white glue and water.


All the ornamentations I had already.


18th century wig autumn 2011
For this year's wig, I used red fabric petals instead of paper. It kind of looks like a rubber bathing cap at this point, but with the hat on, it looks good and it keeps the hat from sliding on the glass.


Note the bold rectangle faceted jewellery - very Cartier.


Done!

Unfortunately, the Countess lost her head during the French revolution, which is why she comes to me in two parts, but you can imagine that she would strike a dashing figure entering a room with this outfit.
I think she is truly the spirit of Christmas.

Wishing you a lovely holiday time.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Countess' Cedar Gown and Top Hat, Part II


Here we are. The bodice is covered with shorter and smaller branches. Still, I had to trim the greenery closer to the body with my garden sheers - cedar is not the most slimming material. A huge red poppy with petals falling randomly was added. Keeping the design simple and bold conveys modernity.


Voila, a different type of Christmas tree.


It would be nice to keep the gown inside, but with three dogs, it's simply not possible.

What?! But I like having my own private indoor  bathroom.


I'm sure the squirrels will hide a few walnuts in there - they always do.


Okay, now for the top hat...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Countess' Cedar Gown and Top Hat, Part I


Well, my old friend The Countess Papera Ephemera showed up for a new dress commission. This year, a 'Noel' evening gown as opposed to a Halloween one is in the making. She knew I wasn't going to be in St Marys for her yearly autumn request, so she postponed her trip and will be our spirited guest for the holiday season.

I gathered many decorative things from Christmases past and will transform her autumn top hat into a festive one. This time, I decided to give her a more modern look, along the lines of the 1940 silver screen legends. 
The lovely thing about Popie is that she understands the true nature of an artist and trusts me implicitly. That's how I like it. This is a luxury that I enjoy now that I work from home and have a spirit for a client. I ran out of glue so I will move on to the dress for now.
Below are shots of the cedar gown in progress.


Ultra-Violet looks innocent, but is most probably assessing the new indoor facilities. 




Come back later for the completion of the cedar tree evening gown.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Antique Cruet Set with Autumn Raspberries and Ladybugs

Antique Cruet Set with Autumn Raspberries and Ladybugs
8" x 10" acrylic on canvas
This charming cruet set made of silver and glass is no longer used today, but has a place of honour on the buffet of the St Marys Museum. It’s a place that reminds us that such lovely objects of the past can still be used and enjoyed today, but perhaps not necessarily for their original purposes. Using them to display delicate flowers is just one example. With the cruet set, I chose to feature autumn raspberry branches from my garden. With the branches came the ladybugs, very abundant at this time of the year, feasting on the ripening fruits.

I'm just back from Montreal, so until I'm back in the swing of things I'm leaving this little vignette.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Antique Chandelier with Budgies - The English Study

Antique Chandelier with Budgies in the English Study
8" x 10" acrylic on canvas
Few things convey glamour, nostalgia and romance in a room like a crystal chandelier. The inspiration for this painting comes from the antique light fixture hanging in the English study of our home, the Dusty Victorian. Made of brass with cut crystal shades, it sparkles nicely against the ornate ceiling. Also featured are our two lively and chatty budgies named the Flying Wallendas. Although they’re never let loose in this room, I like to pair live subjects with inanimate ones. Whether it be, animals, insects or plants, I think it adds warmth and whimsy to my work.

I'm off to Montreal until the end of this month, so am leaving you with this little vignette.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Heritage Designation Follow-up



At this stage of the heritage designation procedure a notice is placed in the local newspaper.

In the process of requesting a heritage designation, Mary Smith and Larry Pfaff of the Heritage Committee brought to light a sad events regarding past owners of the Dusty Victorian, which resulted in a gradual and severe deterioration of the house between 1957 to 1975.
When Leonard Harstone passed away in 1932, he left behind his widow Beatrice and son Robert. They continued to live in the house until Mrs Harstone died in 1957. Known to be difficult and demanding, she did not approve of Robert's engagement to Elsie Hyde, a local girl, whom he had known most of his life. Whatever Mrs. Harstone's reasons, she exercised her power to prevent the marriage. It was not until her death in 1957 that Robert and Elsie publicly acknowledge their attachment and later were married. From this point on, the house was locked up with all of the homes furnishings and Mrs. Harstone's personal belongings. Even the many preserves she had made and stocked away were left untouched for nearly twenty years. Slowly, the house fell into disrepair, rotting away and loosing many attractive features. It was not until Robert's death in 1974, that his wife Elsie, put the estate up for sale and it caught the attention of Peter Behn and John Sheeler. A house that had been one of St Marys' gems was nothing more than an abandon, dilapidated house when they purchased it in 1975. 
Image courtesy of the St Marys Museum
Above is the house circa 1940

Seen below is the house in May 1975
The second storey balcony had rotten away, many shutters were missing, the gingerbread balustrade and the grand sweeping stairs - gone, as is the lush landscape, just to name a few things.
Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn May 1975, before they took possession.
Through the Heritage Committee, I had the privilege and immense pleasure of communicating with Mr. Behn. The priceless information and photographs he has so generously offered brought light to many questions I had. To learn of the staggering amount of restorative work they had done was simply mind blowing. They had restored the house to its original design and made numerous improvement in the process, taking care to preserve its intrinsic style. Mr. Behn and Mr. Sheeler (now deceased) owned an antique shop in downtown St Marys at 159 Queen St. They were successful in having this property designated heritage. As for 137 Water St. North, that would come much later with yours truly.

This is a shot of the large parlour now our library. It probably represents best how the house was during the Harstone ownership. The 'L' shape bookcase holds the Harstone's law books which have remained in the house ever since, but this bookcase is long gone. The colours for this room were very dark - fashionable style at the turn of the last century.

Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
Furnishings and decoration styles may have change through out the years, but what is evident to me is the labour of love this house has benefited from since 1975. The fireplace was given a beautiful wood mantel, the walls were covered with an ornate golden yellow paper pattern, the windows were elegantly dressed with full length curtains and beautiful area rugs graced the floors. In the shots below, you will see the many gorgeous antiques through out the house during the Behn/Sheeler ownership which lasted from 1975 to 1983.

Fire place in the large parlour now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
Front door of the large parlour now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Large parlour, corner where the Harstone bookcase use to be. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Back door of the large parlour, now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

View of the dining room from the front parlour, now the studio. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Front parlour with view of the entrance foyer. On the camel back antique sofa is their little Italian Greyhound pet dog. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
I was not surprised to learn that Mr. John Sheeler was an heritage activist and was instrumental in creating what is now known as the Municipal Heritage Committee. The first meeting was held in 1977 where he served on the committee's executive. He was involved in the first municipal designations under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Queen Street Bridge and the Opera House are just a few examples of his efforts in the field of heritage designation.

Mr. Peter Behn was an active volunteer at the St. Marys Museum. Beside his expertise in antiques, he had a special interest in gardening. He worked hard to improve the borders, discovering heritage plants that had survived the changes in occupancy of the Dusty Victorian. 

(Harstone period) Circa 1975                                          Oct. 2013
May 1975                                                 Oct. 2013
Backyard May 1975                              Backyard Oct. 2013
Back North-East side circa 1975                  Back North-East side Oct.2013                
"...I am grateful that the house, since our ownership, has found individual buyers who use it as their primary residence. However, it is only natural that each party has their own ideas of what to do with it, and to what extent retain its originality. There are obviously changes which cannot easily be reversed, and a certain 'modernization' is inevitable."
Peter Behn

I agree, wall colours and furnishings will change from owner to owner, personal taste and modernization is inevitable, especially in such rooms as the kitchen and bathroom. One needs the conveniences of modern day life in order to fully enjoy one's home. These conveniences keep a home relevant, comfortable and desirable, but respecting its antique nature is important to us. We consider ourselves custodians of this house, trying our best to preserve, maintain and protect the important work previous owners have done before us. 

In 1983, the house was sold to Lori Webb Thompson and her husband Mike Thompson where they remained for twenty five years, raising their three children. Mrs. Thompson left her remarkable William Morris vision on the walls and ceiling of five major rooms, which can be seen in the previous post. Not to mention the embellishment of the exterior landscape with the integration of limestone retaining walls, a slate patio and a two story Victorian style shed/playhouse.


Patio Summer 2012

Backyard retaining stone walls and shed/playhouse Summer 2012



A house without a caring owner is as destitute as a homeless person.

Thank you to Peter Behn, John Sheeler and Lori Webb Thompson.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Heritage Designation Approved & Virtual Tour of The Dusty Victorian


We are very pleased to report that the Committee of the Whole and Town Council have approved the request for our home to be designated heritage... just in time for Doors Open St Marys last Saturday. 

The next step will be a public notice in the local newspaper, after which it will go back to Town Council for final approval.


Thank you to Mary Smith, Journal-Argus columnist and St Marys historian, for this wonderful article on our home. Mary Smith and Larry Pfaff have discovered an amazing amount of information on our home. We can't wait to read the final report. 

 The morning of Doors Open around 9:30 am when all was calm.
That was soon to change.
For those who were not able to come and tour our home, I've taken shots as if you would be walking through. Follow me, I will be your personal tour guide.

 After walking up our numerous steps, the first greeters are the dogs.

 The 'greeting station' where I (in the morning) and Dan Schneider (Heritage Committee volunteer for the afternoon) would greet visitors with Doors Open material and a pamphlet dedicated to the house's history. The painting in the background enhancing our entrance was on loan by local artist and neighbour Heather Ruthig.

The Dusty Victorian's pamphlet.
Printed on the other side was a short history on our house and its previous owners along with information on noteworthy architectural details. Thank you to the St Marys Museum and the Heritage Committee for the images and the research.

Directly to the right, visitors entered the library - a taste of things to come. Paul King (Heritage Committee volunteer and tour guide) sounded like a he had done this all his life - so professional. This room was originally two rooms, a front parlour and a dining room.

Library ceiling
Behind the door leading out of the library there was originally an opening in the wall to pass food from the kitchen. Walking out of the library into a central foyer...

and into the dining room, which was in the past a smaller parlour.

Dining room ceiling
Looking back, pocket doors fully opened, the dining set from Brian's British grandparents looked like it was designed for this room.

 Once the main parlour, now my studio, this room displayed works of Erin Shipley, wildlife photographer. Her regal swan and dignified owl complemented this room beautifully. Inbetween Erin's photography was the work of yours truly.


The wall and ceiling treatments of the three rooms on the main floor, the library, the dining room and the studio, were designed by Lori Thompson, the previous owner  - an artist in her own right if you ask me. The intricately and expertly applied wall paper was the work of Al....., a local craftsman/artisan.  If only they could have heard all the compliments.

 Leaving the studio, let's go up the main staircase. At the top to the left...

the Eurasian guest room featuring the headboard which was once the original front storm doors. In a very early post, you can see what they looked like after they had been stripped bare.

Right beside this room, but in the servants quarters is the main bathroom. 

 Here as well you will see the work of Lori Thompson. Everyone was so impressed with the wall treatment, the embossed trim and antique bedroom furniture adapted to their new environment.

Bathroom's embossed wall treatment
But people were especially intrigued with the antique copper bath and sink faucet.
"Does it work? Do you use it?" Of course we do, everyday. In a letter to me, Lori explains that the antique coper bath came from a century home in St Marys and had been sitting in a shed for many years. She rescued it from oblivion, refurbished it and is now still enjoyed today.

Copper lined antique bath
She wrote "I think the bathroom was my favourite project of all. It has the most of 'me' in it".

 Turning around and going down the hallway...

to the English study, which mainly serves as Brian's office, but occasionally doubles as a guest room. Again, the wonderful work of the previous owner.


English Study ceiling
Going back and down the stairs.

Two hundred and twenty seven people visited the Dusty Victorian between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, which is why there are no shots taken during the actual event; I was just too overwhelmed by all the activity. We met many local people that had known the house since childhood but had never seen the inside. Some had known past owners. We were fascinated by stories relating to the house and people that had once lived here. We had visitors from all over Ontario, near and far.
We are told that we broke an all-time town record for attendance.

Hope you enjoyed your tour.

Thank you to Paul King and Dan Schneider for generously offering to co-host our home. Thank you to Erin Shipley and Heather Ruthig, guest artists, for enhancing our home with their beautiful work.
Thank you to Astrid and Catriona for sacrificing a beautiful day and spending it inside an old house, guiding the many visitors in the right direction.
Thank you to Trisha McKibbin and her team at the St Marys Museum for all the support and guidance they have provided through out Open Doors St Marys.