March 18 - April 8
Public Reception: Saturday, March 18, 1pm-4pm with an artist's talk at 1:30pm

Elizabeth Johnson divulges that she is not looking forward to her upcoming solo exhibition at Muskoka Arts & Crafts’ Chapel Gallery. “I am terrified,” she admits about this new body of work that stretched her well beyond her comfort level. “I don’t even know if I can do what I have in mind. I am losing sleep over it.”  

Ever since her brother gave her a set of paints when she was 11 years old, Elizabeth has been painting and had developed has her own artistic language. Now, Elizabeth is learning another language, one that is symbolic and less cluttered. “I guess I am doing it all backwards,” reveals Elizabeth. “I should be an expert in this new technique before I launch a public show. This exhibition, however, is about sparks, beginnings, not knowing wither the wind will blow and sparks and what they will ignite.”  

The idea for this exhibition was sown more than a year ago when Elizabeth had a private morning consultation with Pat Fairhead. “She sat me down in front of a sheet of paper and instructed me to play,” Elizabeth recalls. “I was floored and flustered. I suddenly felt like Pip visiting Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. I painted but I could not abandon myself to play. Her comment bothered me deeply all year. I work hard at art. Am I missing something? Just what if I did play? I decided to go back to something of my childhood which was a book of poetry to help me recapture that spirit of play in my art.”  

Using 101 Famous Poems compiled by Roy J. Cook as an inspirational springboard, Elizabeth jumped into a new realm and gave herself experimental freedom with paint. “These paintings are not illustrations of the poems. They are emotional responses to the poetry. While poetry blows new sparks and hope into the soul, 101 Poems is the bellows that blows new spirit into my watercolours. Even I do not know what will emerge,” explains Elizabeth.  

Upon embarking on this project, Elizabeth had concerns that upon rereading the much-loved book of poems from her childhood, they would no longer speak to her, or that she would find them outdated and no longer applicable to today. She wondered if she would be able to connect to them again and started to avoid rereading many of the poems.  

“Once you start scratching the surface of something from your childhood, you never know what you will uncover,” remarks Elizabeth. “It’s just unnerving. They represent an awful lot of youthful idealism. Have I lost it at 57 years of age? Do I really want to go back to that stage of my life? Maybe I will find no spark in the ashes. These were the worries that haunted me as I prepared for this show.”   

Sparks and Spirits consists of small abstract and semi-abstract watercolours mounted on wood panels. Many are done without brushes. Paint is poured, squirted, pressed and brushed onto the paper. “It’s hard for me to give up control, but for this work I had to surrender a lot of control to gravity and water. The result is unimaginable colour, texture, freshness and surprise,” says Elizabeth. “There is the shiver of excitement to walk on the edge like this. There is the joy of discovery, of challenge, of always learning something new.”  

While Elizabeth experienced trepidation about showing her paintings, she is looking forward to honouring her mother, Mildred Nigh, who is turning ninety this year and for whom this exhibition is dedicated. “It’s a small token of my appreciation for this tiny, spirited woman who, not only gave me life and love, but the drive to adopt the principles of the poetry book she gave to her future husband and hen, again, to me when I became engaged to Brad thirty-six years ago.”  

When asked what she anticipates viewers will experience when they see her new work, Elizabeth answers, “I hope that the viewer can reflect upon the blessing of their own parents and the seniors in our community. I hope they find the playfulness in the art. That would be a supreme compliment.”  

Sparks and Spirits opens with a public reception on Saturday, March 18 from 1pm until 4pm with an artist’s talk at 1:30pm. The exhibition continues at the Chapel Gallery until April 8.  

The Chapel Gallery is located at 15 King Street in Bracebridge. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm until 5pm with admission by donation. For more information, please visit or call (705) 645-5501.

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please send an e-mail with your request including your full name and e-mail address.

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