An artist’s life at Silver Tree Studio


There’s a lot going on at Silver Tree Studio on Main Street.

Like the branches, roots and trunk of a tree itself, the seedling studio is sprouting upward, downward and outward to incorporate an array of artistic endeavours.

The studio was originally opened in 2015 by Lynne Harrison, a self-described “colour alchemist” whose specialty is large-format acrylic on canvas works of dynamic colour, and Sonja McDowell, whose work was clothing and other art.

After a short time, though, McDowell, who also has a shop in Calgary, decided to step back. “She has kids and is busy in Calgary and didn’t want to be on a lease, so I wondered what to do next.

“I thought if I could find two or three people to share a space, it could work.”

The sharing concept sprang to life and Silver Tree now also features the work of resident artist Kathryn Cooke, among quite a number of others who work in different mediums.

By lucky happenstance, Harrison asked Cooke, a pediatrician, if she knew anybody who might be interested. “I didn’t even know then that she was an ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) grad; but she said she’d like to be part of it.

“Sonja still wanted to have some clothes here, and helps with the rent, and Kathryn does as well. For anyone who wants to open a business like this, I think this is a different way – but one that works – to do it.”

In operating their own gallery, Harrison and Cooke have discovered a valuable side benefit; that there’s no need to be stuck in one genre or medium. Harrison, for example, while mostly a painter, also has the freedom to create jewellery, or even something like a chandelier out of plumbing parts.

Cooke’s work ranges from drawing to painting to jewelry as well, and, as a materials-based artist, may work in wood, metal and textiles.

As well, singer-songwriter Lori Reid works part-time at Silver Tree and may break out here guitar to play or jam at any time. Before Christmas, Reid, along with local musicians Mike Petroff and Julia Lynx performed.

And, by way of performance, a feature of Silver Tree is a space at the front window in which artists can often be found at work, which tends to invite window shoppers in for a look or conversation about art.

“We have friends, kids, or maybe Dave (hubby and former Crazy Canuck Irwin) will come in,” said Harrison, who is now featured at Effusion Gallery in Invermere, B.C. as well, “and the next thing you know, it seems like there’s a thoroughfare and you have 15 people here in a gab session.

“I used to paint in our living room, with no space, and when we opened this space, Dave said he was glad I wasn’t going to do that anymore. I said ‘after 15 years, you’re telling me this now?’

“So I’ve found out that as an artist, it’s so cool to have your own place, it’s the perfect situation. With this studio, it encompasses everything. Sometimes people will see the art, then come in and notice the clothing, or vice versa. It’s great when a bunch of people come in, it’s a really groovy place.”

Having your own studio space also allows for spontaneity. Some months back, a nine year old who had played Wildflour in Banff, dropped in with her mom and when Cooke heard, she asked the youngster to bring in her guitar and plays some songs.

“This is a different model of an art experience,” said Cooke. “It’s not a white cube space where there’s an invisible barrier. Here, there are so many entry points and there’s tactility; it allows individuals to not feel inhibited. They can talk about the art and often if they see us working in front, they’re intrigued and come in to talk.

“It gives us the opportunity to talk about our art and talk about everything that’s in here. We’re approachable and we love to have discussions about art.”

Sometimes, said Harrison, an off the cuff discussion about art can on a life of it’s own.

“Recently,” she said, “a grandma came in with a nine- and five-year-old and were looking at pen and ink drawings and we got talking about them. She came back an hour and a half later and said, ‘you inspired us to work on art at home.”

“Our philosophy is that neither of us is comfortable with the hierarchy in the arts scene, where you have to work your way up the ladder,” said Cooke. “In the past, artists have elevated themselves to being above humanity, but we disagree with that.

“In art school they don’t really encourage multiple disciplines. They tend to funnel you down to being very specialized, but here, we have the freedom to do what we want in life, that dictates the format. It’s a thread that connects us all.”

For herself, Cooke finds art to be an escape, as well as healing and therapeutic. “I view my art as meeting sensory needs, the need to touch, to think, and I love re-purposing materials. As a healer, I love healing found objects.

“I think art is therapy for me, and I think viewing art can be therapy for others.”

“All the arts – paintings, dance, linguistics, poetry – it’s like food at mom’s house, it’s better for you,” said Harrison.

Along with Harrison and Cooke’s work, Silver Tree is home to Bespoke Clothing, Grant Randall’s Black Dog Character Log work, Nomi Whalen’s hats and scarves, stained glass by Fred Racansky, pottery and candles by Jola Muran and wood carvings by William Hodges.


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Rocky Mountain Outlook