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You are invited to tour the third HIDDEN TREASURES OPEN ART STUDIO TOUR, June 23 and 24, 2018, from 10-5 pm, presented by the Art Society of Strathcona County. Hidden Treasures is a self guided tour of 11+ Strathcona County artists' studios with artists also at the A.J. Ottewell Center. My art studio will be open to the public where you can see how "Treasures" come to life. There is no charge for the event and I will have a door prize to enter - a framed acrylic painting. NOTE: This weekend only - Special Pricing for the Tour. For a list of venues and map watch for brochures in Strathcona area businesses or visit www.artstrathcona.com. Hope to see you in my studio. Oh, and hopefully my garden will be in full bloom!


Following a hectic Nov/Dec what with a commission to complete and the Christmas holiday, I can now enlighten you about our exciting trip to the Italian province of Tuscany.

My husband and I flew to Florence on September 11th. We spent three days there before taking the train south to Cortona to meet up with my sister and her husband, Bette and Zack, who would drive there from Lyon, France where they live. Following 18 days touring Tuscany it was our plan to drive with them back to Lyon and spend another two weeks there before returning home.

In Florence (Firenze) Chuck and I walked the ancient cobblestone streets captivated by historic buildings such as the city's most prominent landmark ‘The Duomo'. In this popular area, street vendors clogged the streets with their portable shops loaded with all sorts of touristy goods. We visited the Uffizi museum filled with renaissance art and the Accademia where Michelangelo's ‘David' is prominently on display. We strolled (or elbowed our way) across the Ponte Vecchio the city's oldest bridge with its gold and jewelry shops. We learned just how serious Italians are about their food industry as we feasted on the proudly presented dishes of northern Tuscany accompanied with fine Italian wine of course. And we could not pass by the many gelato shops without indulging ourselves. After three days in Florence we were ready to move on.

Typical of European trains the 1 1/2 hour ride south was fast and efficient. Once at the Terontola station (near Cortona, the town famous for the movie – “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes) Bette and Zack were waiting. It was a great reunion as we hadn't seen them for a couple of years. They would be our tour guides. Zacc speaks Italian so this was a great advantage. Hardly catching our breath we made the 10 minute drive to Ville del Sophore our eighteenth century villa that would be our home for the next 15 days. Although a little rough around the edges, it served us well and its aging ambiance was perhaps appropriate.

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful and peaceful landscapes that you can envision. The rolling hills with winding roads. The colour of the soil ranging from grey and yellow to iron oxide. The ancient walled medieval villages on the highest hills. There were vast olive groves of blue grey and miles of vineyards producing some of the world's most famous wines. Around every turn was another glorious view. Incredibly bright sunlight, the haze in the distance, cypress trees lining the lanes and centuries old villas of stone and tile. Many abandoned. We were in awe. It was impossible to photograph all the scenes presented to us but we did our best. Adding to the photo challenge, the narrow curving roads had few pull offs and local drivers liked to hog our side of the road. Zacc had to pay close attention to driving while we tried to snap away as best we could. Unfortunately the sunflower and poppy season was over so we missed out on that well known Tuscan vista.

We toured many of Tuscany's hill top towns. Cortona, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza, Arezzo, Orvieto, Volterra, San Gimignano, Siena, Paciano, Panticale, San Feliciano Passignano, Perugia, and the Chianti region to name some. Each town shared many similar features but each was also distinctive in its own way. Siena's magnificent zebra cathedral and Piazza del Campo, the unusual shell shaped piazza at the centre of the city where we sat late into one evening enjoying a most delicious pizza. Orvieto with its Etruscan underground city. Cortona one of the oldest cities in Italy. (It was a fortified town founded by the Umbrian's almost 3000 years ago). Here we walked on an old Roman road and our imagination carried us back to ancient times. The Chianti region known for its great red wine of the same name is where we toured two wonderful wineries. San Gimignano, famous for its medieval architecture and unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its stone towers that once numbered 70, was particularly unique. Here we had the most delicious gelato of our trip. Mmmmmm good. Pienza, perhaps was my favorite. It is particularly picturesque and on the smaller size. However this town has everything an Italian village should have: history, romantic cobblestone streets, art, small shops, enotecas, and unique small family run ristorantes. Walking the narrow streets lined with flower pots, the light and shadow on the sienna coloured stone, and ornate doors it was hard not to take picture after picture, but I did my best. Keeping a fresh battery in my camera was a challenge. One thing all the towns and villages had in common was cleanliness. After one such day of exploring we stopped at a roadside vendor to buy some of Pienza's famous pecorino cheese. This is made from sheep's milk. Delicious! Another day we stopped on the road to buy porcini mushrooms.

Speaking of delicious - the Tuscan cuisine……It is so different from North America in every way. Eating there is a cultural event. Servings are small but there are 4 courses to meals. By the time you are done you are stuffed. Patrons are never rushed. You are expected to take time to enjoy and savour the fresh local ingredients. My first taste of truffles and I was hooked! And the cappuccini......what can I say! Food is simple and seasonal. Oh yes – and wine at every meal is a must.

One thing somewhat frustrating was the business hours. Many shops, museums and historic buildings close down from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. This early afternoon shut down is called riposo, the Italian siesta. As a result we missed out on touring some important museums and cathedrals and viewing the art treasures therein. I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the friendliness of the Italian people. Without exception, we were treated like royalty. This was so evident at eateries where no effort is spared to make you feel unrushed, pampered and satisfied.

All too soon it was over. On October 1st we loaded the car and headed for Lyon, France with my sister. This is only about a 10 hour drive, however we stopped one night on the coast at Portofino (referred to as the Italian Riviera). This small harbor is absolutely stunning with a rainbow of reflections from the multi-color buildings shimmering across the water among the moored boats like an oil sheen. We could easily have spent a week or more there. I cannot wait to capture this magnificent scene on canvas!

We spent the next two weeks in Lyon and a weekend in Beaune which is in the Burgundy region where some of Frances best wines come from. Here we were treated to wine tastings at two sensational wineries.

We returned home on October 12. Now after downloading, organizing and editing over 2400 digital pictures, it is time to start painting. But where do I begin, landscape, street scene, harbor, unique object………?

Pienza 2012 Montipolciano Tuscany .