Art & the Sunshine Coast: A Mindful Journey from Gibsons to Madeira Park

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Situated along the Strait of Georgia, the Sunshine Coast is an expansive region boasting endless beaches, protected inlets, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ranges, and a strong sense of community. On the southern coast from Gibsons to Egmont, these lands are the original home of the Shíshálh (Sechelt) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) First Nations. In more recent generations, logging and fishing industries have contributed to the development of the towns and infrastructure enjoyed by locals and visitors today.

Over the years, communities along the Sunshine Coast have welcomed nature-lovers and creatives of all types; likeminded folks seeking a slower pace of life in the heart of nature. What has emerged is a unique and vibrant artistic ecosystem and now the greatest population of artists and crafters per capita in Canada.

Hundreds of artists work from their homes or small galleries along the Coast and specialize in various mediums and formats from written to visual art.

With such abounding natural beauty, it’s no wonder that artists in this region claim the land and landscapes as their inspiration. It is often the mindful connection to nature that feeds their creative process.

We recently caught up with three local artists in Gibsons, Sechelt, and Madeira Park to learn about their work, their inspiration, and how we as travellers can best support the art community.

Here are their stories…

Gibsons: Greta Guzek

On the ferry from Vancouver we arrive in the charming seaside town of Gibsons – the largest hub on the Sunshine Coast and the first stop on our road trip. It doesn’t take long to sink into the laid-back lifestyle, with the calming sea air and eagles soaring above.

The artistic community of Gibsons is home to nationally recognized painter, Greta Guzek. Greta has been inspired by the Sunshine Coast since she moved here in 1980. She brings together skills from her Fine Arts degree with inspiration from her surroundings and connections with others to eloquently tell a story of joy and beauty in her paintings. In these stories, she attempts to create a narrative where the forests, landscapes, and oceanside of Gibsons inspire the nature-filled scenery she produces.

“I look for elements that I feel completely belong to the coastal landscape; Arbutus trees, Cedar and Fir, washed up logs, water and rock, crows, cottages and boats.”

Greta Guzek

She explains that it is hard not to feel moved by the intense beauty of an area like Gibsons. As a small town, the sense of community and togetherness has also contributed to Guzek’s vibrancy and the joy she translates to her work. For her, the act of painting and interacting with art is both grounding and up-lifting, with an ability to draw an emotional response and to find connection with the intuitive and invisible.

Travellers can visit Greta’s home studio in Gibsons during the Sunshine Coast Art Crawl in October, or check out her work at various galleries in Victoria and Vancouver.

Sechelt: Jessica Silvey

Continuing our road trip up the coast, we reach the town of Sechelt, the ‘heart of the Sunshine Coast’.

Sechelt rests on a narrow isthmus (or sandbar) between the Sechelt Inlet and the Strait of Georgia, home to over 10,000 residents. These are the traditional and ancestral lands of the Shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation.

For Shíshálh artists, and Indigenous artists across British Columbia, cedar is a common medium due in-part to it’s versatility. Artists can use cedar to carve and weave, transforming what was once part of the local ecosystem into beautiful hats, baskets, totem poles, and more.

Jessica Silvey is a self-taught weaver of Coast Salish and Portuguese descent. For over 30 years she has drawn inspiration from the forests and oceans that surround her on the Sunshine Coast, coupled with the traditional Indigenous weaving practices that have been passed down through generations. Originally from Egmont, a small town further up the coast, Silvey uses practices from her fishermen family as well as traditional cedar root basket designs to create perfectly tight weaves.

Weaving is the act of bringing together multiple parts or elements to form a whole. The process of weaving does exactly that for Silvey – it connects her to her childhood, to her ancestral history and the generations of fishermen and weavers that have come before her. Her work conveys messages about Indigeneity and the connection to the land and its resources.

“When I am gathering cedar or food and medicine plants, I know I am doing the same thing my family has done for hundreds or thousands of years. I am walking on the same land that they walked on. I am weaving baskets like my great aunts and great grandmothers and using the same resources that they did to feed their families.”

Jessica Silvey

To support local artists, Silvey encourages travellers to visit their studios, to have conversations that uplift our connections to art, and to share these experiences with family and friends. She hosts a variety of workshops and can be found at Red Cedar Woman Studio in Sechelt.

Madeira Park: Trish Clooney

The strong sense of community and hospitality on the Sunshine Coast continues into Madeira Park – our final stop on the artist road trip.

Here we connect with Fibre Artist, Trish Clooney. Since moving to the Coast in 2017, Clooney has been inspired by the welcoming nature of her community, a place that “provides friendships and fellowships, which helps alleviate some of the feelings of isolation and loneliness”.

Clooney specializes in quilting, weaving, and spinning fibre, and loves to share her stories and craft with the next generation of aspiring artists. For over 25 years she has been learning from the ancient technologies and various cultures that practice fibre art. The functional beauty of these materials – whether it be yarn, natural and synthetic fibres – is just one of the many reasons she is drawn to the medium.

“I like to create functional items that are beautiful and to be able to share the skills required so others may do the same.”

Trish Clooney

In Madeira Park, Clooney’s efforts tobring people together through her art has been widely recognized in the community. Together with the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed and Sunshine Coast Arts Council, Clooney facilitated “Slow Fashion and Climate Action”, a series of workshops in April and May 2022 aimed at inspiring and connecting youth to sustainable techniques of creating fashion.

Visitors can connect with Clooney and her work at the FibreWorks Studio and Gallery in Madeira Park, a unique studio and workshop space hosted in a collection of yurts.

How to Support Artists on the Sunshine Coast

The art scene is an integral part of the culture on the Sunshine Coast and there are various ways we as travellers can help the art industry thrive for generations to come.

On your next trip to the Coast, be sure to stop by the local art studios and galleries, take in some music and theatre events, and perhaps even sign up for an art class. The Sunshine Coast Art Crawl in October is one of the main events in the community which highlights the incredible art and artists on the Coast. Visitors can also check out the Coast Cultural Alliance for events happening in the area during your visit.

Ready to take a journey?

Whether you’re an art and culture enthusiast, or nature and adventure seeker, the Sunshine Coast holds many treasures for all ages and interests. Travelling by car is the perfect way to explore the small towns and artistic attractions on the Coast at your own pace. Check out our multi-day self-guided road trips from Gibsons to Egmont, and start planning your next trip.

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Destination BC/Andrew Strain, Greta Guzek, Trish Clooney, Sunshine Coast Art Tours, Sunshine Coast Tourism/Shayd Johnson.

A Note on Mindfulness in Art and Travel

Artistic expression has the ability to shift our cognitive focus, to turn our attention inward and to promote reflection and critical thinking. Mindfulness is just that – the ability to be more aware of our thoughts and state of mind, becoming more present, open minded, and appreciative of our surroundings.

A mindful approach to art, like travel, can help foster compassion and curiosity, and reduce stress. It’s an approach we encourage among our travellers, to embrace the slower pace of life and approach these new experiences with curiosity and an open mind.

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