There’s a vibe at Lucky Rabbit. Maybe residual energy from all that creativity. Maybe from the warmth of those laid-bare wood floors. Maybe it’s just Deb Kuzyk.
Whatever. It’s sort of a Mother Earth feel. And there is pottery involved.
Kuzyk sits in the Lucky Rabbit Gallery on the second floor of the old house just off Market Square in Annapolis Royal where on a summer Saturday it’s pretty much the centre of the universe.
She calls it the Artists’ House -- an artists’ collective.
Starting out it was just Kuzyk and husband Ray Mackie. They moved to Annapolis Royal in 1999 to set up a pottery.
“We had a studio in the back on the first floor and a little shop out front and we lived upstairs,” she said. “So the whole thing was very economical for us. This great location on the farmers’ market in the summer.”
They had a ready supply of visitors and in the winter had time to produce their work. They weren’t the first artists in the building.
“Previously it had also been an art gallery,” said Kuzyk. “Christine Ross in the 1980s had it and it was called Market House Gallery. A lot of important meetings were held right here. The beginning of the arts council in Annapolis Royal, the same with King’s Theatre. All kinds of exciting stuff.”
We explore the building which dates back to 1888. Brick chimney. Wood stoves. Steep, narrow stairs up to the third floor where unexpectedly there’s a tiny apartment for visiting artists. A woman from New Brunswick at work with oils and canvas. A collection of small paintings are drying.
The ‘Apartment’ will figure greatly in Kuzyk’s artist in residence competition for 2018.
There’s a tiny recording studio and a gallery illuminated by windows on the roof.
Well known local photographer Dan Froese has his studio on the second floor and below his spot is Janel Warmington who makes purses and all things leather. Kim Gunn takes up another spot on the first floor with her Tartan Wave boutique. Kuzyk has a tile studio behind that.
The building is alive now, but between Ross and Kuzyk there was a gap of five or six years that it was turned back into a rooming house.
“My husband and I worked together for 25 years but this winter we decided to finish that,” Kuzyk said. “He wanted to retire and take a different direction. I wasn’t ready to retire but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So somehow this idea came to me. How can I get out of my situation and benefit others at the same time?”
The answer was just waiting for her.
“This location is so great, so the idea of renovating the house into a series of artists studios seemed kind of obvious,” she said. “Very soon after I had that idea, artists started approaching me – unbeknownst to each other. I didn’t put out a call. It was in the air somehow. So Janel the bag maker, and the tartan person, Kim Gunn, and Scott Williams the musician all approached me really early on and that gave me the confidence to go ahead with the renovations.”
Kuzyk and Mackie moved out in April and renovated that month and into May, opening for first Farmers and Traders Market of the season. The Artists’ House was an immediate success.
“It was quite an emotional moment for me,” Kuzyk recalls. “I felt like it was a dream come true – to see people coming in the doors and going in to different studios, and walking all around the place. It was fantastic. It was very well received right from the beginning.”
Some people may have just been curious to go through the building, but for most it was about the art.
“There are a lot of great arts supporters in this community and having a variety of artists is really interesting for them,” she said. “They can come into one building.”
Lucky Rabbit & Company became like a market in itself. Most people that opening day were positive and enthusiastic.
“They liked the ability to see different art all within the same building,” she said. “They like the vibe in here, the friendliness, that natural light.”
And the got to see artists at work.
“That always was the way I did it,” she said. While Mackie stay out of sight with the wheel, Kuzyk would be out front decorating her pottery.
“Everyone loved to see that, so I knew that, and I really wanted it to be part of what we’re doing here,” she said.
“There’s something nice about having different artists each having their own room,” she said. “We can all be working quietly but there’s some kind of support system. Some kind of camaraderie – and just knowing the others are there. You need to borrow a screwdriver, or you need a ride home, or you just want someone’s feedback – should it be red or should it be blue? We kind of have a very respectful but friendly work ethic in here. We’re all really hard working. We respect each other’s need to work – but we kind of help each other.”
Spiritual synergy? She’s not sure if that’s the term.
“There’s something fantastic about it, really powerful,” she said. “And the fact that we have senior artists like Wayne Boucher and all summer I had a couple of students working here. And Dan has these three beautiful little girls, and they’re in here. So there’s this full range of age, all the generations. Such a mix of materials and approaches to art, including music. Synergy? There is synergy here.”
Kim Gunn of Tartan Wave
Janel Warmington of Atelier 1605
Deb Kuzyk of Lucky Rabbit Tile Shop
Deb Kuzyk Lucky Rabbit Gallery
Dan Froese Photography & Design
Scott Williams recording studio.
Third Floor Gallery