Cottages for the artistic soul
A painter, an actor, a poet and a composer share their sacred summer spots
MaryAnn Camps, painter
Sure, she could be turning her cottage into a model of gracious lakeside living, whipping up a gourmet meal, maybe learning a foreign language.
But MaryAnn Camps is powerless to resist the siren call of her dock.
“It’s kind of a joke in my family,” says Camps. “I sit on that dock for hours and just look. I’m recharged by the light on the water, seeing turtles come up and down in the lake, watching how the sky is always changing. I’m taking it all in, but I’m not having to act on it.”
Camps — incongruously for someone so fond of nature, she’s currently painting nighttime aerial views of big cities in acrylic — says the family cottage on Palmerston Lake, west of Almonte, “isn’t the Hamptons, but it is fully functional.”
She and her husband bought the land in 2001, built in 2006 and 2007, and spend as much of the summer there as possible. When their children, 16 and 20, aren’t busy, they tag along.
While the bedrooms are finished, studs and trusses are the order of the day elsewhere in the open-concept cottage with its many windows and screened-in porch.
“We haven’t cut the trees around it, so with the (rough walls) you feel as though you’re in a treehouse.”
Once back in the bustling city, just knowing her “oasis” is waiting for her “is like having in your back pocket this place you can mentally retreat to.”
John Doucet , actor and set designer
The log cabin has shifted over its 50 years, so it’s slightly off-kilter. Huge beams span the ceiling, lending the interior a decidedly rustic feel. An occasional bat has found its way inside.
But John Doucet’s cottage on Lac Pemichangan near Gracefield, Que. (he shares ownership with two sisters) has been home-away-from-home for Doucet since his family bought it almost 30 years ago.
“My father travelled a lot when I was young, so the one place we saw him a lot was when we were all at the cottage,” says Doucet. In fact, when his dad died a few years ago, the family reserved
a spot with a view of the lake for some of his ashes.
As independent artists, Doucet and his wife, Lisa L’Heureux, also a theatre professional, are loath to turn down contracts and often get overloaded. “Being there, it clears my mind,” says Doucet. “I turn off my theatre brain as best I can. Even if I’m only there 24 hours, it feels like a week — you get to refuel.”
There’s radio, but no internet or television, says Doucet, “And that’s just fine with us.”
Lise Rochefort, poet
Details of nature and the time to notice them: two things increasingly squeezed out of our pell-mell lives. But for writers such as Lise Rochefort, they are the creative lifeblood that a cottage can provide.
“When you’re floating in the lake, it’s primal. You notice the minnows nibbling on your toes or a heron swoops by and you (see) the blue and grey in its feathers. It sets a stage for openness and gives you an artistic door you don’t usually go through.”
Among other benefits, she says, a cottage is a source of poetic metaphor that’s hard to find in the city — a “wonderful marriage of art and nature.”
Rochefort and her family have owned their lakefront cottage, an unlikely red brick on the outside and with a library and pool table inside, in the Val-des-Monts area of the Outaouais for 13 years. Winterized and with internet access, it’s a year-round refuge. They also own an adjoining rental property.
“Until I was 16, I spent nearly every weekend in the summer at my grandmother’s cottage on the shores of Lake Nipissing. It was just this wonderful other world,” she says.
Her current world is one she gladly shares with co-artists. “My poetry group comes here for a workshop every Tuesday. In the summer, it always ends with a swim.”
Kevin Blundell, film and television composer
Kevin Blundell’s relationship with his cottage near Val-des-Monts is not complicated.
“It’s my favourite place on the planet,” he says. “It’s the most spiritual place I’ve ever been.”
His cottage is similarly uncomplicated: no electricity, no indoor plumbing, a wood stove when it gets chilly.
“Nothing moves too fast there,” says Blundell, a father of three who is married to actor Nicole Blundell. That chance to slow down and recharge is “important to me as a composer and a father and a human being.”
Blundell and his wife bought the 8.5 acres in the mid-1990s when the last Quebec referendum started a brief plummet in land prices. Struggling artists living above a store on Bank Street, they scraped together a downpayment and put a teepee on the land for three summers. Eventually Blundell, like his father before him, built a cottage using mostly recycled materials.
He hasn’t looked back.
“It’s very therapeutic just sitting in the woods,” says Blundell. He does a little composing if he’s there for extended periods, but mostly “I sit by the lake and read a book or watch the stars. You feed off the environment. You don’t need anything else.”