Living the dream – ottawa at home magazine – Winter 2012

Ottawa at Home | Written by ARAINA BOND | Photography by MARK HOLLERON

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FROM THE SNOW-CAPPED PEAKS OF B.C.’S MOUNTAINS TO THE CRAGGY SHORES OF NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA’S FOREMOST LANDSCAPE ARTIST GORDON HARRISON HAS PAINTED HIS WAY ACROSS THE LAND. BUT HE HAS RECENTLY DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO GO BACK TO HIS ROOTS.

That desire took him back to a lush, tree-lined property in the picturesque Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac- Masson; a location in the Laurentians favoured by the artist’s family for four generations. In fact, when he and his partner Phil Émond purchased the land a few years ago, they completed the circle: Gordon’s mother and his two siblings also have residences on the lake, all within one kilometre of each other.

The original property has been in Gordon’s family since 1903 when his great-grandfather traded a piano for 10 acres of lakeshore land. This is where Gordon spent his childhood summers painting and playing, and it sowed the seeds for his attachment to the Laurentian landscape.

With a deep connection to Ottawa, the couple continues to spend the majority of their time in the city, where Phil runs the Gordon Harrison Gallery on Sussex in the ByWard Market. Gordon spends his time working in his New Edinburgh studio, where he’s been painting, teaching, and meeting with the public for over two decades. Often referred to as the eighth member of the Group of Seven, Gordon developed a love of art from a young age – his dad was a part-time amateur artist – but Gordon didn’t start to paint full-time until the 1990s. It was in the late nineties that he came into his current style, which he calls “Impressionism-Realism,” and many examples can be found hanging throughout their Laurentian hideaway.

“We were thinking about where we would be spending the next phase of our lives,” Phil says, “and the lake seemed like a natural choice.” It also gave them the chance to indulge in a long-held dream to open a bed-and-breakfast. This plan to combine their retirement home with a hospitality venture makes sense when you spend just five minutes with Gordon and Phil and understand how each man is a “people person” in his own way. In some respects, it’s an extension of the open-door policy Gordon has in his studio where he encourages admirers to be part of the process, whether through a lively conversation or an art lesson.

“We love entertaining, we love connecting people with art and sharing the experience – and we love the landscape,” says Phil.

Though they’re both thrilled with the end result of their decision, there were a few bumps along the way. The property they purchased had a lovely cottage on it and they planned to build an addition on the side and at the back. But when the contractor removed the insulation under the cottage, he found that the foundation was rotten and they needed to start building from scratch. Another drawback to building instead of renovating the existing structure was the cost. “Everyone told us it would cost more than we expected,” says Phil. “It ended up being three times as much as we budgeted.” There were many parts of the process they enjoyed, and it’s no surprise that two people so connected to art would enjoy creating and fiddling with the design aspects of their project.

“It was wonderful to drive up from Ottawa and visit the property every Sunday and see our design taking shape,” Gordon says. The resulting structure of stone, wood, steel and glass seems to both blend into the surrounding landscape and set it off.

This openness and desire to connect with art shines through at Pine Point, where guests can not only luxuriate in the peace and tranquility, but take private painting lessons with Gordon in his second-floor studio. The vast windows on three of the walls allow you to feel connected to the forest and lake in a meaningful way. “It’s like being in a tree house,” Gordon says.

The beauty of the landscape is echoed in the couple’s main floor living space, with abundant wood featured in the wide plank maple flooring, a spacious stone fireplace and soaring windows that allow a seamless transition between the indoors and surrounding nature.

You’ll find many impressions of this connection with nature at their gallery, where Gordon’s work hangs alongside art and sculpture by other Canadian landscape artists, just steps from the National Gallery of Canada. “We had a desire for visibility, a permanent exhibition with no pressure to buy,” Phil says.

Though the staff sometimes complain about the frequent window cleanings the gallery requires, Phil delights in taking note of the number of nose-prints on the front window each morning from curious passersby.

“We see ourselves as a Canadian landscape gallery first and foremost, and a place to buy art secondly,” he explains. “What we really want out of our lives is to influence and inspire people through art.”

An artful goal, indeed, and one they’re well on their way to achieving.