Donnah Cameron was “an amazing teacher,” says former student Stella Wadsworth.
Wadsworth was just one of a cohort of students introduced to watercolour painting by the art instructor who went on to make art more than just a hobby.
It was 2003, Wadsworth was a registered nurse, newly retired from her position as director of the maternal child program at Southlake Regional Health Centre, and at a loss for something to do with her time.
“I worked in obstetrics for 38 years,” Wadsworth said, most of those years in Newmarket. Under her directorship, the Newmarket hospital brought 60,000 babies into the world — a number equal to the population of the town when she started working there.
“It was a really busy job,” Wadsworth said, noting it left little time for hobbies.
She had never tried painting but when she heard about Cameron’s watercolour class, “I said, OK!”
It was the start of what has become a passion.
It was Wadsworth and fellow students Kathy Bury, Maureen Joyce and the late Deb Tucker who decided to hold a group show at the Bradford Public Library; they became known as the Bradford Group of Four.
Bradford was pretty much a “sports town” at that time, with little focus on the arts, said Wadsworth. But “we were pleasantly surprised” at the public response to the show.
“People did buy our art,” she said.
For the next three years, the group held Art in the Barn, a group art show in the barn on Wadsworth’s property on Morris Road.
The response, from the public and from other artists, led to the first studio art tour 11 years ago.
Over the years, Wadsworth has continued to take numerous workshops, studying the work of other artists, learning to paint in acrylic and in oils, and purchasing works by artists whom she admires, to serve as inspiration.
“I think that’s important, to look at other people’s work,” she said. “At some point, you have to take on your own style,” something that happens with study and practice.
Her subject matter includes landscapes, streetscapes and family members — mostly her grandkids — working from photographs taken on her travels. She has travelled to Italy, Scotland and across Canada. This year alone, she and husband Tom have been to Portugal, Florida, England and Newfoundland.
Sooner or later, the images from her travels may inspire a painting.
Wadsworth’s basement studio is filled with her work, but not every painting is for sale. The paintings of her grandchildren, for example, have generally been “spoken for.”
But she’ll still have 20 to 25 pieces to show in this year’s Bradford West Gwillimbury PASSION MADE Artisans Tour.
Wadsworth was part of the visioning process that gave the studio tour its new look and new name. “Artisan opens it up to everything, anything that’s hand-made,” she said, while ‘Passion Made’ embraces the fine arts.
Her goal is not just to engage the public, but the many local artists and artisans working quietly in Bradford West Gwillimbury — encouraging a new generation of artists to step forward and provide leadership for both the tour and the arts community.
She herself intends to continue to pursue her painting.
“I like the painting itself,” Wadsworth said. “At times, I find it frustrating, but when something comes out well, I’m really happy with it.”
And, she said, “I love the camaraderie of working with other artists” not only on the tour but as part of Society of York Region Artists and the Alliston art group.
“As you age, you need things that stimulate your mind… You can’t be afraid to get old, but you have to do new things.”
“Besides,” she said, waving at the hundreds of dollars in paints, brushes and canvases filling her studio, “I have all this stuff. I have to use it up… That will keep me busy for years.”