past STONE BOAT ARTIST RETREATs
Highlights, faces, and voices from past SBAR participants
bad luck woman and her misfortunes (fall 2017)
It’s incredible what a little fresh air, space, time, and outdoor oven pizza can do for creativity and productivity. We’ve been a band for over two years now, learning covers and old favourites, always talking about how we’d someday buckle down and work on some originals, and never getting around to it. For me, my Toronto pace of life makes writing an impossible task...I’m not someone who so easily scribbles a few lines over morning coffee and then finishes the song that night over a nightcap. I need time. And space.
Before embarking on our little SBAR getaway, I was so anxious that we wouldn’t have enough time to get anything done. I thought “no way will four days be sufficient…”. At the same time, I was worried that four days was too long for my bandmates to be together in the middle of nowhere with no Netflix….I feared they’d get bored, stir-crazy, uninspired. I was wrong! It was the perfect length of time.
We arrived casually on Monday afternoon, instruments and supplies in tow. I felt so proud showing my bandmates the grounds and the house, knowing my way around from previous visits. I pointed out pictures of Amy on the fridge and explained the mysterious letters hanging around the kitchen. I wished that we weren’t having that unexpected bout of September heat, because I’d been so excited to fire up the wood stove...my favourite part about the farm! I explained about the ghost, and the rule of not locking one of the bathroom doors and leaving out the other.
After goofing around a bit, daring each other to venture into the basement, and struggling to get the record player working, we got to work. We quickly moved the furniture out of the parlour to the side porch, and got ourselves settled into our new studio. Drums, keyboard, bass, and guitar all set up, we were ready to make some noise.
We spent the better part of that night jamming, experimenting with various ideas, drinking, and laughing. Coming from a lifestyle where minutes are so precious, and urgency, stress, and pressure constantly rule over my workflow and stifle my creativity, it took me a while to relax into this new method of work. We were there with a goal, yes, but in order to achieve it, we had to take our time and allow the creative process to unfold organically. This is something I feel I “never have time for” at home and precisely the reason why I had suggested we go to Stone Boat.
Over the next couple days, we slowly found our rhythm. We spent mornings at the kitchen table (over coffee!) writing lyrics, afternoons dispersing to work individually, evenings coming together to finesse the ideas of the day, and nights jamming and coming up with new ideas to be explored the next day. Though we had come with a rough schedule in mind, we were flexible and allowed our needs to dictate the day. We took breaks, went for walks, made pizza in the pizza oven (singed a few hairs in the process!), watched movies, read decade-old entries in the guest books, and looked at the stars.
We came away with a start to what could be our next record: ten songs, some completed, some nothing more than an idea or a riff, and several in a half-done state, to be finalized and polished back at home.
A remarkably experience for us as a band. I, for one, dream of returning to Stone Boat daily.
sandy Carson (fall 2015)
And rather like a dream, five days at the Stone Boat Artist Retreat drift together in my memory. A hazy mosaic, an oneiric collage. An unstructured meditation on the pastoral, and the possibilities of new friendship... Seated at the kitchen table, a warm stove at my back. Outside, the sound of chopping wood. In the next room, faint laughter. The house itself, a reliquary of souvenirs and family heirlooms, a curious museum that feels both carefully curated and utterly effortless. The walls of each room, lined with elegantly disused collections—guitars, baseball gloves, dusty books—remind me of the cruel beauty of time itself, and the irresistible guile of nostalgia. Upstairs, the VHS tapes of Hollywood movies beside my bed offer to unevenly chronicle a history of American cinema, while pointing opaquely at mythologies that have formed a family ethos—the Nostbakken family—a family I do not know, yet feel some propinquity with. Like them, my family hails from Ottawa, bastion of the federation. I’m reminded of the upcoming election. I’m reading Gore Vidal. Across the room a buzzing fly is throwing itself against a windowpane. I watch without compassion. I’m feeling political.
Another day slices together like an imagist poem. Alternating moments, crisp and languid—the wedding of opposites. My fingers thumb through pages in a magazine. My body ambles through a maze of wooded pathways that surround the farm. I’m a somnambulant protagonist, a willing subject to perpetual reverie. I look upon the valleys of Lanark County and I think about the likelihood that I will one day be buried somewhere in Eastern Ontario, this gentle and unassuming part of Canada from whence I came. All places are distant from heaven alike (I have been told). I glance around: the leaves are brown and brittle here. Autumn is arriving. I tend on mortal thoughts.
Evening approaches and whiskey is poured. The smells of cooking and wood smoke dance together in the kitchen. Amy is chopping large cloves of farmgrown garlic. I open my computer and issue a few perfunctory keystrokes—the sudden compulsion to salvage an hour of good work before dinner. As the sun sets the other residents drift in from various stations—the woodshop, the field, the porch, the parlour. The din of laughter beckons and I turn myself outward. Labour done and revelry begun, we trade stories from the day. We eat and drink and share work. We live out a Decameron tale. It is a tribute to the nourishing powers of communion and narrative. But will it be enough, considering what’s coming?
Liz Peterson & Wildlife (summer 2015)
Inspired by one woman's search for meaning through well-being techniques, Wildlife is a collaborative performance about spirituality and identity. Centred around a talk-show set in an alternate world, two salespeople pitching a new spiritual practice, and re-enactments from nature documentaries, the show combines personal narratives with some impossible propositions.
Our process for making Wildlife began in April 2015, with meetings and dinners culminating in a series of interviews that we shot in Toronto. After a few weeks of hiatus we came back to work in July when we stayed at the Stone Boat Artist Retreat for three nights to figure out how to tie together all the research we had done up to that point. With Norah Sadava of Quote Unquote Collective as our host we were told that anything is possible and everything is at our disposal. We shot a promo video, Norah taught us yoga classes, we worked on an amoeba dance, examined our interview footage, read, wrote, argued, barbecued, jumped into the lake nearby, watched movies, and then got up and did the same thing all over again.
The Nostbakken family who own and operate SBAR left us clean sheets and fruit with the only caveat that we had to write in the guest book. The farmhouse is a beautiful old home with wallpapered rooms and a big farmhouse kitchen. We rehearsed and did yoga in the parlour, which is an amazing time capsule of paintings and furniture and crockery. What a gift to be there. My only regret is that we weren't there longer to fully explore the acres of land around the farmhouse. If you have the chance to attend SBAR at any point, take it!
Angela Lewis (Fall 2016)
We casually drive several hours north in Lucy’s red volvo (my dream road trip car), a week before fall hits, while Stoneboat waits patiently for another week of artists to arrive. The white wooden porch with a roof overhead is the first place I sit after meeting the seven other folks taking part in the retreat. Its colder than I’ve felt in a while, and rain drops are falling all around me. I sit and write in my journal about this very experience; thrilled at the setting I’m in and the clarity I’m feeling. This moment was very impactful and I carried it with me through my entire time at SBAR, as well as when I got back to the city.
During the days I spent most of my time wandering, observing, listening and being alone in the landscape with my camera. Sometimes I felt nervous when I was alone with the expectations to create something, but since leaving SBAR and reflecting on my time there, I've felt very appreciative, focused and motivated to take what I learned in that time and apply it to my process and my self.
Being present in the outdoors and documenting in peacefulness was very necessary to clear my head and move forward. Thanks Stoneboat for the memories, the warm people and meals, and providing a place where I could discover nature’s mysterious ways.