Dorset artist Elizabeth Johnson has made it one of her life’s missions to promote and showcase the “paradise” she calls home.
Throughout January, the painter spent approximately six hours each day outdoors recreating landscapes of some of the village’s most iconic landmarks. She submitted her collection for consideration in the 2023 Strada Challenge, which encouraged artisans from across the globe to kick off the new year by immersing themselves in nature and creating new works for each day of the month.
“I’m an outdoors person, so this program really spoke to me,” Johnson said. “The village is well-known and loved in the summer, but people don’t really know much about its beauty in the winter. I felt winter in Dorset needed to be painted and celebrated.”
Since moving to the area in 1981 with husband, Brad, Johnson has sunk deep roots in the community. After raising their four kids here, the pair has operated the seasonal Pizza on Earth restaurant on Clan MacKay Road for 14 years. Johnson also maintains a gallery at the site.
She painted her first scene overlooking Shoe Lake on New Year’s Day. For the next week, Johnson spent each day moving a kilometre closer to town, culminating in a visit to Robinson’s General Store Jan. 8.
“I ran into the store to get permission to paint the village from its roof. One hour later, the store closed its doors,” she said. “This is when painting Dorset became a serious mission for me. Over the years, Dorset has suffered from so much loss – the lands and mines office, the school, the Frost Centre, the community centre, our churches, and now, the hub of our community… I wanted to take a stand.”
Robinson’s reopened March 31, with brothers Ven Komina and Satya Jyesta taking on ownership. The pair also own and operate stores in Baysville and Kirkland Lake.
She set herself up at various spots across the downtown, completing paintings of Robinson’s, Trading Bay Dining Company, the gas station, the lumber yard, and the post office. Many in the community took to visiting Johnson, dropping off warm drinks and other treats to keep her going.
She posted her finished works online each evening, which generated a tremendous response.
“Some said the paintings made them cry from the memories they evoked. It was quite overwhelming to see how much of an impact my works were having. That’s what gave me the determination and vision to push forward – without them, I don’t know if I could have finished,” Johnson said.
An exhibit showcasing the collection, which also included pieces featuring scenes on Kawagama Lake, Paint Lake, and Rabbit’s Bay, was held at Johnson’s gallery March 18. She said it was the best art show she’s ever hosted, with people attending from as far away as Toronto and Barrie.
Most of the works have been sold, with 10 still available for purchase. All are set in handmade Canadian maple frames produced in Dorset.
Reflecting on the experience, Johnson said it was the biggest challenge of her artistic career but well worth the effort.
“It really was the best way to spend January. It gave me purpose,” she said. “And it was nice to see the community come alive and support me. There was real interest in the work. I’m quite proud of how this all turned out.”