Pamela Carter at work in her studio.
I wish I could say that discovering the work and personage of Pamela Carter was the culmination of a quest to find beauty in a world gone mad.
In reality, it was borne of a desire to escape the bitter November wind blasting in my face and a diversion from the interminable wait between breakfast and lunch on a gluttonous holiday.
My mother, my sister Kate, and I were leaning into the wind on Main Street in Wellington, Ontario on the last day of our second-annual girls’ getaway to Prince Edward County. We were trying to ignore the languid voices in our heads urging us to just sit down and eat more yummy things despite having had breakfast 90 minutes before.
“Look!” My mother said, pointing to a sign. “It says there’s an artist’s studio that way.”
She canted starboard and strode the short few steps into the residential area, leaving Kate and I in her wake. Mom normally walks at a sedate pace that her shih-tzus generally set, but at that moment she was motoring so quickly you’d think we were heading to an antiques giveaway.
We passed small, white Victorian homes with wraparound porches and gingerbread trim perched close to the narrow streets of the village of Wellington. Quaint is the word.
Mom halted at a white cottage with a dark green metal roof, where a wind-starched flag out front declared the premises to be open.
On the wood-trimmed screen door was a smaller sign with that read, “Please don’t let the cat out.”
We knocked, and the door was opened by a slim, petite woman my mother’s age with dancing brown eyes and a pixie cut styled into fashionable white spikes.
“Squeeze on through,” Pamela Carter said, and then craned her head around to keep a wary eye on her corpulent tabby pacing at the entrance.
Light streamed through the windows of her studio, and the light in each painting drew us forward like we were hypnotized.
“Feel free to wander around,” she told us. And we did. I think our mouths were hanging open the whole time. Good thing it wasn’t fly season.
I adored everything I saw and kept wondering how a human being could capture so many people, scenes, animals and objects, and make them so exquisite.
Pam’s cat Rothko dreaming of his next escape. Perhaps Harry Houdini would have been a better namesake for this feline instead of famous abstract American painter Mark Rothko.
The way that Pam paints people brings tears to my eyes because she paints them with love.
One painting in particular makes my heart squeeze when I think about it. It’s called Girfriends’ Night Out, and features three sundress-clad young women strolling along Main Street at twilight. Their long hair is clipped up and you can see the elegant line of their necks, the delicate musculature of their upper backs, and the gentle curve of their shoulder blades. The girls reminded me of my daughters and nieces.
There were still-lifes in the kitchen, portraits of children in a cozy alcove, street scenes of Wellington in every season, and a display of miniature paintings from a recent trip to Provence in one of the sunlit corners of her studio.
“Can I go upstairs?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “I think I made my bed.”
The paintings are the draw, but it’s Pam who makes you want to stay. She is the type of person you want to spend time with–fun, happy, and engaged. Our connection with her was instant.
My mom loves to interview everyone we meet. She wants to know everyone’s story and Pam was no exception.
Originally from Montreal, Pam said that she taught art for “a hundred years”. On retirement she joined the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada where she served as president for two years. She moved to Toronto in 2005 where she continued to teach art at Toronto French School, Upper Canada College, and University of Toronto.
After four years, Pam fled the big city and put down roots in Wellington. She had friends in town and fell in love with the area. She bought her current home in 2009, and put the studio addition on.
She is thrilled to be painting full time and is grateful to be a member of the Arts Trail. During the Annual Studio Tour, Pam said that it’s not unusual to get 400 people through her studio.
Her commissioned work is also booming. During our visit, two were ready for shipment–one a scene of children building sandcastles at Sandbanks Provincial Park, and the other a painting of home that’s an anniversary gift for a lucky husband.
Pam pointed at the latter, and explained that she often gets commissioned to paint homes. She laughed as she told the story about a client who wanted a painting of her mother’s Wellington home for her mother’s birthday.
Pam worked away at it and sent a photo of her finished work to her client.
“That’s not my mother’s house,” was the verdict.
We chortled and choked at this.
My sister Kate basking in the light next to a commissioned painting.
“Well, I painted the right house after that in record time,” she laughed.
In the end, the wrong house just needed the right owner, she explained. It sold.
Our stomach rumblings started to get the better of us, so we asked where we should go. Tall Poppy Cafe was the order of the day. Pam was invited to join us, but she had just eaten breakfast there.
Kate wanted to take Pam home with her, but I felt that it was probably best for Pam to continue living where she was. Pam is doing what she loves and we love what she’s doing.
If you’re lucky enough to live in or travel to Wellington (in the near future), you can see Pam’s paintings at her annual show at the SideStreet Gallery on Main Street. The show opened Nov. 30 and runs until Dec. 31, 2014.