I am blessed to live and work in this place. Unlike most people, who have to commute 20, 30 or even 60 minutes to their jobs, the studio in which I work is only a few feet away from the house in which I live with my family.
The studio and house are not mine, but this is home. It always has been and it always will be.
The place where I live and work was built and owned by Bruce Garner, a man who is considered to be one of Canada’s preeminent sculptors. While his works can be found abroad, he also has the distinction of having more sculptures in public spaces in Ottawa than anyone. You can view his website and gallery of sculptures here.
He lived and worked here for decades with his partner in life, love and art, Tamaya. My family and I have lived in this place for nearly 10 years. For the past two years, we have shared the home and studio with Tamaya, who graciously took us back in to her home after we stupidly decided to leave for about a year (that’s a topic for another post!).
This home and studio, and the land it is built upon, is overflowing with creative energy. Energy that flowed out of Bruce and Tamaya and soaked into every grain of sand that surrounds this place. Energy that today flows out of me, Tamaya, my wife and children and nourishes not only the soul of this property, but our souls as well.
It was a blind leap of faith that brought us here nearly 10 years ago. If it hadn’t been for my wife’s courage, we wouldn’t be here today.
I first met Bruce and Tamaya, at an informal dinner party thrown by Patrick Mason (you can see his work here), a fellow artist who started out as a lover and collector of my art and has since become a dear friend.
Not long after, Bruce and Tamaya came to visit me at the studio I was renting on the outskirts of Ottawa. I was honoured that they wanted to come see my art and was even more stunned when Bruce, after carefully examining one of my sculptures, looked at me and said, “You are ahead of your time.”
Bruce and Tamaya called me to ask if I could come out to their studio to help them finish a section of one of Bruce’s sculptures. I can admit I was nervous because Bruce was well-known for his stunning bronze sculptures and I had absolutely no experience with bronze whatsoever. I ended up spending the day with Bruce and Tamaya and in addition to helping them with the sculpture, Bruce took the time to teach me how to heat and hammer form bronze into the shape he wanted.
I had the pleasure of helping Bruce and Tamaya install Bruce’s Paso Doble sculpture in front of Opus, a condominium, at the corner of O’Connor and MacLeod streets in Centretown Ottawa. I got a taste for what it’s like to install a large sculpture and my wife and I were blessed to spend the day learning from them. My wife was writing an article about Bruce and the installation of the piece and when my wife thanked Bruce for taking the time to talk with her, his reply was, “I should be thanking you – I get to spend the day talking about art with a lovely young woman. What more could I ask for?”
Bruce fell ill with Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), an uncommon brain disorder that affects movement, control of walking (gait) and balance, speech, swallowing, vision, mood and behavior, and thinking. No longer able to work or live in his beautiful home, Bruce had to be moved to a care facility in the city. Tamaya moved into the city as well so she could be close to Bruce and take care of him.
Patrick, Tamaya, myself and some other artists were showing our works at an art show in the city and had a chance to catch up with Tamaya who was devoting most of herself to taking care of Bruce. Tamaya mentioned that she was interested in renting out their home and studio. She wanted the peace of mind of knowing someone was living (and working) there so she could focus her energy on taking care of Bruce.
At the time, myself, my wife and our seven-month-old son were living in a cramped 600-square-foot apartment in a not-so-great part of Ottawa. We knew we needed to get out of the city but had few options that were affordable AND would provide me with a place to work.
My wife almost immediately blurted out, “Well, we can rent it. We want to get out of the city and this would give Paul a place to work so we don’t have to rent a space on top of everything.” Tamaya thought it was a great idea, but I was shocked. I was nervous because my wife was on maternity leave and we would be moving to a place where she would have no job waiting for her. We would be moving to a place neither of us knew anything about, that was (mostly) in the middle of nowhere.
“Don’t worry about it, we will be fine,” my wife reassured me. “This is happening for a reason and we’d be idiots not to do this. Let’s just do it.”
So we did.
We turned Bruce and Tamaya’s home into a home for our family. Surrounded by beautiful lush trees and a massive yard where my youngest son could crawl around and freely explore, we thrived here. We built bonfires and spent hours staring up into the night sky marveling at the stars that were hidden from us in the city. My son spoke his first words in this place. My son took his first steps on in this place. My family made more beautiful memories and had more wonderful experiences than we could have ever imagined in this place.
In terms of work, the creativity and artistry Bruce and Tamaya manifested during their years creating art in the studio continue to have an impact on me to this very day. I have grown and truly flourished as an artist because of this place. I have created some of my most beautiful works in this place. I have taken risks I never would have taken, been exposed to people and experience I never would have had if we hadn’t moved out here. I have thought outside the box and experimented in ways I never dreamed. I threw caution to the wind and developed my love and talent for creating abstract sculptures in this place. I dare say I was able to do this because of this place.
Bruce passed away in 2012. I don’t think I have words to adequately express how deeply his passing affected those who were blessed enough to know him. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I was best friends with Bruce because I wasn’t. I had the opportunity to work a little bit with him, to get to know a little bit of him and to learn from him. I wish I’d been able to spend more time with him; to talk more with him and to learn more from him. I’m grateful for the short amount of time I had with him and, living in his former home and studio, the brief connection I made with him lives on.
For the last two years, we have shared this home with Tamaya. She too was sick and tired of the city and was looking to plant roots. What better place to plant roots than in the home she and Bruce once shared?
Some people might think it’s weird that we all live together, but for us, it’s natural and I don’t think any of us would have it any other way. Tamaya works in one side of the studio and I work in the other. She has her own private space in the house and we have ours.
We talk almost every single day. I can’t count how many times we’ve sat on the porch for nearly an entire morning or afternoon just talking about anything and everything. Tamaya supports us in our art. She offers wise advice and shares the stories and experiences she has accumulated from her life before Bruce and with Bruce. When I need reassurance or an opinion or just some good old fashioned encouragement, she’s always there to offer it (and funny enough, she usually tells me the exact same thing my wife does!).
She understands what it means to be an artist and what it means to make your living as an artist. She understands the way we think and feel in a way very few others do. She relates to us on a level that is not only refreshing, but necessary for those trying to navigate a world that is not always so kind and gentle to the artistically-minded.
My youngest son loves Tamaya to death and he tells her so often. My wife and I love her to death and probably don’t tell her so enough.
She is part of us. We are part of her. We are family.
Life has come full circle for all of us living and working in this place and I have a feeling that Bruce had something to do with it. Bruce is the common denominator in all of this. If we hadn’t met Bruce at that dinner party, none of this would have happened. He may be gone physically, but I know he is watching over all of us, over this place. I imagine he’s happy that we found each other and that we are together, taking care of each other, creating art and memories in this place. There is life in this place. There is love in this place.
We are home. We are exactly where we belong. Together. In this place.