Creating Beauty, Protecting Nature: How one local artist protects the Dumoine River
Each summer since 2017, CPAWS OV hosts the Dumoine River Art for Wilderness (DRAW) Retreat. Artists from various backgrounds across Ontario and Quebec spend a week on the Dumoine River watershed creating art to support our conservation efforts.
We had the chance to catch up with Katharine Fletcher, a 2019 DRAW Retreat participant, about her experience.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I’ve always had a love for nature and it’s fun sometimes to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the wild.
Spiritwood is my cherished home, where my photographer-husband Eric and I have lived for 32 years, come May 1, 2021. Together, we love hiking, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and canoeing — we even built Windigo, our cedar-strip canoe and carved our own paddles from local black cherry.
I started my career years ago as a freelance writer (travel, nature and environment, gardens) and columnist, eventually writing and self-publishing Historical Walks: The Gatineau Park Story in 1988 (now published, 3rd edition, by Fitzhenry & Whiteside). I also served for years as the Chair, Sustainable Travel, for the Canadian Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers. Now I am the environmental columnist for three Outaouais newspapers (Pontiac Journal, West Quebec Post, and Aylmer Bulletin). I enjoy writing for local papers and serving my community by shedding light on how to connect with – but also protect — nature.
How did you learn about CPAWS OV?
I first heard of CPAWS’ excellent work while on a two-week horseback expedition in Northern British Columbia’s Muskwa-Kechika region. The organizer, award-winning environmentalist Wayne Sawchuck, was involved with CPAWS and introduced me to the organization. I learned more about the importance of land management and protection, and my goal to be a voice for protection grew. Definitely, my deep passion for the wild led me to being involved with CPAWS-OV, where I am now a member of the Gatineau Park Committee.
What kind of art do you create?
I imbue my mixed media and printed art with these qualities of enchantment, where I pursue three main themes: enchantment, spirit horses, and endangered (animals, beings, and landscapes). Whether it’s in my enchanted collagraph print, “Where the Unicorns Play,” where I’m dancing with two young unicorns or in “Spirit Horses: Into the Sun” where two white horses lead a galloping herd into a vortex, you’ll discover magic and mystery flourishing!
I believe in fostering the arts in our community. In 1989, I founded the Pontiac Artists’ Studio Tour with six other artists. Around 2003, I became increasingly immersed in the local arts community first as a writer, then as an artist. Now, I’m on the boards or otherwise engaged in multiple art organizations. I’m absolutely committed to promoting the arts, from literature to poetry to visual art and more.
Now I am primarily a visual artist. I love incorporating found objects into mixed media pieces, such as feathers, grass, ferns, or rusted metal. This is how I made most of my mixed-media art during the 2019 DRAW Retreat. I am also a printmaker where I print using found objects, including eco-dyeing with items from nature.
I believe artists can make a difference in the world. Artists ask viewers to look at nature through their eyes, experience it, and ask questions.
What made you interested in participating in the DRAW retreat?
My first time participating in the DRAW Retreat was in 2019, where my photographer-husband Eric and I enjoyed every moment.
Both of us have a passion for nature and love immersing ourselves in the wild. Getting as close to nature as possible and creating something magical is wonderful.
I also wanted to connect with like-minded artists. Getting together in a rough-camping setting and bonding over the importance of protecting the Dumoine River was fantastic.
What was it like to camp at the Dumoine River?
The experience was fabulous. Eric and I camped near the river, where its sound as well as birdsong stirred our souls. Our little campsite surrounded by the forest allowed us to breathe deeply of the fragrances of the earth, trees, and campfire. In the evening, we all gathered around the bonfire and shared stories. We took turns preparing food: having delicious comfort foods during rough camping was fantastic.
What have you learned from participating in the DRAW retreat?
There’s nothing more valuable than physically immersing yourself in the area in order to learn about the importance of protecting the Dumoine River and its watershed. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by like-minded people, some who have been there before and can teach you about different aspects. CPAWS-OV’s Executive Director, John McDonnell, is a tireless promoter and protector of the Dumoine. John shares his knowledge about the human and natural history by weaving stories and by driving us to locations such as the historic Dumoine Lodge.
In fact, our group was filled with people deeply knowledgeable about protection issues, who know the history of the river, and who are passionate about environmental conservation and art.
Joining the retreat gave me an in-depth look at the history of the Dumoine River and what we can do to protect it for future generations.
How did the DRAW retreat help you connect with nature as an artist?
The DRAW Retreat gives you time. It allows you to pause, do your own thing, and create art on your own amid nature. When we carve out time for ourselves, it creates special moments where creativity blossoms.
Artists and writers often create in isolation, so it was natural for us to wander off with a sketchbook or easel and appreciate the light, breathe in the scents, listen closely to the sounds, and experience the Dumoine. But because there was a group of us, it was inspiring to see others’ artistic techniques.
What is one of your fondest memories from your time at the Dumoine River?
Definitely paddling Windigo, named for the First Nations forest spirit, to explore. Dipping our paddles into what was then a new river for Eric and me and letting the current guide us was a crystal moment. That’s what I call those soaring experiences when you’re doing your own thing, where life’s jogging along, but suddenly something happens and you think, “Oh, this is something I’m going to remember.” That’s what I call a crystal moment because it can be retrieved from our memory banks and relived.
Do you have advice for people considering applying to the DRAW retreat?
You must enjoy rough camping. There isn’t a corner store nearby or shops if you want to buy something. The CPAWS-OV team does a great job of preparing you for what to bring, but you do need all your gear with you and because the campsite is remote, what you bring truly is what you use for the week. People do tend to share throughout the retreat, though! Tip: if you can fit it in, bring something that’s comforting, like your favourite pillow or blanket.
The entire DRAW Retreat permits us to learn about the preservation of nature while absorbing the beauty of the Dumoine River. To me, both as a writer and artist, I’ve dedicated my life to nature conservation and the celebration of arts. The DRAW provides richly immersive moments in time to learn, while being in a group of like-minded individuals.
I hope to return in 2021. DRAW (Dumoine River Art for Wilderness) has captured my heart.
Want to take part in the 2021 DRAW Retreat? Learn more and apply today!