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Recreating in the Sand

Abe Waterman’s sculptures at Rossignol Winery in Little Sands

by Melanie Jackson

Abe Waterman and his sand lady (photo: Melanie Jackson)Abe Waterman isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Or his feet. Or his knees.

Some visitors to the Rossignol winery in Little Sands learn this about Abe first hand. That’s where his sculpture of a woman made entirely of sand welcomes wine connoisseurs and art appreciators alike. And it’s where Abe can be found, on occasions like today, reshaping and retouching his Island clay creation.

“Congratulations,” says a lady walking by on her way into the winery, “another beautiful one.”

Abe, as cool and quiet as the medium he works with, flashes a bright smile at and offers a gentle, “Well, thank you” in response. “It’s a performance art as much as it is a contemporary art,” Abe tells me, after I ask him if he gets bothered by people interrupting his work. “People stop and watch because they can actually see it taking shape.”

For the last five years, Abe has been creating—and recreating—the long-haired beauty for winery owner, John Rossignol, who has a collection of Abe’s work all around his property, such as the two large wooden sculptures of a man and woman inside the winery’s retail store and the five scenic sandstone carvings along the laneway—each of them as tall as Abe himself.

Every summer, Abe has to recreate his earthen enchantress, after PEI’s winter and harsh winds from the neighbouring Northumberland Strait wreak their havoc on her.

But Abe says the mortality of his sculptures is part of their appeal. “I kind of like the idea of it returning to its original state,” he says, his blue eyes shining under the summer day’s sun. “It’s not permanently taking up space, and I don’t have to live with my mistakes.”

Each year he uses the original pile of sand that was delivered to the vineyard the first year he sculpted his sandy siren and each year he gives her a new look.

“She’s different every year,” he says.

Abe says he learned his craft by doing some snow sculpting around the yard at home. Those frosty forgings led to fellow Island sculptor Ahmon Katz asking Abe to partner with him at Winterlude, an annual event in Ottawa that showcases snow and ice sculptures.

From there, he was asked to sculpt creations for Charlottetown’s Jack Frost Festival and, after that, for Sandland—a collection of scenic sand sculptures formerly on display near the city’s waterfront.

Less than a decade later, Abe has sculpted sand in lands as far as British Columbia, Texas and Portugal. “It’s a great job. Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” he says.

While he never particularly aspired to be an artist, it would seem that’s where Abe’s path of opportunities led him. And he hopes his journey will continue, taking him even further into mastering his craft. “If I can keep making my living doing this, I will,” Abe says. “But even if I wasn’t doing this professionally, I’d still be in my yard doing it for fun.”

Art Appreciation

Rilla Marshall’s 3-D textile creations inspired by the Island

by Melanie Jackson

Islands dune by Rilla Marshall (photo: Melanie Jackson)Rilla Marshall has an unusual way of expressing her appreciation for Prince Edward Island’s changing landscapes. She does it through textiles.

Inspired by aerial photos of shifting coastlines, Rilla translates her interest in erosion and rising sea levels through loom-woven tapestries and miniature three-dimensional dioramas - crocheted by hand - which depict familiar Island scenes, such as sand dunes and marshlands.

She calls the handmade 3-D exhibits her “islands”. It’s taking something that’s scientific and factual and cold and translating it through all the connotations that come with textiles, like warmth and comfort and security,” Rilla says.

Last spring, Rilla and her partner, Damien Worth, also an artist, purchased the old schoolhouse in Eldon. The couple are in the process of renovating the historic building and hope to be moved in this month. There, the pair will be able live and practise their art—all inside one expansive space that’s steeped in nostalgia. “For a lot of artists, that’s the dream: having your ideal studio space and living space all in one,” Rilla says.

The peaceful lot and historic architecture of the building are enough to inspire any creative mind. A row of six-foot-high windows runs along the full length of the eastern wall of the schoolhouse, and provide a new to a yard lined with white birch and spruce trees. The windows illuminate the classroom where children once gathered for their school lessons and where Rilla plans to set up her loom that’s “as big as a grand piano.”

Rilla said her new property has inspired her to depict her community in pieces of work similar to her previous coastline tapestries. She’s hoping to recreate the entire Belfast area in textiles.

Thanks to a friend who works at the MacPhail Woodlot Project, Rilla got her hands on some topographical maps that show what the community’s sea level will look like in 20, 50, and even 100 years’ time. She envisions weaving or crocheting the concentric circles of those maps in different colours of wool - to illustrate the varying levels. “I’d use the colours as a language to translate the data,” she said.

Rilla hand spins the locally-produced wool, then dyes it using traditional methods and natural ingredients, such as plants and onion skins. “For my islands, I decided to keep it as natural as possible and to source the materials as locally as possible.”

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Jack Frost Winterfest at Eastlink Centre

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