Art on boats: A floating tour of the Maple Bay art scene

These three artists live on boats and draw creativity from the coast of Vancouver Island.

In normal times, I’d spend this time of year living on our sailboat, OMOO, with the Skipper Harold Upham, exploring northern parts of the West Coast. But the pandemic has slowed us down, or, I should stay, stopped us.

Instead, I’ve been spending more time paying attention to what was going on around us on neighbouring boats in our home port of Maple Bay.

To my delight and surprise, I found a vibrant community of people who make art when the land meets the sea. I am grateful to them for sharing their spaces and creativity with me. Come, join me as we visit three Maple Bay artists who live, play and create on the water. 

Lora Anderson, painting

My closest artist neighbour is beautiful, creative, and humorous. Lora painted a picture for me of boats dancing on their moorings in lovely Maple Bay. 

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“Some of my paintings are meant to bring awareness to what’s going on around us,” she says. Inspired by her surroundings, she desires to bring awareness to the impact humans have on the environment. 

For Lora Anderson, this boat is both home and studio.

She lives aboard on her Uniflite power boat with her husband Ron, and the ocean is both home and muse.

Lora works by day in her business. She owns a salon and is deeply connected to the people she serves.

Lesley Comassar, fiber arts

Three boats over is Lesley, who lives with her partner Grant on their Canoe Cove power boat. She is a retired teacher who has sunk her heart and soul into her textile art. 

She is inspired by social issues and the journeys she has made on their boat. Boating “allows me to see places that I would never have imagined,” she says. 

Fiber art by Lesley Comassar, inspired by the San Andreas fault line.

She finds her expression through the tapestries she creates on cloth, making dyes out of natural products and transposing her ideas into tactile wall hangings, table runners, art cards and so much more.  

Lesley got started in her art by making wedding canopies, called chupah, which were designed with symbolism and images meaningful to the couple getting married. 

Lesley Comassar holds one of her pieces, part of a series depicting forced migrations.

She says, “I’m happy with a piece that is saying exactly what I want it to say. I don’t ask for anyone’s opinion, I am confident anyone who sees it will understand.”

Lesley works out her studio in the Maple Bay Marina, in the small mall adjacent to the docks.  

She can be found most days sewing away the hours, if she is not off on adventures on the water.  

fiber art by Lesley Comassar
“The Weeds” by Lesley Comassar.

As an onlooker it is obvious that her space feeds her creativity and nourishes her soul.  Her vivacious energy is infused into her creations. 

Lesley welcomes visitors by land or boat to visit her in her studio at Maple Bay Marina, or visit Uncommon Threads online

Linda Helms, pottery

One of the biggest thrills I have had since moving to the West Coast almost 20 years ago is connecting with a childhood friend, Linda from the prairies.  

Linda and I grew up on farms about three miles apart in southern Manitoba.  

We met as we came around the corner of the Shipyard Pub one day at Maple Bay Marina. “Hey, I know you!” I said as we made eye contact.  

It didn’t take long to reunite and start spending time together, rendezvousing on the water or on land.

Linda Helms in her studio.

Linda started working with pottery after seeing a potter “throwing” a pot on TV. She enrolled in classes and joined a group of women who met on weekends to enjoy some wine, snacks and fire pottery.  

Linda Helms pottery
This bowl draws inspiration from lichen.

She learned the art of raku, which is a process which transforms a glazed pot to a textured pot by taking it out of the oven and putting it into cold temperatures with smoke from some lit newspaper, which infuses into the cracks.

A raku pot by Linda Helms.
A raku pot by Linda Helms.

Another process is called “terra sigillata.” Some of the ceramic is taped off so it remains black during the firing. The pot is buffed to a smooth texture and paint is splattered on to create this design.

pottery by Linda Helms
The vase on the left uses the technique of terra sigillata.

Linda’s studio is on top of the garage adjacent to their home on Mount Tzouhalem. Linda and her husband Dirk build their home while living aboard their sailboat moored in Maple Bay. 

The studio is a solitary, happy space that is reflected in her expression while she was telling me about her craft. 

The kiln lives in their yard, covered to protect it from the rainy days here on the West Coast. Linda’s pieces can be found on display at the E.J. Hughes Gallery in Duncan, B.C. She regularly participates in shows at Shibui Gallery on Genoa Bay Road. [end]

Photos by Ruth Brown

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