What it is ain’t exactly clear. The line from the old Buffalo Springfield song comes to mind when I recall our family trip to The Dunes on Prince Edward Island last summer. At first glance, the 60’s protest song and the PEI attraction have little in common. The Dunes is above all a home where artists live and work. People wander in and out of the ceramic studio and dine downstairs in a café setting. We’re free to amble most of the rooms and enjoy – and buy – the artwork because The Dunes is a gallery too, representing over 100 artists. And then there are the gardens.
From the rooftop water gardens where little stone Buddhas lounge among pots bursting with yellow begonias, our view over the gardens below – stuffed with flowers and Asian sculptures – and the round bales of hay drying in a field beyond is of Brackley Bay and the miles and miles of sand dunes that comprise Prince Edward Island National Park. The two seem incongruous, the carefully designed and tended Eastern inspired garden against the Atlantic Canadian wilderness, as incongruous as that old protest song in this place of tranquility and imagination.
Inside The Dunes, descending the spiral staircase inside the glass dome to the rooms and galleries below is like immersing ourselves in the very spirit of creativity. Artwork abounds in all its forms. And on the ground floor, the rooms of Balinese and other Southeast Asian furniture and sculpture spill out the door and into the gardens abundant with stalks of sunflowers and gladiolas, patches of dahlias and mallow hidden behind hedges of purple butterfly bush with a scent as heavy as honey. Here, we lounge on rustic garden furniture and the two teenagers try their hand at a game of mancala on a stone board with matching seats they discover beneath a tamarack tree.
Peter Jansons is the creative force behind The Dunes. He learned art at his mother’s knee, then more formally at the Sheridan School of Design before eventually making his way to the island. He attracted and gathered round him a host of local, national and international painters, designers, sculptors, jewelers and others including Joel Mills with whom he shares the ceramic studio. Their support of local artists is obvious. Over fifty Island artists are represented here, along with another fifty from other parts of Canada working in many genres – painting, jewelry, textiles, stained and blown glass and woodworking.
But it’s the work of two other partners that really stands out. Nash made the leap from banking – six years in Jakarta – to fashion when he took up clothing design in Bali. The influence of Bali’s famous batiks is evident in his three lines of clothing for men and women – Pena, Hot Flash and Bali Boy Designs. And one of The Dunes original team of potters from the early days nearly thirty years ago – Eve Llyndorah – now creates unique jewelry for the gallery from her current home on the opposite coast in British Columbia.
From the kitchen of Chef Emily Wells wafts aromas that draw one back inside to sample locally sourced dishes. Chef Wells credits her mother’s flair for international cuisine, acquired when they lived in Europe as the inspiration for her own work.
Art gallery, working ceramic studio, restaurant, fashion shop, furniture studio, public gardens in equal measure – all of these are The Dunes on Prince Edward Island. To say it is one thing or another is to deny the impression left on us by the rest. The grounds, the house and studio, much of the work shares a quality of serenity that indeed matches the pastoral setting, the quiet ponds and the meandering gardens – it’s like the opposite of the unrest in that famous Buffalo Springfield song, the promise of peace and prosperity without the battle.
All photography by Darcy Rhyno – All Rights Reserved
1. The Dunes PEI
2. View from terrace The Dunes PEI
3. Inside The Dunes PEI
4. Spiral staircase at The Dunes PEI
5. Sculpture at The Dunes PEI