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Music, theatre, dance and art pack Ice Box festival

A procession to a secret location revealed Birdbone Theatre’s performance.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Prince Edward County’s winter art festival, Ice Box: art in the heart of winter embraced last year’s successes and added some exciting new events to the roster for its second year on the grounds on Macaulay Heritage Park.

Sunday featured an intriguing performance by Birdbone Theatre. Anyone interested in experiencing the event was asked to meet at the fire pit, where attendees followed a winding path to a secret location a few minutes’ walk through the soft snow. People followed the procession to the sound of a beating drum, jangling cow bells and numerous human howls and strange noises.

Birdbone Theatre performed The Patron Saint of Objects Lost in Drawers in its theatrical storytelling.

The performance, The Patron Saint of Objects Lost in Drawers, showcased three acts of life, little life and a long, cold night divination song for the slumbering earth. Birdbone Theatre makes puppet shows for hard times, and delights in public poetics and the art of spectacle.

“In here, the flowering heart of the world, blossoming generously in spite of all the tiny plastic debris, all fall-out from the plastic industrial era which settles on the bottoms of the oceans and which the great blue whale eats, and yet she flowers,” said one of the performers.

Interspersed with song and the eerie twang of an old Russian child’s harp, the performance continued as the story unfolded.

“In here, a mass migration of trumpeter swans, the wind rustling through their feathers, mysteries and secrets that only the luminescent moon could keep. They fly above a cabinet of curiosities where all lost things go to hide; the cabinet dances, while in big cities this way and that way young people gather in the streets to scream against giant merciless stone buildings for their lives.”

Ice Box was centred on five colourful little huts, similar to ice fishing huts, each interactive art installation containing a unique theme and message. Each was filled with artful things created by a local artist on hand to explain their creation, describe how it works and answer questions.

The theme for this year’s Ice Box festival – on again this coming weekend – is migration.

Marion and Nella Casson, mother daughter artistic duo, collaborated and designed the green ice box ‘STITCH’.

Nella and Marion Casson turned an across Canada train trip into a textile creation inside the green ice box ‘STITCH’.

“Mum and I took the train across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, and it was a wonderful thing to share,” explains Nella Casson. “We had been talking about it for years, so it was time to do it.”

“Nella is the embroiderer and I am the felter,” said Marion Casson.

Their ice box installation involves a 16-foot nuno tapestry wrapped around a loop where a handle is turned to move it manually. It is meant to represent the scenery they encountered both inside and outside the train, as well as the people they met.

“We worked on the project every Friday for the month of December and January with all the felting,” said Nella as she described how they incorporated all the great stories from their journey from the sketches and journaling they did.

Susanne Larner’s red hut ‘GROW’ involved a welcome burst of greenery.

“It all stemmed from having an idea the Macaulays might have a greenhouse because this was a working farm, but they weren’t big gardeners,” said Larner.

Susanne Larner’s red hut ‘GROW’ showcased a fantastical Victorian greenhouse.

Her thoughts for the project included the seeds the settlers may have brought to the area, and how some plants we think of as native aren’t, as well as invasive species, and what grows well in the area.

“Part of the journey too, I learned about the seed sanctuary in Tyendinaga and got Janice Brant involved and she’s got an audio aspect to my installation there, so she’s telling the story of the three sisters which is quite wonderful,” Larner said.

“It was quite fun to do and I used so many different materials and so many different ways to craft the space, it’s giving a nice boost of green everyone is craving at this time of year.”

Ice Box is a free event organized by The Department of Illumination, who are known for the Firelight Lantern Festival and the Scarecrow Festival.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer all our programming at Ice Box free of charge,” said Krista Dalby, artistic director. “That being said, there are lots of donation jars around for you to support us. We really do believe in removing barriers from participation in the arts, and that’s why we make these things free.”

Local chef Chris Bryne makes maple taffy

While it wasn’t needed for its warmth, the fire pit, designed as a gathering place, centred the event. From here, people could explore the ice boxes, as well as enjoy other outdoor events such as Chris Byrne’s maple taffy. Macaulay House was also open for self-guided tours, with volunteers on hand for guidance and to answer questions.

The Crackle and Pop dance around the fire pit.

For those in a dancing mood, the Crackle and Pop dance procession encouraged all to join in the fun, as it meandered among the ice boxes. There were fox and blue jay papier mâché heads for wearing, costumes were encouraged and flags were on hand where there was no wrong way to perform the dance which came with howls and other creature noises.

Inside Macaulay Church, the Six String Nation project could be discovered, and involved a very special guitar, where everyone could get their photo taken with it – 15,000 have so far.

Over its 14 years, the guitar has visited every province and territory in Canada. The body of the guitar is made up of 64 pieces of wood, metal, bone, horn and stone, some representing an experience or a place, where each piece has a story to tell.

The guitar, nicknamed ‘Voyageur’, is described as Canada’s most famous guitar, and is a power symbol of national unity and is meant to be played rather than displayed.

Juno-Award winner Justin Rutledge played the Six String Nation guitar ‘Voyageur’ during his concert at Macaulay Church.

Sunday’s highlight was a one-hour concert inside Macaulay Church as talented and personable Justin Rutledge and his guitar, entertained the crowd. Rutledge is a Juno Award-winning musician, and he was just nominated last week for another Juno, Dalby said.

As Rutledge delivered a number of tracks (11 to be exact) at the free sold-out event, he also took the time to converse with his audience. Afterwards, he could be found mingling by the fire pit.

“It’s always an honour to be playing in Prince Edward County, and I’m pleased to be a part of this year’s Ice Box festival,“ said Rutledge, who noted his wife and son were also in the audience.

“It’s my son’s first time seeing me perform; at six-and-a-half months, he doesn’t care; he’s going to think I’m so un-cool in 12 years!”

Rutledge also took the opportunity to play the Six String Nation guitar as he finished out his performance.

His final song, one he wrote years ago he said, ‘Don’t be so Mean Jelly Bean’ was performed with him standing on a chair. The joyful sing-along was aided by Rutledge who prompted the audience with the words to the song.

“This is a piece of Canadian history as far as I am concerned,” Rutledge said of the Six String Nation guitar ‘Voyageur’. “If you’ve had a chance to take pictures with this guitar or learn a little more about it if you haven’t yet, it’s a very, very special thing.”

Ice Box continues with a full line-up of programming next weekend (Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8-9, 11am-5pm) at Macaulay Heritage Park, 35 Church Street, Picton, and will include several different elements to last weekend’s activities. For details, visit deptofillumination.org

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