Maritime Vistas: The Art of Rhonda MacLellan

Putting her love for the Maritimes on display made this artist's first solo exhibition all the more special.

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Rhonda MacLellan artist
Photo: Courtesy Rhonda MacLellan

In Pursuit of Art

It seems that for most of my life I have been involved with music, art and the love of all things “Maritime-ish.” I have always loved art; I’ve taught it and I continue to pursue it. I first learned about art from my maternal, Russian-born grandfather, George Sawatsky, who was a proficient pianist and gifted artist. While my father’s family, the MacLellans, seem to have music in their veins, it took me years to realize that not everyone can do what we can do with music and art. With that realization, I came to understand that the “gift of talent” was intended to bring joy to others, not to amass personal accolades.

I was born in British Columbia and raised my family there, but all my life the province of Nova Scotia seemed to beckon me. My father, William Leo MacLellan, was born in Deepdale, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island and I have always enjoyed flying back and forth to visit family. My lifelong dream was to move to the Maritimes; in 2017, that dream became a reality. During February and March of that year, I drove solo from British Columbia to the East Coast, along routes in both Canada and the U.S., in winter conditions. I had lost regular mobility in my right leg after complications from an arthroscopic procedure on that knee in 2013—so this cross-Canada road trip was a big venture for me. In addition to slippery roads, I got lost in North Dakota when my car’s GPS malfunctioned; I got deathly sick in Michigan; and I hit an ice storm in Ottawa. Oddly enough, I never felt any real fear during the trip. I was sick and tired at times, but always adventurous!

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Blue Rocks by Rhonda MacLellan
Courtesy Rhonda MacLellan

“Blue Rocks” by Rhonda MacLellan

My intention was to find full-time work in the Maritimes and do art on the side. I settled along the Bay of Fundy where the farmlands and beautiful vistas might serve as inspiration for my artwork. Regular employment eluded me, however, and so last year, I decided to try and sell some of my artwork, just in card form, as a home-based business.

Having taught art for many years, I still usually resort to old methods of starting from the top left of the page and working my way to the bottom right.

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Mabou Harbour - Rhonda MacLellan
Courtesy Rhonda MacLellan

Mabou Habour” by Rhonda MacLellan

Prior to actually producing my artwork, I travelled around the Maritimes in constant pursuit of inspiring settings—of which there is no shortage! I would take photographs of promising scenes and then use a range of mediums—oil pastels, pencil crayons, soft pencils and black markers—to create my works of art by freehand.

After building an initial inventory of six pieces, I tried cold-calling likely venues where my art might be sold, such as local gift shops and farmer’s markets where the vendor fees were not too high. I also entered my work into a Christmas sale, and made sure friends and neighbours where aware of what I had available. Considering I was just selling cards, I did not do too badly.

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Cumberland Anchor by Rhonda MacLellan
Courtesy Rhonda MacLellan

Cumberland Anchor” by Rhonda MacLellan

This year I am trying to expand my art business. In late 2018, I noticed a sign indicating that the Truro branch of the Colchester—East Hants Public Library was looking to feature the works of artists at an upcoming exhibition. I booked an appointment in January 2019, and brought in 12 pieces of framed artwork for consideration. I placed a sheet down on the floor and laid out the artwork. Tiffany Bartlett, the library’s CEO, was taken with them and a contract was signed.

On the day of the exhibition—June 1, 2019—I was up early with a cup of coffee, thinking of my grandfather, George, and all he had done to train, encourage and support me. He helped unleash art and music in me early in life. I remember, at the age of seven, oil painting on canvas and using an easel, both of which he had built and gifted to me.

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Truro in Fall by Rhonda MacLellan
Courtesy Rhonda MacLellan

Truro in Fall” by Rhonda MacLellan

The exhibition itself was exciting and a bit stressful, too. The day was a nice one in Nova Scotia, only the second fair-weather day since spring—and it was a Saturday. I was worried no one would show up, but thankfully they did! Having taught music and performed live previously, including on the Vanoc stage during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and doing solos with an international choir touring Ireland, I did a couple of Celtic musical sets, singing and playing violin. I figured that if people did not enjoy the art, they would probably like the music. However, they seemed to enjoy it all!

I would love more opportunities to exhibit, not only to earn enough money from art to live on, but also to spread the joy about the Maritimes. I call my style “bright realism,” a reflection of the place I’ve always loved and now call home.

Visit Rhonda’s website for more.

Next, check out 10 essential East coast experiences.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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