Studio Tour — artisans put out welcome mat

goats at Salt Spring cheesemaker
lavender garden

Visitor checks out goats at a Salt Spring cheesemaker.

A lavender farm is among the stops on Salt Spring Studio Tour.

Instant immersion into the romance of island living and the opportunity to see artisans where they live and work are some of the reasons visitors praise the Salt Spring Studio Tour year after year.

Established in 1990, the self-directed tour offers the opportunity to purchase a unique gift or souvenir — not just from the person who made it, but from the centre of that person’s creative output. Thirty artisans producing fine crafts, textiles, spa and culinary products are waiting to be discovered. It’s a fine excuse to get out and explore the entire island, and with so many intriguing destinations, it might be a good idea to plan for two days of activity.

Woodturner Bob McKay is the coordinator of the 2013 studio tour and has been a participant for the past 15 years. He feels the visitor’s opportunity to really engage with the artist is key to what the studio tour provides.

“Most people have most of the things they need or want. What they’re looking for is experience,” he says.

McKay puts shopping by catalogue at one end of that spectrum. Buying the same item at a gallery where the owner knows something about the work is further along. Buying from the artist him- or herself in the context of the workspace is at the experience’s highest range.

Visitors who follow the tour’s iconic sheep signs to their destinations will find artisans who enjoy interacting with the public and speaking about the products displayed in their own galleries and showrooms. Artists might even offer visitors the chance to see how they work — although with some types of dangerous equipment or small workspaces, this might not be possible.

“When you come by their studio they’re likely to come to the door with bread dough on their hands or sawdust in their hair,” McKay says.

What can be expected is high-quality output at every turn. Participants are juried in by a committee who ensures that raw materials used are transformed in the most creative ways, whether the end product is a wooden salad bowl created from an arbutus burl, an elegant porcelain mug, a woven table runner or a woolen fleece-filled duvet.

With food and farm outlets becoming increasingly important on the studio tour, visitors don’t need to worry about being hungry on the road. Tasty finds from two cheese farms, an artisan bread shop and even a lavender plantation can be paired with selections from several wineries and a brewery.

The Salt Spring Studio Tour map can be found on BC Ferries, the visitors’ centre in Ganges and most marinas and accommodations. For the last several years, a companion book with more detailed information is also published each spring: visitors can see one at their accommodation, or purchase one at the visitor centre or Salt Spring Books to take home as a lovely souvenir. The most comprehensive information, including a downloadable version of the map, photos and details of the artisans’ work, can be found at www.saltspringstudiotour.com.

Many of the participants welcome visitors in the shoulder season and throughout the winter, as well as summer’s high season. Visitors should be sure to check the map, book or website for each location’s individual hours of business at all times of year. Winter visitors should call locations first to avoid disappointment.

— Elizabeth Nolan