Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Open concept

Artist welcomes guests into her one-of-a-kind home/studio, which perfectly reflects her free spirit

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You've got to be a little loony to choose the artist's life.

This weekend, local artist Aliza Amihude and her husband are celebrating their dedication to living creatively by throwing open the doors to what they call "the Loonie House."

Seven years ago, the couple paid one loonie for a filthy, condemned, circa-1915 two-storey on Grove Street in North Point Douglas. Now transformed -- but still an eccentric work in progress -- the unique house is a stop on the In Plain View tour of artists' studios taking place this weekend.

The free tour, launched in 2006, is a chance for the public to view and shop for artworks while meeting 30 professional artists in their creative environments.

This is the first time Amihude, an art jeweller who is also a jazz singer and performance artist, has participated.

"It's important for people to see how artists live and work," says the short, animated 43-year-old. "I think generally there's a really negative attitude that artists are lazy, they're always poor, they're slackers...

"The artists I know are the hardest-working people I know... I've chosen to live a life where you get no kudos, really, except that it's the greatest joy in the world to be a creator.

"I know a lot of people who say, 'I hate my job.' I don't know any artist that hates their job. That's a gift to show people."

Nine years ago, the free-spirited Amihude, who grew up in the North End, fell in love at first sight with Oregon-bred Joseph Fullmer at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

After living for a year in a yurt in Hawaii, the pair of dreamers moved back to Winnipeg, mostly so Amihude could affordably pursue her art.

They paid a slum landlord $1 (plus assuming about $3,500 in back taxes) for the residence. It had been subdivided into an eight-room rooming house and was slated for demolition.

"It was disgusting," Amihude recalls. "There had been a fire on the second floor. It was a crack house. There were needles and garbage everywhere."

The couple totally gutted the structure -- salvaging and recycling an abundance of wood -- and have done all the work themselves to reinvent it, spending about $100,000 on materials. They moved in about four years ago.

At first, Amihude toiled at various jobs -- waiting on tables, delivering singing telegrams -- so Fullmer, an amateur artist with a construction background, could work on the house.

Now they've switched: he's working construction and she's back making jewelry -- some practical, some wildly imaginative "sculpture for the body" -- in her home studio. She also teaches through the artists in the schools program.

They left much of the second storey open -- with a high, vaulted ceiling -- to be used as a performance space. Within a few months, they plan to start holding concerts. They built the stairway wide enough to carry up a grand piano.

Amihude points out the wall where she'll eventually do a mosaic; the salvaged French doors that she'll fill with stained glass; and the bare space over the dining table to be transformed by an elaborate light fixture that she sees in her mind's eye. She has already made a unique cover for every air-return vent.

She says she's proud to be part of the rebirth of Point Douglas. "I know 30 different artists who have bought houses and moved into this area over the last five years," she says.

Amihude says her three-year-old niece describes what she spends her time doing as "arting."

"I thought that was perfect," she says. "I feel my life is an active art piece."


Space walking

The fourth annual In Plain View self-guided studio tour takes place Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. It repeats on Dec. 5 and 6, as well as next spring, June 5 and 6, 2010.

There's no charge for the tour. The public is welcome to browse and chat -- there's no expectation that you buy art.

"It's not just sales, it's exposure," says tour co-ordinator Jo'Anne Kelly, who will be showing her paintings, ceramics, hand-painted scarves, jewelry, Christmas ornaments and more at her home studio in Wolseley. "We want people to see our work... and get a little picture into creativity."

The tour name In Plain View, Kelly notes, plays with Winnipeg's location on the plains while highlighting that professional artists live in your community -- they're right there in plain view, if you choose to notice and appreciate them.

Each artist pays a fee toward promoting the tour. This year, a grant from the province allowed the In Plain View co-operative to produce a 20-page brochure with descriptions and photos of the 30 artists' work, plus a map to the 25 locations (a few locations feature more than one artist).

The tour includes three galleries. The brochure can be picked up at many galleries and tourist-info sites, or go to

The art includes paintings, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, glass art, jewelry, wearable art and more. There are seasoned art makers like ceramicist Jordan Van Sewell and painter Katharine Bruce, as well as emerging artists.

Many artists will take custom orders. Some aren't able to accept credit cards, so it's recommended to take cash or cheques. The largest cluster of studios is in Wolseley, where there are nine locations that can easily be covered on foot. Other locations range from the Exchange District and Point Douglas to St. Boniface, Charleswood and St. Vital.

Kelly says a major benefit for the artists is that they don't have to pack up and haul their work. On the other hand, she says, the most common reason artists give for not joining the tour is that they can't face cleaning up their studios. "We all hate that job!" she says with a laugh.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2009 D1

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