9 October

The Last Picture Show, The Last Open House

by Jon Katz
The Last Picture Show

I was startled to see Maria’s blog post today in which she announced that this weekend’s Open House, our 8th, would be the last Open House, at least the last one on its current form.

I knew she was moving in that direction after this weekend, but I was away most of the day, and I didn’t know how certain she was about it.

I agree completely with her reasoning, although I do feel sad about it.

Each year, the attendance has declined, even as the audiences reading our blogs and buying her art has steadily increased.

Maria wants to take  her ideas about art and creativity online, where so many people are now.

This is the conundrum of our time. It changes.

We are not the kind of people to sit on our hands. We changed every single thing in our lives to move forward, and we are committed to keep moving forward. Nostalgia is a trap for the backward-looking.

And wow, have times changed.

I believe almost everything involving any kind of commerce or connections with people seem to be moving online, including books, and including us. I read all the time that people are spending  more and more time online, and less and less going to see other people.

The irony is that my blog is soaring with traffic and has never been more widely read. That is also true of Maria’s blog.

But the number of people who want to come here to see us and meet us and see our animals and and buy the art of rural artists is diminishing every year. Part of this is about me, I think, I haven’t published a book in a couple of  years and my books drew many people here to see us.

And also, there are our blogs. People can get plenty of us without stepping out of their homes.

The books and my work was never the point of the Open Houses, they were meant to be a celebration of Maria’s art and creativity and encouragement, and the rich art in rural life,  to the end, they were faithful to that.

We are both so grateful to the good people who came to see us, sometimes from  great distances.

So many people found inspiration and encouragement here, we were so touched by their visits and testimonies.

But from this side, it was hard to witness the toll it was taking on Maria.

She had to dismantle her studio weeks ahead of the Open Houses, and it took weeks to put it back together again. In all that time, she couldn’t work and didn’t have the time to make enough art to sell.

It was easier for me, my job was helping prepare and taking the dogs out to herd sheep and hosting donkey visits.

It was financially as well as physically difficult, and we had to spend hundreds of dollars on banners, posters, help and repairs. The Open Houses were not ever really profitable.

Talking yesterday with me, Maria she said had had enough,  she wanted to think of new creative ways to celebrate her work and the art of rural life, ways that didn’t involve exhausting her and shutting down her work. She already met with some of the artists to plan something  different for next year, something smaller.

We don’t wish to measure our lives or art by the numbers of people who come to see us. The small crowd stirred us up, we both felt the idea and time of an event like the Open House had passed.

In my work and Maria’s, we have been on the cutting edge, forward looking and in our minds, quite successful. So Maria has decided- and I agree –  that this Open House was the last of its kind, we will no longer expect or seek to draw large numbers of people here.

I suppose anything that seems familiar can seem humdrum, but I will never forget the faces and stories of people who traveled so far to thank us or meet us or just see us. They are etched in my memory.

And I will miss the sheepherding talks and demos, they were the most fun for me.

We will come up with something that fits into the scale of our lives, and especially Maria’s art, and also of the community of artists she cares so much about. Something that takes better advantage of the many people who follow us every day but who can’t come to our Open Houses.

Perhaps something online.

I enjoyed this Open House, ironically, as much or more than any other. The small crowd worked for me.

Because so few people came, I could actually talk to them. And I loved that.

Change is at the heart of creativity, and if you can’t change, the creative spark goes out. Believe me, we will come up with something new and interesting.

“It’s just time to move on,” Maria said, “it’s not a big deal. We will think of something different to do.”

It is time.

I told Maria Sunday that something felt wrong to me. More than 99 per cent of the people who follow her art couldn’t come, didn’t come and wouldn’t come. The same is true of my blog and book readers.

That doesn’t make sense.

Next year, online or off, we need to build a better and bigger tent, one that doesn’t involve so much disruption in our daily lives, and that lets more people come in and see.


  1. I’m sorry to hear the news, Jon, because coming to an open house has always been a goal of mine. But living in western Canada and factoring the travel and exchange costs, I haven’t been able to afford it. But please know that “getting enough of you” through the blog isn’t the reason lots of people can’t come. I love the blog but seeing you, Maria, the animals and the farm in person would have been wonderful.

    1. We’re thinking of love streaming something next year….We’ll think of something not quite as work intensive…thanks D arryl..hope to meet you one day..

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