Arlene Saunders

Artist & Cartographer


rlene Saunders has been a resident of Elora for only two and a half years, but in that short time she has quickly become integrated into the world of expanding art and art education in Centre Wellington. Arlene is the Administrator for the Elora Centre For The Arts, in touch with the music, the visual art, the children’s and adult programmes which take place in this stone heritage building.

Her own watercolours and mixed media interpretations of buildings and streetscapes of Elora and Provence, France, can be seen in the Elora Mill and at “Estate of Mind” on Mill Street East. Elora. Giclée reproductions of her watercolour originals make affordable memories of Elora for many visitors to the village.

Arlene grew up in an artistic family of six children, on a farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Their life was isolated from much of society. They went to private, religious school, and when not helping with the many chores on the farm or in the house, the children turned to artwork, exploring their own inner expression through simple materials provided for them by their parents: paper, pens, crayons, watercolours, and even mud dug from the pond bottom, cleaned and dried for use as sculptural clay.

Arlene’s parents were of Dutch descent, and valued artistic expression through music, drawing and painting. Though art was part of daily life, the family was not competitive, and perhaps this helped individual visions to flourish. Even today Arlene and her sister will often make art together in the social context of a visit or sharing a glass of wine.

When Arlene arrived at High School, she found she had already progressed beyond the average student in technique and knowledge of art. In Grade 10 she chose to take Art as a subject. The perceptive teacher encouraged her, allowing Arlene to express herself through the portraits, pointillism and other techniques she had developed in her home life. But still, she continued to avoid competitions or seek rewards.

Married at 20, she moved to northern Manitoba, where Arlene worked as a Surveyor for the City of Thompson. “I worked in the bush with the burly survey crews” Arlene says, “but you know, that worked out all right! And of course I did mapping as well.”

Eventually she returned to Southern Ontario and worked for an environmental consulting firm in Toronto, with a focus on mapping and graphics. This led Arlene to develop her own mapping company with a partner. She was with the company for 12 years. It produced all types of maps and publications, and even put out a Visitors Guide to Toronto. During the last five years, the company became involved in remote sensing and satellite images, rendered in natural colour, showing the amazing views of earth from space. Arlene and her partner held the rights for Canada, Europe and Australia, publishing posters, puzzles, and educational resources for schools and other distributors.

The company and her longtime business partnership ended when Arlene left her marriage of 17 years. Shortly after she met and married Chris Saunders. Arlene says that it was Chris’ influence which brought her to commit to work in the field of fine art full time Having moved to Oakville, Arlene volunteered with the Oakville Art Society, helped with activities, served on the Board, and for several years was the Gallery Director.

Two and a half years ago Arlene and Chris and their sons left Oakville in search of a small town receptive to the arts, with a setting of natural beauty, and so they rediscovered Elora. It had been a place for weekend visits away from the growing metropolis. Arlene says the family’s move to this village has worked out well for everyone. In fact, the opportunities this area affords to mix with interesting, cosmopolitan people, to further art interests and to live a peaceful life have truly been beyond their expectations.

…to further art interests and to live a peaceful life have truly been beyond their expectations.

Shortly after arriving here, Arlene opened the “Old Soul Gallery”, just off Mill Street East, Elora. This was a vital introduction to the art world of her new village, even if the gallery didn’t survive for long. She came in contact with people in the graphics and arts communities, received commissions for paintings, and acquired a Giclée printer to reproduce her own watercolours.

When an opening came at the new Elora Centre for the Arts, for the position of Administrator, Arlene Saunders applied and was chosen. Her calm efficiency and business experience of the past have been a great asset to the Centre, as well as her life-long commitment to the arts.

by Beverley Cairns, Winter 2004