It’s hard to know where art ends and life picks up at the Grumpy Goat Gallery in Upper Island Cove.
The gallery is set amidst colourful cottages that pop up out of the grassy hillside, opening onto craggy cliff and ocean. Much like stepping into a foldout storybook — or one of the Grumpy Goat girls’ pieces of artwork.
Cara Kansala and Pam Dorey moved to the Conception Bay North community 10 years ago, Dorey returning to her home province after a 25-year absence, Kansala from her native Ontario.
“I’d been an artist in Ontario and we’d taken a break and moved to the Czech Republic and taught English for three years,” Kansala says. “Pam had been working for CN Rail.”
Kansala fell in love with Newfoundland on a prior visit and when they were done teaching abroad, they decided to make Upper Island Cove home.
Kansala has always loved goats and one of her first jobs was to paint a life-sized goat on a door adjacent to the gallery.
“When we were trying to think up a good name for the gallery, Cara figured it should be something goaty, as there were certain to be goats in the (nearer than I realized) future,” Dorey says.
She was right. Rose (aka Grumpy Goat) and Sophia have settled into Rose Cottage just across the way.
The Pygmy goats get along well with the cats, eight or 10 of which can usually be found lolling around in the backyard.
“Most of them are stray cats or ferals who were here when we moved here,” Dorey explains. “So we live-trapped them, had them spayed and neutered and then just let them go again and we feed them and make sure they’re healthy.
Grumpy Goat’s whimsical three-dimensional creations are designed and painted by Kansala, then carved by Dorey, who admits it can be a struggle.
When Kansala gets an idea she often envisions the piece completed.
“But then I have to explain it to Pam. So it’s fascinating how well everything works out. In most collaborations people have different ideas, but sometimes Pam will do something by accident, or get a different side and it will change it for the good.”
Sometimes it takes a nudge from Kansala to get Dorey going, particularly when it comes to their mummer series.
“I’ll hold this block of wood, and I’m just holding it, looking at it and I just don’t know how I’m gonna get a person out of this. But Cara will sketch it and say: well, just take off this layer of wood around here. Once I start to see a shape, I’m like, okay, now I know what to do. But every time — and we’ve done 13 — I’m still looking at a block of wood and I can’t get past the start.
“I’m sure my technique is far from what would be taught, because I learned it as I went along and taught myself. So how I do it, probably isn’t traditional.”
Many of their pieces are carved out of amusing stories from Dorey’s family (“Nanny and Poppy”), some with written anecdotes attached.
“And we get a lot of ideas from around here, things we see around town. It’s proven to be a phenomenal source of inspiration for both of us,” Dorey says.
When they first moved to Island Cove the plan was wholesale only, no gallery or retail space. But Dorey soon went to work building a gallery onto the tiny house and then a studio further up the hill.
“It’s amazing how much you can learn from Google,” she chuckles.
“So we ended up first having this little space and now it’s just growing, growing,” Kansala adds. “People just started showing up. They saw our work at the Craft Council and heritage shops and asked where we were.”
A log of this summer’s visitors averages about 40 a day, many of them from across Canada and other countries.
Some of the increased interest can be attributed to National Geographic’s Geotourism map.
“It’s an interactive map online and it’s fabulous,” Kansala says. “We have our own page and it shows how to get here and tells you about other things that are in the vicinity.”
Visitors bemoaned the fact there was no café close by, prompting Kansala to offer coffee and cookies from her own kitchen.
“We hated sending them away,” says Dorey, who plans to build a piece onto the front of the house that will serve the purpose.
“So next season hopefully we’ll be The Grumpy Goat Gallery and the Crabby Cat Coffee Shack.”
Kansala and Dorey will hold their fourth solo show at the Heritage Gallery on Water Street, St. John’s, Nov. 10.
Grumpy Goat has won several awards including the 2010 Atlantic Canada Craft Award for Best Product Design and first place in the Canadian Blog Awards 2011 for its imaginative blog (thegrumpygoatgallery.com).
“It’s all a great deal of fun and it makes us happy,” Kansala says. “Hope it makes other people happy, too.”