Earthtones Studio – decidedly different
by Douglas Pugh – The RightEyedDeer Press
It’s one of those life changing moments – a couple with a successful business, living in picturesque Guelph, ON – getting away from the hustle and bustle for a break. The cabin that they rented was in what is known in Ontario as ‘Cottage Country’. Haliburton to be exact.
‘We just utterly fell in love with the whole place,’ says Dani Stahle, one of the partners of Earthtones Studio, ‘ the ambience, the stunning landscape, the people.’ Her husband and partner, John Proctor totally agrees.
So, taking the plunge, they sold their business fifteen years ago and moved themselves and their family into the Haliburton Highlands, though they did bring enough of their tools of the trade from the old business to start again. It was a kind of success story, the business in the new rural environment transplanted well, thrived even, yet still the couple felt that something was missing.
‘We needed something that really comes from the heart,’ says Stahle, ‘ we were good at what we were doing and yet still felt unfulfilled.’
Having taken the plunge once, the couple did it all over again, selling the business and throwing themselves fully into their passions – John Proctor with his percussion instruments and drums, Dani Stahle with art styled particularly from recycled fabrics. Earthtones Studio was born.
‘Earthtones, we thought that was a good name, sort of primal,’ says Proctor, ‘ connected to the earth and nature, to natural colours and sounds.’
John had developed a love of gourd-based instruments shortly before leaving Guelph. He had attended workshops that encompassed far more than just simply drum making.
‘A sound practitioner series of courses, it involved everything from trying to understand varying cultures from around the world – each with their own individual slants on music, the health benefits of using sound for expression,’ you can tell just how much Proctor is full of passion for the topic, ‘ and how to facilitate the use of drums to varying groups – the young, the elderly, the handicapped.’
It does not take long before Proctor is telling you with pride that virtually every instrument in the world owes it’s origins to a resonating box that was based on a hard shelled gourd. Just take a look at your common guitar shape for example. They have changed and some evolved in the last three thousand years, but there is usually something that retains at least a hint of that originating gourd.
Proctor is not strictly bound though, among his range of drums are many with a more ‘urban’ feel to them, their resonance chambers made of plastic culverts and piping.
Workshops and therapy sessions are a cornerstone of Earthtone Studio’s recipe for success, with extremely well attended sessions held across the province of Ontario as John and Dani are invited presenters and facilitators at schools, First Nation reserves and a wide variety of clientele.
In between workshops though, Proctor has a busy schedule, performing soundscapes for films, opening and closing ceremonies for events, he supplies other drum makers with components such as skins etc, and he educates via the Haliburton Highlands ‘Artists in The Schools’ program. And, of course, he makes drums and instruments too, with examples held on display in galleries in both Lakefield and Toronto.
Earthtones Studio is definitely what you would call a vibrant and building business.
The supply side of the business is perhaps one of the stranger elements, with John’s curiosity and desire to explore the world of percussion instruments necessitating the import of all manner of skins and other requisites. Experience with the wholesale side of their former business comes in handy when some items are not available locally.
With a wry smile, John recounts the tale of a customer who drove up from Toronto to acquire a whole cowhide for drum making, the process rather complicated by the customers passengers taking up most of the storage space and finishing with the hide being cut in half to make it fit inside the vehicle. The customer was simply delighted to get the goods.
Questioned a little further on the whole instrument making side of the business, John nominates the gourd rasp and the ocean drum as his favourites. The most difficult instrument that he has attempted is the Indian tampura that he is now working on. Frustrating but progressing is how he describes the large stringed instrument under construction.
Earthtones Studio though is more than John and his percussion instruments though. In between voluntary work in the locale, Dani has quite a repertoire in recycled fabrics, with her specialty being figurines.
‘Figurines with a difference,’ she says shyly, ‘ most of them are designed to be displayed outside.’
Although fairly reserved about them, the figurines are quite breathtaking. In the space of a few minutes I had seen a quartet of individual musicians, figures dancing and children playing. Many of them are bronze coloured, related to the special resin that weatherproofs the recycled and ‘up-cycled’ material used in their creation. It is a wonderful way to use fabrics such as lace, utilising the flexibility, portraying the gentle folds and weave yet giving them the ruggedness to survive the elements.
Dani’s talents are a revelation, with other examples of her sculptural puppetry designed for interior display. Some of these are displayed on the MadeInHaliburton.ca website. She certainly has an eye for capturing action and emotion, more often than not using natural fibres.
‘The MadeInHaliburton website is fabulous, ‘ says Stahle, ‘ with everything else that we’re doing there’s hardly any time to fit in marketing and everything on the internet. Being on there gives us a showcase to a wider, global audience. Living in a quiet rural place like Haliburton, we need something like that.’
As you leave the studio you can’t help but be impressed by the works in progress – that difficult tampura, next to it a percussion instrument made with worn out saw blades, and other bits and pieces that you just know will soon be something significant.
And you can’t help but smile, Dani and John, relaxed, obviously happy in their creative endeavours and yet still pushing out further, exploring somewhere new.
Together the couple have certainly found their heart in the Haliburton Highlands, found their very own beat.