Artsy Birdhouse rises, snags NOHFC funding

By Mike Stimpson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thunder Bay Source

A teacher by profession, Rhonda Beckman wants to nourish creativity in others. A Northern Ontario Heritage Fund loan will help her achieve that objective.

Beckman’s Clever Corvid Art and Art Workshops has been awarded a $204,848 loan to help pay for a studio and other improvements.

The funding helps her business create an “artist sanctuary” on Keatley Road northeast of the city of Dryden, Beckman said Monday.

“And what we want is for people to have an opportunity to be inspired by the beauty of Northwestern Ontario,” she added. “We don’t want it to be an open door where, you know, 100 people can just plow on through and trample all over the space.

“We want an artist to be here to absorb everything within the terrain … and use it as their inspiration for their own creativity. And I’m there as basically a guide if they need assistance with the development in their creative process.”

There’s room for the creative process to grow through collaboration, she said.

“I’m hoping that the people that are in the space are going to be willing to run workshops as well, which will benefit the community because it means new people and new ideas and perspectives.

“And I truly hope that it’s going to be global so that we’re going to have people from all over the world that are sharing their creative outlet with us in the region.”

The business will be using NOHFC funding for access roads, parking and a log structure — called The Birdhouse Artist Retreat and Workshop Studio — on its expansive property, as well as install highway signage.

Beckman hopes it will prove to be “a catalyst for cultural and educational tourism” in the Dryden area.

The Birdhouse’s completion, which Beckman says is not far away, will be a great milestone in the Clever Corvid story.

Beckman started Clever Corvid, named after the family of perching birds that includes ravens and crows, as a sideline business in 2015 while she was a teacher at Red Lake District High School and made it a full-time business the next year.

She and the business moved to Dryden about a year and a half ago after years in which “we literally drove back and forth between Red Lake and Dryden,” Beckman said.

She said Clever Corvid workshops are “for all ages and abilities” and include “all kinds of different art media.”

Programming is designed “for a lot of learning to happen in the workshop and for everybody to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

While the Birdhouse and other upgrades to the Keatley Road property were in progress, she was conducting workshops and instruction at various places including a Dryden church and the Northwestern Ontario Metis Child and Family Services building.

Beckman also travels for workshops, to regional towns like Ear Falls, Ignace and Sioux Lookout. “I just came back from Ear Falls yesterday,” she said. “I did a painting party there.”

She also has been teaching children in the far north through Connected North, a web-based organization that provides online learning opportunities to Indigenous children and youth.

Not surprisingly, Beckman also paints. She describes her own art as “not necessarily looking at a scene and wanting to replicate it,” but rather finding interesting abstraction in things like shadows, colour patterns and lines in nature.

In a news release announcing the funding, Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford described Clever Corvid as “a sought-after cultural and tourism destination that will directly contribute to our regional economy.”