Jonathan van Bilsen
Special to The Standard
When I think of art, my thoughts usually drift to paintings, watercolours, photography, metal sculpture and even jewellery, but I have never associated living flowers with artistry. Sure, I enjoy images of flora when painted or photographed, but in the ground I had never thought of them as being artistic, that is, until I met Mila Haynos-Owen.
Mila makes lovely, artistic things from lavender plants, which she grows in her back yard. Of course, during the months of June, July and August, her garden consists of acres of lavender, all blooming in spectacular hues of mauve and purple. So where does the art come in?
First, I should mention that Mila is a participant in this year's Lake Scugog Studio Tour, which takes place the weekend of April 30 to May 1st. It is Mila's first time in the 16 year old tour, but will probably not be her last. The studio tour features 30 artists who open their homes and studios for two beautiful spring days, where the general public can visit, chat and even purchase some amazing, unique, one of a kind, art pieces.
Let me get back to the lavender art of Mila Haynos-Owen. In order to fully appreciate the talent this woman has in her craft, we must journey into her past, where her artistic skills were first honed. Mila was born in the beautiful hill country of Poland, and immigrated to Canada in her youth. She demanded more out of her life and moved to Germany, where she taught English as a second language, to business people.
Eventually she decided to settle in Canada, and returned to the Toronto area, where she married and began to raise her three children. Taking on the immensely difficult task of homeschooling, she successfully reared her kids in this lifestyle for ten years. City life was not meant for Mila, and the family decided to take up stakes and plant their roots just north of Port Perry, in the lovely community of Seagrave.
Their property, will be open to the public for the studio tour, and along with Mila’s art, you will also be able to see some of the 40 animals, which include ducks, geese and a pot belly pig.
Mila has been working in lavender since 2007, and started her craft as a hobby. Her passion grew and her art became appreciated by more and more people. She takes her art from start to finish, growing the plants, harvesting them, drying them and applying them to various media, all manually. Mila teaches the versatility of lavender to people interested in becoming involved in this unique medium.
"Once I have dried the lavender, I begin to utilize its uniqueness in homemade cosmetics, lip balm, bath salts and so much more," Mila explains. "I have partnered with Savon du Bois, a local soap manufacturer, to create a very versatile and well received product." Lavender, although very popular in English gardens, originates along the Mediterranean shores, and was first used commercially by the French in their perfumes.
Along with cosmetics, Mila creates unique bouquets for weddings and special occasions, as well as satchels of lavender scented flowers for freshening up closets and drawers. "It is so much nicer to inhale fresh lavender than artificial scents," Mila said, smiling as she spoke, and I have to agree; the scent is amazingly pleasant. Mila also creates greeting cards, artwork and crafts, all comprised of lavender. "It is pleasant to grow, and animals do not eat it."
During this year's studio tour, a visit to Mila's lavender farm is a must, if only to experience the uniqueness of her craft. Two guest artists, Anja Kooistra and Lela Filipovski will be joining Mila for a trio of amazing work. To learn more of Mila's art form, visit her website at lavender-blu.com. For a map of the studio tour and complete list of artists, visit scugogstudiotour.ca and enjoy the start of another fantastic Spring season, in and around beautiful Port Perry.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, columnist and author. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
North Durham has many wonderful individuals who continually give so much to our community. Many of them quietly go about their tasks of raising funds, helping the less fortunate and being involved to make this a better place to live, without looking for any praise or gratitude.
Having travelled the world, I have had opportunities to witness firsthand the challenges and turmoil of children in less fortunate countries. I wholeheartedly believe we should do what we can to help improve their little lives. You can imagine how pleased I was, when I learned of the work of one of our own residents, Malcolm Thornton.
Malcolm, a father of four, loves to visit Mexico. Several years ago, he decided it was time to do something worthwhile in this devastated country, which many of us see only as a vacation paradise.
Born in North York, but raised in Midland, Malcolm moved to Port Perry with his family, 16 years ago. He had started a small firm, Viadyne, an infrastructure management software company. The business did well, largely due to Malcolm's knowledge and business skills, which he honed when he worked for IBM and GE Capital. The company did so well that Malcolm was able to sell it after only six years of operation.
Friends of Malcolm, Rick and Lisa, whom he knew through church, announced they were heading to Mexico to help an orphanage, which was in grave need of assistance. The corruption within the system in Mexican orphanages was so great that something different needed to be done. The couple tried to link up with Kitchener based Possibilities International, an organization which raises funds to help fulfil the simple dreams of the hurting, helpless and hopeless around the world. The fit was perfect and the concept seemed great.
Malcolm became aware of the project when, unfortunately, the organization ran into financial problems. He stepped up to the plate, and contacted some of his former business associates, friends and anyone who would listen, in an effort to raise money to see this very necessary project through to fruition.
Orphanages in Mexico operate different from those at home. Children are taken in by the state and placed in large dormitory style buildings. They are sent to school daily, but have no guidance or direction.
"They are run so negligently," Malcolm explained. "And have absolutely no life teaching skills." He paused and I saw the conviction in his eyes. "All the clothing is kept in one room and every morning children grab what they wish to wear that day. They discard them back into the same room at the end of the day. There is no accountability or ownership."
When children reach the age of 18, they have to leave the orphanage and seek existence on their own. Many of them are taken in by the powerful drug cartels and given menial jobs, such as watching a house or keeping an eye on someone. They are paid very well for this, getting a taste for money and what it offers. Once they are hooked, there is no turning back. “The only way these kids get away from the criminal lifestyle, is through prison or death," Malcolm clarified.
I sat in awe and listened as he continued to explain the ways of a country, which to me represented little more than a vacation play land.
Malcolm decided to pick up the slack and set up an organization, which would not only build an orphanage, but would then be in a financial position to continue operating it. Through his drive and direction the newly formed Possibilities House was able to reach their goal, well ahead of schedule. They were able to purchase an eight acre property, with enough buildings to begin the orphanage.
Malcolm formed a board and as president, continues to oversee the operation. Regular trips to Mexico are made to make sure everything is according to plan. “Less than 1% of any money we raise goes to administration. The other 99% is directly for the cause.” Malcolm covers his own expenses anytime he visits the orphanage, which is located in Linares (outside of Monterey).
They started with four children, but recently rescued a family of five Children. I will not begin to tell you about the abuse and suffering these children, aged five to twelve, have gone through, but because of Malcolm and Possibilities House, they are now in a much better place. They attend school and are remarkably gifted. They are being taught self-worth, the value of life and living it. There is no doubt that Malcolm’s venture is bringing a great amount of good to extremely needy children.
The model for the orphanage, which includes ‘house parents’ who look after the children and live on the premises, is being looked at by the Mexican government as a possible model for all Mexican orphanages. “It’s not without mayhem, though,” Malcolm explained. “In 2014 there was a major war between the Cártel del Golfo and the Los Zetas Cartel and all this happened around the area where our orphanage is. A truck, driven by cartel members, smashed through our wall and fired guns randomly. They stole some appliances, but we were fortunate no one was hurt.”
The event certainly did anything but deter Malcolm and his team and strengthened the drive to continue with the mission. The children, that live at the orphanage, are screened through the Mexican equivalent of the Children’s Aid Society and the staff includes a social worker and psychologist. “It is important to get them off the streets and away from all the cruelties associated with that way of life,” Malcolm reiterated.
Through Malcolm and his associates’ efforts, Possibilities House is now a registered Canadian charity, as I am sure you can imagine that upkeep of such a project comes with sizeable expenses.
For more information about Malcolm’s project, visit possibilitieshouse.org or email Malcolm at Malcolm@possibilitieshouse.org.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author and columnist. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.