Cinnamon Hill Studio — Joanna Drummond and Roger Belley

Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck.

Vincent Van Gogh once said, “What is done in love is done well.“ From the early twentieth century on, we don’t have to look far to see that love and art can co-exist. From Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to Willem and Elaine de Kooning, the list of artistic couples is long with some relationships more volatile, while others enjoyed enduring life-long bonds. In quiet North Saanich on Vancouver Island, Cinnamon Hill Studio was started by creative partners, Joanna Drummond and Roger Belley.

Belley, a celebrated painter and Drummond passionate about clay, the couple has developed a collaborative bond over the years that elevates their individual contributions into something greater than the sum of its parts. Modern Home visited Cinnamon Hill Studio, overlooking the sea toward Saltspring Island, to photograph them in their studio and find out how they have evolved into a creative team, to discuss their collaborative and individual pursuits and find out more about their current projects for The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm.

Tell us about your histories and how you started working together as professional artists?

Joanna: I was born Joanna Bain in Kitchener, Ontario in 1952 and grew up in and around Hamilton, Burlington and Toronto. I considered myself very crafty; my notebooks were so embellished with hand-crafted drawings they would not lay flat. I enjoyed inking wood then scorching it in my mom’s oven and I remember the thrill of creating sugar cube houses and paper mache penguins. Anything other than two-dimensional craft was my favourite hour in art class. I moved to St. Albert, Alberta in 1976, where I began my love affair with the art of ceramics.


In the fall of 1980, a friend in Edmonton enrolled the two of us in a pottery class. I was hooked and joined the St. Albert Potters Guild. For the next few years, I studied and implemented the endless avenues of the procedures and process of throwing, altering, glazing and firing pots. I also became a member of The Alberta Sculptors Association where I was exposed to working with stone, cement, wire, styrofoam and ice carving; it was just a fabulous and talented group of individuals. I participated in many individual and group exhibitions in Alberta and generously shared my skills with various potters and guilds.


Evidently my work was marketable and I became associated with a few galleries in Edmonton, Calgary, Jasper and surrounding areas, which led the course for the next thirty years. With fifty-pound boxes of clay, monumental sized installations and 400-pound kilns, I recall needing strong men with trucks and Roger was one of them.

My first encounter with Roger is important — it was with his influence with the City of St. Albert that we created our first raku firing site. Many people and laborious hours were spent making it one of the best in Canada. We were both very dedicated to the arts and the community of St. Albert and we connected many times through the years, volunteering with various groups and helping out with mural installations, sports events, river clean-up, etc…but the biggest influence of all was the annual City Gallery Art Auction. I realized then that Roger was gifted with an array of talents and thought that he would be a perfect fit to enhance and echo my creative pursuits.

Roger: I was born and raised in St. Albert, Alberta and was drawn to all the green space and farmland; the surrounding forests and rivers had a magnetic effect on me at a very young age. I had been interested in drawing as a child and drew on every piece of paper I could clutch in my hand. My Dad was a Sunday painter and one of my earliest memories is of him letting me make an oil painting when I was four-year-old. I still have that masterpiece.


I was employed by the municipality of St. Albert and was very active in the arts community. As a result, I had the opportunity to work closely with Joanna many times. This is when we realized the potential for creating together and I began helping her with the outdoor raku process. The clay went from drab glazes to indescribable beauty; it was like Christmas morning when the work emerged at the end of a long day. Joanna’s passion was infectious; working with her was a joy.

What brought you to Vancouver Island?

Joanna: When a door opens, you walk through it. Living and creating on Vancouver Island is a dream for many people and we are grateful to be doing it! I really felt a need to free myself of the intense pressure of the production of clay art pieces, even though the thoughts of an exhilarating day raku firing were easily expounded, implementing the physical and emotional process became daunting. Maybe 35 years was enough!

Roger: Joanna and I started our vision of a joint studio back in 2008. Joanna had been visiting her parents here in North Saanich for the last 30 years and we moved to Vancouver Island in October of 2009. Joanna has taught me many things about ceramics. As her apprentice, we have a shared vision that digs deep into our artistic sensibilities and challenges each other creatively.

Can you describe your journey toward creating Cinnamon Hill Studio? Where did the name Cinnamon Hill originate?

Roger: Joanna had this wonderful tradition of simmering cinnamon and clove on a hot plate in her studio in Alberta. It became a scent associated with her creative process and spirit. The idea was reinforced when we looked out our family room window overlooking Saltspring Island and at a certain time of year the defoliated portion of Mount Tuam turns a brilliant cinnamon colour. Hence, Cinnamon Hill Studio was born.


Describe your artistic partnership? How do you work together and individually? Where do you find inspiration?

Roger: Our partnership works because of the total respect we have for each other’s contributions. It’s not always easy to work together, we disagree and bicker often. For example, Joanna’s least favourite colour is blue and blue is by far my favourite colour; Joanna is a perfectionist while I am not. We look at art with critical eyes and become very excited when we see something that inspires us. Our favourite pastime is discovering new art on Pinterest. Those “how did they do that” moments inspire us to solve creative problems in our own pieces. Together we have become very inventive and Joanna always keeps me grounded and focused.

Joanna: Roger is perfectly right, we really do have great respect for each others work. We live and breathe creativity 24 hours a day, whether it is in the studio, the décor in our house and garden or our daily activity of culinary skills. Roger and I are the perfect blend of spice needed to bring an art piece to completion; our masculine and feminine influences are always evident in our finished projects.


We love collaborations, but we also enjoy working individually. Roger may be focused on an oil or watercolour landscape while I delve into an abstract painting. But we both anticipate our critique session at the end of the day and enjoy pushing each other’s artistic boundaries. Our scheduled painting days in the studio are few, but so enjoyed. To me, painting is an indulgence that can free us from the intensities of clay.


Clay is like a mistress…it requires continuous attention, dictating its properties and process. For example, this morning we used 50 pounds of clay to begin what will be the legs of an Inuksuk. These two heavy, dense and wet pieces of clay will sit overnight uncovered and dependent on the dryness tomorrow morning, I may be able to start carving. The clay must be at the perfect “green ware” stage to make your marks.


What are your preferred mediums at the moment? Can you speak to what inspires your subject matter?

Joanna: I love mixed media. I have been a potter/clay artist/sculptor for 35 years and now have the pleasure to “play” with various mediums. Over the years, I have taken workshops to indulge my curiosity regarding other avenues in craft. I combine many of these techniques in one piece, but the common thread is always clay. In both my clay work and paintings it is evident that I am inspired by “portals” — openings, crevices, doors and windows, looking into spaces but not seeing what is inside. Roger and I have been creating houses made from clay, each one carved and finished as a one-of-a-kind piece. We have been showing and selling “The Village Series” for the past two years.  Many of the street names are from places I have lived and visited.


Roger: The clay sculptures take on many forms and multi-media aspects. Even the discarded bits from a welding shop have been added to some sculptures and we use box after box of horseshoe nails as well. There is no limit to Joanna’s creative mind. The words “you can’t do that” can result in a massive “I’ll show you” smile. Usually with great results. We even chemically patina copper to add to some of the wall pieces we’ve made.

I prefer watercolours, however, it was a grade seven book report that I had to do about Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven that really lit my artistic flame. I don’t paint outdoors as much as I used to, however, I still love to get outdoors to watch the changing light. As a parks coordinator for The City of St Albert, I toured many groups through the wilderness and studied the patterns of the seasons and reflections of light every chance I was given. I was fortunate to do field research where I carried my camera and notepad.


Can you describe your daily routine? What gets you into the studio every day?

Roger: We have a lovely view of Saltspring Island from our family room so this is where we have our morning coffee and discuss, what we joke as, “our daily strategic planning meeting.” This is when we talk about the events and creative processes for the day. We even select the studio music over coffee. Cinnamon Hill Studio is like a little factory: design, build, dry, multi kiln firing, add finishing, deliver and repeat. It sounds simple when written out like that but it really takes time and patience and Joanna’s expert knowledge of clay. We might have time to paint a watercolour or acrylic while the clay dries.

How did you connect with The Gallery at Matticks Farm?

Roger: Before we moved here, Joanna would visit and take her mother to Mattick’s Farm for lunch and to the gallery. She approached the past owner many years ago and became successful selling her work at the Mattick’s Gallery. When we started Cinnamon Hill Studio in 2009 we met with Dawn Casson at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farmand she remembered Joanna’s clay sculptures when she worked for the previous owner. Since then we have developed a fabulous friendship with Dawn; her staff is very knowledgeable, they are all top notch.


What are you currently working on?

Roger: Spring is our busy season for making things for the Gallery at Mattick’s Farm to offer the mainland tourists that migrate over the Coquihalla from Alberta and Saskatchewan and from the United States. We are trying new things this year and Joanna has done some magnificent little paintings that have been very popular. We love the open road and plan on going up and down the west coast with sketchpads and paint boxes in tow.


Joanna: We are currently working on a new series of abstract figurative sculptures entitled “The Peaceful Warrior.” They have a significant and charismatic bearing that is both weighty and calm at the same time. The dichotomous feeling of authority and peacefulness seems to evoke both the impact of a warrior and the feeling of peace and security.