PAS­SIONS UNITE

Barb Di Renzo’s home show­cases love of art and decor

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY CAROL JANKOWSKI PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALISHA TOWNSEND

It be­gan as a tra­di­tional raised bun­ga­low in a quiet Cam­bridge sub­di­vi­sion, but as four chil­dren grew up and away, the home of artist Barb Di Renzo was grad­u­ally trans­formed by her hands-on tal­ent and a sup­port­ive hus­band with his own set of skills.

They cre­ated a home that is “her” from the white or­chids that ap­pear through­out the house, some­times in un­ex­pected places, to the neu­tral colour pal­ette that al­lows her art­work to shine.

It was a grad­ual process, but Di Renzo has built a ca­reer that en­com­passes all the in­ter­ests she pur­sued over 20 or more years. She grew up in Corn­wall, near Ot­tawa, the daugh­ter of a cab­i­net­maker dad who painted with oils in his leisure time, and a mother, re­cently de­ceased, whose cre­ativ­ity emerged in cook­ing, a pas­sion she shared with Di Renzo.

She mar­ried af­ter high school and had a son and daugh­ter. When her daugh­ter was one, Di Renzo be­gan a two-year home­s­tudy in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing course, then joined a lo­cal fur­ni­ture com­pany where she ad­vised cus­tomers on colours and fab­rics, and cre­ated ap­peal­ing vi­gnettes for win­dow dis­plays.

Over the years she be­came a sin­gle mother, and she was work­ing as an as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for a tele­mar­ket­ing com­pany when she met John Moore, a Cam­bridge fa­ther of two boys, on­line.

Af­ter they vis­ited back and forth for a year, he asked if she’d move to Water­loo Re­gion. She did, and to­gether they watched the four chil­dren grow up.

Her son had the small­est bed­room, her daugh­ter the sec­ond bed­room, and Moore’s boys took over what was orig­i­nally a mas­ter bed­room. Thanks to the boys’ bois­ter­ous pas­time, their bed­room quickly be­came

known as “the Wrestling Room.”

Di Renzo and Moore cre­ated a bed­room re­treat for them­selves in the base­ment. To­day the lower level in­cludes a full bath­room, a large fam­ily/en­ter­tain­ment room and a com­bi­na­tion laun­dry and stor­age room which, de­spite its util­i­tar­ian pur­pose, is as pris­tine as the rest of the house, thanks in part to heavy floor-length white cot­ton cur­tains con­ceal­ing rows of shelv­ing.

Once the chil­dren left the nest, in the spirit of “go big or go home” Moore turned the garage into a highly or­ga­nized stu­dio, and for the first time Di Renzo had both a work­shop and the op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue the art she loves.

From the start her art was un­usual. She painted sub­dued land­scapes, usu­ally in earth-tone acrylics, and made them im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able by at­tach­ing sculpted pieces of re­cy­cled scrap metal, cop­per or alu­minum to the can­vas. She named her busi­ness Left Align De­sign Art Stu­dio be­cause of her propen­sity for po­si­tion­ing the metal sculp­ture to­ward the left side of the can­vas.

In any dis­cus­sion of her art, she takes care to say she pays for the met­als she uses, usu­ally ac­cord­ing to weight, which she finds at sources such as re­cy­cling sites and Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity’s Re­Store. She also di­rectly buys fac­tory of­f­cuts in metal, some­times in in­ter­est­ing shapes she can use with­out too much cut­ting or pol­ish­ing.

The next step was get­ting her work out in pub­lic. The first gallery to ac­cept her paint­ings was in nearby Paris. Then she con­nected with Mur­ray Tomp­kins, di­rec­tor of the Ade­laide Street Gallery in Bar­rie. “He has since passed away,” Di Renzo says, “but he was a very kind man. He was very sup­port­ive and taught me a lot” about deal­ing with gal­leries.

She ex­hib­ited her work at Up­town Gallery in Water­loo and the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion (CIGI). Re­sponse to her paint­ings en­cour­aged her to con­tinue.

Then, six years ago, a friend spot­ted her con­tainer of left­over metal scraps and urged her to try us­ing them to make jew­elry. A be­liever in do­ing one thing and do­ing it right, Di Renzo set her large can­vases aside and be­gan cre­at­ing art jew­elry. When a few of her favourite pieces sold im­me­di­ately, she was en­cour­aged to keep go­ing.

Next she tried teach­ing jew­elry-mak­ing and dis­cov­ered an­other facet of her­self: “I come alive when I’m teach­ing peo­ple to do what I love,” Di Renzo says.

Metal jew­elry be­came the foun­da­tion of her busi­ness. Her work can be seen in gift shops at the Cam­bridge Cen­tre for the Arts and Nowords gallery in Cam­bridge, Homer Wat­son House & Gallery in Kitch­ener and the Art Gallery of Sud­bury.

As well, this year she had an ex­hibit at the Kitch­ener Pub­lic Library main branch, took part in Globe Stu­dios’ spring art show and was a guest artist in June-July for the Art District Gallery in Kitch­ener. She will be part of the Cam­bridge Stu­dio Tour Sept. 22 and 23, and a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Homer Wat­son House & Gallery is planned for 2019.

She also ac­cepts pri­vate com­mis­sions. In Septem­ber 2017, the Fam­ily Coun­selling Cen­tre of Cam­bridge and North Dum­fries com­mis­sioned jew­elry by Di Renzo to present to Sen­a­tor Kim Pate, the former ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of El­iz­a­beth Fry So­ci­eties whose ad­vo­cacy on be­half of marginal­ized women led to her ap­point­ment as a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada in 2014 and to the Cana­dian Se­nate in 2016.

A more un­usual com­mis­sion came from Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Guelph for cop­per sculp­tures to adorn its taber­na­cle.

Both com­mis­sions were cited when the City of Cam­bridge awarded Di Renzo 2017 Recog­ni­tion for Out­stand­ing Arts & Cul­tural Achieve­ment. In Jan­uary of this year, she re­ceived an­other com­mis­sion, this time for a large sculp­ture and paint­ings from Cam­bridge alu­minum sup­plier CAF In­no­va­tive Shape Cast­ing.

Her busi­ness re­sides in the garage-turned-

stu­dio, which is a model of ef­fi­ciency. By think­ing through how to trans­form her per­sonal workspace into a party room for jew­elry-mak­ing, she can quite quickly get her work ta­ble out of sight and move in two long tables to ac­com­mo­date as many as 10 peo­ple.

She holds at least two jew­elry classes a month, some­times or­ga­niz­ing them her­self on­line although her sched­ule is of­ten booked with pri­vate par­ties for groups of friends, brides­maids or work par­ties. Those she turns into “Sip & Sparkle” so­cial events that be­gin with ap­pe­tiz­ers, a glass of wine and back­ground mu­sic be­fore guests set­tle into the stu­dio to make a piece of jew­elry for them­selves or a gift.

Most choose to make a pen­dant necklace rather than ear­rings or a bracelet. The pen­dant process be­gins with cre­at­ing a stain­less steel or cop­per base that is forged and flat­tened. For in­spi­ra­tion, Di Renzo hung a panel show­ing the range of colours and pat­terns that can be cre­ated on cop­per with the deft use of a blow­torch. Her most pop­u­lar pen­dants are also on dis­play, in­clud­ing her best-sell­ing tree of life and an Inuk­shuk.

Ear­lier this year she in­tro­duced a vari­a­tion of Sip & Sparkle for groups of 20 or more who meet at a lo­ca­tion of their choice. Over the course of about two hours, guests have a glass of wine and assem­ble a necklace that they per­son­al­ize by choos­ing from a va­ri­ety of base shapes and many charms that Di Renzo pre­pares in ad­vance. She has held one of th­ese events at Homer Wat­son House & Gallery; a sec­ond was planned for Au­gust at West­mount Golf and Coun­try Club.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in house and stu­dio tours also helped raise her pro­file, and her home’s neu­tral colours al­low the artist’s touch to shine.

Kitchen cab­i­nets that were once a nat­u­ral light oak have been painted white or re­placed with open shelves. A small oak cabinet that once fea­tured printed pan­els of farm an­i­mals is also painted white, the

an­i­mal prints re­placed with black screen sta­pled to the in­side of the cab­i­nets. A small dresser was also painted white, and the sharp cor­ners of both pieces lightly sanded for a shabby-chic ef­fect.

One piece that won’t be touched is a sub­stan­tial pine ar­moire Di Renzo’s fa­ther built for her din­ing room. The elab­o­rately carved doors are folded back to dis­play shelves, one of which holds a tele­vi­sion set.

Rather than a coat rack, the small hall closet holds a cush­ioned ta­ble where women at­tend­ing jew­elry classes can quickly pile their coats in­stead of jostling in the nar­row hall for hang­ers.

Traces of the chil­dren were re­moved grad­u­ally from their bed­rooms so they wouldn’t feel dis­placed when they visit, but her daugh­ter’s de­par­ture for a home of her own and a teach­ing ca­reer meant her room could be des­ig­nated for guests. Most of the art­work in it was pur­chased, but one quirky ex­cep­tion is a man­nequin swathed in white and wear­ing a strik­ing mul­ti­strand necklace Di Renzo fash­ioned from cop­per and metal wire.

Her son’s room is too small to al­low for both a dresser and a desk, so Di Renzo made it ef­fi­cient for a stu­dent by an­chor­ing a light­weight board — just wide enough for a lap­top com­puter — to the wall with dec­o­ra­tive brack­ets. All the art in his room is hers.

The “Wrestling Room” has the same calm­ing vibe as the rest of the house. Nei­ther mas­cu­line nor fem­i­nine in style, its dom­i­nant art­work is a large pair of old traf­fic signs she bought for $5 at South­works An­tiques. “I like com­bin­ing modern and old for an eclec­tic ef­fect,” Di Renzo ex­plains.

The main bath­room has its own small art gallery, in­clud­ing Di Renzo’s paint­ing, Oxy­gen, which fea­tures “bub­bles” cre­ated from fac­tory-stamped cutouts and metal wash­ers from a re­cy­cling plant. Once the pieces were sanded, painted sil­ver and po­si­tioned on a painted white can­vas, they found a nat­u­ral home in the airy bath­room. “Oxy­gen is one of the first pieces I cre­ated and I still love it,” she says.

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ABOVE: A cabinet dis­plays a well or­ga­nized pantry.OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Barb Di Renzo in the liv­ing room of her Cam­bridge home, where her art­work plays the role of state­ment piece and her pas­sion for white or­chids is ev­i­dent.

In a bed­room too small for both a dresser and a desk, Di Renzo an­chored a light­weight board — just wide enough for a lap­top com­puter — to the wall with dec­o­ra­tive brack­ets.

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