by Jo Barnes | photos by Kathryn Alvarez Photography –
The farewell parties are over. You’ve said “goodbye” to the world of nine-to-five work. And suddenly you and your spouse have more time together. How do you navigate retirement as a couple?
When former school teachers, Peter and Kathy Demchuk, decided to explore their artistic talents in their retirement, they quickly discovered it takes mutual encouragement, support and sometimes tolerance of each other’s mess.
“We were both very busy teachers before and we needed to do something in retirement. Now we have activities we can do together,” shares Kathy, adding with a smile: “Pete creates sawdust and I don’t mind. And, he doesn’t mind a lot of thread around the house.”
A former biology teacher, Peter has always had an interest in animals and nature. When he retired in 2002, he decided to replicate a folk art giraffe that Kathy had admired when she spotted it in a store one day.
“I thought, you know, I’ll save my pennies and get that giraffe one day,” shares Kathy. “Peter started carving. He made the giraffe for me and put it on our doorstep.”
That initial giraffe prompted orders from other people for the same, and a new hobby was launched. Since then Peter has further refined his skills and created other carved pieces including bowls, charcuterie boards and folk art birds. He uses reclaimed wood from local sources and spends anywhere from four hours on simpler bowls to up to 30 hours creating larger giraffe pieces.
As for Kathy, who has always had an interest in art and taught it at school, retirement in 2008 brought an opportunity to delve into it further.
“I’ve always loved doing art,” says Kathy. “I have a master’s degree in Art Education and taught art at Bayside Middle School.”
As well as creating elaborate quilts and wall hangings and painting fabric, Kathy makes items from seaglass. The process of painting fabric and then completing each quilt can take many days to complete. Themes are usually whimsical and related to nature.
“I like pieces that are fun to look at or be around like a seagull riding a bicycle or building a fort,” she notes, with a grin. “Also, there’s usually an environmental feel to it.”
Peter and Kathy each have their own particular challenges. While Peter is always conscious of the safety hazards that come with using power tools, Kathy has learned that being seated and using a heavier sewing machine for quilting is demanding on her back. Creating art though brings rewards that are well worth the efforts.
“It’s a creative outlet,” comments Peter. “Wood is beautiful. The more I use it, the more I appreciate it.”
Kathy shares: “My mom taught me to sew when I was a kid. My sewing room is a nice place to be. I really enjoy it all. It gives me focus.”
Most artists work alone, but as a couple, Peter and Kathy support and inspire each other along the way.
“I’m a big encourager for Pete,” says Kathy. “He’s quite artistic. He used to do these amazing drawings for his lessons at school when he taught at Claremont Secondary.”
“I try to support Kathy,” adds Peter. “She had the idea to make seaglass angels, but she needed to have them drilled. I bought some little drills and figured out how to do it for her.”
Longtime members of Saanich Peninsula Arts & Crafts Society (SPAC), the couple has participated numerous times in the Sooke and Sidney Fine Arts Shows, and displayed their work at the local ArtSea Gallery for over 10 years.
Community art events provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase their art pieces, to connect with others, and to work on a project together.
“The art shows are magical,” shares Kathy. “We meet new people and make new friends.”
“It’s great for our relationship,” adds Peter. “It’s a good chance to do things together. People have bought our work as gifts for others. Our pieces have travelled all over the world.”
While it’s a shift for the former teachers from the daily demands of creating and teaching lessons, these new activities have brought a chance for new life experiences.
“It’s not a job, but a hobby that pays for itself!” laughs Peter.
“Different things come your way. It opens up new opportunities. We never thought we’d be involved in art shows,” comments Kathy.
Whether alone in the garage or in a sewing room or together at a community event, this couple know there’s time now to continue to learn, grow, and be challenged. As for a bit of sawdust and a few more threads here and there, that just means there are artists in residence.
Details about their work and items for sale can be found on the Demchuks’ website: www.demchuk.ca.