Loon Studios

Bert Weir and Elena Zebrauskaite established Loon Studios in 1974.

Returning to Parry Sound was a home-coming for the two artists. Bert first moved to the area in 1946 following overseas service. In 1950 the couple who had met in Toronto while studying at the Ontario College of Art moved to and established an art school in McKellar. With a growing family Bert and Elena moved to Windsor, Ontario while remaining summer residents of McKellar.

Their return in 1974 to full-time residency cemented them to the area in what became a life long connection.

Bert Weir standing in entrance shop space, Loon Studios. Portrait on plynth by Elena Zebrauskaite.

The old barn of a place is right by the tracks, just off the main street (pretty well everything, mind you, is just off Parry Sound’s main street.)

It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the motorcycle-repair shop, or something, that is used to be and doesn’t look much like the Pentecostal church it was before that.

It doesn’t really look like an artist’s studio, either…just like a nearly-tumbledown warehouse.

It’s been a year and a bit since Bert and Elena hung that sign outside the door of 53 Church Street, causing townsfolk to wonder, mostly politely, what was going on: a year and a bit since Elena tackled the tangle of weeds and shrubs around the building, much to the relief of the neighbors, and Bert started pounding away inside, much to the amazement of the building inspector, to turn the ramshakle old place into a studio and a home.

Shoring up the sagging roof, bracing the walls, building a new floor, installing a bathroom and kitchen.

Cleaning up a place for a gallery in front and living quarters behind that and a studio behind that.

Paul Vasey, “Bert Weir goes home to his art”, The Windsor Star, Tuesday December 30, 1975

The building that became Loon Studios was originally a church. Over the years it became a high school extension, a pop-bottling plant and a motor-cycle shop. To them it was a perfect fit. The location in the area they loved and the size of the building enabling them to live and work together under the same roof.

Bert and Elena divided it into a gift shop, gallery, living space, separate studios and storage.

Bert painting in studio 1994.

Loon Studios quickly became an art hub. Bert and Elena were active in the community and they maintained an open door policy. They brought in exhibitions, taught extension courses for Georgian College and the Ontario College of Art. Both were founding members of the Parry Sound Arts Association and the still active Art in the Park festival. This community involvement was always in conjunction with both artist’s extensive studio practice and exhibition schedule.

In Bert’s painting studio.

Many artists visited or exhibited at Loon Studios. Artists including their daughter Reed Weir, Warren Quigley, Yvan Dutrisac, AG Smith, Brigtte Nowack, Arthur Shilling, Vera Brady, Florence Croswell, Mary Greene, Doug Donnely, Deeter Hasenteufel, Bill Coryell, Sibil Goldstein, Ed Learmouth, John Inglis, Frank Arnott, Yvonne Williams, Doris McCarthy, Carl Beam, Andrew Till and Gershon Iskowitz to name but a few. The door being open many came to visit and all were welcome. Elmer Dambergs, local cartoonist and art critic for the local newspaper was a constant visitor and Bert and Elena were regularly a part of his cartoons.

The associations with others was not limited to visual artists, poets, writers, musicians were also included, as were figure drawing sessions, and many art classes.

Elena sitting at the long red table in the living area/gallery of Loon Studios.
Bert Weir and Elena Zebrauskaite with cat Mel in Loon Studios at the “big red table”.

Bert Weir and Elena’s activities went well beyond the studio building. Bert was involved in the community active as a volunteer in the Rotary Association, both worked on a variety of community exhibitions including exhibiting and hanging exhibitions at the Festival of the Sound.

Elena Zebrauskaite died in 1995.  In 2002 Bert married Joy Allan and they moved Loon Studios to McKellar.

Bert working on stained glass window, Loon Studios 1990’s

Loon Studios McKellar Years

In 2002 Bert Weir moved with Joy Allan to McKellar township. A return full-circle to the community he first moved to in 1946. On a 10 acre piece of land the two built a straw bale house designed by Joy Allan. This became the new home of Loon Studios.

Bert Weir and Joy Allan in front of one of Bert’s monumental canvasses.

Loon Studios, Bert’s studio, McKellar 2018
Bert Weir’s drawing table, Loon Studios McKellar, 2018

The formal studio room in McKellar was much smaller than Parry Sound however the full house became a living studio with each room facilitating some aspect of their creative projects including book building, painting, woodblock printing, carving and making sacred artifacts.

During the summer months Bert would work on the large screened in porch and daily he would take his portable studio into the fields surrounding the studio to paint the fields surrounding the studio as he documented the process of them rewilding.

Painting in the acreage surround the McKellar Studio, 2011