Jonas Stonkus: Sculptor
Sitting at our kitchen table looking out on the back yard on a cold, bright, sunny winter day made me think of our friend Jonas Stonkus and the landscape that he would be viewing from his windows. Jonas has fashioned an idyllic artistic environment on a three-and-one-half acre property partitioned off from his family’s original tobacco farm in the 1980s. Stonkus is a sculptor and land artist who has created a mini-Eden in the Carolinian microclimate near Langton, Ontario. He has integrated his metal and glass sculptures with the trees, shrubs, grasses and herbaceous plants, unique to this ecosystem, that he nurtured from small seedlings collected from various North American sites.
An Ontario College of Art graduate, he pursued his early interest in art by working with glass under an apprenticeship in Dublin, Ireland. His interests soon expanded to working with many different materials: glass, wood, metals (copper, lead), found and repurposed materials (electrical power cables, cement). He has been quoted as saying that he “…subscribes to the philosophy that any material can be used for art.”
His family’s and his own close association with the land are reflected in his art and the home, studio and galleries he has fashioned from the original buildings on his property. A farmhouse has been renovated to meet his personal needs and to display his own work and those of his friends; a barn has been converted into his studio; a machine shed re-purposed as a gallery; and a tobacco greenhouse converted into a stunning, open-air gallery.
Jonas and my wife’s families have been life-long friends so I have had the pleasure of knowing the artist, enjoying his company over the past 40 years and learning to appreciate the imagination, passion and skill he brings to all of his creations. The tactile element of the materials used (wood, glass, metal), the environment in which he situates the pieces (indoor, outdoor), and the presentation (free-standing, hanging) all contribute to his unique artistic vision. A gentle person of contagious charm he lives a life that draws beauty from the land and the materials associated with its taming.
A conversation with Jonas is always engaging and an eclectic variety of topics soon emerge ranging from Lithuanian history and culture, Western art history, horticulture, landscape design, politics and any number of practical topics regarding maintaining a rural property. I have enjoyed these discussions which have deepened my understanding of the context of his art. I particularly enjoy the final result, the material used, how it has been manipulated, and paying attention to recurring techniques in the construction of artworks through the different styles he has adopted over time.
We have several of Jonas’ works spanning his career – a rubbing from the 1970s, recycled tobacco kiln wood/binder twine sculptures, an ink line drawing from his travels to Greece (1974), a large outdoor sculpture in our garden also from the 1970s, and glass and metal wall hangings from recent decades. Even after many years a work will surprise and delight me when I take a moment to look at it anew.
Each fall the arts community of Norfolk County sponsors an open studio tour (Norfolk Studio Tour: http://www.norfolktourism.ca) which includes Jonas’ oasis, thus providing an occasion for the public to witness the continuing evolution of his art practice.
To conclude in Jonas’ own words from his Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant exhibition: “One of my goals is to explore non-objectivity. My preferred materials include glass, wood, metals and findings from the past. Fundamental to my work, and the spirit of creation itself is an economy of materials and integrity of intention.”