The Shop on the Corner: Arts & Crafts in the Limestone City
by Sharon Harrison
Located in Kingston’s downtown, Cornerstone Canadian Art & Craft can be found at the bustling intersection of Ontario and Princess Streets. The distinctive 1830s heritage building forms part of Kingston’s characterful streetscape, which now sees a blend of old and newer structures at its core. Cornerstone, a solid and imposing structure of honeyed limestone, welcomes passersby, locals and visitors alike, and sits among familiar historic landmarks along the nearby waterfront.
Established in 1981, Penny Knapp has independently owned and operated Cornerstone since 2014. Penny describes the structure as “old and creaky and draughty”, but adds “it has a great feeling and a great energy”. Inside, the space is divided into two big, light-filled rooms where the works of up to 150 talented Canadian artists, artisans and craftspeople have been beautifully and carefully curated. A warm, friendly and inviting space awaits: one full of colour and energy and life. The store works with a core group of artists and others are brought in throughout the year to accommodate seasonal changes and to keep things fresh and exciting.
Contemporary art melds with the traditional at Cornerstone; old-fashioned skills blend with new applications, but mostly you will find an interesting collection of exquisite, well-crafted and handmade items, many one-of-a-kind treasures. This unique gift store welcomes many different genres in its collection from well-known artists to those just starting out. There is art for your wall, a soapstone walrus sculpture for your desk, and a carved windswept Jack pine for the mantel. There are textiles and fabric art, pottery and glass wares. Corporate and executive gifts are available too, whether it is to celebrate a retirement, to recognize a long-serving employee, a promotion or other occasion. With sufficient notice, personalized messages or corporate logos can be engraved on many items.
Affordable art is achieved with price points starting at $2 and working up to several thousand, making art accessible for all. Cornerstone has etchings, felt art and turned wooden bowls; they showcase a range of fine jewellery, pewter items and ceramics, too. Impressively, everything at Cornerstone is proudly 100 percent Canadian-made. And don’t forget to view the aboriginal room on your visit. Still a work in progress, Penny is passionate about indigenous art and the people who create it. She is currently developing a space to showcase a collection of aboriginal arts and crafts from local bands, Canada’s great northern communities and beyond. An online store is presently under development allowing people all over the globe to conveniently shop and experience Canada’s artistic diversity.
For Penny and store manager Lisa, it is not just about securing the next sale. They hope people will experience all of what Canada’s great and diverse pool of artists’ have to offer, and it is evident they are passionate about supporting Canadian artists as well as promoting Canada. Cornerstone is a place to linger awhile, discover a new artist, and maybe learn something new along the way. It is a place where imaginations soar; a place to have fun. Penny wants people to feel welcome when they visit; to browse at their leisure absorbing everything the stimulating environment has to offer. She and her lovely staff hope the experience may help others explore their own creativity, tap into an existing passion or rediscover a long-lost interest. Penny would like visitors, especially children and youth, to be inspired; to learn to love art from an early age, to understand and appreciate what it represents, and to be affected by its powerful draw. It is important to Penny for people to familiarize themselves with Canadian art and artists, and to appreciate the entire artistic process and all it embraces.
Cornerstone is not just a gift store and a business; it is part of the local community. They participate in various local events, including Shop After Dark held twice a year in the spring and again in the fall. In the summer months, visitors can watch demonstrations by a glass wire artist who encourages audience participation. And to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial, a collection of small packable gift items, representing artists from coast-to-coast-to-coast, will be available especially for travellers or those wishing to send a gift across the country. Whether it is a wedding or a birth, an anniversary or a “just because” gift, Cornerstone offers an eclectic range of beautifully-crafted wares. The dedicated, friendly and knowledgeable staff, led by manager and proud Kingstonian Lisa Scales, is always on hand to assist customers. Penny is proud of her hand-picked, all-female team who play an important and integral role in making the “shop on the corner” stand out from the crowd.