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The Gladus: Portrait of a family built on a passion for art

For Sherie (McKay) Gladu, art is more than just a passion, it led her to her future husband and her life with her two daughters.

When local artists Sherie and Pat Gladu greet me at the door of their St. Joseph Island home, there is immediate warmth that emanates from them. Inside the home they built in 2014, the family’s two dogs Joey and Lucy greet me like an old friend.

Their daughter Sophie, who is 10 years old and an artist like her parents, waves to me from the kitchen. I learn it has been a special day for her. She tells me about a letter she received just before I arrived.

The story behind the letter begins earlier in the year when Sophie took her green “art cart” that her father built (it doubles as a lemonade stand), out to the end of the driveway to sell some of her paintings for $5 each. A car stopped and two people looked through her paintings and selected one to purchase. They paid more than the asking price.

Fast forward a few months and Sophie has an appointment with her optometrist in the Sault. The optometrist asked her if she is the same artist that his cousins encountered earlier in the year on the island. She is. He then asks if she could paint a picture of a turkey for him.

So she went home and did exactly that.

Sophie and her family dropped off her painting, but unfortunately her client and optometrist was not in. So they left it for him.

The letter Sophie received on this day was from her optometrist, thanking her for the artwork, encouraging her pursuit as an artist and containing a gift card for future art supplies.

“For an adult to take a kid aside and say, ‘You are good at that and you should do more of it’ can change a kid’s life,” says Sophie’s mother, Sherie. She recalls an early experience with one of her own teachers.

“I always painted. In kindergarten, I did a finger painting with all these purples and oranges that looked kind of like a sunset or flower. My teacher told me, ‘This is a masterpiece’ and put it on the wall in the classroom. She told me it was beautiful. It was that moment where I felt like I am good at this. I just never lost that feeling and had the confidence to go for it.”

For Gladu, the experience was like Sophie’s, a moment she became excited about her art.

“We are going to keep that letter for Sophie, because chances are, that could be a life-changing thing for her.”

Sherie Gladu continued with the arts into post-secondary, but after a year and a half studying photography at Ryerson University, she came to the realization that she was in the wrong program. She dropped out and headed back home.

Months later, White Mountain Academy of Arts in Elliot Lake announced it was opening.

“I applied there and was part of the first class to go through.”

Aside from feeding her passion for art, the school provided her another puzzle piece that would change her life entirely: an introduction to her future husband, Pat.

Originally from Sudbury, Pat applied to the new school for its second year. He was accepted and took a tour of the facility, where Sherie was exhibiting her work. “I went back for a second time and we caught each other’s eye. She said, ‘Have we met before?’ Fast forward 20 years, and here we are with our kids Sophie and Martina and a beautiful home.”

“We became the dynamic duo from there on out,” jokes Sherie.  After graduating, the couple lived in Elliot Lake before moving to Sault Ste. Marie, where Sherie secured a one year internship at the Art Gallery of Algoma. They met a close circle of like-minded friends and art became their world.

For a period, the couple moved in with Sherie’s parents on the family farm on St. Joseph Island.

Pat explains how his welding skills became his soon-to-be father-in-law’s test of he and Sherie’s relationship: “I was working with Sherie’s father, a very brilliant guy . . . He asks me if I know how to weld. I tell him I learned in art school. He says, “If your welds stick, then you will stick around.”

Coincidentally, a piece of equipment Pat had welded came back to the shop for repairs. “I am looking at the welds very nervously and none of them were broken. My father-in-law said, ‘I guess you’ll stick.”

Welding played a part in one of Pat's most seen local art pieces; a giant, bright red sculpture erected on the waterfront by the Art Gallery of Algoma, called Three Winds. The sculpture was inspired by the infamous wind-blown pine tree that resides beside the St. Joseph Island Bridge. The piece was made of pipes welded with the help of his father-in-law and wife.

“Because of the tight deadline on that, we all jumped in to help,” says Sherie of her husband’s art piece. “It was a fun project. Pat would be welding pieces together and I would be grinding them down and cleaning.”

The couple eventually wound up building their home on two and a half acres of her parents’ 100-acre farm.

“They severed off a chunk and gave it to us to build on,” she says. “This was the property where I was born and raised. I always told my parents that I wanted to come back home.”

Country living gave the couple the space and freedom to create. On the property, they recently added a large workshop and studio space to the grounds, allowing Pat to build and create and Sherie to paint.

“The view from my studio is an awesome painting that changes a little bit every day throughout the seasons,” she notes, looking out on her nearest neighbour’s 100-year old farmhouse. “The colours of the maple bush on their property are fabulous.”

With the whole family of artists, building the new space proved to be the right choice almost immediately. Martina, the Gladus’ 13-year old daughter, will sometimes come home after school and say she is going out to the studio to paint. “And you never say no to that. You want to be creative? Then the answer is yes,” says the proud father.

“The space really works and we feel like we have got our artistic lives back,” she says, noting that it also allowed them to take part in the Country Roads Open House for the first time. “Sophie, Pat and my friend Michelle showed our work in the space. We were never ready for it in the past because you really need a space to display the art. So we opened up the big door to the workshop and tarped off the tools. People would come and go. We had just under 300 people show up.”

Sherie talks about the stained glass-inspired pictures she has been painting lately. The Black Bear Café by Kent’s Corner, opened this past spring and put a call out for artists to showcase art in their gift shop.

“I brought one in and they agreed to carry my art. They wanted seven more and they were opening in a month and a half.  I was able to make enough to get what they wanted. I have been struggling to keep up because they have been selling them.”

Among other themes, she has focused on local animals as a subject matter, specifically deer, and more recently, foxes. “I have been doing this whole series of stained glass style paintings and I don’t feel like I’m tapped out yet. I am thinking about the wildlife we see around here, being inspired by my view, and the place where I live,” she says.

Despite enjoying this style, it doesn’t restrict her to it.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into one particular style. At the Country Roads Open House, there was a guy who came in and said ‘so this is all your stuff with the different styles?’ I said, ‘wouldn’t you be bored if you had to make the same soup over and over and over again. For now, this style I am really enjoying.”

Although, Sherie and Pat still have day jobs, art has taken a bigger place in their life these days. Moose Sweats in Richards Landing is going to start to carry Gladu’s work in the spring.

“I will be doing those over the winter,” she says. “We are also doing the Maple Syrup Festival in the spring. We are going to rent out the old town hall and do a show there with my aunt Maria Smith and friend Michelle.”

Both Sherie and Pat note that in the future they hope to be so busy with art that it becomes their daily work.

“It’s hard to make a creative pursuit your life. It’s tricky and hard to do, but you should never give it up,” she says. “Art is my future. Right now, it is a side gig and I love it.”

For Sherie, art is more than a passion.

“Art brought Pat and I together. It brought me my family. I have a great life and a great home. Whatever you want to do in life, you should do it. You only get one life, so make it a happy one.”

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