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Prairie transplant thrives in Pictou County through art and business

When Carey Allan moved to Nova Scotia from western Canada 15 years ago she noticed all the traffic seemed to be going in the other direction.

Today, after 10 years in Pictou County and almost a year after opening Perfect Diversity, a clay art studio, in downtown New Glasgow, she is still confident about her direction.

“It is a little random that we ended up here but it is working out for us,” she said, sitting at a wooden table painted with flowers and sipping a French press, loose leaf, organic tea available at her shop.

She has just been working in the studio with a couple of students enrolled in a six-week program. Her next session starts immediately after March Break.

All around her are shelves displaying pottery pieces people can come in to paint.

“Not everyone wants to start from scratch or learn to use the wheel so we get a lot of families and friends who want to try painting. People are also getting to know our tea and coffee,” she said, nodding toward a group of three men hunched over a table in a corner window that looks out over Provost Street.

Allan grew up in Alberta and Saskatchewan but her husband, Nate, is from Amherst so her first trip east was to meet his family. The landscape appealed to her and they spent four years in Windsor before finding a rural property to purchase.

“We were interested in a place in Pugwash but the deal fell through on their end so we weren’t sure where we were going. A friend told us about a property for sale on Kijiji and at the time we didn’t even know what Kijiji was.”

One scroll down the advertisement and they were convinced the Lansdowne property was meant for them and their three children, including four-month-old twins.

“It was a country log cabin built by stained glass artists and there was a second studio cabin on the property. We couldn’t believe it ticked all our boxes. We spent our first night happily sleeping on the floor.”

Their older son started school at West Pictou Consolidated and his principal and teacher drove him home after his first day.

“They were not quite sure where we lived and where the bus went so they delivered him personally. That was another sign to us that we were in a good place.”

At home with the twins, Allan’s thoughts drifted to pottery.

“My father was a high school art teacher so I’ve always had an interest but it takes a lot of space and I’d never had an opportunity. It was Nate who pointed out the studio cabin’s potential as it was already equipped for making stained glass. I got a kiln and a block of clay for Christmas.”

She borrowed pottery book after pottery book from public libraries and learned by trial and error, eventually selling her pieces at local markets. As her children got older she also went back to university to study plant sciences.

“Having a place in the country, we’re able to grow a lot of our own food. Not using pesticides is important to us. I’m also working on some projects to see what other foods might grow here.”

It was not until Allan’s husband lost his job that she started to think in terms of pottery as a business.

“I wanted to find work and I couldn’t see my plant science studies getting me a job quickly. I was ready to go back to waitressing but Nate convinced me I was wasting my talent and I should try to do something more with my pottery.”

She began teaching in a Nova Scotia College of Art and Design space available in the New Glasgow library building, though an agreement with the town.

“It was an important stepping stone and I was encouraged. It is not easy to get a loan for a business based on art but eventually I was able to look for a place of my own. It is challenging, like going from being a cook to opening a catering company.”

Having Alberta native Christy Toone working with her lightens the load and adds to the enjoyment.

“We’re second mothers to each other’s children and we pitch in for each other every way we can.”

Toone and her two children were living in Texas and looking for a fresh start when Allan encouraged them to come to Pictou County.

“When I was growing up in Alberta my grandmother’s farm fed the whole extended family but it is not like that anymore. I wanted to live in the country but as a single mom I could never do that in Alberta. Here I can have 50 acres and a lifestyle I want for my kids and me,” said Toone.

Allan’s husband found another job but she is happy to have her art contributing to the family income.

“The business is about where we expected for our first year. Our challenge will always be to keep people coming through the door. You’ll know I’m doing well when you see me driving a new car,” she said, noting she has been stranded a couple of times lately.

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