David Dunn — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm August 2022

David Dunn — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm August 2022

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

Sometimes it’s tempting to think certain people’s lives are preordained. When a kid who loves to draw just happens to luck into marvelously supportive mentors, it’s no wonder he becomes an artist. When Dave Dunn was only six or seven, his public-school art teacher, Grace Murray, encouraged him wholeheartedly by praising his watercolour painting of a sunset in front of the whole class. Then he stumbled into the amazingly good fortune to have Canada’s beloved naturalist and painter, Robert Bateman, as his geography and art teacher throughout high school. It was an early epiphany — Dunn states simply, “It changed my life.”

His paintings, like Bateman’s, pay homage to nature. Many of his works feature birds; flowers are another favourite subject, and other familiar outdoor scenes confirm his affinity with the natural world. His heartwarming portraits of dogs leave no doubt as to his deep affection for and connection with them. Each painting is an invitation to open your eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds us but too often goes unnoticed.

As he explains on his two-minute video at daviddunnart.com/daves-2020-video , Dave strives to create a painting that combines magic realism with a hint of impressionism, while introducing a bit of the abstract through the juxtaposition of foreground and background elements. He refers to it as “a trick of the mind’s eye,” and his works succeed in focusing your attention on the gifts nature offers so abundantly. As any nature photographer will attest, it is infinitely rewarding to learn to really look and see.

Like his inspirational teacher, Dunn now lives a life dedicated to bringing nature into people’s lives. He and his horticulturist partner, Rob Caron, have created an oasis of natural beauty near Merrickville. Their acclaimed garden centre began as their response to the unforgettable ice storm that ravaged their country property in 1998. Faced with a wide swath of destruction from trees felled by the weight of almost 100mm of ice pellets and freezing rain, they conceived and began to create Rideau Woodland Ramble. It has been quite an achievement. Since its inception in 2000, the Ramble has been chosen the Number 1 favourite gardening establishment in all of Eastern Ontario by the readers of the Eastern Ontario Gardeners Tour Guide, and featured in Canadian Gardening Magazine as one of Canada’s top 20 nurseries. In 2015, the Ramble was named Canadian Garden Centre Destination of the Year by the Canadian Garden Council. In 2017 they were named a Canada 150 Garden Experience. And now in 2022, in Canada’s current “Year of the Garden” publication, they are thrilled to appear on page 58! Not bad for two guys’ response to an ice storm.

The gardens are the result of Dave’s and Ron’s long-term dream to share their gardening experiences with other gardeners and collectors, and to continue exploring rare plant material suitable for the Ottawa area. Today the six major garden areas are interconnected by trails and walkways, encompassing a delightful pond that is home to a profusion of wildlife. There is a Totem Trail that rambles into the pure woodland, and a garden centre anchored by a glass-enclosed gazebo. Their eclectic collection of whimsical and superb outdoor art gilds the lilies. As icing on the incredible vegetarian cake, in 2012 they added a Pavilion gateway to one of the gardens that features the Garden and Wildlife Art of Dave Dunn. What a perfect setting.

The Journey

Learning that Dunn grew up in Lively, ON, on the outskirts of Sudbury, makes me wonder if deprivation can take some credit for his lifelong passion for natural beauty and environmental stewardship. In addition to the barren moonscape devoid of vegetation in his youth (the Sudbury Basin is a roughly elliptical crater about 60km by 30km, once used by NASA to train astronauts to walk on the moon), Dave remembers air raids sending him home from school to stay indoors to avoid the harmful airborne emanations from the INCO mine where his dad worked as a research chemist.

Dunn describes himself as always needing a challenge. His first major one was dealing with his parents’ horrified response to his announcement that he was going to use his generous Grade 13 scholarship from INCO to go to art college. A practical compromise was eventually worked out, and Dave became President of Student Government, managed the swimming pool and was a lifeguard while earning his degree in Architecture at Carleton University. After a few positions as a junior architect, he was hired at Bell Northern Research as an environmental designer. Thirty-three years later, as global head of real estate for all of Nortel, he led the company’s real estate divestiture process during the bankruptcy proceedings.

Officially retired in 2011, Dave is working harder than ever on his art, and on his amazing gardens. He confides that although he finds painting hard work that requires constant practice to keep his skills honed, the thrill of achieving an image is always great. Joining the MAG (Merrickville Artists Guild) seven years ago provides the additional push of deadlines and expectations.

Back in the ’60s Robert Bateman inspired him to be concerned about the fragility of the planet. Dunn tells me he would have loved to have been a politician, “because I wanted to make the world a better place.” He has succeeded — he offers his paintings and his gardens to raise awareness and motivation in others to care for the natural world.

Until August 21, a selection of Dave Dunn’s paintings will be on display at Gallery 55 in the Ottawa Byward Market in an exhibition featuring members of the Merrickville Artists Guild. His art gallery in the Pavilion at Rideau Woodland Ramble is an extra inducement to experience one of the premier garden centres of Canada — drop in any time the Ramble is open, or by appointment with Dave. Coordinates are on the back of his Artist’s Trading Card in the corner above.


WHO David Dunn

WHAT Wildlife and Garden Acrylic Art, Co-founder/Owner of Rideau Woodland Ramble

WHERE Dave Dunn Gallery at Rideau Woodland Ramble, 7210 Burritt’s Rapids Rd., Merrickville; 258–3797; david.dunn@hotmail.ca ; daviddunnart.com ; rideauwoodlandramble.com

WHEN Until August 21, at Gallery 55 in the Ottawa Byward Market, 55 ByWard Market Square;Drop in any time the Ramble is open, or byappointment with Dave

WHY “To express my experience of nature and all it has to offer when we truly see.”


David Dunn — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm August 2022

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

Sometimes it’s tempting to think certain people’s lives are preordained. When a kid who loves to draw just happens to luck into marvelously supportive mentors, it’s no wonder he becomes an artist. When Dave Dunn was only six or seven, his public-school art teacher, Grace Murray, encouraged him wholeheartedly by praising his watercolour painting of a sunset in front of the whole class. Then he stumbled into the amazingly good fortune to have Canada’s beloved nat......


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The Humm......


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