Stratford tips from Amparo Villabos

Amparo Villabos arrived in Canada in 1988 as part of a refugee family in search of a better life. At the time, Chile was under the oppressive rule of Augusto Pinochet who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption. The journey to Canada did not go smoothly for the Villabos family. While in Buenos Aires, in transit between Chile and Canada, Amparo’s father was notified that the Canadian government had abruptly implemented a one year waiting period for new refugees. As a result, the Villabos family found a temporary home in a Buenos Aires church, joined by forty other families.

Once in Canada, Amparo spent her formative years in Sarnia. She was then drawn to Stratford’s arts scene and a gentleman who commissioned her to do a series of art pieces. Later that gentleman would become her husband.

Her love of art led to a position as a scenic artist at the Stratford Festival which opened doors to working on film productions such as the Suicide Squad, Pacific Rim and 12 Monkeys and with directors including David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro. Amparo currently works at the Stratford Festival, the Grand Theatre in London and on a number of television and film productions in Toronto.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MURALS?

The creation of murals in Chile were initially Inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960 as artists headed out onto Santiago's streets to paint. They saw murals not only as a way of brightening up the city's drab walls, but of formenting radical social change. Art is a revoluntionary weapon able to quickly transcend words and alter the course of time.

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

What was your connection to STRATFORD?

I was introduced to Stratford by Nathan McKay while living in Sarnia. His enthusiasm for Stratford and especially for the music and arts scene was something that grabbed hold of me.He is a connector of social puzzle pieces. I got to know so many people - some I had nothing in common with and others I had everything in common with. I could feel the magic of the city and of the people who lived here. I have met such amazing people from Justin Bieber to Justin Heeley, a cutting edge designer. 

ANY EXTRA SPECIAL THINGS TO DO IN STRATFORD?

The Stratford Festival has a costumes and props warehouse where you can view racks and racks of costumes. Visitors can book a tour by contacting the festival.  At the end of the tour, visitors get to try on costumes. It’s not only for kids, seniors love the warehouse.

BIG CITY OR SMALL CITY?

We love Toronto and to visit our family there. In Stratford, we feel we have the best of both worlds. There is just so much opportunity here. In a smaller place, you are connected quickly and easily without any pretence. There is a magic here where everything just seems to come together. 

What is your advice to visitors to Stratford?

When I first moved to Stratford, I just wandered the city. There were so many streets that attracted my attention. One of my fondest memories was coming across an open studio. Gerrard Brender a Brandis combines the arts of paper-making, wood engraving, typesetting, printing, bookbinding, and spinning, dyeing and weaving flax into linen book covers. He produces his own limited-edition, hand-made books. On my visit, I was surprised to see what must have been a 200 year old vintage press machine.

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL NEXT?

Easter Island in Chile though the $1,000 ferry cost is a bit steep. It is a very isolated island almost halfway between Chile and Tahiti. The island is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.

Amparo is currently working on a number of art pieces in celebration of the musical diversity of Stratford. The first piece, in the series, can be found in the Music Suite at Edison’s Cafe Bar & Inn.