In the late 1980s, famed CBC host Vicki Gabereau did a series of interviews called the “Best Guest Quest” with relatively unknown people who deserved fame.
Many of Chase artist Laurie Payne’s friends listened intensely when he was on the show. We were not disappointed as Laurie entertained us as well as listeners across Canada with stories about his colourful life, from growing up during the Second World War in rural Great Britain to how he chose to settle in a run-down farm above Turtle Valley in the mid-1960s.
There is no shortage of labels for Laurie Payne; he is a potter, a visual artist, a poet, an author, a playwright, a sculptor, a fine woodworker, an environmentalist and a controversial advocate for men’s rights. Gabereau had no doubt been briefed about his accomplishments, but rather than focus on his achievements, she was more interested in uncovering his past and how he came to live a non-conformist life in rural southern British Columbia.
In the interview, Laurie described what it was like to grow up during the war under the fear of Nazi bombing raids with little adult supervision. After graduating high school, he was conscripted to fight in Korea, where unfortunately he did not avoid combat but gained some reprieve by working as a radio operator and sometimes the driver for a colonel. After the war, Laurie worked in London and then moved to Australia to join his mother and sister, where he met Robyn Thornton, the future mother of three of his children. He hung out with the beatnik crowd and then decided to join them at Sydney University where he majored in English and philosophy.
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After gaining his degree with top marks, he received a fellowship to do creative writing studies at Stanford in California. It did not take him long to meet up with other like- minded radical thinkers and he soon found himself at famous counter-culture author Ken Kesey’s sprawling ranch house in the Palo Alto hills where he and Robyn took their first hit of LSD, which was still legal then. He never looked back.
After two years in the U.S., they were ready for change and headed up to Vancouver. With their small savings they decided to look for land and chose to search for a rural property near Kamloops. They fell in love with an abandoned homestead and managed to convince the owner to sub-divide off 40-acres. After removing a massive mound of pack rat droppings from the old cabin and house, Laurie set up a studio to make pottery and jewelry, while Robyn taught high school in North Kamloops.
They also opened a shop on Victoria Street called “Where it’s at,” to sell their crafts, along with posters and some paraphernalia. After less than a year in Kamloops they moved to their property in 1968 with their baby son, where they endured many years without power, phone or running water. When Laurie was not away doing carpentry work, he was busy renovating the house and adding more outbuildings using impressive, creative designs.
There was also much fun to be had at the Payne farm, with yearly celebrations that attracted many local artists, musicians and theatre folk. The summer solstice was the major event for over four decades, with skits and bands playing on the Mumbo Theatre stage, feasts and the ritual walk. Laurie built two massive ferro-cement sculptures to adorn the property; one is a giant set of hands and the other a set of wings on feet. There is also a giant hamster wheel that a person can run inside of while taking care not to lose their balance.
During the early 1970s, the spring equinox was celebrated in the streets of Chase with a snowball battle between the forces of summer and winter, followed by a potluck and dance. In the mid-1970s, Laurie managed to get a federal grant to build a fountain in a small park close to downtown.
The fountain had to go after it was vandalized, but the bowl is still there and filled with flowers every summer.
Now at the age of 86, Laurie is moving into the concluding stages of his life and this may be the last year he makes his annual winter migration to Thailand to escape the cold and snow. His pottery studio is still filled with amazing pots, many with sculpted faces and shapes. The carved gargoyles have survived the weather outside the house that looks like it belongs in a movie set, and inside his paintings and etchings still line the walls. More can be learned about this remarkable Renaissance man by reading his novel, Shawandasse, his children’s book, Mush and the Big Blue Flower, or his memoir, Child of the River.