Sometimes when we look into the future, we see glimpses of our past. Distant images of lives lived, achievements acknowledged and rewards given. Although these visions and dreams may not be of us, they often provide insights and inspiration that are relatable and powerful to our present lives. Such has often been the case in Samantha’s life. In many respects, she is from a straight line descended from several generations of talented, driven, self-made people. And yet, Samantha’s journey has been one of self discovery, through many lands, cultures and awarenesses that have made her unique in her own right.
Great grand father - (21 January 1875 – 10 July 1960) British actor best known for playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective Sherlock Holmes in five feature films from 1931 to 1937.
“My earliest memories are of walking down the hallway at the Mansion House in London when we lived there with my Grandparents. Looking in through an open doorway, I remember seeing my grandfather's eyes quickly glimpse over to me and smile with a wink, while still holding a conversation about some official business with one of his employees.”
Sir Hugh Wontner (Samantha’s grandfather) was Lord Mayor of London in 1973, and the Mansion House was his residence during this time. Official business consisted of not only being one of the top city politicians, but also the Chairman of the Savoy Group, consisting of London’s four most luxurious hotels. He, in turn, was the son of Arthur Wontner, the prolific British actor who famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes in many successful feature films throughout the 1930s.
Sir Hugh Wontner
Grand father - (22 October 1908 – 25 November 1992) Chairman of the Savoy Group 1948 - 1984 and Managing Director 1941 - 1979. Lord Mayor of London in 1973.
“My first passion was acting, I have to admit. I always saw it as a way of using ones body as a sort of musical instrument. The lines you were given to memorize, as the notes you were able to play with. Your expressions and movements as the emotions to accent the words.”
Certainly a passion that would resurface again in her life. Born in the summer of 1968 to the fashion model Jenifer Wontner and the Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist Vic Emery in London, England.
As the middle child in a family of high achievers in the public eye, the urge to be heard at an early age was strong. Curious and self-determined, Samantha Louise would carefully choose her moments to make a mark. When encouraged to finish her supper, she was known for statements such as “You like soup and I don’t”.
By the time she was in her late teens, having moved to Buckinghamshire, England from Montreal, Canada where she spent her childhood years, she had been discovered by modeling agencies and notable photographers. When she attracted the attention of award winning photographers Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Lichfield in the late 1980’s, she soon found herself being featured in British magazine articles and front covers.
April 1986 - Fashion Editorial. Soho, London.
May 1986 - You Magazine Cover shoot. Central London.
September 1988 - Fashion Editorial. Central London.
February 1989 - March Spring Fashion Issue. Central London.
Not too surprisingly, this lead to media attention in London’s high society editorials during her “Debutante” year. And yet, this attention was not what young Samantha was envisioning as her destiny. Something deeper, more profound was brewing. She was yet to embark on her life’s journey.
“Maybe it was the idea of exotic lands filled with storybook mystery and wonder, or maybe I just wanted to learn a new perspective on life. Either way, I didn’t know how it would turn out.”
Having completed her A levels and thirsting for independence with a curious mind, Samantha turned to the idea of taking a gap year and traveling for six months throughout South America with a girlfriend.
Spring 1987 - Lima, Peru
The events that followed would inspire, influence and ultimately determine the direction she would take for the next 30 years of her life. Having broken off with her boyfriend prior to her journey’s departure, two months in Samantha became aware that she was pregnant. Upon her return to London, almost six months pregnant, her past life quickly unraveled. The years that followed would see Samantha struggling between parenting in relative isolation, deep feelings of shame and emotional consequences of her new circumstance.
Samantha then found comfort and purpose to support her new role as a young single mother by enrolling in an Art foundation course at Amersham College, Buckinghamshire. This lead her to being offered a place at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.
She began to explore and awaken the artist that was thirsting to self-express, without any connection to her past. Studying ceramics, design and film quickly lead to a discovery of natural talent in painting and drawing. Juggling between parenting and academic responsibilities, she made ends meet by interning with Irish fashion designer Paul Costello (who had recently designed the wedding gown for the late Princess Diana). Soon she was designing and making her own original fashion designs, while also winning an award for her film work at college.
By the early 1990’s she had moved to Toronto, Canada and embraced a passion for painting in oil and acrylic. She debuted several series of paintings in Toronto and New York. During this time she gave birth to her second daughter. Additionally, she contributed her original artwork for donation to the “Save the Children” organization, where she was a featured artist with Ernie Coombs (The Canadian children’s TV celebrity; Mr. Dressup). This contribution would make an impact on Samantha’s sense of purpose with public service. And yet still, her wanderlust grew…
1990 - Beaconsfield, England.
1998 - Toronto, Canada.
Original Art Exhibitions
2005 - Manhattan, New York.
After 15 years of parenting 4 children (2 step-children), maintaining a household and honoring her role as a wife, edges frayed. During a family holiday in the Aegean Sea, Samantha experienced an epiphany. Sailing into the harbor of ancient Halicarnassus (now Bodrum, Turkey) a transcendental experience happened…
“During my life, I have been blessed to travel through many countries. When I sailed into Bodrum that day, I felt a spiritual connection I had not yet experienced. I knew virtually nothing of it's history nor the Turkish language or culture, yet I felt at home, as if I had been there before.”
So taken was Samantha by the hospitality of the Turks and the history of its Persian and Greek lineage that she found herself compelled to move there. Driven by an innate spiritual connection to her new home, she divorced, and with her youngest daughter, moved there permanently. This uprooting would come at a cost though. Adjusting to the practicalities of life on the border of Europe and Asia can be a formidable challenge, and doing it while going through a volatile divorce has its consequences.
“I received a great deal of criticism, as a mother and as a woman. I’d never felt so low and as much of a failure as a person for what I had created.”
Samantha eventually moved back to Toronto to tend to some difficult family matters. During this time, a purpose came to light; existential and profound, yet necessary and practical. Between therapy sessions and living alone in Toronto, her creative process started to pour out. Splatters on canvas with verbose prolificness; ambiguous in shape, yet charged with intense color and sharp edges. Unabashed emotional expression poured out. The Black Ledge series emerged.
Daily Yoga is a ritual of health and Love that marks the beginning of every day.
Circling back through old haunts, noble homes and early memories.
Giving thanks in the Notre-Dame Basilica, where formative spirituality left its mark.
The therapeutic potential of art is well understood. It can help lessen suffering and open doors of awareness that guide one to a higher purpose. While working on the Black Ledge series Samantha began to explore a new art form. Electronic music. Having met the artist Alonso at a live performance in Toronto, she quickly asserted her abilities as a back-up singer and synthesist. She immersed herself in the newly released album by Alonso and committed to a grueling rehearsal schedule in anticipation of a string of performances across Canada that would culminate in a headline performance at a world music festival in Vancouver. She maximized this opportunity by also designing and producing the background video images that supported the live show. Her background in dance and theatre found a new form of expression.
Remembering and revering her London, UK roots - September 2017.
“I began to see my life in terms of participating in other people’s journeys. This was not only liberating for me but through it I discovered a new wealth of experiences that enriched my life.”
And then something very special happened. One evening Samantha was sipping wine during her birthday dinner when another life-changing epiphany arrived. The inner strength she’d been nurturing over several years had been built on a deep gratitude for her life experiences through the people she’d met and with a reverence for the strength she saw in her daughters. This awareness brought the eureka moment; to rediscover the source of a woman’s power, the Feminine spirit. Over the next 6 months, Samantha traveled to Turkey, Greece, Spain, Canada and England to explore deeper into their cultures, histories and languages, and how women, alive today, play key roles in nurturing the Feminine spirit.
Outside the Lord Mayor's Mansion where she lived as a child. London, UK - September 2017.
Catching ghosts and giving thanks in South Kensington, London, UK - September 2017.
Hitting on the inspiration for IKONA during her birthday dinner in Montreal, Canada - July 2017.