It all started in 1981 when artist Peter Camani bought a run-down farmhouse and 310-acre property near Burk’s Falls, Ontario. Thirty-five years later, it’s evolved into a one-of-a-kind outdoor art installation known as Screaming Heads, with over 100 giant sculptures and art pieces surrounding the once-derelict house now known as Midlothian Castle. For those who venture off the beaten path to seek it out, a visit to Screaming Heads may be one of the most unusual afternoons you’ll spend in Cottage Country.
Screaming Heads is not nearly as forbidding as the name suggests, although when you approach the house along Midlothian Road, the first thing you’ll see is a high stone wall shielding the house from the road, topped by some curious busts.
But as Camani explained when I chatted with him about the evolution of the project, the wall was only built to reduce the noise from the gravel road that runs close to the farmhouse, not to keep people out, and in fact, visitors are always welcome to come and explore the property and enjoy its art.
Camani’s creativity is visible in the renovation of the ‘Castle’ itself, where his additions to the old farmhouse are as unique as the artwork on the property surrounding it. Stone lions flank a medieval portico (where there was originally a rotting bay window), and a 2-headed dragon perches on top of the chimney, spewing smoke in the colder months.
And you can’t miss the giant 3-dimensional “head” that serves as a turret topper at one corner of the house and inside of which is a room that would be the perfect place for aspiring wizards or spell-casters to practice their craft.
It turns out that it was this original ‘head’ that served as the inspiration for the 84 other ‘screaming heads’ around the property, which Peter translated into 2-D versions and installed around the farm.
The farm is home to more than just these giant heads, though. Wander the trails and the fields between ponds filled with lily pads and ducks, and visitors will also discover screaming trees in the Enchanted Forest, horses that seem to be leaping out from the ground, and dream catchers hung along tree-lined paths.
Camani’s property has become part of the community here in other ways beyond just drawing visitors to view the art. Every September, his farm plays host to the Harvest Festival (an arts and music event) that is housed in geodesic ‘tents’ located around the property, and some years the grounds have been used for disc golf tournaments.
It has also been the location for a fantasy feature film, Witch Way, which Camani wrote and is in the process of completing – another creative endeavour that like Screaming Heads itself, has been years in the making.
Like many other products of imagination and creativity, Screaming Heads is a work in progress and it’s likely you’ll see something new or different each time you visit. And because it is an outdoor art gallery, even the changing seasons and their colours become part of the visual experience. As art galleries go, it doesn’t get more fun than this.
TIP: Screaming Heads is located at 981 Midlothian road, just off of Hwy 520 west of Burks Falls, Ontario. Entrance is free, but donations are welcome. Definitely bring a camera, a hat and bug spray if you are visiting during the warmer months, although the property would be photogenic in all 4 seasons.