A number 4 Africana sable brush from 1970's USA. The 'Africana' company once provided high quality glazes, stains and supplies for the booming '70's ceramic industry. My parents had distribution rights for the products in the Grande Prairie (AB) area when they owned their ceramic studio. I used this brush to paint many small ceramic objects - then in the 1980's it took me through art school. In amazing condition, it is still one of my favourite brushes and will come with me to the Banff Centre in February (2015) for a visual art residency. I received word today that I am accepted into the Leighton Artist Colony - Gerin-Lajoie Studio. While at the studio I will focus solely on my art - (yes, someone else will do the cooking and the cleaning for me!) As part of my planned Education Leave from work, I have until the end of April to concentrate on my art practice. I feel a deep gratitude for this opportunity and plan to make the most of it. I shall keep you updated.
My history with corvids (crows, ravens, magpies) goes back a ways. When I was about 14 yrs old, I had my bedroom upstairs in an old farmhouse. There was a small window in a dormer and it lead right out onto the roof. My brother and I used to get onto the roof so we could see to the back of the property. On the prairies anything high will give you at least a 20-50km view. We weren't the only ones who used this 'perch'. A magpie discovered it while trying to amuse himself one day. He sat outside my window at about 4am and 'sang'. It was summer and it was hot so I had my window open. His raspy voice sent me flying outta bed. I flung open the screen and started swinging at him with my arms. He hopped out of the way and looked at me with great amusement. "Ach, ach, ach", he said and look for my response. I cussed him out with every word I knew and he responded, "Ach, ach, ach." I finally had to crawl out and chase him off. He visited me at 4 am for the next 4 days and sang before he lost interest and looked for someone else to pester.
Sitting alone with my tea Saturday morning is something I enjoy. This morning as I sipped with both hands I looked at the moon-shaped scars on my left hand, then an arrow shaped scar on my right thumb. I don't have many scars, but the ones I do have are connected to my encounters with wildlife. As a kid I spent a lot of time trying to enter the world of small rodents. Any free time consisted of walking around the family's 160 acre land with my head pointed toward the microcosm on the ground. I remember digging into tunnels the width of a golf ball trying to see how small creatures decorated their homes. I meant no harm and reasoned that the owner would instinctively understand so I was surprised one day when I received the injury to my thumb from a set of tiny, sharp teeth. It happened so quickly that I didn't get to see the resident owner with much clarity. I marched over to my Dad to declare my disappointment but his face clouded with worry and he began to pelt me with questions, "how big was it?" and "Was it frothing at the mouth?". The whole entire event was confusing and I quickly categorized it as an exception to my rule. Many years later I received the scars on my left hand through much the same kind of denial. On this day the dog was barking furiously at a brown furry lump half his size so my brother and I went to investigate. The lump had one good eye and as he turned to look at us I could see the terror and desperation in it. I decided to act. I ran to the house, put on several layers of work gloves, had my brother hold the dog back and approached the lump. He was a muskrat and I knew he belonged at the pond behind our house. I reasoned that with my gloved protection I could pick him up and relocate him to the pond before he even knew what had happened. Well, his teeth were larger and sharper that the mouse. He bit through all 3 sets of gloves and deeply into the flesh of my hand. I tossed him down and he took off with the dog in pursuit. Amazement turned to worry as the wound wouldn't stop bleeding. We were alone that day, so we did what we had seen in some movie somewhere and tied a tourniquet around my bicep. The bleeding stopped quickly after along with the feeling to my arm. It's colour drained and it began to feel cold. Apparently the 'sock' was effective, but a little too tight. It was removed an hour later by an amused Doctor and two unamused parents. I no longer approach wild things in an attempt to understand them, instead I try to incorporate their natural world into my art. I share the same world with them, yet their ability to integrate with their surroundings in a way that works within the ecosystem is something I still cannot do. I want to know what they know so that I can live and die an integrated part of the world, as they do. I am deeply embarrassed for humans that we have let hedonistic desire pervert our existence in this world. I see what a mess people have made and wonder if it will ever change.
This is a tale of a tail that involves a cat and a mischievious little brother. It happened in the 70's when each day brought some new experience to ponder. The bitterly cold winter was fading into memory and the buzz of farmyard bugs was in the air. We were bored. As we sat on an old set of wagon wheels, the scuzzy barn cat jumped up and demanded attention. My brother absently began to pet him following the length of the cat's back right up to the tip of his tale. Scuz began to purr his appreciation and came in close, putting his scent on us. He leaned into the next stroke, his little motor purring hard. As my brother passed over the tip of the tail we heard a sickening 'snap' and there, in my brother's hand was the cat's tail! A look of horror spread over his face and he exclaimed "oh, no!" The cat continued to purr and looked questioningly toward my brother as if to say, "why did you stop?" He didn't seem to notice that his tail was now in my brother's hand! It had been a cold winter, and the tail no longer had any life in it. In the meantime, our boredom turned to panic as we tried to think of a way to explain to our parents why the cat had no tail!
As I eat my chicken sandwich, I reminded of a time when it was my job to make lunches for the family. I'm not talking about yesterday or even last week. I am referring to my 14th year on this earth. My parents owned a ceramic shop where they taught, made and sold all things ceramic. It was my job to make lunches for them and myself each night before work and school. (My brother made his own lunch, maybe that was a blessing). Unprepared, and making sandwiches at the last minute I would often have to spread frozen butter on soft bread, put too much mustard, or forget to cut them in half. Surprizingly, no one complained. One day my mom told me about my poor dad's mishaps at lunch. She began her story by telling me how hard he worked, and how much he looked forward to his lunch break. He opened up his lunch bag and unwrapped his sandwich. One of the corners on the bread was hard because it had not been properly wrapped. He picked up the 'uncut' sandwich and chunks of sandwich spread dropped out the bottom and out the middle where there were holes from my attempts to spread frozen butter. His sandwich was in pieces all over his lap. I blushed as she finished her story. Somehow it had not occured to me that someone would actually be eating this sandwich. Today, I opened the lunch that was lovingly prepared by my 15yr old son. Between the squished bread were huge chunks of chicken, too big for me to bite easily. As I picked up the 'uncut' sandwich, several large chunks of meat fell out onto my desk....and I smiled.
We recently returned from Grande Prairie where we visited family and the prairie landscape. I forget how much I miss the prairies until I am there again. The wind always blows, and you can see for absolutely miles. There is nowhere else like it. I took my family out to Kleskun Hills which is near the farm where I lived in the mid seventies. The Kleskun park now has a bit of a heritage site with many buildings and bits from history. I was thrilled to visit the Hubert Manning house, built in 1914. Mr. Manning was our neighbor for a time and I have fond memories of him. Inside the house was a book with stories about this eccentric man. They were much the same as my own memories. I'll treat you to a story now.
One time (this is how all good stories start), one time we were at Mr. Manning's house for a visit. I think we might have brought him some water as he had no running water. He invited us to tea and told us stories from his home in Ontario. My brother and I were so fascinated buy his tales of collecting and making maple syrup that Mr. Manning wanted us to taste this golden liquid for ourselves. He had several jars left in his cellar, he said and if we would only wait a moment or two, he would dig them up, literally! His cellar had collapsed a while ago and he had to go into the hole where his stairs once were to dig up whatever food he needed. After a lot of grunting and dirt flying out the hole, Mr. Manning reappeared like a large gopher with a dirt covered jar in hand. The lid was rusty beyond recognition, but inside the glass we could see the golden liquid! My mouth watered in anticipation! After wrestling open the lid, Mr. Manning flew over to his bread box and pulled out a crust of bread. He generously poured the liquid over the crust and divided it in two. As I bit into my piece, an overwhelming taste of mold invaded my mouth. The bread was very moldy. With tears in my eyes I continued to eat the crust and thanked Mr. Manning for the taste. He looked at us, beaming that he could share a delight from his home. He didn't notice my tears as he had very poor eyesight. The moldy bread and tea with ants floating in it has become one of my favourite memories.
Summer holidays are not even here yet and I am hearing that lament from my kids. In an effort to stimulate them to creative play I started naming off some fun things I did with my brother when we were kids. As it turned out, most of the things I thought of, I hesitated to recommend. In this bubble-wrapped, politically correct, helmet-wearing, booster seat (until you are 9!)-using society, games like 'stretch' and 'cowboys and indians' don't fit in. When we were bored we parachuted off the swings-until a kid split her head open when the swing came back and nailed her. We played stretch until an adult saw how close the knife in the ground was to our feet. We watched the brave 'Tommy M.' climb the roof of our school to get the rubber balls that were up there. Once, the janitor climbed up after him and the two of them ran around the roof, the latter chasing the former until the former climbed down the water pipe. At home, my brother and I rode the horses bare-back, without saddles or bridles. It was fun until the horses had enough and started running off with us hanging on to their manes and wishing for glue so our pants would 'stick'. When we saddled up, we often took them and jumped them over the empty ditches made deeper every spring from the run-off. Other favourites were hiding in the 4 foot tall grass, catching snails and frogs in our pond, and making up maps to hidden treasures on the farm. We carved those maps right into the bark of the poplar trees in special places.
160 acres of pasture and hay was our home. It was a kid's paradise and if our parents worried at all, they never let on. Outside everyday, even when the temperature was well below freezing and the snow drifts over our heads, we made up all sorts of stories and created the objects to go with them.
Now, when my kids say they are bored and ask me for suggestions, I know what I'd like to tell them. "Go outside and play". Should we have to say more?
You may not have noticed that I have a new page on my site called "Preserves - the introduction". I would like to encourage you to visit it. I have begun a storytelling project that will span decades. I am a 'keeper' of all things past and I have many interesting objects, letters and photos, each with an interesting story to tell. I will be posting them to pages on my wordpress blog for now so please watch for additional pages.
A rare photo, go to my Preserves page and check it out.
Doesn't the bare bulb above someone's head usually signify the arrival of an idea? (my basement studio, Prince George, BC, 2007)
You might say so, but in this case it is the main lighting for my humble home studio. I am not complaining. Working under this bare bulb, I feel connected to generations of artists before me who also created work under dim lighting. I can't even imagine myself in any space that does not have either a lighting problem, a leaky roof, or some sort of heating issues. Let me show you some of my home studios over the years.
View from my bedroom where I worked, down the stairs in the late 70's
This is the room where I drew horse pictures, and horse pictures....(1970's)
In my apartment in Stony Plain, Alberta, 2 friends look at the work I was doing in the Visual Art program at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton, Alberta. (early 1980's)
My studio in our basement suite in North Vancouver, BC. I was attending my 1st year of college in a Graphic Design and Illustration program.
Still in College and pulling an all nighter. This painting was due first thing in the morning. You can see I have a ways to go to complete it.
Sitting and wishing I could go home for a nap. My studio space in the 2nd out of 3 years in Capilano College, North Vancouver, BC
Painting 'en plein air' (which means outside) in Prince George, BC, (2005)
"Driving a minivan is like driving your living room around." ... a quote from my husband as he weighs his new vehicle options. Lets face it, he's right. Most new minivans have dvd players, independent climate control, cushy bucket or bench seats... I remember the old days when I was riding around in my parent's Oldsmobile. This second-hand Delta 88 was quite the ride! The back seat was so spacious, not to mention the back window ledge which was a common place for me to ride. I used to squeeze myself up there on my back and look straight up at the sky whizzing by. And when I got bored of that, I'd look out the window at the grass that was nothing but a blur. I'd try to pick a stick or clump of grass to focus on as it passed just to see if my eyes could move that fast, then complain, "Mom, I feel car sick." As I held in my cookies, my attention would turn to my brother who would be using the huge buckle for the seatbelt as an electric razor, sound effects and all. We had no idea what they were really for. One time, free from the restraint of a car seat I move closer to my mom. I could see the back of her head as it wobbled in front me. I wondered...what would happen if I just gave her a slap on the back of that head? I found out. I am sure it was incidents like that which preceeded the invention of car seats and popularized the use of restraints for kids and not a safety issue at all.