Thursday, 30 April 2015

Man proposes, God disposes and Art Excels

A.Y. Jackson's Red Maples - inspiration for the necklace!
Between travelling between two households and dealing with much that was unplanned, I did not post my usual, weekly blog.  However, this was one thing that was on my mind – a gorgeous silver and copper neck-piece created by Susan Lee Stephen.  It has such drama but with a delicacy that I think is characteristic of the work by Susan.  When I first saw it in her studio it was being prepared for submission to a competition in a national jewellery show.  It would have been grand to wear to the Governor General Awards…

The competition is called The Great White North Exhibition and it challenged artists to take inspiration from the work of The Group of Seven.  The work was on display during Fashion Week in Toronto and the Gallery 18 Karat will also be showing it this summer - so you still have a chance to see all the successful pieces.

Susan took the painting The Red Maples by A.Y. Jackson as her departure point.  Nature is a common theme for her and this challenge was tailor-made for her ripening skills as a metal artist.   She details the working process in her own blog, which I invite you to visit:
Drifting by Susan Lee Stephen.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Wild Talk at the Craft Council Gallery

left to right: Ford's "Fracked" ducks, Furneaux's child-sized dress, Minty's felted vessel, Frances and Maxine Ennis' hooked mat and a detail view of Barb Daniell's spores.

My highlight this week was our curators' presentation for the Wild Pure Aesthetic Wonder show at the Craft Council Gallery. Gallery director Sharon LeRiche introduced Philippa Jones and myself and spoke about how popular the show has been with the public.  Philippa talked about the call for submissions and how the show dovetails with the International Fibre Art conference in Gros Morne this October.  I gave a talk about the works in the show and –I think everyone's favourite part– was the artists' own comments about the work.  Amy Todd, Frances Ennis, Kelly Bruton, Stephanie Stoker were amongst those artists who were able to attend and speak.

There are 21 artists in the show and it is always a challenge to encompass a large group show in a fair and coherent manner.  Philippa and I were intent on avoiding the merely picturesque or the touristic.  In a broad thematic call we asked artists to address "the wild" either internally or externally in order to give visitors to Gros Morne a richer experience.  Rachel Ryan stands out for tackling the wild within and more specifically the loss of her mother to cancer.  Ryan gives visual expression to the primal emotions of loss, longing and eventually finding your way after having one's world turned inside out.

Other artists turned our attention to the microscopic like Barb Daniell's fantastic ecosystem of spores or Amy Todd's knit portrait of lichens.  Margaret Angel took on the challenge of the shifting view of the hiker - from the stones underfoot to the mountain top vista. 

studio shot of Waterman's kinetic sculpture.
The role of women became apparent in the work of Susan Furneaux, Kumi Stoddart, and Frances and Maxine Ennis.  Furneaux's child-sized dress of cotton sacking, adorned with found objects was a lovely salute to the women who lived in the park and were involved in the craft industries.  Kumi Stoddart made a tea doll but infused it with her Japanese heritage with the addition of new teas and indigo but the doll wore trigger mitts!  While the Ennis sisters-in-law made a large circular hooked rug with the image of a mandala composed of a motif inspired by a pregnant woman and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

The notion of the cycle of seasons and the circle was also seen in Jessica Waterman's kinetic work, which was motorized so its petals and folds gracefully came to life.  Kailey Bryan's video also gave benign technology centre stage as she documented the use of her own body as loom, the warp and weft moving with her breath.  Jennifer Galliott's animal head dresses and Deb Dumka carpet also united audio with felt for an interactive experience of the wild.  Both Dumka and Linda Hope Ponting used the geology of the Tablelands as a departure point.

Judith Martin's work.  For more info, see her blog

The notion of a politicized nature became apparent in several of the works.  Rilla Marshall's weaving spoke of the changes to place and population, Stephanie Stoker chose to isolate the panels of her weaving with Plexi to speak about how we too often value economy over ecology, while Shosohanna Wingate used the lyrical power of ecoprints and poetry to bring access to nature as an inalienable right forward.

a process shot of Marshall's weaving.

I speculated that there was a self-identification with nature as well.  Sarah Minty referred to nature as her skin and bones in her statement that accompanied her felt landscape vessel.  Judith Martin chose to work a large-scale blanket with many stitched marks that both conveyed the intimacy and immensity of the experience of nature.

Rosalind Ford and Kelly Bruton both bravely tackled the theme of fracking and pollution highlighting the vulnerability of the wild.  Ford used her experience as an ornithologist to create life sized eider ducks that were lovingly embroidered and then "contaminated" with "oil".  Bruton created an installation of panels that interpreted the unbroken record of millions of years from fossils to quotes from residents and newspaper headlines.

I tried to end the talk on a positive note by mentioning a work that will only be on view in the second venue - at the Woody Point Discovery Centre.  This is Alexe Hanlon's knit sculpture of a Minke whale, which are regularly seen in the spring.  It is seven feet (the size of a baby whale) festooned with barnacles and details.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

G does the GG Awards

Gloria Hickey and Gilles Latour in the greenhouse at Rideau Hall.

On April the 8th I had the good fortune to attend my first Governor General Awards ceremony.  I say first because I would love to do it again.  I had been invited because earlier on in the calendar I had been a juror for the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Craft.  This is the second time I have been a juror for that award.  Anyhow, Paul McClure the art jeweler was the worthy recipient of the award this year.  I am particularly pleased that he got it because, God willing, he has many creative years ahead of him.  I want fine craft to have a future and I think Paul will help make that happen.

When I first got the invitation to attend the GGs I was skeptical. "Is this going to be some stuffy, boring ceremony?" I asked myself.  It didn't come with a plane ticket or a budget, so if I wanted to make this happen it was going to come out of my pocket.  Luckily, a kind friend extended me hospitality and shelter so I decided to pay for the plane ticket.

His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston Governor General of Canada turned out to be a very warm man with an expansive personality.  I enjoyed speaking with him and he seemed genuinely interested to speak with everyone.  I was expecting some kind of formal greeting line where you are presented as in a wedding where everyone lines up to extend best wishes to the bride and groom.  That didn't happen.  There was very a surprising lack of formality to the whole event.  It was reserved for the actual presentation of the GG Awards and its recipients. 

Speaking of the awards ceremony, the recipients were confined to about 250 words for their acceptance speeches.  So that meant it moved at a pretty smart clip.  Within no time, we were chowing down a spectacular assortment of dishes and schoomzing with friends and industry colleagues.

I had fun chatting with film makers, painters, poets, potters and a spy or two.  Well, I mean guys who work for CSIS.

Paul at the bench - as in jeweller's.
Don't you think he does quizzical cat well?

It was also a blast chatting with the many men in uniform.  Red military uniforms with tall bear skin hats.  When I was dropped off at the door I took a minute to breathe some fresh air before the ceremony and talk with the door guards.  A quarter had been dropped by someone in the "driveway".  They were joking who would get to pick it up.  "Are you allowed to take tips?" I teased them.  Women's phone numbers it turns out were their favourite form of tipping.

The most memorable part of the evening for me was touring through the official residence and checking out the art collection.  It spanned decades and every imaginable medium.  I am happy to report that Canada's fine craft could be found in every room.  I was also very fond of the green house and the adjacent rooms off the pink and white ballroom that were filled with living plants.

The only part of the evening that I did not welcome was going home.  Oh well, time to pack away the diamonds and rubies (my own) for another year.
I told you there was a pink and white ballroom.
It reminded me of being back in England at Strawberry Fields.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Strange Questions I Get Asked

Happy Easter Everyone!

One of the things that I have never anticipated in my career is having fans.  Now all of a sudden, people I do not know are stopping me on the street in St. John's–and they tell me they enjoy my writing.  Other than "thank you" I never know what else to say.  And I am not usually at a loss for words.

I talk to a great deal of people in my line of work.  I consider it one of my joys in life. I love to interview people and it doesn't matter if they are hit men or the school janitor–they are all fascinating.  (Yes, that was too many sentences that begin with I.)

Lately however I am not the one asking the questions.  And the questions are getting strange.  In this past week I have been asked: whether I dye my hair; how many languages do I speak; and how many countries have I visited.  I have been told I am a "smart dame" and twice called "a socialite".  I have been asked why don’t I write fiction.  And this seems to be the most popular "what are you going to wear to the Governor General Awards?"  It has gotten to the point where I feel like I am trapped in a bad TV reality program.  Or at least one with a bad script.  That reminds me, I'd like to write another script for video again.  Yes, that's me Ms. Words for Fun and Profit.  The one who dropped out of Journalism school because it was boring.
Please do go and see the WILD show while it is still up at the Craft Council.  The artists really gave it their all.

OK, so here are the answers to the questions.  I put highlights in my hair four times a year.  I have never counted the number of languages I speak nor the number of countries I have visited (or lived in for that matter).  I get told I am smart far too much for my comfort.  I am happy to see the word "dame" get put back into common parlance.  I am sure as hell not a socialite.  I will be wearing a floor length, black skirt and a green silk jacket to the awards.  The reason I do not write fiction is because I could never invent anything better or weirder than the stuff that happens to me in real life.  I mean really when was the last time you got asked out to an S&M bondage workshop as a first date?
From the Champagne Toast event at Eastern Edge.  Look at all those smiles!