Monday, 29 September 2014

Destination Marketing, an evening at The Dunes

The Dunes is noted both for its stunning gardens and
location overlooking the sand dunes of PEI.
Last night I had a memorable dinner at The Dunes with forty of my closest friends.  Ok, not literally.  We were a dinner party of forty from the Canadian Craft Federation conference but I've known most these folks since the 1980s, so there is some legitimate intimacy there.

We were touring studios on the island of red sand and then concluding our evening at The Dunes, which is a studio, gallery and restaurant operated by Peter Jansons and his partner.  I was genuinely surprised when Peter still recognized me with an exuberant, "It's Gloria Hickey!"  Arms flung wide.  That's Peter to a T.  Drama.  Flair.  Style.  I had discovered the man when he was still "Peter the potter".

The field of Canadian ceramics can be very competitive and it was going to take a lot of talent and luck to push the likes of Peter Powning off the "Peter the potter" pedestal.  Hands on his hips he exclaimed, "Where's that writer?"  I had disappeared to explore the gallery offerings.  Eclectic, multi-ethnic in flavour and some surprisingly large pieces.  I waved to him from a distance.  The place is that big.  Peter cajoles, "well you must have done something right (did I hear that correctly?) because look at me now."  Nobody would dispute that, the man is a success story.  He can afford gardeners.

 I've always thought Peter's real talent was being able to dream big and having the passion to persuade others.  I never saw him like other potters who were more about materials and process.  Clay, the wheel, or the extruder and hand building.  His work was about design and sensibility.  And his whole establishment today exudes that quality.

Take for example, the restaurant.  It started out as a cafe that was supposed to be serving sandwiches to tourists and it just kept growing and getting better.  And last night it was serving a full menu of mouth-watering meals to a crowd of 40.  Succulent maple salmon, quinoa with pomegranite, and fresh garden lettuces in rainbow hues.  And that was just my main course.
Interior view of The Dunes.

Now busloads of tourists make the pilgrimage to The Dunes.  They shop, they eat, photographs are taken and memories made.  This is the future of craft–or at least one variety of it.  It is like the flip side of craftivism.  The alternative to the do-it-yourself movement.  In some ways, this is the best of consumerism, which is different from materialism or the philosophy that defines happiness as "he (or she) who has the most stuff".

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Countdown to the Heirloom Keynote

That's me wearing my Aunt Ella's aquamarine knuckle duster in red
 and yellow gold.  It's been in the family for a long time.
Well, I've put the ancestral bling away in the bank security box. I fished it out for inspiration while working on my presentation for PEI. I can't keep the ring and its matching pendant at home safely and although I am tempted to wear them to the Heirloom conference I won't.  I've lost an antique pearl and ruby ring and earring set once in Europe and that taught me my lesson.

I have been working hammer and tongs on my presentation.  At first it was a casual gathering of anecdotal material, which I always enjoy because it pushes me outside of my own narrow scope of experience and expectation.  And frankly people love to talk about themselves, so why not give them the chance.  I've always said to my son, "talk to strangers and you will learn something.  Just don't get in the car with them."

When I work on a topic it is as if I become a magnet for information about it.  Articles, experiences all seem to drift into a pile like wind-blown autumn leaves.  Yesterday, the new issue of East Coast Living landed in my mailbox with a feature story that I had written about Teresa Kachanoski's heritage home.  Ned Pratt did the photography.  Héritage is the French translation for heirloom.  For my presentation I tried to define the essential attributes of an heirloom, what makes it different from say a souvenir or a collectible, and then to illustrate those traits with the narratives people had so generously shared with me.

This photo was snapped by Teresa, which we sent to tempt
 the editor Janice Hudson.
I was also interested in how heirlooms accumulate meanings through successive generations and how that changes.  For that I used an example from my own life: how I had inherited my grandmother's Victorian drinking glasses, which my Austrian mother then put in Russian tea glass holders and I use to serve Turkish style mint tea.  In Turkey, I was fascinated by the chai boys who would materialize out of thin air upon being summoned with a clap of a merchant's hands.  (At the time I was haggling for kilim, flat weave Turkish carpets.  Craftspeople would rework salvaged pieces into carry bags and purses.  Was I a carpet bagger?)
 To my consistent admiration, the chai boys would come running with their trays.  I used to like to watch them round corners at high speed.  Somehow, no glasses got broken and a drop was never spilled.  I sweeten the tea with sugar that I ritually collect on vacation.  It is the only time I add sugar to a beverage.  I make the tea in a special Chinese teapot.  Significantly, my teenage son has his own handmade teapot.  It makes me hopeful for the future of craft.

Monday, 15 September 2014

When I went to highschool it was never like this

To my surprise my son asked if I had posted this on my blog and I said no it was on my Facebook.  But after hearing about the Rainbow Flag destroyed by some less tolerant students recently, I thought I should go for the blog too.
GSA in our house used to stand for Gay Straight Alliance, which my son has worked on in both Brother Rice and now Holy Heart. Last year, his September project was to encourage classmates not to tick off either male or female on the school forms. This year he reported that there is no more M or F but a blank line. And that the Queer Monologues book that I brought home months ago is now a textbook on his reading list. Gay Straight A-gendered and trans is really gathering steam.

If you see a new flag flying in some schools that is pink, blue and white that is the flag to demonstrate support for the trans and a-gendered community.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some days I should wear a muzzle

This image is by Niurka Barroso from a Cuban-American photo
show.  Here's the link if you're curious
Part of my problem is that I am very opinionated.  I try to do my homework and research so that my published opinions have some foundation but ultimately so much boils down to subjective interpretation.  Combine that with persistent insomnia and life can get real interesting.

I was in a medical clinic not that long ago.  It was a rare occasion when I did not have a book to read or a notebook to scribble in.  So, I looked at the walls, literally.  They were a deep purple and had a few questionable reproductions mounted as "decoration".  One was butted against the ceiling, which was the most interesting thing about it.  I figured it was covering a hole.  Anyhow, in walks the staff person with the clipboard and reads my name off.  And I stand up and the words just jumped out of my mouth.  "Are you aware of how truly revolting the art is in this office?" I ask.  The receptionist chirps from behind her fortress of a counter, "now Gloria why not tell them what you really think?"  And finally a third staffer walks to usher me into the inner offices.  She adds, "Oh, I'm waiting for the TV reality program based on her life."  Well, thankfully we all had a good laugh.

This is a stock image titled Beautiful Business Woman.
I wondered whose job it was to buy the art and with a little inquiry I discovered it was the maintenance man.  Granted, he was no art expert and the WalMart art gave me an indication of their budget.  It was the visual equivalent of elevator music. The man had done his best.  Frankly, no one else seemed to be troubled by the "art" but then they were there everyday and probably didn't see it anymore.

I have had the opposite experience too.  There are offices–business, and non, private and public–that have good local art or art from away that has meaning for the people who work around it.  It is rewarding to look at on a sustained basis.

Anyhow, if anyone knows of a fairytale about a princess who every time she opens her mouth a frog jumps out, I'd like to know how it ends because someday that's the way I feel.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Confessions of a Jewelry Junky: Pamela Ritchie has got the goods

Yesterday was a big day at the Craft Council Gallery.  Not only did we open The Spirit of the Caribou but Pamela Ritchie's solo show From Time and Matter.   I have followed with great interest, the work of this jewelry maestro (a?) since the mid-eighties.  I think her work in a variety of jewelry media has real authority.  She knows how to pare down without losing an ounce of content.  In fact, it ramps up the impact.  I have a weakness for high-impact art.

The show is really worth a lingering visit.  So many ideas, beautifully stated and you can wear them too!

Pam Ritchie was a pioneer when it came to using non-gems in jewelry.

I was asked to write the essay for her show both here and in Halifax where an expanded version of it will appear at the Mary Black Gallery.  Kudos go to Sharon LeRiche for bringing Pam Ritchie's work and wizardry here -right now Pam is teaching a design workshop.  Susan Lee Stephen and I had the luxury of a long evening's chat with her to feed our fetish of Canadian contemporary art jewelry.

One of the things I felt necessary to state in the brief essay was that Pamela Ritchie works in series but that those series can go on for decades.  It is the kind of thing that is obvious to me because I watch how artists work but I have become aware that there is a misconception in many people's minds about the practice of working in series.  Folks seem to think they have distinct beginnings and endings and they rarely do.  I recall saying to some one recently that there were some things that only exist in art history books.  You know the "fill-in-the-blank  period" began here and ended there.

In my limited experience, creativity rarely travels in straight lines.   History is largely a construct that serves an agenda of one kind or another.  Making sense out of art, that is writing art history, isn't any different.  But that's just my opinion.

Energy by Pamela Ritchie conveys to me her love of science.

Here's my conclusion from the exhibition essay:

Pam Ritchie feels that "communication is so important to jewelry, whether it is that of politics, romance, status or visual expression."  That communication can be direct or indirect. But regardless of that direct or indirectness Ritchie strives to tell a story and thereby "facilitate a conversation through the media of wearable objects that could amuse, provoke or empower."  Pay attention to her choice of materials, be it a postage stamp or a gem stone; think about her choice of colours with its language of emotions and reverberation.  Then you will have entered into Ritchie's thematic world of myth and science, juxtaposition and static harmony. It is a whole world you can wear on a finger or on a lapel.