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Good gracious, it is 2020!

This is the post excerpt.

2019 seemed to pass with the blink of an eye.  In late October I was with a very good friend speaking at the UAAC Conference in Quebec City.  Six weeks later I returned to that gorgeous historic city.  Could I live there when I retire?
JA Moisan is the oldest grocery store in North America.  It was founded in 1871.  They have a bakery, a deli, a place for packaged meals to take home, a wall of speciality salts, olive oils, vinegar, Kusmi teas, coffees, candies – you name it!  There is cheese, fresh fruit, and the best croissants in the city.  There is seating for about ten persons.  Stop and rest your feet – have a latte and a croissant or the daily special.  Take home some chocolate.  The interior is the same as it was in the 1920s and 30s.  Soak it in.
Want to be pampered?  After the beginning of November, the Chateau Frontenac has specials.  The hotel is located in the Old City right at the top by the funicular.  Beginning at the end of November to the third week in December, the German market with all of its little wooden stalls stretches from the Frontenac down through this historic part of the City.  The best fish and chips are at either of the pubs on the main drag as you enter the Old City on St. Jean.  One serves Murphy’s while the other serves Guinness – Murphy’s for the Irish, Guinness for the British with a hallway between them linking the two together.  As you wander down the street there is a lovely bookshop with stationary and a good English section as well as a fine cashmere store.  One of the problems for me was that there were just too many ‘tourist shops’ with any and all things made in China as a souvenir for Quebec City.  You see them everywhere!  Sometimes it is difficult to find nice local shops in the middle of all that.
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Every year the Frontenac has a Christmas tree competition.  They were magical!

And there is always a gingerbread house made like the hotel:

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In all of this, I dreamed of returning when it was nice and warm as well as travelling to Scotland in April and then doing a residency in France.  But we now know what happened to all of that – the arrival of COVID-19.

It has been an unexpected gift being isolated because I am now turning my attention back to those amazing potters and ceramic artists who came to Canada during the Vietnam era.  The plan is for more articles and finally the book!  Stay tuned.

It’s Nearly Mother’s Day and I tip my hat to Big Red, a 17-year-old Red Tail Hawk for “Mother of the Year 2020”

If my mother were alive, I hope that she would understand why I am so adamant that a Raptor Formel should be nominated for Mother of the Year 2020.  It was, after all, my mother who carried the duck my father had given me to my grandmother’s every day on her way to work.  There the duck lived in a specially designed ‘cage’ or stayed in the hen house.  On occasion, the duck would join my grandmother and me for a swing on the porch. I know that my grandmother would approve as she had a fondness for all living creatures, as did my dad.

2020 is a very unusual year.  Since the end of 2019, the international community has been paralysed by COVID-19 that has killed nearly three million people as I type this.  Many are without jobs or health insurance.  Entire countries and cities have been under various levels and length of lockdown.  The funeral homes cannot handle the number of dead.  Hospitals have run out of protective gear for healthcare employees.  And there remains uncertainty from world leaders on how to continue to manage this virus.  Is it safe for people to be outside amongst one another?  or should we be locked down longer? When will a vaccine be available? When will people be able to travel? When will schools open? Will people have jobs? Will there be enough food?  The level of anxiety, coupled with the number of people working from home, has caused people to seek solace in cooking, reading, and learning.  Many have turned to nature with the number of individuals watching bird cams sometimes more than five times the norm.  I am one of those people.  I have a fondness for hawks ever since I first stood about a half metre away from a female Sharp-shinned hawk in our garden three years ago.  That moment had a transformative impact on my fondness for these regal birds of prey.

In early March I began following the exploits of a pair of Redtail hawks with their nest on the ledge outside the office of the President of New York University.  They were Aurora and her new mate, Orion.  Having laid three eggs, the pair took turns incubating them so the other could eat.  On the morning of March 26, Aurora did not return.  She did not return that evening nor the next day.  Everyone was in tears and devastated beyond belief.  That pair of hawks symbolised hope for the people watching who were living in the hardest-hit area of the United States at the time.  The virus was so harmful and so many people were dying that the parks were being turned into field hospitals and temporary burial grounds.  One of the members suggested that we switch our attention to the Bird Cams run by Cornell University.  And that is how I met “Big Red.”

Big Red is specifically a Buteo jamaicensis.  Technically this is the order Accipitriformes, and the family is the Accipitridae.  Leaving the fancy language aside, Big Red belongs to one of the most common hawk families in North America.  There are approximately two million.  The birds, along with their nests, eggs, and feathers are protected by treaties on migratory birds throughout the Americas.

Big Red was born in 2003 and was banded in Brooktondale, New York that fall.  When you look at pictures of her, you will notice that she has a large dark red head, nape, and throat and the most magnificent red tail feathers.  She currently resides on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with her mate, Arthur.  Redtail hawks mate for life.  Arthur was born and fledged in 2016, making him a whole thirteen years younger than Big Red!  Arthur and Big Red completed their first breeding season in 2018; this is their third year for successfully raising chicks.  Arthur has a real pale head, chest and nape, not unlike the notorious Pale Male from Central Park in New York City.  For the last two months, this pair of hawks taught me so much and inspired so many others at a time when the world needed something beautiful.

Big Red is the epitome of dogged persistence and dedication to the task of taking care of her nest, incubating her eggs, brooding and feeding her chicks, and being a model for them for their successful life as raptors.  Since the first records at Cornell in 2012, Big Red has successfully raised twenty-one chicks!  There could be almost that many more uncounted – before the cameras – from 2006 (?) through 2011.

Big Red and Arthur are often seen in the late fall inspecting their nest which is eighty feet above the ground on a lighting tower on the campus of Cornell University.  Hawk nests can get very quiet high and wide as the couple continue to refurbish and redecorate annually. Typically, hawks have one nest, but Big Red and Ezra actually have two. For the last couple of years, they have favoured their current nest.

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Sticks and twigs ranging in size between eight inches and fourteen inches are carried from the ground to the site in anticipation of eggs being laid.  Redtail hawks lay between one to four eggs depending on the local food supply.  Typically, Big Red has a clutch of three eggs. Redtail hawks usually incubate their eggs from 28-35 days although in 2012 Big Red sat on her eggs for 35-38 days with the longest being 42 days in 2013.

Observing the weather in Ithaca, New York made me quite happy, actually, to be living in Winnipeg.  There were quite a few days where it was frosty with snow, but on April 17, Big Red found herself encased in ice and snow as she incubated her eggs, ensuring the survival of her chicks.

Below are the three eggs in the clutch. Big Red laid egg number 3 at 1: 23 pm on March 24.  She immediately “told Arthur” and began incubating the clutch.  Both Big Red and Arthur take turns sitting on the eggs until they hatch.

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There are several things to notice in this image.  The first is the nest bowl which is lined with soft materials.  Big Red and Arthur will continually maintain the nest bowl, making sure that it is big enough to hold the checks and that they cannot harm their tiny legs and talons.  Second, notice the pine.  The hawks bring these into the nest in preparation for the hatching of the chicks.  They help keep flies and their larvae away and protect the chicks from disease caused by flies.  And third, the bottom left egg has a pip, and the chick is beginning to use its body to crack the shell.  Pipping is when the chick first breaks through the shell with its “egg tooth”.  Sometimes it takes the chick up to twenty-four hours to completely break out of its shell.

pipping red tail hawk

It takes a lot of energy to hatch, and the newborn chicks are often tired for the first day of their lives.  Before long, however, their feathers will have dried off, and they will be covered with white fluff.

J1 hatching and J2 pipping

At first, the chick’s eyes do not focus well, and they do not quite understand what “food” really is and who is feeding them.  There is an awful lot of pecking and bonking that goes on with the siblings.  This settles down after about four or five days.

The chicks are not given names.  They are assigned letters of the alphabet.  In 2012, when Cornell University first installed its hawk cameras, the chicks were given the letter C after Cornell.  In 2013, the chicks were given D and so on until 2020 when the chicks have been given the letter J.

In the image below, the first hatched chick, J1, is trying to take a bite out of J2’s head!

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J1 and J2 tiny fighting over a small piece of meat

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It is up to Arthur to bring food for Big Red and the chicks.  Arthur’s territory is abundant.  Until the chicks fledge, he will bring chipmunks, squirrels, pigeons, Starlings, snakes, voles, and rabbits to the pantry.  There is never a shortage and viewers have been surprised – shocked even – at the plentiful supply of animals and at the talents of both Arthur and Big Red at hunting.  She has, in fact, brought some meals back with her when she has gone off the nest for a bit.

Arthur filling up pantry on May 1

These chicks have a lot of food security, thanks to the excellent hunting skills of Arthur and Big Red.  The rails to keep them in the natal nest are made out of their dinner.  Pine is scattered about to keep away the flies, and sometimes you could see the chicks sleeping with their head on a furry pelt.

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Big Red fed and kept her chicks warm during a period of dangerous wind and heavy rain on May 1. I don’t think anyone slept that night and there was certainly a lot of emotion, even tears.

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And she has patiently made sure that each and every chick, from the first to hatch J1 to the tiny J3, is fed.

Here the three of them are lined up for an afternoon meal.  Little J3 is front and right with J2 front left.  J1 is behind both.  The trio managed to eat an entire chipmunk!  That was just one meal.  Big Red is feeding them a lot.  She still spends the night brooding, keeping those chicks toasty warm.  Soon they will sleep on their own at night.  Eventually, they will jump and flap their wings, preparing to fledge.  By then they will also be eating on their own, and Big Red and Arthur will courier food to the nest throughout the day.

3 lined up for a feeding

By the middle of June, all of the 2020 chicks will have fledged.  They will spend the summer learning how to hunt, and by fall they will be gone to find their own territory.  At the age of two, they will get their distinctive red tail feathers, and by three, they will have families of their own.

In the meantime, Big Red and Arthur will enjoy being empty nesters, and by late fall they will again repair their nest on the Cornell campus in preparation for 2021!

All of us who have gotten to know this hawk family and to learn a little about raptor behaviour have been inspired by the sheer dedication Big Red has maintained during the most horrid of weather.  We have watched J1 grow to be four times the size of “Little J3”. We have worried that the little one might be left out.  This was decidedly not the case!  J3 is right up there, and Big Red makes sure each is fed well, that they are safe and warm.  She is currently teaching them to preen their feathers and by observation, J1 today began flapping its wings.

 

Thinking about tea and teapots while eating fresh dates

There are so many memories and quotes about tea and teapots.  While living in Britain, I learned that everything is much better with a “warm cuppa.” Even today, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, tea can be soothing to the body and soul.

In her book, When Calls the Heart, Janette Oke pondered the idea that a fine china tea set would make life in a log cabin much more civilized when she said, “There seemed to be so many things that I needed, but I held myself in check and purchased only essentials – with the exception of one extravagance. I had determined that I would drink my tea like a lady, even in a log house; so I purchased a teapot and two cups and saucers of fine china. I felt somehow Mama’s mind would be much more at ease about me if she knew that I was having my tea in the proper fashion. After all, civilization could not be too far away from Pine Springs if I had such amenities!”

In Pomegranate Soup, a lovely book that marries Persian cooking with Irish living, the author, Marsha Mehran writes: “There were ceramic teapots in aubergine, mustard, and midnight blue (good for one, sweeter still when shared between two drinkers); and forty small, thin glasses with curved handles, set in gold- and silver-plated holders etched with arabesque swirls. Bahar gingerly lined the tea glasses up on the counter where the cappuccino machine had been stationed. She tucked the teapots into the counter’s glass-panelled belly, where they sat prettily next to twenty glass containers of loose-leaf teas, ranging from bergamot and hibiscus to oolong.”

In The Water Castle, Megan Frazer Blakemore plays with a trunk full of treasures and memories when she describes the moment when the lid was opened. “Ephraim lifted the top of the trunk. Neatly stacked were mementoes from what seemed like hundreds of journeys. Right on top was an etching of the Eiffel tower next to an African mask that looked at him with surprised eyes. He reached in a little deeper and unearthed a small teapot decorated with blue drawings just like the kind his grandmother collected and kept in a locked china cabinet.”

For the first twenty years of my life, I lived in the southern United States. Oklahoma to be exact.  I have no memory of hot tea or teapots even though the china cabinet contained an array of thin, highly decorated teacups.  I recall, as a child, being taken to the window in the dining room and being shown the translucency of the eggshell cups. They were not used for tea but were brought out on exceptional occasions with the coffee service.  Everyone drank iced tea.  If anyone had ordered hot tea at a restaurant, I am not sure the wait staff would have known precisely what to do.  Tea was not hot except for its brewing for iced tea.  There was no flavoured powdered tea.  People in the South are purists.  Teabags were brewed and then water and ice were added, never sugar.  The tea was served in stemmed goblets.  The sugar, if it was used at all, was combined with the help of an extra-long silver spoon and stirred till every last crystal was dissolved.  Some added the juice from a fresh lemon.

It was only as a new immigrant to Canada that the comfort and the Britishness of hot tea and an old Brown Betty pot were appreciated.  The tea that was made was Black and robust, most often requiring milk and sugar to chase away the bitterness.  Hot tea was comforting to hold the cup or mug during the cold of the Manitoba winters, the steam warming your face.  The favourite brand in southern Manitoba was Red Rose.  I was never sure if it was the price, the quality, or the fact that there were often small Wade ceramic figurines tucked inside the boxes for collecting beginning in 1967.

Fast-forward and my life and the world of tea expanded in ways that I could not have dreamed of during those first winters in Canada.  First was the chai simmered in some pretty forlorn tin or aluminium pots on the railway platforms in India.  Delicious and creamy and often made even better with the infusion of cardamon.  In Pakistan, tea was made on the side of the road in brightly painted metal pots while in Beijing, one could sit for hours in the Kempinski Hotel’s tea room sipping jasmine tea made in glass pots.

I am not the only person whose knowledge of tea has changed.  Around the world, there are masters purchasing teas – green, white, Pu’er, Oolong and Black – for our more refined palettes.  Teas are blended in the same way that whiskeys are with the masters identifying the notes in each.  You can take classes on tea.  You can order tea from the tea plantations along with suitable teacups and pots.

Today, I have an extensive collection of handmade teapots.  They range from the most recent, a gift from Grace Han when she was leaving for Vancouver to a lovely lacquer one made by the lacquer master in Bagan, Malaysia brought back by my son.  There are others, tucked away in China cabinets or sitting in my office for students to hold and critique.

 

Top row from left:  Grace Han teapot (2019) made using Korean mould technique (Grace’s rock series); John Reeve temmoku teapot made at Sheridan College, 1976; lacquer tea set made in Bagan, Myanmar. Bottom row from left:  Valerie Metcalfe, Barbara Tipton, and Gunda Stewart.

Each of my teapots holds a special place in my heart because of the memories and the beautiful people who made them.  They are, in fact, more than just vessels for brewing and serving tea.  It is a way of enjoying a quiet or shared moment with an old friend.

As my knowledge of tea has grown, so has my questions about teapots. Indeed, my taste in tea has changed dramatically.  Instead of buying big boxes of 120 teabags of Black tea, I purchase small sealed packets of hand-rolled black teas from Malawi or small-batch silver tip jasmine white tea from Wuyi, China.  Then there are the greens from Uji, Japan and the roasted nuttiness of genmaicha.  Indeed, the only black tea that I drink is Huntington’s hand-rolled from Malawi.  Its sweetness requires no sugar, and while you could steep it so that milk would be required, there is no need unless you walk off and forget it!

All of this brings me to the question of the teapot.  The way that we enjoy tea today has changed from what it was during the war years in Britain or even on the Canadian prairies in the 1970s.  We are more sophisticated in our knowledge of tea while, at the same time, there have been a growing number of companies and shops to cater to us.  Today, I want to see the colour of the tea develop and to watch the leaves unfurl and to do this, I must use a glass pot.  The same is true for any of the flowering silver tip white teas.  I want to see the colour develop along with the unfurling of the leaves.

New revelations on the best temperatures to use to infuse different varieties of tea have resulted in small appliance manufacturers making electric kettles with temperature controls.  Today, it is generally known that one simply does not boil the pot until the whistle is blowing the roof off unless they want their lovely green jasmine tea to be anything bitter.  There is a French tea company, Palais des Thes, that has a marvellous green tea that is mixed with rose and raspberry leaves.  A friend placed the leaves of the Paris for Her tea in a pot and poured boiling water over it and allowed the tea to steep as she would any black tea.  After she was shocked at how bitter the brew was – so upset that she called the North American head office to complain.  In the end, it turned out that instead of 100 degrees C, the tea required 70 degrees C and a very short steep.  To handle this, some tea companies sell only 150 ml and 300 ml teapots so that you are merely making 1 or 2 cups.  No leaves will turn bitter if you check the water temperature required and the length of the steep – generally supplied with the tea.

So what am I going on about????????  Well, like the right temperature of water to infuse the tea leaves, there has to be an equally appropriate teapot for specific teas.  The Chinese make their Yixing teapots out of a beautiful local clay that is sometimes a purple-brown colour when fired.  There is no glaze.  The pot absorbs the flavour of the tea that has been infused after years (assuming the same type of tea is used) until, eventually, less tea is needed.  Glazed clay teapots can be used for any kind of tea but should they?  And should we make such large pots that the tea continues to steep under the cosy becoming more bitter?  So my argument is this:  If you are infusing a standard black or herbal tea, go for the ceramic pot.  But if you are brewing a rare tea whose colour and unfurling is paramount to its appreciation, then you simply must use a small glass pot.

Carol Graham, continued

It is quite amazing what can happen in the span of a month.  Canada is now in the grips of COVID-19, anxious students of all ages are trying to finish their classes online, and, unless we are essential, we are to stay home.  That staying home has really helped in the search for information on Carol Graham (see March 6 blog entry).  News has come from the talented pit firing ceramist, Susan Delatour in Princeton, BC.  Perhaps some of Susan’s information will help jog the memories of others so that a full entry for Carol can be made in my book.

Susan lived with her ex-husband, Steve LePoidevin.  They had a home and studio at Shawinigan Lake in 1980.  That is where she met Carol Graham who lived in Cobble Hill, the next village.  Because of their mutual interest in ceramics, they became friends.  Susan remembers the five-day workshop that Carol organized with Blue Corn that summer:

BLUE CORN (with her daughter, HESHI FLOWER) in a beautiful rural setting Mill Bay, ‘Vancouver Island, July 28th to Aug. 1, 1980, 8 am-4 pm each day. This is a workshop organized privately. Blue Corn, a world-famous Indian Pueblo potter from San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, will guild students in every step to recreating her famous polychrome pottery as well as San Ildephonso’s black pottery–from mixing clay Blue Corn brings from New Mexico–to painting natural earthy pigments with Yucca brushes–to firing (in two separate firings) in an authentic manner with cow and horse dung. Limited enrollment. we have 14 students and can accommodate 4 more. $200 for five full days with lunches provided. Because of limited enrollment and slowness of mail please phone the following for more information, Carol Graham (Mill Bay 743-5182 anytime) or Verona Bridges (Nanai- mo).
Susan remembers Carol’s high fired reduction functional ware because of its beauty.  She also recalls that Carol’s first husband passed away after a battle with cancer sometime in the 1980s.  After that, Carol had her own health issues including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that sadly caused her to stop making ceramics.
Carol, it seems, had to be busy and she turned towards her interest in gardens writing a book with Dorothy Field called Between Gardens when she could no longer work with clay.  Susan Delatour says it began with a series of letters written between Dorothy Field and Carol Graham Chudley (Ron Chudley, second husband, devoted caregiver over a period of three years starting in 1995).  They were musings on gardening as well as practical tips.  Susan notes that the volume also became about living with a debilitating disability.  Carol died in May 1998 before the book could be published in 1999 in honour of their friendship.
If you or someone you know might be able to continue filling in the gaps for Carol Graham, I would be ever so grateful.  And if you happen to have photographs of the workshop with Blue Corn and don’t mind if I use them, please take a good crisp photo with your phone or camera.

 

It’s March 6, 2020, and I am searching for more information on Carol Graham who once taught at Malaspina College on Vancouver Island

My old friend, Tony Clennell, once told me that writing a blog was like having a horse:  you had to feed it every day.  Well, those of you who regularly check back for news will know clearly that my horse must have died.  It has been a while since I sat down to write and there is lots of news.  So news first and research/writing/ceramics next!  This summer is set for two significant events.  The first is my artist residence at the Contemporary Arts Centre in La Borne, France.  I am so excited to be working in their studios and firing their Phoenix Fast Fire Kiln.  Also, I will be meeting the women who will be using the anagama kiln, and there will be a symposium dealing with the challenges of being a woman and wood firing.  All ages will be present.  It is going to be quite fun!  I will also be giving two workshops and getting to use that fabulous soft La Borne clay.  Shortly after, on August 31, I will officially retire from teaching for the School of Art at the University of Manitoba.  No tears.  It has been great fun, but it is time to live – and to be able to take advantage of those ticket sales to beautiful places that have been ignored.  So mark your calendars and have a drink of some kind – juice or adult beverage – in celebration with me!

Now, to get to one of those projects that will fast become the top of my to-do-list shortly again.  For those who have been reading this blog or who know me, I continue to try to find all of those men and women who came to Canada during the Vietnam era who were potters.  In 2016, I received a Chalmers Grant for Craft from the Canada Council to begin this project.  To date, I have 119 individuals who have contributed much to the ceramic landscape in Canada.  Some have won the highest awards our country could offer.  Many taught, and all made ceramics.  But today, I am reaching out for help on one single individual.  Her name is Carol Graham, and Doug and Verona Bridges saw my call for information on Carol and wrote to me.  Doug taught at Malaspina College with Carol and Verona, and Carol travelled to Taos and Santa Fe where they visited Blue Corn and convinced her to come to Nanaimo.  Doug and Verona also have an extensive collection of Carol’s high fire functional domestic ware.  The minute I saw the images, I was drawn back to the 1970s when everyone was using iron-rich clay and muted glazes in their high fire kilns.  Many were also, like Carol, using stamps on their work.  Gosh, that was a great time to be a potter!  One of my favourites in their collection is a dillweed plate meant to hang on the wall.  I can almost feel Carol slowly and steadily pushing the dill into the clay.

The only other information that I have on Carol Graham is that she received her MFA from Puget Sound and in 1983 she lived in Cobble Hill, BC before she died.  If you have any recollection of Carol Graham or own her work, please contact me.  My plan is to finish the book on the women who came to Canada during the Vietnam era and who were potters.

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CarolGraham garlic and spice containers

New Work at C2 Gallery in Winnipeg

I am really happy to announce to all those people who collect my work or who have supported me throughout the years that pieces are now available at the Manitoba Craft Council C2 Gallery Shop on Cumberland Street in Winnipeg.

The current work is the result of several years of research. I was never interested in colour despite the fact that I created rutile blue vessels for my clients years ago.  But, on my second trip to Copenhagen in 2018, all of that changed.  There I saw the oranges, greens, and blues so prevalent in flower vases made by many Danish potters. Still, “There was a lot about the work that was not me, and I needed to find my voice.” That same year I received funding to research and test the use of colour on clay vessels fired in wood kilns. At about the same time, I was commissioned to write a chapter for a book on Environmental Humanism. At the intersection of the two, there was a desire to lessen my carbon footprint.  I began to experiment with single-fired earthenware ceramics.

In the spring of 2019, the sparks of this new defining aesthetic were lit while I was an Interdisciplinary Artist at Hospitalfield House in Arbroath, Scotland. The theme of my project was transience.  Photographs of the sea at Lunan Bay, the gardens, walls, and hardware of Hospitalfield House were taken every day for a month at three specific times. The unfired vessels that were created were intent on capturing the changing colour and the patinas of decay.  The objects were placed at the edge of the sea and in the trees of the gardens so that they could deteriorate naturally over time.  Right now, three similar pieces are in the exhibition, The Constant Happiness is Curiosity at the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba until 6 September.

 

I purchased books on colour theory and began to look at how colours existed side by side in nature. Instead of using glaze, I began to experiment with ceramic stains. The colours and their application did not have the life that I wanted.  This period was followed by the addition of multiple colours to the surface, often using tape to create a hard edge like the paintings of the 1950s.

I had gotten to a point where I was trying so hard, and nothing was coming out the way I wanted. It was very frustrating. And then, one morning, I began to remove the colour and, I was like, hey! Sometimes, I begin work on a series of vases and everything just clicks. At other times it is not so easy.  The surface has to be loose. If I overthink it, it is dead. The latest is called Miami Dreamsicle, a medley of pinks, oranges, and a touch of turquoise or Wedgwood Blue. This series is highly reminiscent of suminagashi or floating ink, a Japanese marbling technique.

detail, Dreamsicle series

 

I have recently moved my studio to my home.  This relocation eases the way for me to manipulate the eight or more layers of colour on the work spontaneously. The current objects differ greatly from my previous work because I am now rejecting function and instead, embracing the clay’s surface as a canvas.

I am very grateful to Tammy Sutherland and her staff at the C2 Gallery for this opportunity and invite all of you to stop in and see the new pieces.

 

 

Columbia Basin Culture Tour

If you live near the Columbia Basin or you are travelling to British Columbia, and you will be there for August 10 and 11, you really need to check out the 70 artists that are in the 11th annual culture tour.  Studios are open daily from 10-5, and there are maps, brochures, and postcards at the galleries, craft shops, information bureaus, and studios of the artists.  I have written about many of these creative people before, but it is time to wake everyone up again to get out and see what is new.  For specific information, you can find maps, information on each of the artists, event activities at http://www.cbculturetour.com. It is all free to charge.  Take a road trip and support the local artists in the Columbia Basin of British Columbia.

Standing in Gunda Stewart’s studio in Canyon, I looked down and saw a postcard and started laughing.  Good thing Gunda was out grinding a lid or she would have thought I had lost my mind.  The problem was I couldn’t stop.  Gunda gave me a smile, and I showed her what was causing all of the chaos:  a photo of a sheep under a hairdryer with those bristle rollers, red high heels with her utters spilling over the edge of the chair.  Gunda was quick to point out that that particular artist had managed to get an image of three different works on the three different types of publicity.  Within an hour, we were standing in Andrea Rovey’s studio in Creston, and that is where I came face to face with GlamChops!

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Andrea has this seditious sense of humour.  She made a sculpture in celebration of the Pink pussyhats, women marching against Trump in 2017.  It was her way of dealing with this outrageous situation.  Scattered about are award-winning sculptures, chicks dancing on cars, rabbits, beavers with the brightest red lipstick.  I should have paid more attention because this was a fantastic studio with one heck of an incredible artist.  Andrea studied at Red Deer College with Trudy Golley and also went to Penland- but the humour is all her.  Notice:  Glam Chops is reading a book on ‘Teets’.  Underneath each of these is something that relates to women.  Stop in and check out her work….there is much more on offer.

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The Kootenays are so green this year and hopefully with the rain maybe it will be a wildfire free year. Gunda fired her wood kiln, and her shelves are ready for the tour.  She loads everything up and takes it to Cameron Stewart’s studio up in Passmore.  You can catch her at the market in Creston on the weekends or in her studio when the ‘open’ sign is up.  The wood-fired functional ware of her, Cameron, Pamela Nagley-Stevenson, and Robin Dupont is exceptional and unique to each maker.  Check out their studios on the tour.  I hear the last wood firing for Nagley-Stevenson had quite surprising results.

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If you are not going to be in British Columbia, then check out what is happening with your local artisans and artists.  In Manitoba, the Winnipeg Folk Festival will have its annual handmade village and around all of the provinces are weekend markets where you can buy local.  And if you want to become more ecological, then consider something well made that will make a person happy for a long time that was created by someone local.

4 June – a special bittersweet day

4 June is a special day for me.  It was the day my youngest son, Will, was born.  It was also the day that I landed in Canada with my oldest son, Cris, who was just six weeks old as a political immigrant from the Vietnam War.  As the plane began its descent into Winnipeg, the thought going through my head was It looks just like Oklahoma but with black soil!  You have no idea how disappointed I was.

My parents made sure that I had the best education they could afford but, still, this meant that I learned Civics, American history, Oklahoma history and because I was at Mt St. Mary’s (The Mount as it was called affectionately), I had lots of classes in Latin.  What I did not study, like almost all Americans then, was global history or global geography.  There was one course in International Relations.  Indeed, I was not the exception, this was the norm.  And, I am told that this is much the same in middle and high schools throughout the United States. It is a very insular view, one that traps people into not appreciating the differences and beauty between cultures – the food, the literature, the music, and, even religious beliefs.  The Internet might have closed that gap somewhat, I do not know because, today, I have been so fortunate to have lived and travelled around the world for the past thirty-five years.

At the time of my immigration, however, my knowledge of Canada came from four very different things, three from news coverage (both the telly and print) and the other from my family collection of knick-knacks.

The first was that handsome, globe-trotting, sandal wearing Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.  Like the Kennedys were to so many of . my mother’s generation that Camelot, fairytale political family, Trudeau was the same to me.  He was a kind of demi-god, good looking, intelligent, charismatic, and alive.  What a contrast between Richard Nixon, who had been sworn in on 20 January 1969.  Like night and day to my eyes.  Trudeau was on all the newsreels at the theatre, on the telly, and in stories in the popular magazines that my mother bought such as Time and Life.  For many young female Americans, Trudeau was a heartthrob – me, too.

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The second was Expo ’67.  I wonder how many people realize that it was Moscow that had won the first bid to hold this international showcase but, having dropped out in 1962, Jean Drapeau insisted that it come to Montreal who had been in second place.  The site was to be the man-made islands in St Lawrence which were made more substantial due to all of the rubble left from the construction of Montreal’s underground.  Images of the eighty-metre diameter geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller to be the US Embassy were in all of the newspapers and magazines.  Today, it still stands without its original plastic covering that burned away in a fire in 1976.  Other structures that survived are Habitat 67, the Casino de Montreal and the Place des Nations.

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The third was a television show, Sargeant Preston and Yukon King.  Growing up in Oklahoma meant that snow was, at least at the time, exhilarating.  It was such a rare occurrence that everyone on our street would run out and take photographs.  Cars would skid on them, and they would have to put chains on if it lasted more than a day – which seemed even rarer than it falling in the first place.  The snow was magical then!  The RCMP officer, dressed in his scarlet uniform with high black boots, rode a horse called Rex.  The dog team was led by Yukon King.  Together they helped solve crimes, a typical good versus evil scenario filled the television screens for half an hour with the show lasting from 1955-58.  Like all of the others, it was rebroadcast over and over again and was shot entirely in colour.  It was 1957 and having moved into a new house, my father came home with brand-new colour television.  We were the first on the block!  Then those gorgeous tall pine trees really came to life with the blue running rivers.  Little did I know that the whole thing was shot in the state just northwest of us, Colorado.  To me then, and in 1969, that was my visions of Canada:  snow, babbling brooks and fast running rivers, and lots and lots of pine trees and deer.

This understanding of what the Canadian landscape was reinforced further by several ceramics figurine groups that stood in our windows.  My mother’s mother was a collector of clay ornaments.  They were mostly roosters in some kind of salt and pepper configuration.  When she died, my father inherited them.  In our living room, there was a picture window about 12 feet long and 6 feet tall.  Not being an architect or interior designer, I can only describe that window as being made of individual glass panes set in wood forming boxes with 3-4 inches of a ledge.  This was where the ceramic figurines lived.  Several included images of RCMP, a dog or dog and sledge, and a pine tree.

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These four things cemented in my mind a vision of Canada, my new home.  I had left the United States because of the Vietnam War.  Oklahoma is a very conservative state, but the city of Norman is much more liberal-minded, helped along by the presence of the University of Oklahoma.  I started classes when I was 16, first in Pharmacy, with a quick switch to the art school.  I had a very dear friend, Chris Wilson, who later met a young man from Berkley, Bill, who became her husband.  They immigrated to Canada as well.  I have lost touch with Chris, but we did manage to spend time with one another- the pair of them living in Winnipeg and I was living in Carman, an hour away, for a few years.  They married at the lovely little stone church on St. Mary’s in Winnipeg and hung out with Mitch Podolak, one of the founders of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Carman, Manitoba was my first home in Canada.  The population was about 3000 at the time.  There were two Chinese restaurants.  The Rex that was always busy and The York who wasn’t.  On the window of The York Café was a sign:  Banana splits 65 cents.  But every time I stopped there, the Chinese man had no bananas.  One day, I bought bananas and took them to the York so that the Chinese owner would have to make that banana split.  I was intrigued.  There was an old-fashioned soda counter if my memory is working correctly, but no one was ever in there.  It turns out that the man was a member of Mao’s red army and had escaped to Hong Kong and eventually immigrated to Canada and was sent to Carman.  There was a theatre run by Bob Diemert’s mother, a bakery, and a few other shops.  Mr Klos, a Dutchman, came in a small pickup selling fruits and vegetables (incredibly fresh) to your door while milk products were delivered daily.  Blue Boy ice cream was delicious!  You just put a sign in your window, and the delivery man would stop.  Both were a tremendous help to a mom with an energetic baby.  Coming from a city caused a bit of culture shock, but the people were terrific.  I remember all of them with great fondness and see a few once in awhile still.

As it turns out, there were actually more women that immigrated to Canada because of the Vietnam War than the men.  Wives, mothers, and daughters all came.  Some aunts.  If you are interested, there are several books by Joseph Jones, a resister from North Carolina who came to Canada, first to Quebec and then Toronto where he worked on the publishing of  AMEX-Canada.  Retired from his position at UBC, Jones continues to maintain the War Resisters Web site.  It is a treasure trove of information, facts, statistics, information on books and individuals.  Joseph has been a tremendous help to me in my research.  Hopefully, I will finish my book on the contributions of these amazing individuals to Canadian ceramics, and all the time he spent with me will have been worthwhile!

There is a misconception amongst the men that the women who came did not give up anything.  Many said to me, “Well, you could just go back across the border without fear of arrest anytime you wanted”.  While that was true (save for the female in the military), it was equally valid that, most often, there were not the finances for a trip home very often.  Women gave up their friends, the ability to spontaneously visit their family easily and often, many gave up lucrative careers, professional practices.  Those who were artists gave up their studios and their supportive clients.  University course credit was lost as well.  This meant that many of us on the verge of graduating lost years of study and had to repeat many courses all over.  My loss was not being able to see my maternal grandmother who had raised me very often and not to have been there to help with her care when she was dying.

Many have asked me if I would do it all over again?  Leave everything that I knew and move to a small town on the Canadian Prairies.  The answer is a resounding ‘YES’.  Most Canadians recognize that helping one another makes a healthy, stable society.  While the Indigenous people were here long before the settlers, besides them, the rest of us are all immigrants.  Today, and in the years to come, natural disasters and war will cause many more people to leave their homes.  I hope that we can remain a country friendly to these people.  I am certain if, given the choice, they would want to return to their homes and lives pre-conflict if it were possible.

Winnipeg has had many waves from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, India, Philippines, Vietnam, and now the Middle East.  The Chinese helped build Canada’s railway system to the West.  And, when I first moved here, almost every little town along the railway line had a Chinese café.  If I keep mentioning it, it is because I love Chinese food and the closest Chinese restaurant to where I lived growing up in Norman, Oklahoma was in Dallas, Texas!  One of my favourites was The Blue Bird Café in either Holland or Treherne, Manitoba.  All of the booths were painted turquoise blue.  But, what captured my heart was the ancient Chinatown in Winnipeg.  In the winter, the windows of the tiny cafes would steam up.  You could sit in the kitchen of the Hong Hing and watch them cook your meal while the barbecued pork and duck hung by hooks near the front.  There was one shop with worn wooden floors that had ceramics piled halfway to the ceiling.  It was magical.  Today, everything is new and sanitized.   My Polish and Ukrainian friends introduced me to cabbage rolls and perogies while the earliest Mexican restaurants (and some current ones) make me exasperated.  The Mexican food in Oklahoma was nothing short of mouth-watering.  Once every couple of weeks, my dad would bring home a large bag of homemade tamales that one of his co-worker’s wives had made.  I miss the Sonic, chicken fried steak, and being able to enjoy watermelon ripened (for real) on the vine.  And I miss my friends but, I remain a proud Canadian and thankful for that day, so many decades ago, that I landed on Canadian soil – even if it were black!

I have left Manitoba many times, always to return.  The weather is terrible in the winter and the mosquitoes in the summer have made t-shirts showing a big red mosquito with the text, ‘I gave blood in Manitoba’ all too common.  Still, love this place.

One aspect of this Canadian caring is in our medical system.  When I go to the doctor or to the hospital, I do not pay for anything.  Not a cent.  Do I mind if I don’t have an emergency and I might have to wait a bit – NO.  This is because I know people who have had real medical emergencies and needed immediate care.  They go first.  And I don’t get upset about it because there will come a time when I have that emergency and need that prompt attention and someone else will wait.  Do I mind paying high taxes to support our health care system?  NO.  Absolutely not.  I rest easy knowing that I will not be bankrupted by getting sick and having to go to the hospital.  I rest easy knowing that if it comes to it, I will have the proper care in an assisted living centre that is regulated by the government with excellent standards.  And if I can afford to pay, the highest rate in Manitoba is around $2500 per month.   While we are certainly not taken care of from the cradle to the grave in the same way that people are in Denmark, infant mortality is low, life expectancy is reasonable, and happiness is high in Canada.

My only complaint is that our resources need stewardship, just like they do around the world.  And that is a conversation for another day.  For now, I am just savouring the fact that I live in Canada, that my children are Canadians, my grandchildren are Canadians and that each of us treasures the social fabric of this vast country.