Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three Faces of Owl

Collected over the year: a hand-stitched stuffie with mother of pearl eyes and a leather beak, a signed and numbered print by Manitoba artist Larry Kissick, and some feathers from a barred owl that Gracie had a bit of a tussle with on the deck one summer night. The owl can be a symbol of life, death, regeneration, learning, wisdom - not bad things to ponder on for the transition from one year to the next.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Year Ends as It Began: On the Path

Chemin de la Paix, 2016, hand embroidered wool and perle cotton on linen, 40"x40"

My friend Jean-Pierre described this piece quite accurately when he commented: "We will enter this disastrous, labyrinthine Native/European relationship together and we will find our way out of the labyrinth hundreds of years from now after many wrong turns and ruinous trials and tribulations."

I do hope we are nearing the end of those hundreds of years, though. For those of you who may not have heard, Canada has been conducting Truth and Reconciliation hearings for the last several years and the final report has just been released.

And the esteemed Francois-Marc Gagnon, author of the book that got me going on this whole project very graciously said to me in an email: "A beautiful piece! Louis Nicolas would have certainly enjoyed all your works and would have probably tried to make the Society of Jesus buy the whole series to decorate the Residence of Sillery."
This is what the underside looked like while I had it in the hoop. Yes, I use knots. Bad embroiderer! But what the heck. I am concerned with the image, not the perfection of technique.
And these two images from the late 17th century may shed some light on what is happening with the arms of the figures. Fashionable men's dress from that time would have included a cape, worn wrapped around one arm. If Louis Nicolas was drawing from engravings, as Dr. Gagnon's research indicates, he may have tried to combine the pose taken from Champlain with a contemporary fashion plate.
I have a few smaller text-based projects in the queue before I resume the Codex Canadensis series. And damn, I want to get this work exhibited. Making proposals and sending them out is not a task that I enjoy, but it is essential.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Buche de noel redux

I am madly stitching the last few bits of the latest codex canadensis piece, so instead of a post I will offer you the gift of my recipe for Buche de Noel from way, way back. Just click the link and you will magically be transported back to December 14, 2011 - almost five years ago to the day.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Almost Done

It's not every day that one can say, "I have finished Jacques Cartier's pantaloons."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Busy and Boring

Those are my excuses for not posting much lately. Time is flying at warp speed, worthy items of note are few. But just so I can keep calling myself a blogger, here goes.

Le chemin vers la paix is what I am calling this piece for now. I have finished Cartier's preposterous headgear and am working my way down his body. I want to be finished before the end of the year.
A picture of me on the ferry taken by James Emler. We have been going across to take part in a seminar on Contemporary Art put on by the Nanaimo Art Gallery (where, incidentally, I will be part of a group show in January.)
To fill spare moments at my part-time job, I bring old wool clothes to take apart to use for rug hooking. The hand-stitched interfacings on this vintage Scottish jacket were so beautifully done they needed documenting.
Daylight has been in short supply but this morning a few rays broke through, illuminating the oddest corners of the dome.
I notice my windows need cleaning. Someday.
More cobwebs. The dome is full of spiders, and I feel guilty about destroying their hard work.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

In Praise of Slow

Sorry for the grey appearance - it is the Pacific Northwest in November here, after all.
Slow, ah yes. On one hand, I have been working like a busy bee on my stitching - I have finished Maskoutensak Man and now will move on to the rest of Jacques Cartier. Very thrilled at how it is progressing. And I will be removing the lighter brown threads on Jacques' leg - a "What if?" that didn't please me.

But on the other hand, I have been so demoralized by the month's world news that I have been rendered voiceless. Which led me to find solace in Slow TV, a Norwegian series of real time television, where real people take train trips, chop firewood and make a sweater from scratch. Norwegian Knitting Night, all 8 1/2 hours of it, captivated me. Believe it or not, it had drama, with the focus being an attempt to take a fleece from sheep to sweater in world record time.

Set in a knitting factory museum, it begins with the stalwart Rolf, shearing a sheep (Guri, a Norwegian White) with hand clippers. (It later is revealed that he has placed in the top 10 in world shearing competitions.) He completes this feat in 15 minutes or so and the raw fleece goes directly to the five spinners, who manage produce enough yarn for the two knitters to begin the 40,000 stitches that will make up the sweater. The spinning continues for almost the entire program, although about halfway through two of them switch to knitting sleeves.

Now, don't fall asleep, this is fantastic stuff! The seven member team are all lovely characters in their own right, and their charm, wit, and optimistic spirit is truly remarkable to witness. By the end I felt like they were my friends. There is a supporting cast as well: a bouncy host/cheerleader who sports an array of wonderful handknit sweaters, and the two witnesses, one of whom doesn't appear to do anything other than chew gum and twiddle with her hair, while the other makes sure the team has plenty of coffee and gets to model the finished sweater. And dear Rolf, who is the source of much amusement, stays on through the whole event.

The camera work is awkward at times, but also manages many mesmerizing sequences of spinning wheels, treadling feet and flying fingers. There are equipment failures (a broken needle) and injuries (blisters). The fleece turns out to be a major impediment, being heavy with lanolin and moisture. The bored witness develops into a truly dislikable character, just sitting around looking at her phone while everyone else is working so hard.
I spun along the whole time, and only managed two skeins of somewhat finer yarn than what they were making. My wheel only has a right treadle, and at about the six hour mark my right hip started seizing up, so I switched to my left foot. I have real admiration for the Norwegian team's accomplishment. Check the show out on Netflix or Youtube.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

At Work

It is so hard to resist the temptation to correct Louis Nicolas's drawing. And it is hard to stitch when I don't know exactly what I am stitching. Jacques Cartier's hairy arm? Or is it a closefitting sleeve? Mascoutensak man's beaded buckskin shirt? Or tattoos on his bare arm? It is impossible to know, and difficult to live with ambiguity.
I also don't like how Mascoutensak man's pointy finger is skinnier than Cartier's. I want equality of power. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Along The Way

The design is complete and transferred to the linen. I am basting a light cotton muslin to the back of the cloth to give a little additional support, then I will begin stitching. I am going with the two guys I talked about last post, and have added a classic labyrinth in behind them to provide a path. I love the symbolism of the labyrinth as regards the process of truth and reconciliation - a journey to the centre, where along the way the traveler faces obstacles and challenges, until finally reaching the centre, whereupon one is reborn. The return journey is seen through new eyes.

I actually woke up in the middle of the night and said "A labyrinth!" Maybe the idea came to me in a dream, or maybe my subconscious was just chugging away in the background. But before I went to bed I showed my drawing to James and said I was thinking about a background/context visual. He suggested a snarl of knots, which didn't sit with me quite right. But obviously my brain continued thinking about it.
My labyrinth pattern is based on Villard de Honnecourt's drawing of the marble carving in Lucca, Italy. The labyrinth is a prehistoric image that can be found in almost all cultures. A very famous one can be found in Chartres Cathedral but I wanted to distance myself a wee bit from the church.
I can't wait to begin stitching. This is such an exciting part of the process, where I can see the finished piece in my mind's eye. I am hoping to work very hard and be finished by New Year's Eve. High hopes?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Game is Afoot

As you all know, I love a good mystery. The past couple of days have been very exciting, as I have been on the chase. I could be an art historian yet!

Now, you may recall that I have written before about the source of many of the images that Louis Nicolas drew for his Codex Canadensis. As Francois-Marc Gagnon proved in his introduction to The Codex Canadensis and the Writing of Louis Nicolas, Nicolas's drawings were not made from life. Most often, large volumes of engravings (such as those of Konrad Gesner) provided the models for the creatures he depicted. (Of course, Nicolas often exaggerated the teeth and claws, so alterations seem to have been permissible.)

I have avoided working with any drawings of humans up til now. The politics of a white woman of colonist heritage depicting a missionary`s vision of a First Nations person just felt too fraught. But I have been taking part in a discussion group at the Nanaimo Art Gallery that includes a young woman of the Kitsumkalum nation, who talked enthusiastically about reconciliation and that all people could work with First Nations imagery, given permission and with respect. And that sent me to thinking. And once again to the pages of the Codex.

From Plate 68, The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas
Above is Nicolas`s drawing of Jacques Cartier. Surely it would be okay if I worked with this image. With the idea of reconciliation on my mind, perhaps I could place two men together, if the context was carefully thought out. I flipped back to plates at the beginning of the book, where individuals from various First Nations were depicted.
From Plate 12, The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas
And what caught my eye but this man of the Maskoutensak nation? Notice how his posture is identical to Cartier's, right down to the extended index finger? I scanned both images, printed them out and, overlapping them, held them up to the light. The outlines matched almost exactly. Clearly, they were drawn using the same source, and Nicolas altered the details of dress and weapons.

Now, assuming that Nicolas was using a source image, where might that have come from? By chance, I was flipping through another book looking for more of the Du Creux engravings that Francois-Marc Gagnon established were the source of several other drawings of First Nations men, when another illustration caught my eye, this one from Samuel de Champlain`s 1632 volume Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada. Look at figure B. The body is turned in the opposite direction but the posture is very similar. The text says the engravings were made from Champlain`s original drawing.

And where might that drawing be found? On an inset of Champlain`s 1612 map of North America, perhaps? (Located in my trusty copy of Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Canada.)
Notice the figure on the left? Facing in the opposite direction of the engraving (but of course, since engravings are by nature reversed), the figure is clearly the one the engraving is based on. The figure is a woman carrying (and breast-feeding?) a child. She holds a paddle in the other hand. Importantly, the Champlain map is one that Louis Nicolas would have had access to.

But this discovery may just be one link in the chain. Champlain`s figure is very sturdy and muscular for a woman, and her breasts are more like well-developed pectorals. Perhaps Champlain used yet another image as his source? Down the rabbit hole!
Well, maybe that is a search left best to the professionals. I am playing with Cartier and the Maskoutensak man, reversing and juxtaposing. I love how they are looking eye-to-eye, and could be doing a little do-si-do. My next piece has begun!

P.S. Re: Jean=Pierre`s comment below. Here is the very familiar image of Jacques Cartier, painted by Theophile Hamel in 1844. Complete artistic license at work, considering there are no known contemporary images of Cartier.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Autumn Light

Late afternoon rain.
After it ended, the last rays of the setting sun warmed the trees,
bronzed the heliotrope,
illuminated the jasmine,
and set the leadwort aglow.
I stayed cosy inside my messy house.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stashbusting 101

Rug measures 28"x36"
My first braided rug. I hesitated to share it here because it is so mundane and there are so many things wrong with it. But there were lessons learned, and it is always good to be humbled now and then.

I started off with a big bag of wool fabric reclaimed from various coats and jackets. I had no place to store it and I will be damned if I buy another tote. I had heard that braided rugs use up a lot of fabric so my solution to the storage problem was to use it, not store it. (Hah! Revolutionary, that!) I had a vague idea about how to make a rug, and had some help from Val Galvin's YouTube videos.

I blithely started braiding away, after making some huge balls of 3" wide strips, machine stitched together on the bias, folded and pressed with a steam iron. (I only burned my fingers a few times during the pressing.) After quickly discovering that huge balls are hard to manoeuvre and untangle, I thought I should maybe read up a little bit before proceeding. A book from the library, the Sturges' The Braided Rug made it clear that braiding is no simple thing. Good grief, there are even patterns for braided rugs!

Well, what the hey, I was halfway done and certainly wasn't going to unbraid anything. I joined ends by handstitching, and learned to fold as I went, and to firmly interlace the braids with sturdy waxed linen string. I noticed that thinner fabrics bunched up into unattractive folds instead of the smooth plump braid I was aiming for. I could see why a plan might help manage the unbalanced colour pooling that happened with a hit or miss approach.

But the speed with which a decent sized object emerged was gratifying. And the dogs both seemed very comfortable curled up on it. I tried a tapered end finish - twice - and even though it still wasn't quite right, declared it done. Not perfect by any means, but serviceable.

And no need to find storage space for a big bag of wool. As my friend Heide says, "Managing a stash isn't for sissies!"

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Summer That Got Away - Part Two: People I Will Never Forget

Geez, just when I had the best of intentions to post again in a timely manner, a barge crane accidentally sprung the cables that connect Gabriola to the rest of the world and we were without power, phone or internet for several days. The peace and quiet were wonderful. I realized the world goes on without any input from me.

That being said, I will return to posting anyway, fully and shamelessly aware that I am clogging the arteries of the internet with my unnecessary content. For the time being, anyway.

 So, last summer I was employed by a government agency to assist with this thing they do every five years. I signed a piece of paper stating I would not reveal any details of this work, but I did have a few experiences that etched themselves in my brain. (Disclaimer: The following is complete and utter fiction.)

1. A Heart Breaker: The property showed every sign of being unoccupied. An old vehicle sat in the driveway, its deflated tires and heavy coating of dead leaves and pine needles showing that it had not been driven in a year or more. The screen door hung askew on its hinges, the windows were dark. I knocked anyway. A faint voice responded, "Come in."

I opened the door and stepped into a shadowy hallway. My tentative "Hello" was met with an equally quavery "Down the hall." Now, I was there alone. My employer had stressed that we didn't have to do anything that felt unsafe, and this definitely felt strange. But I proceeded down the hall anyway.

The room I entered had the window blinds raised so at least I could see. A single bed almost filled the tiny room, which was lined with shelves of medical supplies. On the bed sat an elderly man. He wasn't wearing any pants, but it was obvious he posed no threat. A catheter was taped to his thin leg, and he could barely sit up. The bed was covered with bags of oatmeal cookies, and a glass of juice sat on a shelf. The overall impression I got was of extreme neglect, pain and loneliness.

"Is anyone looking after you?"
"They've already been here."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"What could you do?"

Well, I supposed I could do what I was there for. I explained my mission and asked if he would mind answering a few questions. I asked them as kindly and gently as I could, and I learned that he was very well educated. He had no family. He had a serious illness. Most of the questions were completely irrelevant but I asked them anyway, figuring the least I could do was give him the opportunity to contribute to a collective project of national importance.

When we were finished I thanked him fervently for his time and asked again if there was anything I could do for him. Again he refused, saying he had what he needed. I left, closing the screen door properly behind me.

I sat in the car for a while after, still wanting to do something to help.We have a social worker on the island, so I called her, asking if she could follow up with this fellow and see if he was falling through the cracks of the system. She said she would, but reminded me that this information was extremely confidential and that I would have to be content with never knowing how things turned out.

2. The Garden: I was assigned an address that I drove past daily, but didn't know who lived there. I assumed the occupant might either be a hermit or otherwise unorthodox, due to the unkempt exterior and piles of junk that never got moved. I was very surprised when an elderly lady with startling blue eyeshadow peered through the blinds at my knock. She opened the door, revealing an interior covered with artificial flowers as bright and beautiful as her floral dressing gown. It was like an art installation, a marvel of home decor. She was lovely and cordial and happy to answer my questions. I couldn't resist saying before I left how much I liked all the flowers, whereupon she insisted on showing  me her real garden in the back yard. It was obviously beautiful once, but now overgrown and untended. "It's hard for me to keep it up," she said, but I could tell she was still proud of what it had once been.

3. The Inventor: The property had an 8 foot high solid fence around it. I went through the small door and entered a yard with several small ramshackle shed-like structures on it. There was a couple of sawhorses front and centre, with fresh sawdust piled below. I called out and looked around, trying to figure out which of the sheds could possibly be a dwelling. There was no answer so I turned to go, preparing to delete the address from my list. I struggled with the latch on the gate and heard a puzzled sounding "Hello?" When I turned around again I saw a man's head sticking up out of what appeared to be some kind of plywood box, shaped like a flotation tank or enclosed tanning bed.

He lifted himself up so he could sit on top of this odd little structure, and was quite agreeable to answering my list of questions. He referred to his property as a farm, although no plants or animals were evident. I could not resist asking him what he was sitting on. "Why, it's a personal escape pod for a boat," he said, as if it were obvious. "Ordinary life boats can get sucked down into the vortex when a ship sinks, so I have created this to solve the problem." He pointed out features such as the small plastic window and sleeping pad inside. "I sleep in here quite often. It's very cosy."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Summer That Got Away - Part One: Serendipity

You might have noticed that I didn't post very much over the last few months. There were a few things going on... .lots of guests, three part-time jobs to juggle, roommates coming and going, two gardens (no, make that three) to tend, dogs to walk. No wonder I didn't get much done.

One notable event was that my mother bought a house here on Gabriola. And as house buying often goes, it was a long drawn out process of small freak-outs, wonderings and worryings. And a whole lot of serendipity.

It started last fall when Mom had finally had enough of a difficult neighbour in her condo. She and her partner, Jim, started looking around at properties for sale in her Fraser Valley town. There were some places one or the other of them liked, and many that were just plain unsuitable, but nothing that they both agreed on. Eventually they decided to put the search on hold, but were still keeping an eye out. They even went on a house tour of Gabriola just for the heck of it.

Mom had been living in the condo for almost 30 years, ever since my father went for a walk around the block and came home with a shiny new purchase agreement for a unit in the new development one street over. Mom didn't get consulted, but she went along with it and ended up with the condo when they divorced a couple of years later. Jim moved in with her a couple more years after that -there had been a fire in his apartment and Mom said he could stay with her. He never left. So it ended up that neither of them were terribly experienced home buyers.
Me and my Mom at the Atlas Affair. We are wearing our buttons. Photo:Bill Pope
Cut to the end of January, 2016. The Gabriola Arts Council is putting on their annual fundraising gala, with the theme of "The Atlas Affair". I had the smart-alecky idea of making buttons with the quote "The map is not the territory." As I had just done a purge on my junk drawer and was fresh out of old political campaign buttons, I went to the local thrift shop to see if I could find any. The clerk shook her head, but a nearby customer overheard me and said "I've got lots of buttons. Here's my address, come by and if I'm not home I will leave them on the freezer out on the porch."

It turned out that this kind person was Susan, a retired librarian and major presence in the community. I went by her house the next day, and, true to her word, she had left a baggie of buttons on her freezer. Ever the snoop, I looked around a bit, noticing the charming trim on the eaves, the well-kept garden, the trellises and fruit trees. I peeked through the front window and noticed lots of art on the wall and shelves full of books. I distinctly thought to myself, "Now, this is the kind of house Mom and Jim are looking for."

A few weeks went by, and I was at my Monday rug hooking group, where we eat cake and chocolate and share what we have been up to. Alison happened to mention that her friend Susan was going to have to sell her house. My head popped up and I said "Susan Y----? That Susan?" And it was! I phoned her as soon as I got home and asked if it was true. And when she said it was, I told her my story about picking up the buttons, and asked if my mom could come visit next time she was on the island.

Susan said she was in no rush to sell, and a visit would be just fine. This past Easter, Mom and Jim came over and had a tour of the house and grounds, and liked it very much indeed. But their condo wasn't even on the market yet, and Susan emphasized that she planned to take her time selling. But they all hit it off, bonding over a shared love of theatre and books, and ended up with a very informal arrangement that Mom and Jim would get first dibs when the property eventually went on the market.

Mom is a very practical person and once she decides to do something she is a dynamo of organization and planning. Jim, on the other hand, is fine with her taking the lead. Even so, once their condo was listed and quickly sold, there were many sleepless nights filled with fretting. And there were several trips over to Gabriola to inspect, see lawyers, take measurements and discuss arrangements with Susan, who in the meantime had decided to buy a condo in the Village. The timing worked out perfectly.

It seems to have been a very friendly, agreeable process negotiating the terms. Susan has even been giving positive advance notice on Mom and Jim to her friends: "I couldn't have imagined a better couple to move into my house" was said to my friend Maia, who duly reported back to me. (It is a small island after all. The "Gumboot Telegraph" is fully operational.)

The moving date will be at the end of October. Mom is currently on her annual gallivant around Ontario: visiting friends, going to the Shaw Festival and staying with my sister in Kingston. The Kingston Writer's Fest is also happening, and Mom is attending as usual (she even got her picture in the program, with her letter of thanks for the many years of pleasure and learning the festival has given her.) And, typically, she emailed Susan, asking her which of the authors she would choose for an autograph.

I'm betting it will be an especially gracious inscription that Eleanor Wachtel will write in Susan's copy of "The Best of Writers & Company." Things just seem to be working out that way.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Filled with my Love always"

Embroidered pillowcase: Rose, a slave, gave this pillowcase to her 9-year-old daughter when the girl was sold. The girl’s granddaughter, Ruth, later embroidered her family’s story onto it. Photo by Lexey Swall.
This is a detail of a piece in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Check out the very interesting virtual tour and article in the New York Times.

Poetic Purse

My friend Heide gave me this lovely present for my birthday. It is a purse embellished with a hand-stitched haiku, made by Naomi Beth Waken. I thought the poem was very appropriate for a day where we celebrate and reflect.
Naomi is a long-time Gabriola resident and Nanaimo's Poet Laureate. She is a prolific writer of all forms but is particularly well known for her haiku. She is also a fibre artist influenced by the years she spent in Japan. She made a whole series of purses for her recent Open House and Studio Sale, held annually in late summer.
To find out more about Naomi Beth Wakan, visit her website.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Big Reveal

"Here Be Monsters"(2016) 51"(w) 63 1/2"(h). Hand embroidery, cotton on linen.
 Here I am with it, just so you can get an idea of the scale.
The text (tiny letters along one of the rhumblines) reads "What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams." A quote by Werner Herzog, who knows a thing or two about monsters and dreams.
More to come.

Everyone's a Critic

I laid out the hooked rug I am working on, just to see how it looked, and Gracie immediately settled down on it. I don't know if that's a stamp of approval or a statement that I should be paying attention to more important things.
Mischa also got in on the act. At least they didn't poop on it. I had that happen once when I took my previous pup Tasha into a gallery where I had a solo show. And yes, right in the middle of the carpet she did her business. Keeps me in my place, that.

Rouge Allure

 Seduced again by the ever-photogenic Scarlet Runner.
 She blows kisses to the skies,
 and kneels down to the ground.
She purses her lips,
and for the bee awaits.

Stitching Stories

My friend, artist Elizabeth Shefrin, has a book launch and exhibit at Vancouver's Roundhouse on September 15th. Her book is the "Embroidered Cancer Comic", a poignant, intimate and gently humourous true story of what she and her husband (legendary folk singer Bob Bossin) experienced after his diagnosis with prostate cancer. Elizabeth's own words (from the Singing Dragon blog) are better than mine here.
“How did I come to write a comic?” I’m glad you asked. As soon as my husband Bob Bossin was diagnosed in 2011 with prostate cancer, we started making cancer jokes. Every time we could laugh about the situation, one of us would say, “That goes in the comic”.  At this stage the comic was completely imaginary.  But eventually I picked up my needle and stitched and stitched until I had over sixty embroidered squares…
... I like the comic book medium because it gives some lightness to a pretty serious situation.  On the night of Bob’s diagnosis we made a decision to get married and one of our marriage vows was to never lose our sense of humour. I have created this comic as partial fulfillment of my wedding vows.
After embroidering 60 panels of the comics themselves, Elizabeth decided to make them into quilts. I took a few shots of her in her lovely bright studio. ( I have had the privilege of assisting her with assembling the quilt tops. She is doing all the hand-quilting herself.)

You can hear a delightful interview with Elizabeth on CBC's North by Northwest, (starts about 39 minutes in) and keep up with all her news on the Facebook page Embroidered Cancer Comic. And if you are in or near Vancouver, check out the Roundhouse show!