Along Highway 1, Near Middleton, N.S.
Along Highway 1, Near Middleton, N.S.
Prior to the great stock market crash at the end of the decade and the ensuing economic chaos, the prevalent mood of the 1920s in many places was upbeat and carefree. Magazine covers from the era typify this, including these fabulous illustrations from Canada’s Goblin, a monthly humor magazine. Launched in 1921, it was in print for about ten years during which time its highly stylized, and at times witty, covers helped it to become Canada’s then most widely circulated magazine.
(Image Source: University of Toronto Archives)
Before seeing the acclaimed “Maudie,” I knew a little about Maud Lewis and her folk art but I was unaware of her life story and the everyday struggles that she faced from a very early age. Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke each give deft performances in this emotionally touching movie about persevering and finding happiness in the face of difficult circumstances. There are notes of grace here, along with a number of tear-jerker moments.
Lewis received some early art instruction as a child from her mother, with whom Lewis would make homemade Christmas cards to sell. From this basic foundation, Lewis’s many, mostly smallish paintings of bright-colored animals, plants and farm and shore scenes provided her solace in the face of a hardscrabble life in rural Nova Scotia. The occasional sale of her artworks eventually provided a modest income for her and her husband, Everett, in the later years of their lives. The movie does a nice job exploring the initially reticent relationship that the two shared and the deep interdependent love that they came to nurture. A more thorough overview of Lewis’s life can be found in the online Canadian Encyclopedia.
(On a side note, for those familiar with the Maritime Provinces, the rocky shoreline and cozy coastal villages featured in the film will be recognized as distinctively those of Newfoundland, which is where much of the movie was filmed. Quite ironic given the subject matter and that there are, of course, many beautiful vistas in Nova Scotia. The explanation for the filming in a different province appears to be the greater availability of film production tax credits in the more northern province.)
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Because I love doing projects that involve hand tools I probably have way more than any reasonable person should have. But if you work enough with your hands you know that the right tool makes all the difference. Traditional hardware stores are now a dying breed of retail but back in the day they were the one-stop shop for most tool needs. The McLennan, McFeely & Co. Hardware Store opened in Vancouver in 1885 and for many years was a substantial business enterprise.
These pages are from that merchant’s 1912 catalogue. Among the wrenches above, the crescent adjustable wrench must have made quite a splash because it was only first introduced around 1907 and to this day is a standard in any well-equipped tool box. Though less common nowadays, variations of the hand drills pictured below can still be found today and are quite useful.
The City of Vancouver Archives has digitized some of the old McLennan, McFeely catalogues, and flipping through the pages makes for an interesting diversion as you ponder how much more laborious it was to do various chores over a century ago.
1. Kristina Boardman’s wonderful pebble paintings, which I highlighted in a post last year, inspired me to take these photos along the shore. Her paintings show why even with the amazing capabilities of digital photography, masterful paintings by talented artists of a given subject capture an expressive element that photos can’t match.
2. Fleet Foxes, one of my favorite folk-rock groups, after a several years’ hiatus released the album “Crack-Up” earlier this year, which contains the song from which the above quote is taken. While the song is principally about Pecknold’s challenging relationship (like most!) with a close friend, like many Fleet Foxes songs it also contains some thoughtful ruminations on life. For me, the line line quoted above conveys nicely how we as people are meant to be social and connected, in varying degrees, and how goodness and purpose flow from that. Song video below.
Sarah Hatton, Vimy (2015)
I’m always impressed with how a talented creative person can take a concept and come up with an unexpected interpretation that enables others to understand an aspect of that concept from a dramatically different perspective. Such is the case with Sarah Hatton, a contemporary visual artist based in Chelsea, Quebec, who has developed a knack for employing non-traditional materials in service to her artistic vision.
Her “Detachment” series utilizes thousands of brass fastener pins, each originally stamped with a star on its head, salvaged from archival paper records maintained on Canadian soldiers during their WWI service and repurposes these pins to map out constellations of stars matching those that the soldiers would have seen during key battles of the time. This video from her artist site gives a nice overview of this brilliant work.
Another body of her work seeks to raise awareness about the adverse effects of pesticides on declining honeybee populations. This award-winning work incorporates dead bees into depictions of some of the natural geometric patterns found in the flora pollinated by these indispensable but threatened creatures. Wow!
Sarah Hatton, Circle 1 (2013)
Hatton is also an accomplished painter. Her artist site showcases several series of imaginative paintings that reflect her curiosity about the natural world and individual mortality. I especially like her “Fathom” series, which seems to play with ideas about the vulnerability and comfort that we feel with watery environments.
Sarah Hatton, Fathom 3 (2014)
I encourage you to view more of Hatton’s excellent work at her artist site here as well as the several galleries that represent her, such as Ottawa’s Galerie St- Laurent-Hill or the James Baird Gallery in Pouch Cove, NL.
(Image Credits: Sarah Hatton)
I came across a news story that led me to a real estate listing for a well-organized junkyard in Tappen, British Columbia with over 300 vintage cars and trucks crammed into 5 acres. Along with the land comes a few buildings and all of the classic junkers to boot. Asking price is almost CDN $1.5 million!
The colorful pictures taken by the selling real estate agency (Century 21 Agent Hudson Purba) are superb, several of which are posted here (more can be viewed on the listing site). This throwback reminds me of Old Car City in northwest Georgia, a salvage yard dating to the 1930s which is filled with truly old rusty vehicles that Mother Nature has slowly reclaimed. Both places are full of eye-candy for photographers and the just plain curious.
(Image credits: Century 21 Agent Hudson Purba)
Songbooks fascinate me, particularly when they highlight song variations from earlier times. So while browsing through a dusty stack of materials in a used bookstore a few months ago I was drawn in by this 8-page vintage booklet of songs, which was printed as a promotion around 1930 by the Dominion Life Assurance Company of Waterloo, Ontario.
This bit of ephemera is spare of graphics and contains a wide variety of songs, including songs specific to Canada (such as “O Canada!” and “Alouette”), American standards (“Home on the Range” and “She’ll Be Coming’ Round the Mountain”), and songs indicating the then closer historical connection to Great Britain (“God Save the King” and “Loch Lomond”). A few of these have lyrics that would not be considered racially sensitive but presumably reflected the time back then. It’s an interesting mix of tunes, many that I’ve not heard in ages and others for which I only knew a line or two of the lyrics.
(Click image to enlarge)
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Evening Sunset, Phinney’s Cove, Nova Scotia
Earlier this year, Gaspereau Press, a small press in Kentville, Nova Scotia devoted to exquisite bookmaking, released Linger, Still, Aislinn Hunter’s most recent poetry collection. (Aside from the wonderful writing, I think it’s great that a brilliant writer from Vancouver is published by one of the country’s highest caliber presses, all the way on the opposite coast.)
Hunter has penned many riveting pieces in this volume, which I highly recommend. Here’s one of her standouts for me:
Esk, Part V.
The starry heads of the woodruff
are saying No to the wind,
though they might also be nodding along
to the song of their own great ideas.
Still, today it feels like
the clock of the world,
its ticking heart,
is less fired-up than usual.
The talk last night was of violence,
and the right to be offended.
Tonight I’ll aim for lightness
and fail —
forget the names
of the field flowers,
say the wrong things at dinner,
ghost past the dusky mirror.
I’ll try to talk about the girl I met
at a workshop in London,
the one whose brother
mounted neon signs
on the outside walls
of cemeteries —
YOU ARE STILL ALIVE one said,
in a pulsing red fluorescence.
YOU ARE STILL
~ Aislinn Hunter
While recently running an errand in Halifax I snapped these manhole covers as examples of subtle industrial design. I didn’t notice as much variety among them as I’ve seen in other cities but that’s probably because I collected these so quickly. Still, there are a few distinctive examples to see, including one that’s a square cover formed by two triangles.
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During a recent visit to the Low Tide Gallery in Bridgetown, N.S., I encountered the colorfully vibrant work of Denny Lunn. He is a self-taught artist who first took up painting in his mid-70s and whose style is best described as being within the folk art tradition.
Lunn lives in the Annapolis Valley area and, like many folk artists, his subject matter reflects his community, which for him are the coastal and agricultural landscapes of Nova Scotia. These are scenes that I suspect many Canadians are familiar with — depictions of the maritime shore, lobster and fishing boats, winter skating and hockey, and cows in pastures that joyfully capture the province’s landscape in bright colors. For Lunn just about any available surface suffices as a canvas for his art, including fishing buoys, shovels, hand saws, paddles, milk buckets, baking tins, rocks, driftwood or any other utilitarian or natural object readily at hand, with every nook and cranny becoming filled with glorious detail.
Some of the imagery takes artistic license and doesn’t fit with the actual landscape but nevertheless conveys a consistent imaginative sensibility. Thus, in some of Lunn’s paintings snow-covered mountain peaks hover in the background while boats sail along in summer waters.
Low Tide Gallery proprietor Steve Skafte, who is a writer, fine art photographer and genuinely nice fellow with terrific insights and is passionate about the authenticity of Lunn’s art, deserves great credit for helping bring more attention to Lunn. Skafte created the above documentary video and this coming Sunday, July 30, his gallery will kick off a showcase of Lunn’s work. It will be well worth visiting if you are nearby. When Canadians think of folk artists, fellow Nova Scotian Maud Lewis frequently comes to mind (the Nova Scotia Gallery of Art has an exhibit of her work) and she was certainly one of the country’s more prominent such artists. I believe Lunn deserves to be in her company.
More about Lunn’s work and the gallery is available on the Low Tide Gallery Facebook page.
Although these vintage images only showcase a humble gas station they’re amazingly good! That’s because they combine the modernist industrial design of distinguished Toronto architect John Parkin and the often-dramatic photography of Hugh Robertson and his team at Toronto’s former Panda Associates firm, both of whom helped popularize modern design in Canada during the 1950s and 60s.
A trove of other vintage architectural photos can be seen at the Panda Associates Digital Image Collection, Canadian Architectural Archives, which is maintained by the University of Calgary, and in the book John C. Parkin, Archives and Photography: Reflections on the Practice and Presentation of Modern Architecture (University of Calgary Press 2013).
(Image Credits: Hugh Robertson/Panda Associates, Canadian Architectural Archives, University of Calgary)
Happy Canada Day!
As many know, throughout 2017 Canada has been marking its 150th anniversary as a confederation. Of course, the history of the country is much richer and extends more than twice as far into the past. More notably, in recent years Canada has truly shined as a stellar example on the world stage. Like any country, it has its issues but it generally gets a lot of things right and that resilient effort, its vibrant culture and its wonderful people deserve immense appreciation.
Best wishes on this day and in this year and for 150 more!
Poster from First Calgary Stampede in 1912
Many people associate Calgary, affectionately nicknamed “Cowtown”, with its annual summer Stampede in the same way that a place like New Orleans is tied to Mardi Gras. The character of those places seems inextricably linked to these major civic festivals. Prior to the area’s post-WWII oil boom, Calgary was predominantly an agricultural area and held a traditional yearly agricultural fair called the Calgary Industrial Exhibition.
The Stampede was conceived in 1912 by an American rodeo promoter, Guy Weadick, as a way to add a cowboy-themed element to the fairly staid farm-focused Exhibition. After some fits and starts the two events combined in 1923, with the Stampede under Weadick’s longtime guidance eventually overshadowing the Exhibition. Ever since, the cowboy theme has stuck with Calgary even though agriculture, farming and ranching are now only a very small part of its economy. This year’s Stampede will take place July 7-16 and, as can be seen on the official Stampede site, will be quite a spectacle with something to offer just about everyone.
Image Credits: Calgary Stampede Archive, University of Calgary
I truly love all sorts of music and I thought I might share a few tunes that showcase the wide diversity of offerings by Canada’s talented musicians. Since it’s always hard to choose favorites and there are way too many other performances — oh my gosh, so many good ones! — that I appreciate from this country, I’ll just note that the songs below are among those that I like a great deal because they inspire me, move me or just make me smile.
(The titles below are linked to YouTube videos.)
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons
Personal confession: I fit most comfortably in the “spiritual but not religious” persuasion, and especially value the sense of human connectedness and community that touches all of us, which spiritual and religious traditions tend to foster. With that in mind, I thought this post would be fitting for a Sunday.
About a year ago I posted some photos I snapped one late-Spring afternoon of a well-weathered but cozy church picturesquely situated on the Bay of Fundy in the rural community of St. Croix Cove, N.S. As a modest amateur photographer I was happy to see the photos used a few months later to promote a chapel choir concert by Acadia University. Now these images have been put to an even more appropriate use to assist with a just-launched GoFundMe campaign to restore this almost 175-year old structure.
Darla Mitchell, who grew up in the St. Croix Cove area and is one of the organizers of the restoration effort, notes on the GoFundMe site:
“Many people have come to love this little church and the surrounding communities. Countless photographers have admired its simple sturdy lines, people share memories of first communions and every Christmas multiple generations return to fill the church to sing carols, hear the Christmas story and continue the traditions of our grandparents and great grandparents. Most importantly, gathering in fellowship with each other. “
The historic St. Croix Cove Church
Mary Garoutte, “Sundown, Lincoln Street” (2015)
What strikes me most about Mary Garoutte’s urban landscape paintings is the way she highlights the play of light at the beginning and the end of days. These quiet periods that brim with potential, while also evoking a mixed sense of meditative loneliness and reflection, seem to be as much the subject matter of her work as are the historic houses and store fronts of Halifax, where she is based. Garoutte cites the Group of Seven artists and Wayne Thiebaud as among key influences on her art, which are evident in her choice of colors and the strong textural brush strokes on her canvases. Her wonderful art also brings to mind for me the feelings of solitude conveyed by Edward Hopper in his own paintings of dwelling places during the quiet hours.
Mary Garoutte, “Yellow Door (Falkland Street)” (2013)
Mary Garoutte, “100 Montague Street” (2015)
Mary Garoutte, “Dwellings (Light in the Window)” (2015)
Mary Garoutte, “Glass House” (2016)
Mary Garoutte, “Single Dweller” (2016)
Mary Garoutte, “Late Night Visit” (2016)
Mary Garoutte, “Red Bicycle, Young Street” (2014)
Mary Garoutte, “Sunset on Agricola Street” (2013)
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Marshes in the Minas Basin, Looking Toward Cape Blomidon, N.S.
“Heartwarming,” “human,” “genuine” and “community” are among the words that come to mind to describe “Come From Away,” the Canadian-produced musical that just opened this week on Broadway after a preliminary tour across Canada and the U.S. The musical tells the story of how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland (about 10,000 people), with good cheer and resourcefulness, memorably accommodated during a week-long stretch the more than 6,500 air passengers from all over whose planes were unexpectedly diverted there following the 9/11 attacks.
The reader comments on the NY Times review of the production are striking by how moved people have been by this story. Having visited Newfoundland on multiple occasions, I can attest that the people of this ruggedly beautiful province are as sincerely friendly as this musical depicts.
Can Spring just come on and get here already?
“The progress of the intellect is to the clearer vision of causes, which neglects surface differences. To the poet, the philosopher, the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all [persons] divine.”
~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Postmarked July 12, 1921 (Note Is Below)
Back in the day writing letters and cards was the routine thing to do if you wanted to stay in touch with distant friends and relatives. Picture postcards also allowed the recipient vicariously to experience what the sender did and saw. As suggested by the note below on one of these cards of British Columbia, the folks back at home expected a long form letter if possible and sending only a postcard from a trip was an occasion for an apology (being Canadians and all). 🙂
Note Side of Card Above of Gorge Bridge, Victoria, B.C.
I recently came across a copy of an old school book, “Picture Map Geography of Canada and Alaska” by Vernon Quinn, that includes charming woodcut picture maps by Bruno da Osimo, a then noted Italian illustrator, for each of the Canadian provinces (other than Nunavut, which was then part of the Northwest Territories). Originally published in 1944 and updated in 1954, it has a light but well-written chapter devoted to individual provinces. Each map features animals, plants, activities and industries peculiar to the province depicted. In addition to the maps (scanned in above and below), the book is adorned throughout with other delightful illustrations by da Osima (some of which I’ll compile in a future post).
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Steven Rhude, “On the Edge”
Nova Scotia artist Steven Rhude is most often characterized as a realist painter, akin to Alex Colville and Christopher Pratt (both also from the Maritimes). However, Rhude’s representational style is decidedly more nuanced. A close examination of his works reveals an underlying splatter technique that is almost pointillist (and adds wonderful texture) as well as distinct aspects of whimsy and irony, all of which might be more appropriately regarded as a kind of magical realism. His paintings prominently feature icons of the Atlantic provinces — dories, lighthouses, fishing sheds and buoys, among others — as signifiers of place, identity, memory and loss amidst ongoing changes affecting that region of the country, particularly since the early 1990s ban on cod fishing altered a centuries-old economic equilibrium for coastal communities where living has never been especially easy.
In discussing his early artistic training, Rhude has noted that while studying at the Ontario College of Art & Design one of his instructors urged him to first equip himself with a notepad and hiking boots and get out of the studio so as to write and interview people and thereby find authentic stories and experiences upon which to ground his art. Reading Rhude’s humane and thoughtful ruminations about art and society on the blog associated with his professional website is a great pleasure and it’s obvious from his splendid writing that he took his instructor’s advice very much to heart. Because of his skillful artistry, Rhude’s paintings of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and other places are visually enjoyable and can be appreciated for that alone. Even more special is that his beautiful images also convey important social commentary and add another layer of appreciation for his wonderful paintings.
You can see more of Steven Rhude’s excellent work and read some of his insightful writings on his website and blog and the related links to the galleries that represent his art. Rhude’s book “A Place Called Away: Living and Painting in Nova Scotia” also showcases many of his paintings.
Steven Rhude, “Towards Sibley’s Cove”
Steven Rhude, “After the Storm”
Steven Rhude, “Judy Takes Her Lighthouse For A Walk”
Steven Rhude, “Expulsion, The Final Cut”
Steven Rhude, “Equilibrium # 3”
Steven Rhude, “Finding Brigus Light”
Steven Rhude, “Up On the Roof”
Steven Rhude, “The Home Coming”
Steven Rhude, “Lunenburg Shed in Guggenheim”
(Image Credits: Steven Rhude)
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City Bus on Vancouver Street (about mid-1950s)
Distinctive industrial design reveals itself in many ways and, when done well, can be a genuine pleasure to take in. While the specialness of such design is often difficult to see in our contemporary surroundings, its otherwise subtle impact jumps out when looking back at vintage images. A case in point: the humble municipal bus, operated in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and other cities across Canada. Over this period theses buses began to display a very mod sensibility as they evolved from the severe boxiness of earlier 1930s and 1940s versions to later, during the 1950s through the 1970s, being adorned with more rounded contours, sleek curves and very stylized lines and chrome elements.
Our fresh snow cover here this morning sent me looking for some wintery inspiration, which I happily found in the wistful watercolors of Saskatchewan artist Bob Pitzel. Pitzel’s art captures the stark and vanishing rural landscapes of western Canada, typified by imposing grain elevators, graying farmhouses and sheds that dot wide expanses of prairie, and weathered fences erected more as barriers against the elements than to fence in or out people or creatures.
While Pitzel’s subject matter ranges beyond winter settings, it struck me while surveying his masterful work that many of his scenes are rendered with the coldest of seasons as a central element. In the biography on his site, I love the ethos of humility, practicality and community that he expresses when noting that given the remoteness of rural life “we had to help ourselves out of the corners our inexperience got us into.” More broadly, the following observation by Pitzel suggests some further inspiration for the muted emotional feel and sense of isolation conveyed in much of his winter-themed art: “As the human race, we fool ourselves that we’re in control. But look at global warming, and history. At the end of the day, we’re only spectators.”
More about Pitzel and his wonderful watercolors can be found on his artist site here.
“Large Two Forms” (1966 & 1969), Henry Moore
Toronto’s diversity is reflected in the wide array of public art, especially sculpture, that can be seen on block after block in its downtown core. Encounters with public art as we hustle from place to place provide moments for reflection and inspiration and help to remind us of our connections to deeper things and to one another.
These pieces from out and about merely scratch the surface of the city’s offerings. (I forgot to get the titles for a couple of these pieces.)
Angela Carlsen, “Boulevard Drive In”
If you take creative photography, neon signs and other roadside kitsch and mix them together with a retro-pop art sensibility, for me that’s a winning formula and is the approach taken by Nova Scotia-based artist, Angela Carlsen with her artwork. Much of her recent mixed media art focuses on bygone Americana as a result of her road trips over the last few years through the American West. Vanishing roadside relics, such as those depicted in this sampling, comprise a significant part of both the Canadian and America car cultures, and her work serves as a fitting artistic bridge between them.
Angela Carlsen, “Copper Manor Motel”
Angela Carlsen, “Fresh Donuts”
Angela Carlsen, “Supai Motel”
Angela Carlsen, “Four Winds Motel”
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Abandoned barns, decrepit factories and broken down equipment fascinate me. I ponder the stories behind these once highly functional things that now rest in a decaying state. As testament to the utility of the wheel, the circular form is often present in such man-made landscapes. There’s also the mystery, mundane though it may be, about why particular discarded objects come to be abandoned in a given place and usually piled together randomly with other well-worn debris. The unkempt farm field, the ramshackle shed off to the side of a property or the makeshift junkyard along an overgrown path all withhold such stories.
These photos of old farm equipment are from just such a place alongside a back-country road I happened upon early one morning near Granville Ferry, N.S.
Katharine Burns, “Perfect Day”
Capturing in a painting the emotion of the coastal landscape is a tricky thing and something that Halifax-based artist, Katharine Burns, has managed to do perfectly. Inspired by the serenity of Nova Scotia’s beautiful shores (one of my favorite places!), she skillfully renders the movement of ocean waves, with varying shades of light dancing across the water’s constantly shifting surface beneath vast expanses of cloud-covered skies. This past August, Burns had her first (of what I’m sure will many other) well-deserved solo show, this one entitled “Sea Level” and held at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax, which showcased many of her seascapes.
On her artist site she notes: “Preparing for my first solo show was one of the hardest things I’ve done. For six months I went through periods of serious self doubt and frustration along with some moments of sudden realization and inspiration. It was a bit of a rollercoaster for me emotionally but I learned a lot and grew as an artist.” You have to root for that sort of spirit and candor!
In addition to Burns’ evocative seaside paintings, her other work is also terrific. I especially like the painterly style of her series of bicycle paintings, a few of which are below. More of her art can be seen on Burns’ artist site here.
[As an side, much like the Ian Tan Gallery on Canada’s West Coast, Argyle Fine Art on the East Coast has a stellar roster of emerging and established Canadian artists and both are among my favorite independent art galleries. As I’ve done with some Ian Tan Gallery artists, this is the first of several posts I’ll be doing on a few artists represented by Argyle whose work deserves greater attention.]
Katharine Burns, “Diffused Light”
Katharine Burns, “Glisten”
Katharine Burns, “Lawrencetown”
Katharine Burns, “Road Racer”
Katharine Burns, “Linus”
Katharine Burns, “Bicycle Series 2”
Katharine Burns, “Marginal Road”
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