Astrid Blodgett’s recently published first collection of short stories, You Haven’t Changed A Bit (Univ. of Alberta Press 2013), is stunningly well written. As I finished the book for the second time, I reflected how these stories brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s observation about how each of us cannot help but be a mysterious solitude in relation to one another and, most especially and paradoxically, to our closest loved ones.
Almost all the thirteen stories in this wonderful volume explore fissures in relationships — whether between spouses, partners, siblings, parent-child or friends — and the unspoken mental landscape that inexorably shapes those relationships. Notably, most of these tales are told from the perspective of a female character, who mainly endure the emotional pain that accompanies varying degrees of psychic distance from a loved one.
A small sampling: In “Don’t Do a Headstand” a visit by her husband’s pregnant teen niece highlights the growing and likely irreparable gap between the spouses. “Zero Recall” explores the toxicity of a husband’s mistrust and the wife’s ensuing bitterness at being treated unfairly, both of which threaten the couple’s bond following an unfortunate mix-up at a blood donation center. The realization by young adult friends that divergent life paths will impact their ties in “Let’s Go Straight to the Lake” is skillfully elicited by the piece’s authentic, slightly awkward dialogue and scene-setting. Several of Blodgett’s stories are especially poignant, particularly “Ice Break,” about fragile parent-child relationships and the weight of guilt from choices that can’t be undone. This latter story is one that I’ve written about previously and compelled me to seek out more of Blodgett’s captivating writing.
In an effort to stick with my preference for conciseness, I’ll conclude by simply noting that each of the stories in You Haven’t Changed A Bit is a pitch-perfect gem, characterized by truly graceful and insightful writing by a talented writer who is worth every bit of your attention.
More information about Astrid Blodgett and her writings can be found at the author’s website here.
David Pirrie, Mt. Phillips, BC Rockies (2016)
There’s a great deal of pleasure to be found studying maps, replete as they are with seemingly arcane symbols, dots, lines and grids awaiting patient deciphering. Among the fascinations of Vancouver-based artist David Pirrie is the iconography of maps and how they influence our sense of place, which he nicely explores in a wonderful series of paintings recently exhibited at Vancouver’s Ian Tan Gallery.
Pirrie’s paintings of Canada’s western landscape, particularly of mountains in the Alberta and British Columbia Rockies, are overlayed with mapping details and pastel hues that display a slight pop art sensibility that is both intriguing and pleasing. His having climbed many of these mountains adds an element of intimacy to his gorgeous representations of these majestic formations.
More of David Pirrie’s work can be seen at his website here.
David Pirrie, Mt. Assiniboine, Late Summer(2016)
David Pirrie, Columbia Icefield , 1/50,000 (2016)
David Pirrie, Mt. Edith Cavell (2016)
David Pirrie, Kates Needle, BC Coast (2013)
David Pirrie, Mt. Robson Ice Fall (2016)
Walter J. Phillips, York Boat on Lake Winnipeg (1930)
Walter Joseph Phillips is yet another unquestioned master of magnificent woodcut images of the Canadian landscape. He often printed his artwork in color inks rather than just black ink as used by many of his contemporaries working in the same medium. Although born in England, he settled in Canada as a youth and resided in Winnipeg, Manitoba for much of his life (the same place, coincidentally, chosen as a newfound home by another exceptional Canadian woodcut artist and fellow European immigrant, Eric Bregman). Phillips produced the bulk of his work from the late 1910s through the 1940s. In many of his images of the Canadian west he situated people within the scene, providing both a sense of scale and nice human emotional element.
Walter J. Phillips, Mount Cathedral & Mount Stephan (1928)
Walter J. Phillips, Lake of the Woods (1931)
Walter J. Phillips, Red River Jig (1931)
Walter J. Phillips, The Clothesline –Mamalilicoola (B.C.) (1930)
Walter J. Phillips, The Stump (1928)
Jacques Cartier Market, Montreal, Early 1900s
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Pathway Near the Earthworks, Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, N.S.
“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Hillside Cannon, Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, N.S.
H. Eric Bergman, “White Morning” (1932)
The intricate artistry of wood engravings amazes me and Canada has its fair share of accomplished artists in this medium. Chief among them is H. Eric Bergman, who emigrated from Germany in 1913 and made Winnipeg, Manitoba his home throughout a highly productive career until his passing in 1958. Images from the Canadian wilderness figure prominently in many of his very stylized and moody works.
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Front Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Helen Creighton, a then-budding musicologist, set about criss-crossing Nova Scotia to collect songs peculiar to the province. In 1933 she published 150 of these songs in Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia, the first of her many song collections.
I had the good fortune recently to come across a lovely first edition of this book and have enjoyed thumbing through it, while marvelling at the laborious effort reflected in its pages. Here may be found songs of the sea, of love and its missing, of battle, of children’s play, as well as connections to the English, Scottish, French, Acadian and Mikmaq influences on this rich local music. The book’s front and back covers are graced with an exquisite woodcut by the noted illustrator, Reginald Knowles, and depict scenes suggestive of the songs within.
Title Page, Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)
“Homeward Bound,” from Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)
Frontispiece Illustration by R. Wilcox for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)
Back Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)
The Sweet Lowdown is an amazingly talented folk and roots music trio based in Vancouver Island, B.C. The group consists of Amanda Blied on guitar, Shanti Bremer on banjo, and Miriam Sonstenes on fiddle. Their wonderful harmonies and skillful musicianship and songwriting are starting to attract much-deserved wider recognition, including coveted nominations by the Canadian Folk Music Awards as 2015 Ensemble of the Year and 2015 Roots Group Recording of the Year by the Western Canadian Music Awards for their album “Chasing the Sun”.
The video above is for “Red Shift Blues”, a soulful tune from the band’s 2011 self-titled album “The Sweet Lowdown”. More info on them and their music can be found on their official band website.
(Photo Credit: Ashli Akins)
“The Dream Country” by Andre Philbert
It’s definitely heavy coat and neck scarf weather around here, as it is in many places this time of year, so thoughts of winter cold are unavoidable. This painting, “The Dream Country,” by Montreal artist, Andre Philbert, with its overwhelming shades of blue and houses set with jaunty rooflines perfectly captures the quiet chill of this time of year. More of Philbert’s deep-blue winter landscapes can be seen at the site for Toronto’s Liss Gallery.
Kejimkujik Seaside, near Liverpool, N.S., is wonderfully peaceful along the north Atlantic coast, a perfect place for quiet reflection and a sun-soaked nap upon its massive granite rocks.
Richard Ahnert, Messenger (2012)
Richard Ahnert’s anthropomorphic art is both whimsical and brilliantly provocative. This Toronto-based artist paints intriguing images of animals engaged in activities one might expect of weary modern-day city dwellers. While his work harkens back to the playful (and disturbing) posed taxidermy of the Victorian era, Ahnert’s paintings engage the viewer with considerable satire and reflection. The images here provide only a small glimpse of his range and more of Ahnert’s fascinating paintings can be seen at his website, MyCanvas.ca: Paintings by Richard Ahnert.
Richard Ahnert, Billy Brooklyn (2011)
Richard Ahnert, Commute (2014)
Richard Ahnert, Feed (2014)
Richard Ahnert, First Light (2015)
Richard Ahnert, Panda Wear (2014)
Richard Ahnert, Pride & Ponder (2013)
Richard Ahnert, The Hemingway (2013)
Annapolis Royal occupies a special place in both the far western part of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and the province’s history. Situated on the sweeping Annapolis River, the site was originally called Habitation at Port-Royal by French settlers around 1605 and was the capital of French Acadia. In 1710, the settlement became the first capital of Nova Scotia during British rule. The charm of this small town is typified by its wide variety of doors and entryways, many of which hint at the town’s early history and its seaside heritage. Here’s a sampling from a recent stroll on a brisk fall day.
Capstick, N.S. (from July 2015 Calendar, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation)
Occasionally, we all encounter people, situations and things that help to remind us what a small, interconnected world we live in. Yesterday, I had one of those moments when I received this very nice email about part of the property shown in this blog’s header photo of a weathered, wood-shingled barn situated on the Atlantic, which I took several years ago in Capstick, Nova Scotia, a remote and gorgeously beautiful area of Cape Breton:
I must say, very impressed that you would travel all the way up to Capstick, Nova Scotia to take wonderful pictures of that area. Ironically, the lead picture on your O’Canada website is of our family property. Every now and again I do a Google search of images on Capstick to see what pops up and your website did appear.
The picture of the grey home in your Blog called ‘Gentle Waves Near Capstick, Nova Scotia’ is actually my Uncle Peter’s home. Unfortunately, arsonists burned down that home about 3 years ago and my cousin had to go after them in court.
Each year the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation launches a calendar to raise money called ‘Shop 4 Charity Calendar Sweepstakes’. This year the calendar highlighted a picture representing each Province and Territory in Canada.
As I sat in my home office, the 2015 calendar was up on my cork board and when I flipped to the month of July the Province of Nova Scotia was represented by a picture.
See attached picture.[Note: This is the calendar image above and is of his family’s property. Click on it for higher resolution]
I grew up going to Capstick every summer in the 1970’s and visiting Uncle Peter and Aunt Irene Kanary in that grey home. Our home (the original home from 1914) was just above Uncle Peter’s home closer to the road but it was burned down about 10 years ago.
Our family settled in Capstick back in 1840 from Ireland during the Potato Famine. The community was basically two families, the Capsticks and the Kanary’s. Not sure why they got their name on the community. Must have been there first.
Thought you might find this little tidbit interesting about your own website.
What great history and connection to place. Nice to see that the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (and its photographer) also appreciate this scenery. I asked Dave’s permission to post his email here, to which he agreed and added by way of a P.S.:
“PS: You may find this interesting as well, take a look at the history on Google for Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary). According to my relatives she is a Kanary (or Canary if you will) from our clan. Some of my own relatives spell their name with a ‘C’ as evidenced by the tombstones in the Capstick graveyard located in Bay St. Lawrence, Cape Breton (about 10 mins away from Capstick).”
Given that Canada just had a memorable election and the U.S. is still in the throes of its year-plus presidential campaign marathon, this seems to be a good opportunity to interject a smidgen of politics into the mix. But not too heavy — so let’s look at some early pop culture.
Political cartoons depicting relations between Canada and the U.S. extend back to the founding days of both countries. The images depicted here, from the late 1890s through early 1900s, mostly play on a recurrent theme of the U.S. being attentive or aligned with Canada for reasons that were alternately virtuous or of a more self-interested intention. With Canada then still firmly part of the British Empire, Britain also figured prominently in many such scenes from this period.
~ Sunburst Wood Carving, by David Taylor ~
Driving along the rural back roads of the Nova Scotia shore in Kings County, I stumbled upon a classic cedar-shingled house and yard in Black Rock adorned with brightly colored wood carvings that made for an irresistible stop. As I snapped a few photos, the property’s owner, David Taylor, amiably introduced himself and explained that the menagerie of carved-wood creatures and other whimsical sculptures spread in every direction across the land are his creations. He’s even affixed a pea-green sea monster carving about 100 yards (or 90 meters) offshore that sits atop the water’s surface at high tide.
Taylor is a true folk artist in the best sense of that term. One small carving led to another and eventually Taylor found himself having devoted many years to lovingly making wood objects from locally sourced driftwood and other materials for his own enjoyment and that of others. In addition to his many sculptures, Taylor spends time making distinctive rustic bird houses, each graced with the weathered, long-bearded face of a coastal fisherman and which he regularly sells. His work is sufficiently appreciated that the nearby town of Canning recently festooned utility poles along its main business district with about two dozen of Taylor’s birdhouses in a wonderful public art display with local businesses adopting particular birdhouses.
Taylor regularly undertakes commissioned work and has more than a few birdhouses and other reasonably priced carvings available. Although he doesn’t have a website, Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walking along a backroad trail in Harbourville, Nova Scotia near the Bay of Fundy shore these small flowers hugging the ground caught my attention. While their more commonly known and larger floral cousins (such as roses, tulips, lilies and the like) may receive more attention, the abundance of these tinier, prosaic blooms poking their vibrant colors through rocky terrain and from under scattered logs provides a perfect backdrop for a hike close to the water on a lazy summer day.
I like vintage signs a great deal, especially classic neon displays that have been well preserved. These shots taken yesterday show The Acadia Theatre in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, which is graced with a magnificent masterpiece of neon and signage art above its entryway. The triangular sign juts out from the building’s facade with “ACADIA” in bright yellow on two sides and white and yellow neon accent lines all around and a bold neon yellow star encircled atop the front.
Built in 1911, this Annapolis Valley theatre has been through several incarnations and now houses a cinema and stage for community theatre (the Al Whittle Theatre), a film society (the FundyFilm Society), a local coffee shop / cafe (Just Us!) and an art gallery (Jack’s Gallery). More info can be obtained at the Acadia’s site here.
Some other posts about signs on O’Canada:
Brett Lockwood, “Mel’s Tearoom, Sackville, N.B. (2015)
(Acrylic on Board, 32″x 48″)
In the recent past I’ve not picked up my paintbrushes as often as I’ve used my ever-dependable Nikon. But something about the vintage neon sign hanging outside the Mel’s Tearoom diner in Sackville, New Brunswick and the photo (below) that I snapped of it a while back (earlier post here) inspired me to translate that image onto canvas — with some usual artistic license along the way. Perhaps seeing Toronto artist Andrew Horne’s marvelous takes on classic signage from bygone eras both online and at his Flying Pony gallery in Toronto contributed as well. In any event, the result is above (photo is a bit crooked), which I’ve happily finished and wrapped with a handmade floating frame. Efforts at painting like this are good meditative exercises and always enhance my appreciation for the skill and creative expressions of professional artists.
Inspiration Photo for Painting
Stewart Jones, Wellington Composition (2013)
Stewart Jones is an immensely talented Canadian artist with a passion for painting vivid cityscapes — many set in Ontario — that are simply wonderful. He refers to his paintings as “love letters to the forgotten corners and alleyways” of our cities. Jones’s images often depict buildings at irregular angles or vantage points and feature lush brushstrokes that together energize his work and provide a fresh perspective on the often-overlooked, uncelebrated urban structures and byways that constantly surround us. More of Jones’s beautiful art can be seen at his painting website here and on his Facebook page.
Stewart Jones, CM Composition #1 (2013)
Stewart Jones, Urban Alley (2014)
Stewart Jones, Kingston Walkway (Year Unknown)
Stewart Jones, Royal Hotel Picton (2014)
Stewart Jones, Hamilton (2014)
Image Credits: Stewart Jones
Brian Deignan, “House with View, Nova Scotia”
Because it is so unusual, the work of a highly-skilled photographic artist who intentionally seeks to blur his images stands out to me. Such are the mysterious images produced by Brian Deignan, a Toronto-area fine art photographer originally from Montreal and who also has lived in several parts of the U.S. Unlike typical bokeh photographs — where the subject is in focus against a blurred background — Deignan’s entire subject is out of focus. The resulting impressionistic images resemble paintings and conjure up deeper thoughts that often elude sharply focused photographs. Deignan hints at this with the following observation from his portfolio website: “People, places, things are what I photograph; memory, imagination, wonder are how.” Very nicely stated!
See more of Deignan’s images at his site here.
Brian Deignan, “Crosswalk #28” (High Noon in Mississauga)
Brian Deignan, “Winter Wonderland #10”
Brian Deignan, “School Bus, Route 332 — Nova Scotia”
Brian Deignan, “Sunday Drive #25”
Brian Deignan, “Sunday Drive #20”
Brian Deignan, “Friday Night — Queen Near Spadina”
(Image Credits: Brian Deignan)
Lisa Brawn, “Bluebird”
Lisa Brawn is a Calgary-based artist who painstakingly creates exquisitely vibrant woodcuts. Her subject matter ranges from wild animals to celebrities to pop culture icons. Shown here are some of her amazing images of wild birds, each with an abstract background carving that nicely complements the main subject. Brawn’s annual “Wild Bird Woodcuts” wall calendar is gorgeous and is a hot collector’s item, having quickly sold out its 2014 and 2015 print runs. More of her fabulous art can be seen at her website here.
Lisa Brawn, “Blue Jay”
Lisa Brawn, “Vermillion Flycatcher”
Lisa Brawn, “Puffin”
Lisa Brawn, “Gray Jay”
Lisa Brawn, “Geese”
Image Credits: Lisa Brawn
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Before it was known as Air Canada, Canada’s major airline was called TCA or Trans-Canada Air Lines. The leading railway companies in Canada — particularly Canadian Pacific and Canadian National — played an early major role in connecting the far-flung dots within that country’s vast borders. In 1937, one of those rail companies, Canadian National, in an effort to diversify, formed TCA thereby filling another vital transportation niche to serve Canada’s expansive geography as well as beyond. In 1965, TCA changed its name to Air Canada. These stylish travel posters from before 1965 (when its name was changed to Air Canada) harken back to TCA’s first few decades as a national flag air carrier.
This smallish window and nearby door in Toronto’s Distillery District caught my eye both because of their curves and the forest green shared by each opening. In addition to the well-preserved historic buildings, this area of the city features a wide range of exceptional restaurants, bars and small shops.
“The Phenomenon of Floating”
Toronto-born Rob Gonsalves is a surrealist master whose marvelous paintings depict dreamlike illusions. It’s almost like a mashup of M.C. Escher and Rene Magritte. But, of course, Gonsalves’ style is the result of his own creative synthesis of many artistic strands. Many of his paintings feature wide landscapes and young children — which seems appropriate for both the whimsical joy and philosophical reflection conjured by this painstaking artwork. More of Gonsalves’ art can be seen on his official site here and at the site for Huckleberry Fine Art.
“Towers of Knowledge”
“Beyond the Reef”
Image Credits: Rob Gonsalves and Huckleberry Fine Art.
Back in the day, Canada needed more people to build up its country and, in particular, in its vast western inland plains. With lots of land and not so many people, the federal and provincial governments and land companies starting in the late 1800s on into the early twentieth century launched recruitment campaigns around the world, especially in Europe, with the lure of free land grants and the potential for prosperity. The distance was far and farm life was (is!) tough, but the appeal drew many new immigrants to Canada’s west. I love the variety and details in some of these posters! (Click on images to enlarge)