Red Geraniums

I told people that I had never read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It was a strange confession, given that I was an English language arts teacher for thirty years and avid reader.  I felt embarrassed because this novel is typically on a high school reading list.  Given that I went to high school in Montana, I assumed I had missed it because I was studying All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.  As a response to this seeming omission to my reading, I added To Kill a Mockingbird to my list of must-reads.

I wasn’t eleven pages in when I realized that I had met these characters before.  Scout and Jem and Atticus…I had read the book!  I decided to carry on, as I’m sure my readers will attest, it is a classic in the truest sense and an excellent ‘read’.  It is simply a joy to reread out favourites along the way.

I had been thinking about red geraniums recently and they DO appear in this novel. “The Ewell family house is falling down around their ears, and yet Mayella cultivates these beautiful, brilliant bright red geraniums in old, chipped slop crocks.” There, amid the brokenness, red geraniums grow.  It is always a wonder when beauty/goodness exists in the rugged, broken and dark aspects of humanity.

A character sketch delves into possible symbolism…red geraniums.  Click on the link for source.

Mayella Ewell

Among the trash and cast-offs in the Ewell yard, there’s one spot of beauty.

“Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.” (17.64)

The geraniums suggest that Mayella desires to be better than her surroundings, to make something bright in her dull world, to aspire to higher things. But whatever Mayella’s hopes and dreams are, she doesn’t get a chance to express them to the reader; she appears only at Tom’s trial. And there, she has to perform a role: the poor innocent white woman attacked by the evil black man, who must be protected by chivalrous white men.

Each year, in early May, my Auntie Eleanor gets her cuttings growing…red and white geraniums, to be blooming just in time for the July first family reunion.  They grow out in her porch where the sunshine pours over them, long rows of green leaved wonders.  When you enter the porch from outside,  the moist green smell of geraniums hits you very suddenly and smacks of feelings of family, home and memory.

Summer brings the edging of the camp kitchen where we congregate, share conversation, laugh, hug and share talents.  Red geraniums…love.

Interesting, that as I visited the resting places of my ancestors last summer…Lindsay, Ontario…Hamilton, Ontario…our family’s plots were marked, where tended, by bouquets of red geraniums.

Canada Day Geraniums IMG_8895

Canada Day in Raymond, Alberta

Canada Day in Raymond, Alberta

Charles E. Burrows and Clara

Charles E. Burrows and Clara, Lindsay, Ontario

Charles E and Clara


Hamilton, John S. Elliott, brother to Florence Elliott and wife.


Angels in the East Village

Time spent in the East Village, working with the folk from create!, was treasured time and so good for my soul.  We tried to bring into our midst the energy of mothers and the feminine…welcoming memories of our mothers, the earth and, for me, Mary.  It was such a beautiful two afternoons.  I feel blessed to be with such creative people with so many powerful stories.  I thank Wendy Lees for opening up this opportunity in my life.

The lesson involved a conversation about how artists use references in order to create, some more than others.  We talked about using historical references and real life references.  The act of painting landscapes on location is called plein air.  I described the importance of asking for permission from photographers when using contemporary images as references.

All of this reminds me of a conversation that I once shared with Father Carroll.  We always had such wonderful chats.  He shared this Latin quote with me.  So, while most art has roots in other art or reference points, it is important that the artist explore a personal interpretation or reaction to that reference point.

ars est celare artem
True art is to conceal art

This is evident in the following example, looking at a Frida Kahlo Self Portrait and compared to Bronwyn Schuster’s fabric sculpture.

Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Leon Trotsky). 1937. Oil on masonite. 76.2 x 61 cm. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., USA.

Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Leon Trotsky). 1937. Oil on masonite. 76.2 x 61 cm. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., USA.

Bronwyn Schuster Acquisition

Bronwyn Schuster Acquisition

Some people prefer to refer to angels as guiding spirits…for me, it doesn’t matter how you look at the theme.  We have much to be grateful for, in considering the ‘maternal’ in our communities.  Painting angels at the East Village was a joy.

P1160727 P1160728 P1160729 P1160731 P1160732 P1160733 P1160734 P1160735 P1160737 P1160738 P1160739 P1160740 P1160741 P1160742 P1160743 P1160745 P1160746 P1160747 P1160748 P1160749 P1160750 P1160751 P1160752 P1160753 P1160754 P1160755 P1160756 P1160757Alanna shared that she added wings to the woman sitting before the table and that the angel was her mother.  She remembered sharing a table with her own mother.  It was a very powerful moment for me.

Thanks to the group, for sharing flowers and a birthday gift bag with me.  Thanks to Mark who gave me a rosary.  Thanks for the genuine hearts.

create May 16 Alanna create may 16f Leslie create may 16e Leslie create may 16d Loretta create may 16b create May 16a


Busy Bees!

I showed the grade four students a couple of Youtube videos about the essential nature of bees to our agriculture.

We talked about the differences between the physical traits of wasps and bees.  We talked about the differences between caricature and realism, along with some examples.

bee KathbeeThe students were dealing with lines of symmetry in math, so I decided to have them choose an imaginary line of symmetry and to create two different compositions, without crossing that line.  I also thought that by creating a sort of frame, we would avoid desk clean-up at the end of day.  I think that the students produced some amazing pieces.  After that, they wrote a poetic/informational or descriptive piece containing things they had learned about bees, honey production or collapse of hives.  Once they peer edited with a friend, they recreated their writings on bright yellow paper.

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The Nuisance Grounds

“WELCOME TO OUR NUISANCE GROUNDS”, as Margaret Laurence, writer of The Diviners, aptly named that hidden place where garbage is tossed, shoveled, moved around and buried.

Photo Credit: D'Arcy Norman 2009 Spy Hill Landfill

Photo Credit: D’Arcy Norman 2009 Spy Hill Landfill


There is no judgment in writing this piece because I contribute generously, as well, to the dump (now, politically-labeled the landfill), it’s just that every spring, I seem to churn the soil and dig our communal secrets up again. They present themselves on the surface in the form of litter.  The story of winter refuse surrounds us.  We drive by it, step over it, complain about it and then wait for someone else to pick it up.

I met a homeless gentleman named Frank, three years ago, when I started picking up litter at a location where I walked my dog, Max, daily (still do).  Frank was one of five people who thanked me during that period of time.  I had been picking up a full heaping bag of litter every day for three months and he would sit and drink a beer, roosting on one of the slopes, gazing over the whole of the pond at the center of the flats.  He would place his beer can in a a plastic grocery bag and tuck it under a tree and after the sixth day, his neatly tied package would be offered up for pennies, nickles and dimes.  He said good-bye to me on his last day, after months of watching me pick.  He was heading for Vancouver for the winter and he thanked me for ‘making the place look good’.  I told him that the place was going to be named after him, Frank’s Flats.  The name has stuck.

A jogger thanked me.  She put down her plastic water bottle while doing her laps around the pond and asked if I would please not throw it away.  She told me that she would be picking it up after her run.  She said that the place looked great, because of me.

A man, getting up in years, thanked me.  He was walking his old pooch on the trail.  He asked, “You’re not from the city, are you?”  I said…”I live here. I’m a teacher.”  He thanked me.

A high school student thanked me.  A couple had been sitting on a bench that over looks the pond.  It was after school and they were curled up and smooching.  As I approached, they reorganized themselves and while I picked up plastic slurpee cups and chip bags and straws and fast food packages, they observed.  As I stepped past their bench, the boy called out, “Heh, thank you.”

Debbie thanked me.  She even told me that when she walked her dog, Rosie, she was going to start bringing a little bag with her and do the same.  This was such a warm and wonderful offering, one of the best things that happened to me that first spring and summer.

And so it went…for three months; I was observed by many and because I was observed so closely, I became interested in reactions and fascinated by the isolation that became  my experience.  User group members of the facilities above the flats and my encounters with them became a social experiment.  I became fascinated in the huge chasm that came between me and ‘the others’, more than the distance between two complete strangers…bigger than that!

To this day,  when I pick garbage, it’s as though I become invisible.  I am, all of a sudden, from a different social status.  If I was a city worker, I would be given higher status.  But, I am not a city worker.  That’s why I began thinking that the ‘garbage man’ must fit into one of Carl Jung’s archetypes, most likely a part of ‘the Shadow’.

There are all kinds of volunteers operating in the City of Calgary, picking up that packaging and advertisement that we unleash on to the wind, not giving a care about where it all blows, as long as it’s out of our sight.  If my readers are familiar with Christie in Laurence’s The Diviners or Mr. Jonas, the junkman in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, you will realize the greater archetype that lives with the ‘garbage man’ or even the ‘janitor’, now labeled a caretaker.  Below, a spark note excerpt about Mr. Jonas, Chapter 35, Dandelion Wine.

“Mr. Jonas, the junkman, comes into town with his horse Ned and his wagon. He sings as he rides, and people line the streets to look at his goods. No ordinary junkman, Mr. Jonas had lived as a businessman in Chicago but decided to spend the rest of his life making sure that one area of town got a chance to take what the other side considered junk. He traveled through the town and only asked that people took something that they truly wanted, something they would use. Then the adults of children would put something of their own that they no longer had any use for in the wagon, and Mr. Jonas would be on his way, singing.”

From Christie, in The Diviners,

“By their garbage shall ye know them,”…The ones who have to wrap the rye bottles in old newspapers to try to hide the fact that there are so goddamn many of them. The ones who have fourteen thousand pill bottles the week, now. The ones who will be chucking out the family albums the moment the grandmother goes to her ancestors. The ones who’re afraid to flush the safes down the john, them with flush johns, in case it plugs the plumbing and Melrose Maclaren has to come and get it unstuck and might see, as if Mel would give the hundredth part of a damn. I tell you, girl, they’re close as clams and twice as brainless. I see what they throw out, and I don’t care a shit, but they think I do, so that’s why they cannot look at me….”

Similarly, Father Kevin Tumback used to tell a story on Ash Wednesday about a Rag Man…a metaphor for Jesus who traded parts of himself for the wounded parts of others.

I was just thinking, as another season of litter-picking faces the volunteers in our Calgary communities, it would be an awesome thing if we all became a bit more conscious…aware of our communications with those who are picking up our communal waste.  It would be a wondrous thing if the ‘garbage men’ were valued and appreciated.  It would also be a spectacular thing if we elevated ourselves as a collective, more conscious consumers, more attentive stewards.

You are welcome to join me at Frank’s Flats.  You only need to bring gloves.  Be in touch.

May 10, 2014 Frank's Flats

May 10, 2014 Frank’s Flats

May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014


Amazed about the orange bag filled with litter…someone else picked today!

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Art Battle Canada: Calgary

An exciting event took place down at Contemporary Calgary on Saturday night.  Doors opened to an art battle of a different sort from what I’ve experienced before.  This one involved on-line voting for three separate rounds; six artists competing for twenty minutes for two rounds and the top two of both of those competing in the final round.    I found it interesting that the playing field was a level one, based on the consistency of media, colours available and size of the canvas. Silent auction, live auction, a very compact space and bumping into (in a true sense) old friends and new, all features of this particular night out.

I didn’t have the real sense that the works were resolved at the end of twenty minutes, but this event was an opportunity for audience members to observe the variety of approaches /techniques that artists use.  I enjoyed the time out with my daughter and certainly felt proud of my artist-friends who had the courage to take this on. Congratulations to Mark Vazquez-Mackay who won the Calgary event, one of 250 artists in over 20 locations across Canada, battling it out in preparation for the National Art Battle.

It was nice to end the evening chilling at a backyard fire pit with good people.

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Brutal Bus Tour With Esker Foundation

My 1,555th post…seems significant, given that I was born in 1955…not sure why!  Laughing about this!  I’ve been a blogger since 2005, my first post written on September 12, 2005 and titled, In the Classroom.

I didn’t know a single soul on the bus tour, but loved the anonymity of the event on that particularly dark and cold Calgary day.  Yet again, snow.  I enjoyed loading on to the bus with others and rocked gently while listening to a very interesting narrative about the Brutalist architecture that appears throughout the city of Calgary, unbeknownst, I’m certain, to very many Calgarians.

Hosted by Cynthia Klaassen, the President of the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society and Darryl Cariou, the Senior Heritage Planner for the City of Calgary, this guided tour was both fascinating and relaxing.  I enjoyed seeing both premier and lesser-known Brutalist sites, including some of the most controversial and nationally acclaimed.  It was fascinating to enter into the Science Center, a place where I had toured many times with my children when they were younger.  Once again, I felt a huge link to the University of Lethbridge, designed by Arthur Erickson and completed in the early 1970s.  I attended the university from 1973 until 1977 and lived in the main building residence on the fourth floor for two of those years.  Playing guitar in the abandoned stair wells and conversing with friends into the wee hours of morning on the main concourse are memories that stick with me.  The smell of concrete is not something everyone can easily get used to, but for me, a fond memory.

When we arrived back at the Esker, I purchased my 10.00 pkg of postcards and headed for the Blackfoot Diner, where I enjoyed a late afternoon breakfast, while reading over the descriptors on the backside of the postcards.  Another great day!

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The same evening I attended the Peter von Tiesenhausen opening at Jarvis Hall Fine Art, my daughter joined me for a panel at Glenbow’s Theater. Bart Habermiller, Tim Westbury and Xstine Cook shared a rich and inspiring background on the Graceland experience and its legacy. Graceland was the seven-acre former junkyard that Habermiller transformed into an alternative art space in the 80s and 90s.

As I was researching for this subject, I found a great history described by another blogger, Home of the Muses. A short history of Graceland as a connect with his post about the Vending Machine at the Glenbow, appears here. I highly recommend!

Some notebook pages for you to ponder.

That evening with Bart Habermiller, Tim Westbury, and Xstine Cook absolutely blew my mind and I felt it was so disappointing that it was not better-attended. However, as is the norm, there was so much going on in the arts community on that particular night! Just for the record, I am so very grateful for my choices that evening! Stories reminded me a lot about my experience in the art department of the University of Lethbridge in the early 1970s. I was a part of something very special at the time and know that, especially, in looking back. What a reference point!

P1160522 P1160523 P1160524 P1160525 P1160526 P1160527 P1160528My notes…sketchy and also including some names, jotted with incorrect spellings.  I apologize for that, but treasure the wee snippets of personal narrative shared during the three talks and countless images shared on a rolling slide show.  It all felt so magical…a huge disclosure of the very personal experiences of three artists.
I’ve also taken screen shots of a fabulous article that gives a detailed history of the same years, Bart Habermiller: A State of Grace in Calgary, written by Debbie O’Rourke in 1996.
Bart Source Bart 1
Bart 2Bart 3Bart 4Bart 5

Photo Credit: Graceland Facebook Page Photo of Frank Landry taken by Grace Colton

Photo Credit: Graceland Facebook Page Photo of Frank Landry taken by Grace Colton 1954

Panel Discussion Gratitude to Kayleigh Hall Nancy Tousley Tim Westbury Xstine Cook  Bart Habermiller

Panel Discussion: Glenbow Theater April 2014 Gratitude to Kayleigh Hall, Nancy Tousley

May 8, 2014

I’ve looked forward to every birthday…feeling so blessed for every year, even when those years weren’t so easy.  I am just so filled with gratitude for the mix of experiences.  God has woven his heart in and out of mine and I have never felt alone.  Yesterday was a beautiful day.  The sunshine was lighting up a brilliant blue sky.  I got up early to a birthday phone call from my friend Bob on the west coast and then many messages of love throughout the day.  Happy birthday…sung with my Dad on morning Skype…and later, Bonne Fete sung by my Fiset family in Ottawa over the phone.

Breakfast was shared with Kate at Cora’s…always eggs benedict, coffee and great conversation.

P1160470 P1160472My first crocus of spring on the ridge above the city…exercise, deep breath, time with my pooch.

P1160474 P1160477 P1160478 P1160485New old E.O Brody Co. Cleveland OH short vase for $2.00 at the Women in Need shop.  I didn’t have this one.

BrodyConversation with a neighbour-friend about shrubs that grow well on the north side of houses.  A wander around a green house, after a long bitterly cold winter…enjoying the smells and sights of so much green!

Dragon Pearl dinner with my children and so grateful that everyone could make it.

Dragon PearlFloral arrangement brought over to my home by another neighbour…gift from Dad for my special day.  Conversation about flowers and flower beds as we stood out in the warm evening air.

P1160486Happy birthday cupcake delivered by my daughter as I read over Facebook birthday messages…again, we sang Happy Birthday!  May 8, 2014 was quite a day!




Peter von Tiesenhausen Inspires

While fulfilling a contract, teaching grade one students, I still managed to get out to some arts events in town and now, as a matter of playing catch-up, I’ll archive a couple of them.  Last Thursday, I attended the Peter von Tiesenhausen opening, Concentrations, hosted by Jarvis Hall Fine Art and to follow that, attended one of two artist-talks given by Peter on his current Esker Foundation exhibit, Experience of the Precisely Sublime.

At Jarvis Hall Fine Arts, I enjoyed the intimacy of the pieces on exhibit.  There are some very monumental sculptures presently on exhibit at the Esker Foundation and these, along with Peter’s shelf of gestures, are very beautiful.  For those of you looking for biographical information, please refer to the links above and a fabulous write up for the present exhibit at Esker is located here.  The purpose of this post is to share some of the magic that I took with me after my experiences of the art.

First, art openings are awesome for the purpose of bumping into and connecting with treasured friends.  I was happy to chat briefly with Shannon, Michelena and Bruce.  I was really happy to have a short visit with Peter as well and to remind him that his work has impacted me in a special way for several decades now.

P1160467During the artist-talk at the Esker, I picked up on several short vignettes in reference to the pieces on the shelf.  I’m including a photograph here that will be fully credited later as I DID find it on the Esker Foundation website, on their ABOUT page, but the photographer is not credited there (I’m going to assume that it is a photo archive taken by Doug Haslam).  I want to use it as a map for Peter’s talk, as he explored these intimate pieces from right to left and shared brief narratives about each.

Photo Credit: Esker Foundation, About Banner Photo

Photo Credit: Esker Foundation, About Banner Photo

Photo Credit: Close-up Shelf of Tiesenhausen Gestures, Esker Foundation

Photo Credit: Close-up Shelf of Tiesenhausen Gestures, Esker Foundation

The following are a series of points pulled out of my notebook…

The Concentration = whatever you go through, you can manage. In the end, create what you want.

Peter decided that some of his difficulties through a specific period of time were created by his own head and RESISTANCE.

PERSIST….BELIEVE….Follow your bliss (Joseph Campbell) because good stuff happens.

-8′ section of picket fence painted white
-add an 8′ section every year to the west
-24 x 8′ straight line…new on one end and pickets splitting on oldest end, aging and weather-worn-incredible challenge
-conscious of what is lost
-conscious of passage of time
-remember the neighbours from your youth
-why did we not have the faith that transition happens?
EXAMPLE: The clear-cuts that created such a concern for environmentalists decades ago are now very vibrant eco-systems.
-if we are going to do damage, let us make it so that at least it’s over the parameters of our own life limitations
-How can we have the smallest impact?


SMALL OBJECTS ON SHELF = GESTURES  these taught Peter how to explore materials and ideas.

Wooden Face Profile

While attending the sculpture department of York University, Peter decided he was going to use ever machine that was in the department; drills, CNC scanning machines, laser programs.  He enjoyed the sound of the drills, the melodic and hypnotic sounds.


Wooden Duck and Lion

Left on a railing for twenty five years in his studio.


One of 3000 eye symbols that led to the copyrighting of his land.  The eyes of the aspen trees are guarding-watching.



Bronze Pieces

Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering – sunlight used to melt bronze
Use focused sunlight to heat bronze to 5,000 degrees.

Wood with cavity in it – contains a pebble

Karl Blossfeldt – Up Close and Beautiful/Art Forms and Nature

Garlic Plant: Karl Blossfeldt

Garlic Plant: Karl Blossfeldt

Rusted Camshaft – solar bronzed


Home made Axe

-a mention, here, of Tim and Linda, people who lived off the land/$10,000 a year and farmed with horses

Wooden Axe

BEING FREE – I don’t owe anybody anything.



Cardboard Axe

Random Axe of Kindness – Banff

The very next day, having listened with my heart…not just my head, I noticed this beautiful dried strand of perfectly ordered seed pods.  Such a brutal, cold winter, Alberta experienced these last many months and to discover such perfection was surprising and beautiful.

P1160466 P1160464 P1160463I feel inspired to truly notice my surroundings because of the impact of Peter’s exceptional work in two Calgary galleries.  At the Jarvis Hall Fine Art exhibit,  I was most captivated by a glass cabinet filled with drawings tied together in bunches  with cord and then sealed in red wax.  I would like to encourage my readers to attend both exhibits while they are here in Calgary.

Sealed drawings

Saying Good-Bye to Grade One

Spending an intense five weeks with grade one students was a huge learning experience and made me grow in ways that I might not have imagined otherwise.  I will certainly treasure the memory of little people who put it all out there, leaving nothing to the imagination.  A slide show, rather than words, seems appropriate.  I’m sorry that I missed photographs of their cube-a-link grouping activities. I’m sorry that you can not see them jumping and dancing while counting by 2s and 5s…getting those numbers squeezed into their bodies.  I’m sorry that you can’t hear them singing, with all of their hearts, the theme song from Frozen. Their scientific illustrations in their lima bean journals were spectacular as well.  I hope that those dang beans, now sprouted and planted beneath soil, will grow to be great bean stalks!  They have much invested in their scientific observations!

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