As I head out to the pond with Max…thought I would post a bit of a flash back. I found a wee video in my archive, that I had made in 2011, the first year I began picking litter at this location and got into the ritual of circling the pond. Beneath the video, some photographs taken during the past week.
The drainage of the pond began and the people I spoke with promised that lots of volume would be left for the healthy fledging of the young birds. The project was stopped for a day so that the biologist who worked for the contractor could assess my concerns regarding the nests and the fledge. Readers, look at the following photographs and tell me about volume.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
This past winter was an unusual season, so mild that it was difficult to even classify it as winter. The plows came around once. We had two big dumps of snow. And, that was it. Spring came early, with many warm days in March. As a result, everything is dry.
At my kitchen window, in the neighbour’s vent, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow have nested three times, all without success. On the first go, we had babies and Mom and Dad did a marvelous job feeding and protecting their wee ones and then all at once, one morning, there was silence. Given that the duct tape I had applied last season had fallen off (and I’m sort of glad it did because I always imagined my neighbour charging me for a repair), I believe that either a Crow or Magpie rampaged the nest. The sparrows tried two more times, but with no successful hatch. The nest is now abandoned, apart from the occasional visit from an adult. This has made me pretty disappointed because I enjoyed my daily observations of Sparrow behaviour, while I worked at my kitchen sink.
The Fort McMurray blaze happened and left the province in shock. To not mention this would just be wrong. The media images of the devastation and mass exodus from the city were terrifying. I think that this fire changed all of us in ways we could not imagine. Our hearts are still reaching out to those impacted most. In an economy that was already struggling with woes, this has contributed additional stress. My prayers continue to be for those impacted and for the fire fighters who continue to make efforts to quell this blaze. This image, from Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press.
A giant fireball is seen as a wild fire rips through the forest 16 km south of Fort McMurray, Alberta on highway 63 Saturday, May 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
There just isn’t a transition from that! As a result of the differing and dry climate, different insects are inhabiting our gardens. My asparagus failed to come up this year and very few Oriental poppies. My strawberry plants are weak, as are my lupines. I learned, one morning, while taking photographs that this is all due to the destruction of the Tarnished Plant Bug, last season and this. I’ve spent these months trying to ethically rid my garden of the ‘damned’ things. Sadly, this means I will likely be chasing them away to someone else’s garden. I am thinking it will take me a couple of seasons to build up my garden again and I’m anticipating more damage next summer, given that the bugs likely produced eggs before I got on to this. Gardening causes me to think about what it must mean to farm and to weigh my decisions around protecting beneficials such as bees and lady bugs.
Tarnished Plant Bug presence Noted!
Different birds have settled into the pond area at Frank’s Flats. It’s easy for me to notice because of my close relationship with this location the past five years.
Last year, at this time, I was watching the nesting practices of Osprey very closely.
In late April, this year, two nesting platforms maintained by Enmax were pulled down as a result of future infrastructure development on the Stoney Trail ring road and so things have changed. I can only keep track of a single platform from a huge distance. There is no access at this location on Sheriff King Road, for viewing. I think that the relocation happened just in the nick of time, however, so I am grateful for the efforts of Enmax. Presently, Mr. and Mrs. are watching over a couple of eggs, if not chicks by this time.
Mr. or Mrs. showed up right on time this year, overlooking the pond south of 22X and exactly where the platforms were located last year. I’m not certain if this is one of the siblings born last season or if it is one of the adults, but I am really happy that we have this presence.
No place to go, the Osprey began building on the tops of the power poles. This photo was taken once all nesting materials had been removed, demonstrating the adult Osprey’s determination to set up camp. I quickly contacted Enmax via Twitter and from there, same-day action ensued and a new location was selected for the erection of the platform. Disappointed, I knew that I wouldn’t, with my Canon Power Shot, be able to monitor the nest this season.
From a distance, I saw that the very next day, male and female had established a home, with an abundance of nesting materials. It was a thrill to see.
I have visited a few times, just to make certain that the beautiful raptors have had a successful experience. Only a week ago, I checked in. Mr. is attentive as Mrs. sits patiently. These two are slightly behind the other nest I watch, nearing the edge of the Bow River at Sikome Lake, but they look like they are managing.
Birds have been plentiful at the pond and I’ve nudged up closer than in the past. Sometimes I imagine the birds saying, “Oh, it’s just her again!” I still haven’t made the capture of a male or female Shoveler and that disappoints, given that they attended the pond in large numbers this year. Because they are so skittish, I also haven’t a focused photo of either variety of Grebe, although I’ve captured some great out-of-focus drama! Below, see some of my collection of species this year. I am thrilled with the closeness I have developed with nature and seeming, all because I am present for a walk each day, since October 13, in order to take a single photograph of a bush on Instagram. I have been blessed!
The garden has not disappointed and continues to give me a quiet place to sip my coffee in the warm morning sun. I’ve always received peace in flowers and green. This was a very early photograph…I can’t believe how things have changed and I’ll have to get out there again to snap a photograph or two.
My Auntie Ruth turned 90, as did the Queen of England. This meant a trip to Raymond and it meant a 200.00 speeding ticket! It was a beautiful reunion of family!
I’m very interested in learning the traditions and practice of Indigenous dance. Jess has been so helpful in this regard and is a very inspiring teacher as well as practitioner. I hope to continue with this study more consistently throughout this coming year. I met Jess through Eileen since we were all in attendance to the Juno Awards event that featured Indigenous Nominees and included a power house performance by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
I hope that if you or your children are interested, you might contact me for information as the camps and study continue throughout the summer. Such a positive and physical experience! SîpihkopiwâyisîsJess McMann-Sparvier is a powerful spokesperson for her cultural traditions and is inclusive, finding the narratives so important to share. She is rooted in history and is constantly doing research. She combines her delight for music, dance, tradition and teaching and is just one of those people you must meet and spend time with!
While I may not be athletic, I find this circle of beautiful people to have a very positive impact on me and the dance forms, a definite wake-up-call to my muscles!
May and June have been full and richly lived…home repairs, teaching, paint, writing, family history. I can’t ever imagine life not being beautiful. I am filled up as I look at what has passed this last month and a half.
I think I was looking for my photograph archives from a trip I took with my son, the summer of 2009, when I came upon some images from the end of the teaching year and celebrations with my students; specifically, my grade nine art students, our life sized sculpture exhibit and my grade seven home room.
It was that year that I invited my students to bring in a special object for our prayer table…so, every Monday, it would be the next person’s turn. It started with me…and a stone. Jarrett Alley, a former student of mine, had passed away in 1997 at the age of 13. His place in the classroom was two rows back, but directly across from the framed article that remained, for all of my teaching years, a tribute to his life.
I think I always intended to copy and pass on a photo to each student at the end of that year, but evidently that never happened!
I’m going to loop the photographs here. My students, of over thirty years of teaching, remain in my heart.
For the most part, I am out of touch with these students, so if my readers know any of them, please share.
I’ve been looking for archival boxes for a few newspapers that I’ve saved over the years. I don’t know what it is in me that has always collected history? Had I identified this interest as a younger person, I might have explored other careers in research…museum archivist? curatorial work? I just didn’t know what was always naturally going on in this little bean of mine. If you have a similar interest, don’t laminate your news and try, if you can, to sustain the integrity of the magazine or newspaper by leaving dates/headlines etc. As a child, I didn’t know better…used glue…used some sort of bizarre blue marking pen. I’ve photographed some of the news stories that I was intrigued by. This scrapbook was not kept for a teacher or a class, but simply for my own pleasure. Weird??
Space travel and moon adventures…I have several others on this topic.
President Kennedy’s assassination…1963, I was living in Battle Creek, Michigan. Black and white television and the over-and-over-again playing out of the car scene…Jackie Kennedy crawling out onto the back of the car…the President’s head exploding. Pretty traumatic stuff. And then, again and again, Jack Ruby pulling out the pistol and Oswald, dropping. The images have never left my head.
Local news and funny little bits on fashion…I was consumed, for a while, about the Dionne Quintuplets. I’m glad I had a chance to visit the museum in Callander in 2013.
In 1967, the great Georges Vanier passed. Interesting, if you read the articles, the language of the time was so absurd. For example, his son, Jean is described as working with “retarded” people. Hmmm…reflections of the time. I’m glad that we’ve moved on.
In 1965, this ten year old archivist (that was 50 years ago!), collected the news on the life of Winston Churchill.
So…when I DO manage to purchase an archival box, I’ve several newspapers to store…not a ridiculous stack, but certainly the Calgary Herald the day that Obama became President.
Since retiring, I’ve become fanatical about family history research, but I find that this preoccupation has surfaced around archives of almost anything. This is a compulsion and had I been attentive to this natural inclination, I might have steered toward another career in life. At the age of 60, almost 61, I will never know.
This is just one of those things I picked up at a second hand shop in Belleville, Ontario…just because it was beautiful, so crisp and nostalgic…a bit of a glare on the photo I’ve included.
Upon removing the frame, I found a list of what I believe to be nicknames and first names of a group of male students Grade six, 1937. I love to get these sorts of things back into the hands of descendants if I can, but because the details are not sufficient to do a search, I’m just landing ‘what I do know’ here, in this one place. If you know anyone who is seeking out this archive, I’d love for it to go to a family member.
“Leonard Cohen, author, poet, and musician, was born on September 21, 1934 to a prosperous Jewish family in Westmount. His grandfather, Lyon Cohen, was the owner of the successful men’s clothing manufacturing firm, the Freedman Company, and was perhaps the Jewish community’s foremost leader during the early decades of the twentieth century. Leonard’s father, Nathan Cohen, died when Cohen was just nine years old, leaving him under the care of his Russian-born mother, Masha, as the family became more dependent on the support of his father’s brothers. Cohen attended Roslyn School and then Westmount High School, while also going to Hebrew school and becoming a bar mitzvah at the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where his family was actively involved. It was during his adolescence that he turned more and more to writing and learned to play guitar. This more introverted, artistic side of Cohen in some ways contrasted with the student who played sports and was a leader in extracurricular activities.”
Middle Row: Cummings, Nutter, Casgrain, Williams Chodal Walker Moyle Walls Polcock Oliver
Back Row: Nicholson Bishop Burke Miller Griffith Walls Strachan Waller Cockfield Swaine
Grade VI Roslyn School May 1937
To update this story, I spoke to Joanne Penhale this morning.
“I’m a Montreal-based freelance reporter and your blog post featuring the 1937 photo from Roslyn School has piqued the curiousity (sic) of my editor at the Westmount Independent – the community newspaper serving the community Roslyn is in.”
If a story does, in fact, run in a local newspaper, the chances are greater that this photo will fall into the hands of one of the boys in this photograph…or one of their descendants. I took a new set of photographs as a result of this connection. WHOOT!
Marie Magdalene “Marlene” Dietrich became the subject of my Rumble House painting last evening. It was a lovely crowd who showed up after Rich and Jess being featured in both a Metro piece and a CBC live painting experience this past week.
I’ve done a few little sketches based on the 30s ladies since Rumble opened. I always thought of my own mother as being pretty glamorous, absolutely loving the evenings in the 50s when she would dawn her satin and crinolines and join Dad for her New Years Eve celebrations. I loved how she penciled over her eyebrows and traced her lips with her lipstick. There was never a woman who worked harder in her home and with her children, but she could seamlessly transform herself for those special evenings, sewing every outfit so that it looked store-bought. I remember when she was pregnant for my brother Stuart, how she sewed a black accordion pleated top in shimmering black and edged it in rabbit’s fur. She wore a simple black pearl pendant. Oh my goodness, she was beautiful!
I liked the particular approach to photography at the time. In fact, last evening, photographer, Francis A. Willey was in attendance at Rumble House and completed one of a series of confessional paintings. His photographs are well known around Calgary and he has achieved international recognition for his diverse talents. I’ve met him at a number of events in the city and it was great to see him out. His photographs include a body of work that features this particular sort of romanticism that I am writing about.
Photo Credit: Francis A. Willey
I chose Marlene Dietrich as a subject because she is such an icon of the period, however, in only an hour and fifteen minutes, the piece is a gesture of what the reference demanded. I liked the process of moving quickly from the darkest darks into the light, although, the sketch is hard edged in comparison to a studio piece that would involve the application of more layers and washes. I liked working beside Melanie who was working on a portrait in water colour pencils, with tremendous success. She had a very positive energy and sitting next to the turn table, listening to hypnotic and sexy tunes, we had a beautiful evening of it. Thanks to friend, Bana, for her purchase of this piece at auction.
I know that in my head at night, I paint pictures. Sometimes these pictures keep me awake. My father, given that he has been blessed with the gift of music, recites hymns to himself as a matter of prayer. Whatever the gift, I believe that it is intended that creative expression be offered back to our Creator.
Dad sang Prayer Perfect in the Moose Jaw Christian music festival a ‘few’ years back. (smiling, as I type this) and now he is thinking about singing it again, at the age of 82, likely in a different key. I wish I could be sitting in a pew on the day that this might happen!
Robert Pounder would have been the accompanist for Dad in Moose Jaw.
Parting Gift Presentation with Mrs. A. Weir, Choral Director
I have archived most of Dad’s sheet music. It only took a minute to locate the piece and I’ve enjoyed, the past few minutes, learning about the history of the piece. A poem by James Whitcomb Riley, the piece was later put to music by Ervine J. Stenson, and published by SAM FOX. Dad’s copy of the score has a copyright date of 1930. It cost 60 cents at the time.
When James Whitcomb Riley died, Woodrow Wilson called him “a man who imparted joyful pleasure and a thoughtful view of many things that other men would have missed”.
The Prayer Perfect song / poem by James Whitcomb Riley ; music by Ervine J. Stenson.
While there are other versions, this is The Prayer Perfect written by James Whitcomb Riley and musical arrangement by Ervine J Stenson.
A quick narrative…a memory. My Dad kept his music in a beautiful old leather satchel and most times, it was kept in the linen cupboard. When I was a little girl, I remembered one time when Mom’s back was turned, taking out some of my father’s music and colouring pictures on it. For a very long time, I felt very scared that I had ruined something very special and did not ever make confession of my actions. Just today, as I went through the music, I found such drawings and they made me smile.
Rosa Lone Woman Heavy Breast, daughter of Calf Robe and First Strike, wife of Owen Heavy Breast of the Pikuni Blackfeet collides with the words from the Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath.
I was late, as is usual these days. I couldn’t find a sheet of 1/4″ plywood…a disappointment…but purchased the 1/2″ thickness instead. I wanted to paint a female this evening. I chose Rosa Lone Woman Heavy Breast. Her name described my present state of mind. I liked her posture…her ease…the enjoyment of sitting ‘in this photograph’ having a smoke.
I worked from a photograph that exists in a collection of eight negatives.
Father: Heavy Breast Mother: Tall Nose Wife: Rosie Heavy Breast (Lone Woman) No children.
Owen and his wife Rosie were successful farmers and ranchers. Owen and his wife had two Medicine pipe bundles, a Horned Weasel Headdress & a Weasel Shirt. Owen was also a member of the Shriners of Montana and the Masons of which he was very proud. Owen was very well known not only within the tribe but also with many outside officials. He often traveled with delegations around the United States.
Last evening, at the Gorilla House, I incorporated RED and this is of huge significance to me, given that I’ve been painting in very muted and neutral palettes since we lost my Mom. Interesting though, I had squeezed out some red on my palette last week during one of my prayer times at the feast table. I was praying a new layer of my prayer mandala at the time. I hadn’t thought about any of this until this morning. In fact, Rosa is painted in a very similar palette to the mandala. The act of painting is contributing to my healing…I know it.
If my readers will bear with me, I am posting the Bee Meeting in its entirety, but the truly impacting words offered up as a Battle concept last evening, came from page 51 of Plath’s Selected Poems…the final stanza. While I will not go into the details of how I relate with the words of this poem, suffice it to say that I experience ‘recognition’ as I read the complete poem. The following text, in blue, is written on the panel.
I am exhausted, I am exhausted –
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished,
why am I cold.
Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.
I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
Thev will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.
Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.
Their smiles and their voices are changing. I am led through a beanfield.
Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.
Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthorn, etherizing its children.
Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?
I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.
Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,
Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey? She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins
Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?
I am exhausted, I am exhausted –
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished,
why am I cold.
3 October 1962
Thanks to Cheryl Todd Shergold who generously purchased last week’s, Chief Eagle Calf and last night’s Rosa at auction! Thanks also to Tyler who has recommended for us the reading of Black Elk Speaks by John G. Niehardt While this section of my personal library is swollen and moving beyond the shelf, this is one that I’ve intended to read for years.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Todd Shergold Two treasures find their way into an inspiring artist’s studio.
“You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.”
― Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux
I’ve been doing research around 227 Murray Street East, in Hamilton, for quite some time now. My great grandfather, John Haddow, lived in this eight room dwelling for most of his 43 years in Hamilton. For over 30 years, John was a valued employee of the Steel Company of Canada and was a member of the Unity Lodge, S.O.E. For any of my readers interested in reading about the establishment of this industry, see Working In Steel: The Early Years in Canada 1883-1935 by Craig Heron. The content of this writing supports the narratives I have come across regarding my Haddow family, in regards to the influx of Italian immigrants to the area and their ‘english’ bosses. It also confirms the actualization of ‘union’ life and the reasons for it. Murray Street was an easy walking distance from both the tracks and industry. This past summer, I was able to walk the paths my relations may have walked.
Born in Daltongate, Ulverston on the 25th of March, 1853, John was the son of William Haddow and Agnes Poole. He married Mary High in 1875. In 1874, John joined the Royal Navy and served for just a few short months. He had a good farm on the outskirts of Hamilton, Ontario at Ryckman’s Corners, but sadly all was lost in a fire. This is when John, the father of my great grandmother, Mary Eleanor Haddow, started to work for the Steel Company. He was in charge of all immigrants who worked there, a crew of about 60 men. John, an engineer, became superintendent of the steel company on Wellington Street and it is said that on the day of his funeral, the shop was shut down in order to honour his life.. John paid $15.00 a month to live on Murray Street. His beloved Mary died in February of 1919, but John and some of his children continued to live at the residence until his passing.
John Ames of the City of Hamilton, Growth Planning department was initially very helpful with my research. I realized early on that there would be no residence left where 227 Murray Street once existed. So, John and others provided me with some important links to the history of the location.
This section of Murray Street disappeared during the First World War and the 1920’s as a number of industries occupied this area. According to Registered Plan 287 (July 1879) Murray Street extended from the existing street (at Mary St.) all the way to Wellington Street. The existing Murray Street house at Mary Street is #115, so your great-grandfather’s house at #227 was on the eastern edge of a complex which included the City Jail, two railway lines, and growing industries which were displacing the original homes. #227 Murray St was Lot 132, RP 287, right beside the railway line.
In 1929 there was a remnant residential area on the north side of Murray Street east of Ferguson which included #227 (223, 225, 227). The resident was Edwin J. Walker. By 1930 all the houses were gone. If you can, see http://library.mcmaster.ca/maps/airphotos/zoom/1934_A4871_15 to see what that part of Hamilton looked like in 1934. Use a ruler to visually extend Murray Street four blocks to Wellington Street; this is the part of Murray Street east of Mary which has disappeared. The Food Basics store was built in 1980 on the foundations of the Dominion Cotton Mills circa 1903, which is the large T-shaped building along the east side of Mary Street. With the old Barton Street Jail, a large city asphalt plant behind the house, and other heavy industry all around, this was not a very liveable area.
and further to this communication…
As a correction to my last e-mail, the cotton mill on the east side of Mary Street at Murray Street was not Dominion Cotton Mils but was in fact the Hamilton Cotton Company. There were at least seven cotton mills located in Hamilton, hiring as many people as the steel plants in the early part of the 20th century.
I have included a typical “birds eye view” of Hamilton in 1893, looking south. Hamilton Cotton Co. is marked as No. 5. Most of the alignment of Murray St. further east is not laid out, but there is a small group of houses to the east (left) which does mark the intersection of Murray St. and Wellington St., and I am positive that one of them is 227 Murray St. My earlier estimate of the location of 227 Murray St. in a little bit off: it should be closer to Wellington St.
As you can see from Google, most of the site has now been cleared and serves as parking lots for the Hamilton General Hospital and associated clinics.
I did a bit of cropping in order to create a snippet of a map dating back to 1934…pin pointed the area where the Murray Street house would have stood. I am very grateful to the Hamilton Public Library and for John Ames of the City of Hamilton for their awesome help in my research.
While in Hamilton, I walked the neighbourhoods, visiting with individuals along my walk, particularly a little Italian family, as I admired their rose bushes, adjacent to the block where my great grandparents would have lived.
Similar period, style and location on Murray Street East.
Grocery store and parking on block where John Haddow and his neighbours once lived.
A year before John passes, I find his name in a phone directory, living at 227 Murray Street East.
It has been a blessing to explore the places where my ancestors settled, worked hard, and enjoyed the joys of family.
Max was happy to return to the hills overlooking the irrigation canal this morning. Our walk felt so invigorating and it was fun to observe the changing vegetation and the variety of things in bloom. After that, I visited the Women-In-Need shop and dropped off a whole number of boxes and bags filled with objects that I had no need to hold onto any more.
Before leaving the store, I found three lovely drawings done in graphite, pen and paint, all three signed by an artist named Crawford. There was a sticker on the back side of one piece, telling me that at one time they were owned by a Paul H. Kahler of St. Clair, Michigan. Now, as always, I wondered how it was possible that these well-executed pieces should land in a shop in Canada’s west and so of course, I began my investigation. I went in search of an artist named CRAWFORD coming out of Mr. Kahler’s city. Sure enough, this is what I found, taken directly from The Voice, serving Northern Macomb and St. Clair counties dated November 28, 2011 and written by Jim Bloch.
The photograph illustrating the article was in the very same style as the three pieces that are now in my possession…The Sherman Hotel, The Sherman Hotel and Tavern and Strauss & Sons Grocery Store, located on Riverside & Trumble.
Sam Crawford may have died nearly a quarter of a century ago, but his paintings continue to speak to the residents of St. Clair.
After all it is the riverfront town from which he drew the majority of his subjects.
“Sam captured the essence of a time past in St. Clair,” said Todd Bigger, chair of the St. Clair Historical Museum. “He can be called an American folk artist, our own Grandpa Moses.”
Bigger presented “John D. ‘Sam’ Crawford: St. Clair History through Art” at the St. Clair Historical Museum on Nov. 18 in front of a full house of more than 60.
Bigger’s comparison of Crawford to Grandma Moses, perhaps America’s most famous primitive painter, is instructive. Grandma Moses, 1860-1961, did not begin painting until she was in her late 70s, after arthritis made it too difficult for her to continue embroidery. She burst onto the public art scene in 1940 – two years after a New York City art collector discovered her work while driving through her hometown in upstate New York. Technically untrained, she painted colorful, highly detailed rural scenes that seemed to capture American innocence more innocently than even Norman Rockwell.
No New York art collector discovered Crawford but, like Grandma Moses, Crawford did not seriously commit himself to painting until late in his life. Most of his work was done after he retired from the Diamond Crystal Salt Company in 1968 following a 49-year career, much of it spent as a hi-lo driver. Although formally unschooled, the Diamond recognized Crawford’s ability and he painted a number of safety posters for the company.
“Sam was offered the opportunity to study commercial art, but declined,” said Bigger. “He was a hometown boy who had no desire to leave.”
Born in 1900, Crawford, like Grandma Moses, witnessed dramatic changes in his little pocket of the world. The Langell Shipyard, which produced giant wooden steamships on the Pine River, was closing as Crawford was born, said Bigger. He saw the Oakland Hotel, which attracted international visitors for its mineral waters in its heyday and witnessed its decline. He watched trains, trolleys and horse-drawn wagons give way to automobiles.
“Sam watched the Pine River Bridge being opened manually,” said Bigger.
He was the eighth of nine children, growing up in a home on South Tenth Street, near Cedar Street. Grandma Moses was one of 10 children. Her life stretched from the Civil War to the Cold War.
“Sam said he practiced his art on his mom’s walls,” said Bigger.
Moses sold her paintings in store windows in Eagle Bridge, New York, for $2 and $3 a piece before the art collector stumbled upon her.
“Making money from his work was unimportant to Sam,” said Bigger. He bartered his work for haircuts and drinks. “He often gave them away.”
Crawford’s best work exhibits the same kind of attention to detail and vivid coloration seen in Grandma Moses’ paintings. In general, his work represents a much sharper sense of perspective than hers, especially in his detailed pen-and-ink sketches. Crawford’s work also has a political dimension largely absent from hers.
The coming of urban renewal to St. Clair in the 1960s, when the old downtown was razed and replaced with Riverview Plaza and Palmer Park, seems to have been the watershed event in Crawford’s artistic life. So much of the town of his birth had already been erased by the vast technological changes of the 20th Century. Now the town itself, its buildings, the physical embodiment of the hard work of its families, its history, was being demolished. Crawford began cataloguing the old town in pen-and-ink, watercolor and acrylic, providing an eloquent time capsule in the face of the bulldozers.
“He watched the destruction of old St. Clair,” said Bigger.
He recorded the demolition of the old town and made his political opposition to urban renewal known through his art.
One of his paintings portrays the city dump piled high with the signs of disappeared businesses – Beck’s, Toyland, Gamble’s, Gleim’s butcher shop, the Shrimp Boat, and a dozen others.
In a painting of the old downtown movie theater, the St. Clair, the marquee says, “Auction Sale Sat. 1 p.m., Equipment Furniture & Clothes.” There’s a “Closed” sign on the window of its ticket booth. Instead of a movie poster in its glass showcase, a sign reads “Closed due to urban renewal.” The painting is titled “Gone but not forgotten” and dated February 1968.
In one of his sketchbooks, which are often packed with narrative, Crawford wrote, “Historical stuff means nothing to progress.”
The destruction of the old downtown, the centerpiece of his life, seems to have pushed him to recreate the town’s entire past in paintings, going back to Fort Sinclair and its founder, Patrick Sinclair, in 1765. Crawford used postcards, newspaper photos and his own memory in an almost feverish attempt to catalogue the city’s history in his art. Crawford painted everything – mayors, businessmen and businesses across the generations; the Surprise Theater, St. Clair Hospital and the old library; railroad magnate Mark Hopkins; the old city hall before and after its majestic pillars were added; the outdoor pool soon after it opened in 1955, the city’s eight saw mills from the mid-1800s; the Kemp Coal Yard where the Voyaguer stands today; Sheldon Tanning; the Michigan Central Railroad curving into the south end of town from Richmond on a trestle near the current Dairy Queen; the Tashmoo cruise ship, which used to call at the Star Line docks at the foot of Witherell Street, one of its 90 stops between Detroit and Port Huron; local men cutting ice on the Pine River; the Somerville Hotel located on the town’s north side about where North Riverside Avenue now narrows from four lanes to two; Shinske’s Grocery on Vine and Fourth Street; Lee’s Bar, also known as the Snake Pit; and the old downtown Burkhart’s Bar with its last proprietors, Kenny Klieman and Bill Cedar, father of the city’s current mayor, tending bar.
Crawford died on Nov. 20, 1987. The historical museum, 308 S. Fourth St., owns perhaps the largest collection of Crawford’s work. It is open on Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to noon; Saturdays, 1:30-4:30 p.m., and by appointment. His work can also be seen in attorney Ron Allen’s office and in almost all of the city’s bars and restaurants. A number of residents brought their personal Crawford paintings to Bigger’s presentation.
“He touched so many lives and still brings smiles to people’s faces,” Bigger said.”