Sometimes it feels like I’m flying in to the evening programs at Esker Foundation. The trek north on Deerfoot Trail is never optimal around the dinner hour. It seems that the folk who have struggled their way south through rush hour traffic have made their way home for their wardrobe changes and are then all headed back to the core for their evening events. Calgary is such a sprawl! All that aside, when the program lists are published for the Esker Foundation, I always try to log on and register and fill in my calendar for the coming months.
Today, Anna Gustafson delivered a ‘making’ workshop at the Esker. These programs are especially inspiring. Because I wasn’t able to fit this one in, I was really motivated to listen to her talk last night and to see her work in Esker’s Project Space. This exhibit, titled Object Lessons is accessible from the huge picture windows on street level 9th Ave SE.
Anna described her connection with other species and her sense of urgency around having a deep regard for sustainability. I felt as though we were connected in our thoughts through some sort of umbilical…I was captivated.
As she spoke about shrouding objects that represent our full-on consumption, I thought very much about the bags of litter I picked for such a long period of time at a single pond here in south Calgary. Nothing ever seemed to change about the landscape that I picked….after months and years of clearing the flats, new litter would just move on in. It came in waves. It was no wonder that Anna’s fish nets filled to the brim with shrouded single use plastics hit me in the gut.
The exhibit is happening, in partnership with the New Gallery and Anna Gustafson is extending an invitation to the public to help her with the harvesting of particular household objects including remote controls, film and slide projectors, film cans, slide carousels, flashlights along with white cotton and linen fabric for shrouding. Donations can be brought to The New Gallery from 3February to 19 April.
Anna has a very detailed record of where she is gathering these objects, as seen below.
I find it interesting that as I attended a second event last evening, I should still be thinking about Anna’s work as I encountered this display. Well done, Anna, and thank you. Thank you, Esker Foundation.
It came to me like a dream…a waking dream. For weeks I had, during daytime hours, pondered what to do for my grandson for Christmas morning 2019. For some reason, I thought that this decision would lay down the tracks for every other decision I would make on his behalf for his entire lifetime. (Crazy, I know.) I don’t take my place as Gramma lightly, exemplified in my willingness to put myself out there as a bumble bee. Isn’t my grandson handsome?
My mother had such a talent for sewing that for every Christmas and birthday, there were sure to be homemade gifts arrive in the mail or delivered, personally. They were tagged and finished beautifully, “To my Grand Daughter, with Love!” I follow in impressive footsteps.
So, it was on a morning in October, that a waking dream came to me. I sleep in the deepest darkest lowest level of the house and it’s pretty cold at times. I was curled in snug under the covers, when ‘it’ came to me in half-sleep. “I could build my grandson a puppet theater!” I imagined him as he is now, watching his Mommy and Daddy being funny and laughing behind the stage…and then, with little friends, growing up…and then making hilarious fun as an upper elementary student…and then, possibly, with his life marked by all sorts of little stories that Mommy made up…and stories that he performed for evening entertainment, he might even take the puppet theater with him, after a long and probably painful storage dilemma between his Mom and Dad and him. Yes, I conjured all of this up in the rumblings of a dark morning in October.
When I woke and got up that morning, shuffling to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, I said aloud, “Gramma is going to make a puppet theater!”
It began with a plan. I scoured Amazon, Ebay, Kijiji and puppet companies the world over. Finally, I came up with a plan that I wanted to work with, a little homemade theater that I spotted on Kijiji. If I had an interest in driving to the city of Lacombe to pick this one up for 100.00, it would have been easily revised.
But, nah…I would create something amazing, at least I would be the one with the vision! In terms of tools, I just don’t have what it takes. I needed to track down Santa’s helper, and quick!
After my communications with a high school shop teacher came up empty, I went to my go-to guy, Len, a neighbour who helps me with all sorts of odd jobs when I don’t have the tools necessary. He works independently and I like to support him in his various efforts.
I took in account Steven’s height and the fact that I wanted at least one little friend to be able to participate with him during his childhood productions and so I drew up this plan. Now, this wee sheet that was sketched out in my day timer was not so simple as it might appear! Lots of thought went into this, so please, readers, don’t think that this came fleetingly!
Within a week or so…Len came up with some ideas of his own. I talked to him about a concept of design that would align itself with Steven’s birthing songs and art…something to do with ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘An Octopus’s Garden’. Insert music here.
I was pretty darned happy when Len and James brought the puppet theater off the truck and into the studio, even though the weight of this beast certainly didn’t mean that I would be moving it around a lot. It would have to find itself a space and it was at this stage that I first became concerned that it might never really find its way into a forever-home.
Safe in my studio, I was able to begin measuring and planning for curtains, backdrops and decoration. I began by applying two coats of primer.
In the evenings, I was bopping in and out of shops, planning and scheming a system that would work for the draperies. I wanted them to mimic the velvet curtains I imagined in the grand theaters. In the end, the installation of curtains ended up being so darned challenging. This lady became one of my friends on this mission…taking several different exchanges as I would return rods…experiment…ask for help.
In the end I settled on these velour panels…and now, to seek out someone who might hem them up for me.
I won’t go into details (is this a detail?)…but, at one point, these small bits of hardware were purchased as a bit of an experiment. I feature them here simply because the man who helped me in this department of the big box store, Home Depot, was such an angel and was seriously the greatest guy to talk to. He was so excited about my ‘Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater’ project, that my problem-solving ended up being a huge conversation. I just really treasure people like him and only regret that I didn’t ask his name.
I solicited a lovely high school student, Emmanuella, to sew the draperies, under the supervision of her Fashions teacher, Fierina. Emmanuella has excelled in this area and advanced beyond all of the projects assigned. It was a great idea for the both of us and I really enjoyed getting to know such a conscientious and beautiful person.
Rooting through my basement storage cupboard, I located some old tins of house paint and selected a colour that would help me achieve my underwater theme.
While pursuing the painting and project, I began to search out puppets. Late into my evenings, I would explore on-line sites and finally decided to write a story about an Eagle Walk. Ikea is the only store to have an eagle puppet, and ironically enough, I never did get myself to the store to purchase the puppet. One day, perhaps. The eagle, therefore, was represented by a sound effect…very very cool!
Basically, I ended up purchasing puppets that I fell in love with, after exploring so many toy shops in town. For the sake of this post, I have spared you archives for several locations. It was actually Scholastic, on Macleod, where I tracked down chicken and monkey in a barrel, both two of my favourites.
I found a perfect stuffie border collie at the Goodwill store and at home, washed and dried it, gutted it, inserted a glove and created our Maxman character. Thanks, James, for exploring so many stores with me, looking for the perfect puppet collection.
I began to decorate the puppet theater, first locating a dry erase board for puppet show announcements, at the Dollarama…hmmm…or did it end up being Staples? While at the dollar store, I picked up some rolls of ribbon, thinking I could create a celebratory effect by placing some of that here and there. I am really NO DECORATOR! Let’s face it, the greatest problem of them all was the curtain. It was getting close to the wire, by this point, and while really wanting to pain scene backdrops for the theater, I let go of that project, thinking that this would be an idea for later gifts.
I painted a few bits onto the outside panels and opted to leave the front of the theater plane. Embellishments definitely made a difference!
I think it was only a short time before the actual performance when I solicited the help of friends, Angela and Nigel, to create puppet figures for Doug, Erin, Gramma and Steven. They came to our Christmas feast, with felt puppet figures in tow…and while Christmas went remarkably long due to an unforeseen crash by young Steven and a trip to the hospital so that his forehead might be taped back together…THE SHOW DID GO ON! But…I get ‘A HEAD’ of myself here.
The puppet theater, at completion…
It was at the pre-function on Christmas day that the screenplay came to be created in a very collaborative way and with many laughs…all directed by our writer/editor in residence, my sister-friend, Karen. The traditional big feast happened and then, interspersed with the drive to hospital and back, the $10 gift steal that happened incorrectly this year (and did I listen to the five people who tried to tell me?….next time, don’t be so polite), under my direction, the puppet show was set, complete with eagle sound effects provided by Tyler (mind you…the timing might have been a little off) and narration delivered, confidently, by Shawn (you are such a good sport!).
A small capture of that…
Sending love to all who helped this dream happen…
Somewhere out there, there is a video from this debut, but I don’t know where it is or if I have permission to share. I just am grateful for Christmas magic.
I have a huge appreciation for skilled craft and for unique approaches to materiality. I’ve always supported emerging/existing artists and artisans and when I first saw Adam Weaver’s spoons, I knew that I wanted to invest in a spoon each month for a year, so that I would have a beautiful collection to enjoy for a very long time.
While attending the University of Lethbridge, my friend, Brian, carved me a beautiful wooden spoon and I treasured it for as many years as I could, when at some point, the spoon split and it was no more. The idea of hand carved spoons has been nostalgic ever since. Sometimes I think that with mass-production, we have lost touch with some of these hand crafted items.
This morning, Adam Weaver (Heirloom Spoon) came to my place in order to deliver January and February and so that I might select, from a collection of other carved spoons, March and April.
We shared a coffee at the feast table and I had the chance to look at and hold the spoons as he set them out in front of me. They were all so unique and so lovely.
I’m very grateful for the new friendships, Adam and Pascia. Thank you for taking the huge diagonal across the city to meet with me and to visit about travel, tools, art and life. May you be richly blessed on your journey.
January: carved out of maple…a beautiful long-necked spoon with a leather toggle at one end and a beautiful scooped bowl on the other. The wood was gifted Adam from Brampton, Ontario…so, given my family history and my connections with Ontario, this one sings to me.
February: carved out of a piece of knotty birch wood, found right here at the edge of our beautiful Bow River. It was harvested from trees cut down by some city workers.
It turns out that I couldn’t resist May either…picking up a coffee scoop as a gift for my own birthday. The scoop is carved from Applewood, harvested right beside the studios at Artpoint Gallery. They’re demolishing everything around there to build the new C-train line. :0( I love the many concentric circles that draw the eye into the depth of the bowl of the spoon.
The smaller lighter spoon is made from a piece of Ash (Latin name: Fraxinus Excelsior!) found in a small village called Clare, in England. I like the feel of this spoon in my hand…it’s flat and seems to have some sort of interesting weight/balance thing going on. I just like it so much.
The big ladle…I chose for March…it felt the most womb-like to me and I was thinking about the birth of my son on March 17, 1990. Adam used the natural curve of the wood. This piece was from an arborist-friend of Adam’s again, harvested in Calgary. I’m wondering if this would be my favourite arborist who trims up May (Mayday) every year for me, before the spring.
When Adam puts his tools down and stops carving, he plants and tends gardens and fits in a lot of travel… as well, he enjoys his authentic relationship with wood and beautiful objects.
Back in June, I had the opportunity to teach grade three for Deb. I created an experience that combined viewing, planning, and sculpting in nature and writing. The students were over the moon with excitement and expressed some brilliant ideas. I think I’ve written about a number of different ways that Andy Goldsworthy’s work has inspired my teaching…here’s one.
When I step into landscape of any variety, I am always hyper aware of the textures, light and the impact of one element upon another. It really drives me as an individual in relationship with my natural world. Andy Goldsworthy sculpture is very beautiful in its complexity and its consideration of natural contexts. The manipulation of found materials is inspiring…the challenges seem impossible, but he finds solutions.
You may wish to try this type of project with your students, either in the spring or autumn, no matter the grade. Nice weather days are best.
I began by sharing a movie with the students. There are several on YouTube. Select something that is age appropriate, so, take the time to screen for yourself. It is a good thing to learn about the artist so that you can support ideas/concepts and philosophy with the children, appropriate to age.
I asked each child to select a partner before we left the classroom. The students and I went out into the school yard and very automatically, they began their search for materials. It was a lovely experience. I photographed each sculpture as they completed it and once all were documented, we returned to the classroom. There, I taught them the structure for a Cinquain and then they went to work responding to their sculptures, using words. It is a magical experience when learning takes place despite anything you say as a teacher. Inspire them. Give them the tools and materials. Then, watch that magic happen! Congratulations, Grade threes!
Monday morning saw the accumulation of a whole lot of snow overnight. The sun was shining and I was grateful for that, as I picked up the shovel and cleared the sidewalk, yet again. I was excited to be heading for sister-friend time, a hearty soup and warm-biscuit lunch prepared by my Ya-Ya, Wendy Lees, and the experience of felting with a woman who knows wool, so well. In fact, like me, wool is her history…her story. Ruth Purves-Smith, oh, how I grow to love you! Now, you have been my teacher and I treasure that!
Gathering together means the sharing of stories, the week’s events, creative projects, vision, frustration, hard work and yes, edits on cover letters, even dog tales/tails!
Meeting Booster for the first time was more than fun! This sweetie really wasn’t ever supposed to have a chance at life, but because of her willingness to negotiate around Booster’s many special needs, Ruth gave her that! Apart from very unique dietary concerns and the fact that she has to consistently wear a little diaper, Booster seems to lead a very happy and contented life. As Max’s best friend, I can tell you that this gives me great respect for Ruth.
Settling in, I loved the colours and textures that began to spill out into Wendy’s living room!
I’ve had opportunity before to watch a remarkable lesson on felting delivered by Leah C. Donald to my grade three students. However, I didn’t have the opportunity to share in the experience because it was necessary to supervise the students’ use of the felting needles and to be a part of their process. So, I was excited to actually manipulate the media and to enjoy the hands-on practice.
Ruth brought some of her creations and I was at once, in awe. Hmmm…no pictures of lunch, likely because I was enthusiastically ‘putting it down’.
I decided that I would like to create a hot pad for the table and to focus on technique. I was definitely the slowest person in the room! It took quite some time before I sorted out the use of the felting needle. Thanks for your patience, ladies!
Yesterday afternoon was just one of those magical times that created memories, both in my heart and head, but also in my body. The warm smell of wool, the texture and the concentration…all so wonderful! The next time you feel really cold, I highly recommend wrapping yourselves up in wool, good food and friendship.
Support the Custom Woolen Mills, when you can. Buy your gifts from artists and artisans. Buy music from local artists. Support the creation of treasures that come out of your local community.
One of the components of the Alberta Elementary Art Curriculum is Expression. Here lies the opportunity for students to explore media, personal narratives and ‘let ‘er loose’. While I typically embed reflection and depiction in my lessons, as well as inherently guide the students to compose well (all of the strands are connected), sometimes I focus more on the act of painting or sculpting or learning what media can do. Seasonal celebrations lend themselves well to Expression. Those educators who lean heavily on Pinterest for their ‘art ideas’ need to remember that these are, for the most part, Expression lessons and often of the variety that focuses on the ‘how to’ rather on the child’s personal interpretation of their internal narrative. We need to be wary of the ‘paper cut out’ approach for the sake of a ‘pretty display’. I think it’s essential the ‘art idea’ bank be balanced with more unpredictable outcomes and never sacrifice the experiences that come with Reflection, Depiction and Composition.
This month the students in my care, painted. The use of the brush continues to be a skill to be reckoned with. Turning the brush sideways for thin marks and flat for wider marks, another technique to practice. Dry brush and wet brush effects can be observed and discussed.
Creating candlelight separately, to be cut out and glued to the candle after drying…one idea…in the case that you have short bits of time for painting, instead of a sustained period of time.
The resulting collages, including a wreath of evergreen that has been created using green on green, studies in pattern. In this case a second candle will be added on the second week of Advent (taller), a Gaudete candle on the third week (taller still and pink in colour) and the fourth candle, the last week, leading to Christmas.
Fully painted Advent Wreaths, horizontally on large paper. Concept in composition was overlapping…we did a few exercises with our bodies before beginning this…talked a little about perception. Notice North, South, East and West marked at the compass points of the picture plane. These dots give the students reminders to stretch their images to touch each of those edges. Chalk allows the students to explore placement, change their minds and plan and scheme. Pencil is debilitating at this age. Erasers become appendages. lol Just get rid of both. White chalk rocks!
Smaller format…still, on coloured construction for an activated picture plane. Later, to have the candle flames whitened with chalk or white oil pastel…I would suggest that these smaller compositions might have oil pastel underlines or embellishments added after dry.
Since attending a workshop at the Esker Foundation last Saturday, I’ve been reading a little about the practice of Shibori and discovering the many ways that one can, using Indigo, create brilliant patterns on fabrics.
Keep in mind that this was my first experience.
Esker’s workshop presenter was Lyn Pflueger, generously assisted by Jeri, also from Bragg Creek. Borrowed from the 2009 Annual Report for the Immigration Services of Calgary, this beautiful photograph by Fritz Tolentino.
Everything about this workshop reminded me of working side by side with my mother…learning to crochet, knit, sew garments, embroidery and basket weaving. My mother loved these things. One of my biggest regrets is that I never had opportunity to learn the skill of weaving on a loom with Mom. She was an inspiring person for so many reasons. Lyn and Jeri demonstrated the same patience and the Esker programming staff was so wonderful, providing materials and a smooth pacing of the event. Thank you.
While I stitched a running stitch (the first technique described) I thought about Mom and while I evidently did NOT pull my stitches tightly enough (optimally, you achieve a beautiful white to contrast with the deep colour of the indigo), I enjoyed every minute learning the methodology, with intention of pressing forward with such exploration.
I decided to explore a gesture of the bush that I visit and document every day at the pond.I felt a lot of strength in my surroundings. I was emotional, I must admit. The technique at the bottom of the image is called binding, in this case, around soya beans. In the end, I wrapped these tightly enough so that the ink did not manage its way into the cloth. My running stitches, on the other hand, were not so successful.
Photo Credit: Esker Foundation
Photo Credit: Esker Foundation
Break here for a song that came to mind…I had heard the St. Mary’s University choir do a version of it…and I was thinking how I’d like to be with my Mom. She would so enjoy Shibori techniques!
The samples that Jeri and Lyn showed us were so absolutely beautiful. I liked the connection between the exhibit, Colleen Heslin’s work and the process.
The technique used for the samples below is a clamping technique. I have not yet documented my clamped sampler, but was pleased to learn this second technique.
An amazing process of dye baths and oxidation…all timed. It is easy to get absorbed by the interesting process of it all.
I managed to catch the gesture of the bush…very strong sense of the rock with the bound soya beans…a strong border, but the loss of some branches, likely by a pulled thread or two or three, lost and not knotted properly.
We enjoyed the various fabric samplers that demonstrated the limitless possibilities of applying these techniques and more to other types of fabric…felting, organza and others.
Thanks to all, for a beautiful morning at Esker! There was a powerful bonding to fabric artists, both present and those who have left this world…to feel that spirit of connection and creation was awesome!
Jean-short-for-Eugenia, a retired nurse, came to be with the grade three classes yesterday and left me, both fascinated, and in awe of her passion for eggs and her organization as a workshop presenter. The class was informative, seamless and so much fun!
This is something that Jean has always enjoyed doing with her husband, Al. Her eyes lit up as she mentioned him and their shared love for Eggs-Quisites. They’ve been going out into schools and organizations to share their experience with different aged children and adults for almost thirty years. When they come out to your school, they supply dyes, books, wax and amazing exemplars of this traditional craft. They even manufacture their own kistky! After a fascinating history of Pysanky, Jean shared a hands on adventure through the application of beeswax in preparation for six different dye baths.
I enjoyed the stories that Jean shared with us and the children adored her. Such a gentle and truly lovely person! Thank you, Jean!
Monday morning, I wasn’t at my very best. I knew I was coming down with something…head aching…throat, sore. I hoped, from the onset, that I would have the energy to give these grade four children a lovely day and a bit of a painting experience. I was already tickled to be welcomed by beautiful office and instructional staff. These guys always rock!
I stepped into Ashley’s classroom and immediately felt a sense of calm. I think that there has to be some sort of link between productivity, learning and an ordered space. Is it possible to be creative when there is order? I guess I’ll check out the psychology of that aesthetic as I think of Ashley’s work space.
K…so I’ve wandered a little on the world wide web, sipping grapefruit juice as I go and what I can surmise is that our living and working environments need to be constructed/designed/maintained in a very individualized way, to suit our very personal way of functioning and creating.
On Monday, this ordered space was absolutely what I needed. I have Ashley’s permission to welcome you into her space.
Love is in the air…first of all, it’s February! Gracie was my #1 assistant all day. Thank goodness for her efforts. She really took up the slack!
I just really like the philosophy behind these seven habits…language that grade fours can understand…but, ideas that we might all put to good use.A sense of space and order as I entered the classroom…I think I actually vocalized…”Ahhhhh” as I breathed out. The new buildings are so wonderful because the flooring allows for spills, building, exploration and easy tidy-up.Winter art was cheerfully displayed. I think that mats, while very inexpensive, somehow emphasize the individuality and the special nature of each creation. Once the display comes down, the other side can be used for the next piece of art…so reuse!
Light…so wonderful and necessary for a peace-filled day. I like the touch of personal objects that give the children a sense of home and community. A place for those teacher’s gifts.
Storage buckets with a sense of humour. These make me smile just looking at them.
A nook for spirtual objects contributes to a sense of calm.
Ideas for daily physical activity! Good stuff!
Students like to know how they’re doing.
I liked how every thing had its place. I felt in control, even in moments when I would typically be feeling anxiety. The desks were in such an arrangement that it made very quick work to move them into pods of two students for easy access to the paint station. The how-to of this lesson can be found here. Here are just a few of the students’ creations. Thank you, Ashley, for a day with your class.
For love of her grandson, a friend of mine orchestrated and pulled off a twelve year project. The other evening, before ordering a post-movie Humpty’s breakfast, she passed me the gift of a photo archive of the project, in the form of a book, made by her grandson (photographs by her son), a response to his experience of receiving my hand made ornaments from the time he was a little boy up until he became a young man. I am in awe of her persistence.
Each year, well before Christmas, this amazing lady organized the posting of the ornaments to connections in distant countries, beginning with Okotoks, Alberta. :0) These people would use her funds, included in the double wrapped packages, to post the gift back to her grandson, living in Vancouver. Imagine receiving an anonymous package from a different part of the world each year for twelve years!! I am so grateful that I was the artist chosen to participate in this Christmas magic. Needless to say, I shed a few happy tears while leafing through these pages while sharing an evening breakfast with my daughter and three of my dearest friends.
Usually in a bit of a rush, even to the point of waiting for the ornaments to dry, I only archived by photograph, one set of these ornaments, but got them out the door and delivered to my friend, just in the nick of time for mailing. So for me to receive this carefully constructed archive is heaven!
The speech that was written and shared with his class was written prior to his receipt of “On the twelfth day of Christmas…”