One of the cherished afternoons I shared with my father, this past summer, was a visit to Al Gerritsen’s studio and wood shop. Something I really admire about this artist is his humility about his craft. He is selfless. Just recently I had a conversation with a couple of my artist-friends and more and more we notice the self-absorbed ego that gets a tad too large in the role of ‘artist’. It’s almost as if a particular type of narcissism has taken hold. Is this the only way that a person can be ‘known’? Or if this is the only way, is it best to be unknown? Something to think about. Al is one of the most inspired and prolific artists I know.
With his particular connections with and history in Saskatchewan, it ended up being a bit of an exchange of memories between the two men. That was lovely to see. I know there are many wondrous art spaces and experiences that can be had in this city, but sometimes it comes down to sharing time with artists in their modest, but inspiring spaces…their studios. I like that nothing is staged in Al’s studio. A person is able to get the true sense of the production happening…how the tools are stored and used…and the evolution of amazing works. There is no room here for candles and fairy lights. It is a working space that is filled with energy and love.
Again, I want to express my gratitude for the work of Al Gerritsen. His work surrounds us and his skill is exceptional. Thanks for your willingness to share some time with Dad, Al, and to give us your stories.
Time spent in Comox was about a lot of things, not the least of which was coming to the realization that when your life collides with another life, it’s a tremendous thing to really open up to that experience. REALLY getting to know a person, teaches you just how amazing human beings are. I marvel at the unique gift of each person. I know that sounds cliche, but it is true.
Grace took Cayley and me up to meet John McKee late one night so that we might look through one of his telescopes at the moon. I was so much in awe of the crisp image and detail on the surface of the moon that I cried…but there was so much more to this story. We rotated through one turn after another, gazing through this powerful backyard telescope. The rest of the time, we leaned back in lawn chairs and watched the shooting stars dart across the sky. In fact, this was the night of my first bat-in-flight experience as well.
I have no doubt that I will be writing about John again, but consider this an introduction. John, a former air force man, is an astronomer who intensely studies the universe and so can speak eloquently about all matters of the sky…and when you’re finished that, you can get into his reading list and beyond. In his day, he consistently attended the seven-day party at 1,800 meters above sea level in the mountains near Osoyoos to star gaze with other enthusiasts and to consider his life an adventure is an understatement!
His home was stacked from top to bottom with objects of his affection, items that he’s collected and constructed, both. As well as turning wood and doing fine leather work, designing and building boats, constructing his own home, he, in 17 years, built 32 telescopes for people across Canada. I was very fortunate in that I had opportunity to use and adjust one of these.
The telescopes that John McKee builds are reflecting telescopes. In future posts, I will write about the methods of his construction as well as the effectiveness of this type of scope. He DID reference an Italian monk, Niccolo Zucchi of 1616, who made the first reflector, but never mastered the right shape for the mirror and could never figure out how to look at the image properly. As my readers know, it took Isaac newton to take the reflector idea and perfect the telescope in 1670.
I asked John if a book had been written about his life and work and he quickly responded in the negative. (Before I left, John passed me a duplicate copy of an article that was written by Ryan Stuart about his star-gazing and was published in the Comox Valley InFocus Magazine August/September 2006). I have written to Ryan Stuart to talk to him more about his interview with John. This meeting caused me to ponder how many brilliant people I have yet to meet…people who are enthusiastically exploring their passion regardless of any sort of notoriety. It also caused me to fill up with gratitude for the brilliant people who are already in my life and who fill me to the brim on a regular basis. In a future post, I will share some of the books on John’s list. The Lost Continent of Mu by James Churchward would be a start. You just might want to join me in learning history that might have slipped past you somehow during your formal education.
Sister-in-law Grace and daughter, Cayley…in a time warp.
John and Grace
Careful documentation and storage, allows for John to access books/records and past editions of astronomy magazines and space program archives with ease.
Based on these photographs, can my readers even begin to imagine the stories that were being fired out during the few hours of our visit? Now John and I are phone buddies. Great morning coffees happen and will happen over chats about the stars.