The Matter of Place

Off the top…a great book recommendation made by Bill MacDonnell, Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama.

From the section of Streams of Consciousness Chapter 5…this preface by Gaston Bachelard.

“I was born in a country of brooks and rivers, in a corner of Champagne, called Le Vallage for the great number of its valleys. The most beautiful of its places for me was the hollow of a valley by the side of fresh water, in the shade of willows…My pleasure still is to follow the stream, to walk along its banks in the right direction, in the direction of the flowing water, the water that leads life towards the next village…Dreaming beside the river, I gave my imagination to the water, the green, clear water, the water that makes the meadows green. …The stream doesn’t have to be ours; the water doesn’t have to be ours. The anonymous water knows all my secrets. And the same memory issues from every spring.”
― Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter

These summarize my general sense of landscape and more specifically, place.

Just as I think that our narratives inhabit objects, and without materialism, contain our affections and memory, I believe that particular places do the same.

On Labour Day, my son and I headed to Magrath, Alberta to say good-bye to a house…my Auntie Ruth’s home…because on September 15, it will be possessed by a new family after all of these years.  James and I listened to CBC radio programming all the way south to Lethbridge.  It seems to me that a story on whistle blowers in places of employment kept us engaged for most of the journey.  The miles, as is usual, went by quickly.  Once traveling the 23 across from Claresholm, Barons was just around the corner and then, with coulees in sight, I felt as though I was home.

Rolling into Magrath, the first stop was the old house.  My cousins have been sorting and downsizing and cleaning…a very difficult experience, as I recall from the days when my parents went through the same process.  As I stepped into the house, all of the memories of childhood and adulthood rushed back to the surface.  There’s just no stopping that particular experience.  I snapped a few photographs…while Auntie Ruth had already moved…she was still absolutely present to my experience of memory and love.

Last week, my cousin wrote that he had found a package of negatives in among Ruth’s things…and much like I do at such discoveries, he set out and had them developed.  Here, is a scan of one of those photographs.  My parents, in 1954, brother John, a year old and one, a photograph of my Grandfather, John Moors, with his dog at Greg Lake.

Read this…on the Poetics of Space. About a house, Gaston Bachelard wrote…

“His use of architectural phenomenology lets the mind loose to make its way, always ready for what might emerge in the process. The house is ‘the topography of our intimate being’, both the repository of memory and the lodging of the soul – in many ways simply the space in our own heads. He offered no shortcuts or routes of avoidance, since ‘the phenomenologist has to pursue every image to the very end’.”

If one does not move carefully through a house/home, one might not capture these bits of magic or ephemera that remain silenced by time and circumstance.  I’m grateful to my cousin who discovered those negatives, flattened amid the bric-a-brac.

From Tim Rollingson Black and White 11From Tim Rollingson Black and White 9

Our footsteps echoed in the house, as James and I traveled room to room.  And while memories flooded my walk, my son James had a completely different experience of place and quietly uttered the words, “This is so sad.”

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I remember the front door always being open or unlocked.  Family came and went.

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My father asked me to take a photograph of the front door.  Several times repaired or renovated, my father had recollection of an incident from his childhood in this part of the house.  I’m publishing that recollection, here, as it was written.

 “Well the problem is Kath this new door had the hole above it fixed. Anyway my dad and his buddies came home from hunting birds one day in Magrath Alberta . Of course they were half cut (as dad told me years later”if you are going to drink just drink good scotch and you will never have a hang over”. Well that day Dad left a shell in his single barrel 12 gauge shot gun. I being an inquisitive young lad wanted them all to know ( Mom and the whole family was in that little living room); anyway I lined up the duck flying above the door cocked the gun and pulled the trigger.. BAM you should have heard the screems and the shot about knocked me on my butt but there was a neat round hole firght through trim at the top of the door which appeared just seconds after a big guy way over 6 feet had walked in. Dad was the only one who got supreme heck for having a loaded gun in the house. Now I have bared my soul to all those interested.PS I was about 7 or so when this happened..”

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I remember fried eggs and bacon cooking….the smell of toast freshly-popped.  I remember my mother’s laughter in this kitchen.  I will always remember where my Auntie sat.

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The back room…I remember the ceiling being lined with cardboard egg cartons.  I remember my cousins and drumming and laughter.  I remember the door from this room out to the back, always open.  I remember summer.

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I remember Linda.  I remember sleepovers.  I remember lots of quilts and pillows.

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I remember food supply.

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Objects of the every day.

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I remember the gardens…the lilies…the geraniums…the hanging baskets.

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More than anything, I remember my Auntie sitting on the front porch.

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From the house, James and I went for visits with both his Great Aunties…Ruth and then Eleanor.  We are so blessed to have these women in our lives, as well as my Auntie Jackie and Auntie Mary.  I lift up prayers for all…for their health and their safety and that we keep memories such as I enjoyed with my son, close to our hearts.

Just this morning, and the reason for this post, I interviewed Auntie Ruth over the telephone, about her home.

Back in early 1940s, my Gramma and Grampa moved to Magrath, mostly in an effort to help their young daughter, Ruth, fight the symptoms of asthma.  The humid air in Ontario seemed to really irritate her breathing and  my grandparents were willing to try anything.

The first home they lived in was rented from a Ukrainian family.  I am in the process of researching their name.  Water was manually pumped from a well on the property.  There was an outhouse and bathing happened in the middle of the kitchen floor in a round tub.  Auntie Ruth remembers the water being heated in a kettle on a wood/coal stove.

Magrath had two stores at the time, the Trading Company and Louis Stevenson’s store.  There was a black smith shop on main street, as well as a show house.  There were no sidewalks in the town.

When Ruth turned 16, she remembers that the family moved into a white stucco house, the very house that James and I visited on September 1 of this year.  She remembers that Eleanor, Margaret and Johnny went off to school in the town, located where today’s school stands but, of course, a much smaller building.  During the war, Ruth worked at one of the blanket-making machines in the Golden Fleece Woolen Mill.  I’m posting a photograph of that particular mill here…it is not to be confused with the Woolen Mill that my grandfather opened up some years later.

John Moors Woolen Mill Magrath, Alberta

Many contracts came in to the Magrath Golden Fleece Woolen Mill during World War II 1939-1945.  My Auntie remembers working there.

A booklet published by the Magrath History and Museum Association and written by John Balderson, explains…

“When in full operation, the Golden Fleece Woolen Mill ran three 8 hour shifts, 24 hours a day.  Twenty-five men and women were on each shift making seventy-five individuals in total.  Two hundred and twenty five army blankets were made each day using 1,000,000  lbs of wool each year.”

Whenever my Auntie speaks about that time, she mentions the Canadians of Japanese descent who shared her machines with her.  She also talks about the shame she feels at how they were treated.  She explained to me this morning that eight Japanese-Canadian women were pulled off the Sugar Beet fields, to work in the mill.  They were all University educated and lovely, however, shy women.  Auntie Ruth  said that their housing was comprised of sheds lined up on the far edge of town, rows and rows of sheds where these beautiful and hard-working people were treated as prisoners-of-war.  My Auntie will never forget the women she worked with on her shifts.

In terms of the house, my Auntie remembers very good and also, difficult times.  She dated my Uncle Roy for four months when they got married and moved to Lethbridge, Uncle Roy worked for Western Drilling.  Ruth was 20 at the time.  Auntie Ruth will always tell you that the Korean War finished off her husband.  And all these years later, having read about the war and discovered the exposure these soldiers had to Mustard Agent and Lewisite as well as the bizarre view of PTSD at the time and the irresponsible treatment of these veterans, it is absolutely no wonder that he and his family, struggled upon his return.

I remember vacation days in both Magrath (at my Auntie Ruth’s and at my Grandparent’s place in front of the mill) and Raymond (at my Auntie Eleanor and Uncle Ted’s place).  In fact, I regret that I didn’t have the chance to grieve the farmhouse in Raymond like I did this house.  I remember much family laughter.  I remember the smell of a slow-cooked blade roast in the oven.  I remember my Grandmother’s laughter.  I remember the smell of wool.

This past weekend, I said good-bye to a place.  That does not mean that it does not remain with me…always.

 

 

Writing on the Studio Wall

I have a long history of writing on walls.  But, what a friend recently told me is that Sharpie fades and will only last so long on drywall. (this explains why my affirmations, written on my bathroom wall in metallic gold pen, have begun to disappear)  So, as I looked at my studio walls, I DID realize that many of the original song lyrics and early writings of friends have begun to disappear.  I have documented these so that as they fade, they can be remembered as they become a part of the history of place.

I’ll begin with the most recent signing…that of my furnace tech, having just cleaned out my furnace and vents for this year.

If you do not see your writing on my wall, it is time for a studio visit!  Scout…looking for your writing. ;0)

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I need to change my filter more often.

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Annie Lennox: The Saddest Song I’ve Got (yup…sometimes when you’re painting, you feel sad and I would have been playing this CD while I painted, likely after I saw her playing a concert with Sting.)

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My oldest Kananaskis Country map plastered on the studio wall. I think about the mountains whenever I’m not in them. When I thought to, I recorded the odd hike…just so that I could remember the circumstance. Most times I forgot.

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Oh my gosh…winter hot dog roast at Sandy McNabb…that was a long time ago! I DID DO RAE GLACIER again!

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I didn’t keep this up…but, I thought it would be cool to list the new CDs that came into the studio. Don’t know what the Martha Stewart Wedding memo was about.

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This boy has a big influence on me. He got over some addictions. He helped me recently.

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Alan put up some shelves in the studio when I first built it…now, that was a long time ago! It seems we reused wood. I painted it up and it looked great. I remember when the studio was empty.

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Pat, from the Ironwood, was out with another buddy. I was bugging him about the fact that when the move happened from the present day Blue’s Can, they took Mussels off the menu. We were drinking wine in the studio that evening. These things happen.

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My niece, Mandi, wrote beautiful words for me on the morning of my first born’s wedding…and it’s almost impossible to read them anymore. I treasure them and always will. I send her love, abundant love.

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Bee, my dancing partner, when there’s good Honky Tonk music playing, continuously shares hilarious bits of blah blah…usually, I write them down.

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Oh, good grief…weird stuff ends up hung on my studio wall, but, I am always prepared. Nothing’s worse than having to leave a painting, in order to floss your teeth…and times wasted looking for it.

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Oh my gosh…I was obsessed with getting large storage for my big canvases. Thank you to all my friends and family who had to listen to my musings on this subject and to the two men who eventually built them. I’ve been afraid that they are going to fall on me while I paint, ever since. lol

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Yes, I was this obsessed. To the right, a beautiful mosaic created by a Larche artist, a gift from Father Clair Watrin a zillion years ago.

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One view of the storage that I love so much.

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The other side…

 

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Chris and Clayton…former students. Every so often the kids come back to visit…they’re both grown up now. We don’t forget, though. Proud of both of these dudes.

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Broken hearted, I cut three travel journals up into little squares, when my trucker boyfriend dumped me over the telephone. (I may as well be honest). Chances are that if you’ve got one of my paintings since 2006, one of these squares is buried in your painting. I thought it would be good to send a bit of my heart out with each new piece…the nice thing to announce is that it barely hurts at all any more. This is what happens with broken heartedness.

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Awe…my cousin, Clayton, just before he headed out for a huge walk for the support the Kidney Foundation? Correct me, if I’m wrong, Clay. Karina and Clayton…a gift to share an evening with them.

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Jen Hall took the first and only ‘real’ portrait that I’ve had done of me…and Max…and she documented a few paintings for me. She’s awesome.

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I have a habit of picking up things in old frames, especially if they look like they were hung in some one’s kitchen for a zillion years…where mayhaps tea was served and ladies talked.

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I read stuff about our animal/bird/insect/plant species that are in trouble…I clip them here…I don’t want to forget. Some of these land in paintings…it all depends what I’m thinking about at the time.

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My son….he was my very young batman…he wanted to keep everyone safe and happy and calm. These are two of my favourite photos of him. The other one…well, you saw it earlier.  James and sister, Cayley, at Angel Glacier.

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Yeah…more journal squares…a piece from Ashleigh Bartlett’s workshop at Esker…more salvaged religious memorabilia from the second hand stores…a postcard of Tim Belliveau’s glass…my all time favourite glass artist.

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Book suggestions…words from my sister-in-law, Grace. Aaron, Angela and Wisdom visited me and took away my teaching table so that I would never, again, be tempted to teach in the studio, but instead, paint.

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Yes…my daughter’s wedding. Trying to remember neighbour’s names…

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Karina…beautiful. I wish more of my relations from Raymond and Lethbridge and Magrath would stop in for visits. Love them so much.

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Youngest person to visit my studio…Wisdom is growing up so fast. Love the Sponge Bob!

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Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman Read it! WHEN the true poet comes, how shall we know him— By what clear token,—manners, language, dress? Or shall a voice from Heaven speak and show him: Him the swift healer of the Earth’s distress!

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Bill used to move my art…I loved him so much.

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Bill Webb…still painting luminous landscapes of the Livingston Range and winter roads. New adventures are happening for my dear friend.

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James Blunt…during heart wrenching moments in the studio.

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Margy…oh my gosh…how many times did we watch the music video and sing along with this tune??

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Bob Nelson…drove all the way from Helena and we went down to Knox and listened to acapella music. High school friend and talks about life, the world and Kant. I’m catching waves.

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I didn’t see this note about the scissors until today. Cayley, sorry that I wasn’t helpful. lol The scissors are hanging in the scissor place over there!

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Beautiful lady, Angela. And, I guess some sort of recommendation from Dylan. Dylan and Kristan, former students, have visited. But…it’s been a while. Both are doing inspiring and exciting things. I still have a JH self portrait in a portfolio for Kristan to pick up. lol

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Oh dear…I can’t read this. Can you? Please let me know…something about meditation…I can read “Remain Radiant”

REMAIN ‘RADIANT,’AS JOYCE PUT IT, IN THE FILTH OF THE WORLD.

The goal of life is to be a vehicle
for something higher.Keep your eye up there
between the pairs of opposites
watching your play in the world.Let the world be as it is
and learn to rock with the waves.Remain ‘radiant,’
as Joyce put it,
in the filth of the world.”~ Joseph Campbell, Excerpt From: “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, iBooks

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This young man…an accomplished and published photographer/journalist out of Toronto. Look for his stuff on cars…and his road trips! Proud of you, Clayton.

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My brother, owner of Cliff’s Chinook Charters out of Comox, wrote about the plight of the salmon. I love my brother…he knows how much I think about him. I caught a big one out there, while sharing a trip with my daughter and father.

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Leslie Champ, former student and amazing man! Christmas visit 2013. The little piece matted in purple, a piece of art created by student Katie McGreevy for me when I taught at St. John’s Fine Arts School…again, a zillion years ago. A couple pieces of my paint-by-number collection.

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I cherish Leslie’s words.

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Jen…another artist extraordinaire. A part of a powerhouse teaching team at AGC when it was before the boss woman went down in flames.

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Middle Child, daughter Cayley, is one of my two daughters. Both have taught me about courage. I could not have learned the lessons of courage in life, without them.

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Thank you.

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Rita, I miss you. You opened up so much discourse. You supported me.

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First born. I can’t type anything about her without getting teary. Such a warm, funny, organized, loving human being! Brave! Pam and Larry, that was a fun night! Such fun!

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“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” ― Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

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lol You’re welcome, Larry.

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In two places.

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Jen, I miss you. A bit of a piece done with Asheigh Bartlett, as a response to work by Jack Bush.

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People leave me stones, shells and earth from places they have traveled…these came from Australia. Thank you, Bob.

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Natasha…former student studying art in Vancouver. Love you and so proud of you.

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Darwin stones.

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Prince Edward Island Sand…touch it every once and a while and my mother comes to mind.

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Shells and stones…Prince Edward Island. I get teary looking at these.

Of all the Places

I ended up thinking about this place today.  I sat with my children, as we do on Sundays, ate a meal and shared stories and as they left and I find myself alone at the table, I feel a certain sadness for the passage of time.  Sundays with Gramma meant a blade roast, cooked slowly, all day long.  Sundays meant cartoons with Grampa on the sofa.  I’m grateful for my family and the memory of places that remain in my heart.  If you are in my family and have a photo of yourself on this front step, please forward it to me, so that I may include it here.

The Mill For Sale As I remember it. Woolen Mill 001 Uncle Bob Moors in Magrath Alberta July 1963

Florence, John and Bob Woollen MillRuth and Roy IMG_5619 IMG_8911 IMG_8912

Woolen Mill

They lived off of the front of a woolen mill, the only one in all of Western Canada.  The evening we arrived at the Magrath Wool, Card and Spinning Mill, was the first time I had ever met my grandparents.  It was a one bedroom apartment with a curtain strung for a bedroom door.  To the right of the front door was a small office with papers and invoices heaped high on a huge oak desk.  Some old black and white photographs were pinned to the bulletin board.

To the left, a living room opened up, with a sofa set before a half wall that was easily called the Wiley Coyote-Couch because every evening after work, Grampa would sit for the cartoons with as many grandchildren as possible nestled around and about him.  The half-wall revealed on the other side, the kitchen where most of the visiting would happen.  My Gramma was the nucleus of this portion of the home.  I still remember her, without dentures, eating a slice of white bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with white sugar.  The sound of her laughter and the appearance of her crinkled face stay with me.

Deep into the living room was a second sofa, this one was a pull-out bed.  My parents would sleep there.  Beside the sheers on the living room window, grew a huge Christmas cactus, dust woven in and out of its myriad of branches.  There was a small electric organ in front of the same large picture window and Gramma would play Aura Lee and Going Home and make my father weep.

The evening we arrived, Gramma met us all at the front door, squealing.  It seemed my father held onto her forever.  She had one of those cover-up aprons on, more like a duster…it was covered in golden flowers and was as soft as can be.  Grampa was called in from the mill…Gramma called him, lovingly, Jack.  Whenever he made his way into the kitchen from the mill, his first gesture was to lift his suspenders up and over his big shoulders.  When he smiled his eyes always filled with tears, it was just the way it was.  He smelled of this wonderful scent of raw wool and wore little pieces of grey and white fluff in his hair and on his clothing.  I loved these two with my whole heart.

The sight of my grandparents for the first time, was indeed, a little taste of heaven.  Having lived on the move so much, it was those memories that I would grow to hold onto and keep in the treasure box of my soul.

Whut Cha Been UpTah? Balletlujah With the Alberta Ballet

P1100992 P1100993 It’s been over a week and I am only now sitting down to write about Balletlujah! It was a brilliant  collaboration between Artistic Director of the Alberta Ballet, Jean Grand-Maitre and k. d. lang.  My friend told me that she began to cry during the second half…I cried from the time I saw the magical prairie landscape open up during the first number, Inglewood.  Suddenly, I was flooded with memories of times shared with my grandfather, miles traveled on Alberta roads and my years of painting the landscape I’ve treasured so much the past thirty years.

P1110002I can not possibly capture for my readers, the gist of the performance.  The dancers were exquisite.  The costumes were perfect.  The lights and video effects were spectacular and the music created for me, a narrative that moved me beyond belief.  The images of buffalo, crows, fish and star studded nights were dreamy.  The contrast of prairie and city experiences was so well-developed through the music and the ballet.  I definitely felt that the piece was encompassing themes of place, home and identity…of what it feels like to love completely and without holding back.  A spectacular night!  The second last tune resonates with me personally and so I am going to link to it here.

If given the opportunity to see this ballet in the future, please do.

Demolition Art House

Demolition Art House.

Place

It’s an awesome thing when projects such as this take place in the City of Calgary.  I was pleased when this led me to an exploration of this blog.  It doesn’t matter the distance that separates us, artists share a common vision of the world; reactions to space/place, response to a vast number and combination of media,  and the making of individual or collective meaning.  I think all art is narrative.

Stuff That Inspires
 
 

The Box Garden by Carol Shields

There was a patter of rain on the roof late last night after I had turned in.  It has rained every night since coming to the cottage, but contrary to what one might think, it has become a welcome and calming sound…the rain and wind. By morning the sea breezes have dried the generous circle of deck and I step out, with arms wide open, thinking that yet again, I am queen for the day!

I pull the three homemade quilts up close to my chest.  I fluff and organize against the wooden headboard, my four pillows, their covers neatly edged with stitchery of one kind or another.  The sheets and pillows both feel like cool soft butter.

There is a warm light emitted from the lamp at my bedside and I read until I finish A Box Garden by Carol Shields.  Charleen is not the best of protagonists for me.  Carol Shields was a master of character-writing, but I fall in love with Charleen’s mother.  There is nothing better for women-readers than a Shields novel, even when less-widely read.  Given my present setting, the feeling of this place and the fact that I was holding in my hands a yellowed second hand book…and read it in one evening, just contributes to how well I will remember and love the book.  Sometimes what makes a book glorious is as much the experience of the book-reading as the story itself.

I love Brother Adam of the Priory…the one who writes the letters to Charleen.  I like that he writes to her and I like that he sends her the box garden.  I don’t like him so much for who he has been or becomes, but because of his love for grass growing, the great and wondrous expanse of green and what it does for the spirit.  Grass is used also in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.  I remember and continue to treasure those chapters.  Shield’s book brings that back for me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlYAhSffEDM

A Bus Along St. Clair: December by Margaret Atwood

It would take more than that to banish me:
this is my kingdom still.
Turn, look up
Through the gritty window: an unexplained
wilderness of wires.

Though they buried me in monuments
of concrete slabs, of cables
though they mounted a pyramid
of cold light over my head
though they said, we will build silver paradise
with a bulldozer

it shows how little they know about vanishing:
I have my ways of getting through.

Right now, the snow is no more familiar to you than it was to me: this is my doing.
The grey air, the roar going on behind it
are no more familiar.

I am the old woman sitting across from you on the bus,
her shoulders drawn up like a shawl;
Out of her eyes come secret hatpins, destroying the walls,
the ceiling

Turn, look down:
there is no city;
this is the center of a forest

Your place is empty.

A Monument