Interview with Jane Rule from Wellesley Centers for Women
The Group of Seven was a revelation to me as a girl in grade one, in Canada, with an art teacher who showed us the brushstrokes, the colors and shapes distinguishing each of the painters in the group. The Group of Seven wanted to paint their own country rather than looking to England. I recognized the Mountain Ash in this painting by J.E.H. Macdonald, because there were several on my street in Edmonton. I admired the red-orange berries, and the narrow finger-like groups of leaves. The berries weren’t for humans to eat, but the Cedar Waxwings would come in the winter, ravenously hungry and swarm the Mountain Ash until the berries were gone.
As a mosaic artist, I had a bit of excitement in discovering that J.E.H. MacDonald designed a mosaic mural for the Concourse Building in Toronto. The building is being demolished by new owners, but the mosaics are being preserved. I am partial to mosaic rainbows, and loved seeing one in MacDonald’s mural.
My child-self watched the world with intensity. I remember walking through the Humanities Centre at the University of Alberta, where my father had an office in the English Department. This was a landscape, like outside, there of its own accord. It was a surprise to realize that someone designed this space, built it, inhabited it. There are banners hanging from the ceiling. I remember the colors and how they floated in that middle space, the airy core of the building.
These banners were created by Takao Tanabe, a Canadian artist. Printed on nylon, they glow in the light. I didn’t know an artist created this part of my landscape. Born in 1926, Tanabe started as an abstract expressionist painter, and eventually moved into semi-abstract landscapes. His banners were along the way, from the later 60’s/early 70’s, with drafting tool angles, gradated colors, and of course orange.
For more of Takao Tanabe’s work, check out my Orange Tuesdays Pinterest Board
The day after Christmas is Boxing Day in Canada. The 26th of December was the day of let-down after the fervor of Christmas, but I did like the sound of the phrase Boxing Day. The origin of the holiday was murky in my mind as a child, though I remember the part about British gentlefolk giving their servants the day off and boxes of gifts. Cats understand Boxing Day instinctively, and only require the box, with nothing but themselves in it.
I didn’t realize that the 26th is also the feast day of St. Stephen, who gave alms to the poor, and makes Boxing Day part of a much older tradition. I wonder about the history embedded in our lives that we do not notice, a deep well of unheard stories. The carol Good King Wenceslas is also connected to this day, and I never noticed that Christmas is not mentioned. My favorite lines:
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even
The rhythm in these words pleased me as a child, the emphasis for each of deep, crisp, even. That king Wenceslas was actually a Duke, retroactively named a King by Emperor Otto is another bit of history buried in the snow. The Good King sees a poor man out in the snow, and gives him food and fuel. Fr. James Martin talks of the version by The Roches, and the pause they take before the final line, “Ye who now shall bless the poor shall yourself find blessing.”
The word “alms” intrigued me because it reminds me of my last name, Almon. Alms comes in part from the Greek “eleemon” meaning compassionate.
For an unusual version of the carol, I found this one sung by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, illustrated by DC comics. Look for the shadow of Batman at the end. http://youtu.be/A47qu7deSyY
My copy of 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology arrived this week. I was excited to see my name in the table of contents and look forward to reading many accounts of Edmonton winters. I took this photo of a snow man(as I referred to him) with my mother’s Brownie camera in 1975 when I was 8 years old. I don’t remember the actual making of this snow man, but I remember the photo. I built with snow sticky enough to mold the form, the kind you can roll a snowball on the ground into a a larger and larger sphere. I wonder what the buttons and eyes are made of. The one arm looks suspiciously like a kitchen utensil, and the perhaps a doll’s toque on top, with a pompom. His expression is stoic(perhaps he predicted his fate). He stands near my favorite weeping birch tree with the white bark that I could peel off in scrolls and imagine writing novels on.
My third grade teacher had us write a journal, and I discovered this entry when going through my old papers in the attic. Someone had knocked down my snow man. I don’t remember that either. I was comforting myself with the photo I had taken of it, and the possibility of rebuilding. My teacher was concerned whether it would be warm enough. On a whim, I looked up the weather for that date on the Government Canada climate website, and March 8th was about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. March 7th was just at freezing and it snowed. My teacher asked if I used water in my craft of snow man making, and I had an unequivocal no. Perhaps my Texan parents didn’t have the technique to pass on to me. I don’t know if I rebuilt, but looking at the data, I would say no.
Check out the 40 Below book trailer, with its own theme song.
Halloween put me in mind of my favorite pumpkin, Jack Pumpkinhead from The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by John R. Neill. My father taught a University class of Children’s Literature, and the volumes from the reading list had a magic allure. Flipping through my father’s annotated copy, the illustration of General Jinjur caught my eye. The shades of blue-green, the yellow boots and General Jinjur’s splendid skirt.
Tip was so anxious to rejoin his man Jack and the Saw-Horse that he walked a full half the distance to the Emerald City without stopping to rest. Then he discovered that he was hungry and the crackers and cheese he had provided for the Journey had all been eaten.
While wondering what he should do in this emergency he came upon a girl sitting by the roadside. She wore a costume that struck the boy as being remarkably brilliant: her silken waist being of emerald green and her skirt of four distinct colors — blue in front, yellow at the left side, red at the back and purple at the right side. Fastening the waist in front were four buttons — the top one blue, the next yellow, a third red and the last purple.
The convergence of colors in the skirt reminds me of gradating color in my mosaics, and the scene of an entire army of girls converging on the Emerald City, with difference variations of the colors in their skirts. They are an Army of Revolt, marching to overthrow the city, and Tip is baffled that they have no weapons, but then he realizes each girl has two long glittering knitting needles stuck in her hair. The Guardian of the Gate tells the girls to go home to their mothers to milk the cows and bake the bread, and queried, “Don’t you know it’s a dangerous thing to conquer a city?” They took the knitting needles out of their buns, and just enough jabbing to get the key away from the Guardian, and overthrow the city.
Dressing as General Jinjur would make a most excellent Halloween costume, and as a knitter, I would be ready to be in her army. My memories of Halloween in Edmonton involve constructing costumes that could incorporate a winter coat.
Humble is the intensity of
It lies there
too small to cast a shadow,
as the invisible is too large, compassing
light and shadow both;
yet there is
a bond that makes them one.
(From Always Now: Collected Poems of Margaret Avison)
July 1st is Canada day, and it fell on a Monday where I on occasion write about Margarets, and I thought of the Canadian poet Margaret Avison. I am sure I read some of her poems in high school in Canada, as her name appeared unbidden, but when I started to read more about her, I did not realize that she wrote contemplative poems, poems arising out of her renewal of Christian faith in 1963. She grew up the daughter of a Methodist minister, and had some missing years from the church.
While reading about Margaret Avison, I came across a blog called A Month with Margaret, and when I looked at the author of this blog, I recognized a familiar name, Sally Ito, also a Canadian poet. She studied poetry at the University of Alberta with my father. I remember reading Sally Ito’s work when I was writing my own poems, and resonating with her imagery from the Bible and faith. Sally spent a month with Margaret Avison, in the archives, gathering the sense of the late poet, and reflecting upon her.
What a lovely serendipity to find A Month with Margaret on Margaret Monday!
Q is for Québec City, and my first visit to Eastern Canada in 1983, and my second in 1985. I went on a French exchange trip to Edmundston, NB in grade 10, where all the kids took pity on us Western Canadians and spoke to us in English. We had a day trip to Québec City, where all the signs are in French, and there are buildings made of stone, which was impressive to an Alberta girl from a city celebrating its 75th Anniversary. Even more impressive was the dessert cart in the café where several of us went with the Spanish teacher. It was a cart of beauty.
Two years later, when I had moved to Bethlehem, PA, my friend Ruth from Edmonton, and I planned a trip to meet in Montréal, and then travel to Québec City to stay with her aunt, and check out the city. The Château Frontenac is on a cape, rising above the city, and overlooks the St. Lawrence River. I didn’t know what a dormer was called, but I loved the windows with topped with miniature towers.
Ruth took this photo of me in front the Bonhomme, mascot of the winter Carnavale which is an observance of Mardi Gras. Note my hair had grown out from an accidental buzzcut(maybe a more common occurance in the 1980’s than in other eras), the asymmetrical ruffle on my tshirt, and the very stylish velcro fastened powder blue runners(as I called them in Canada). Ruth wrote a caption on the back of the photo: Typical Tourist.
J is for Jasper, both Jasper National Park, and Jasper, AB, the town. I was first there as a girl in the early 1970’s, and remember the giant vehicle that took us out on the Columbia icefields, with a conveyor belt contraption on the wheels. It was red, but according to a photo from a previous decade, they came in many colors.
One of my favorite painters, Canadian Lawren Harris, has a painting of Maligne Lake.
In 1996, Stratoz and I took a trip to Jasper, venturing up Whistler Mountain in a tram, and seeing a panoramic view of the town of Jasper.
We also visited Athabasca Falls, which was intensely loud with the sound of water hitting rocks. This rainbow floated up, seemingly within our reach.
C is for Canada, my home and not so native land, since I was born in Albuquerque,
and my parents moved to Canada when I was a baby.
Canada didn’t get a flag of its own until 1965 when Prime Minister Lester Pearson
made it a priority, and a competition was held.
In Junior High I had a unit in Social Studies about the history of Canada called
Evolution, Not Revolution, and this is illustrated in an account of Joan O’Malley,
who sewed the first prototype as at the request of her father
who worked for the Canadian government:
I really didn’t realize what I was getting into when I got that phone call from my father in 1964. I was just doing my father a favour; not participating in history.
Let me tell you, I don’t think of myself as the Betsy Ross type. [bold added]
And sewing the flag was not easy. I was no professional –
I had just sewed some of my clothes before this.
My sewing machine wasn’t made for such heavy material. But eventually, the flag came together.
At the time, it wasn’t the best way I could think of to spend a Friday night.
In fact, my father was more excited than I was about the whole thing –
he was the one who got to deliver the prototypes to Mr. Pearson’s house.
Even though I may not have realized the importance of what I had been asked to do then,
I felt good about sewing the prototypes for the flag. It was certainly not a request people got every day.
The Library and Archives of Canada has an awesome set of photos on Flickr with some of the entries.
The maple leaf was a popular design element, but some went with abstraction,
like these two blue dots on a field of red and white.
The Northern Lights would have made an elegant flag.
The Canada goose one amuses me the most though.