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.
H is for Hampshire College, Amherst, MA. In 1987, I transferred from community college, mostly prompted by hearing a woman in an airport in Michigan, on my way home from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, telling someone that Hampshire was the only school she could imagine attending. I went to the library, and read about Hampshire in the Peterson’s Guide(print of course), and learned I could design my own major, and there were narrative evaluations rather than letter grades.
I loved the creative concept, the interdisciplinary mash-up. The reality was harder to love. I was lonely. I was a work study student in the college post office(and still remember the box numbers), and was baffled by the student who carried his books in a paper bag, but drove a Mercedes, or the students whose parents could pay the tuition in full. I graduated with student loan debt, and a degree that looked like a mandala. There is a niche market in framing them with round mattes.
I lived in Greenwich Mod 13, which was named for one of the towns that disappeared under the the Quabbin Reservoir. My room was pie shaped. In honor of today being Orange Tuesday, I have included a photo of my chair, which came with the room.
Greenwich House Donut #2, Mod 13 Hampshire College, 1990. Photograph by Margaret Almon, as she packed up her grandparents’ van with her worldly belongings.
Memorable aspects of Hampshire:
The Hampshire College motto is Non Satis Scire: To Know is Not Enough.
The only sports team I recall was Ultimate Frisbee
Hampshire was created by leaders of the other five schools in the region and I took classes at all of them except Amherst, including a poetry workshop with taught by a classmate of Sylvia Plath at Smith College.
The college had a working farm with sheep.
The array of alumni who have gone on to do interesting things from film maker Ken Burns, songwriter Elliott Smith, director Liev Schrieber, and writers Leah Hager Cohen, Jon Krakauer, and comedian Eugene Mirman.
E is for the Edmonton Public Library, where I spent every Saturday as a girl, and most Saturdays through high school. This was my first bar-coded library card from EPL, and my name have even been printed by a computer. The Edmonton Public Library celebrates its 100 Anniversary in 2013.
This girl isn’t me, but very well could’ve been in the year of 1975, at the Capilano Branch summer reading club, with a rainbow of books. I received my first library card at this branch, on manilla cardstock with rounded corners, with my name imprinted by a manual typewriter. [Edited to add that this link no longer works, and so far I haven’t been able to track down these archival photos of the Edmonton Public Library].
I found an image of another rainbow, like a colorful barcode, at the downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library.
My grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Peggy Juchli, wrote this message at the end of the 1973 school year. I have a memory of Mrs. Juchli encouraging me to make art, but reading her words, when I found this journal in the attic a few weeks ago, was a revelation. Mrs. Juchli introduced me to the Group of Seven, and taught me how to observe the brushstrokes, and all the magic that artists can create with paint.
Everyday we would write in our journals, in Edmonton Public Shools Practice Books. My first grade entries begin with crayon drawings and then I began to add words, and Mrs. Juchli would leave comments and answer my questions. My love of drawing continued into grade 2 and 3, because all my entries had illustrations. When in later grades I didn’t have a journal anymore, art was redefined by teachers who wanted me to trace things, and I was not good at tracing. By Grade 7, when art class was an option, it never occurred to me that I could choose to take it. I believed I wasn’t good at art.
But I still loved art. I took the bus to the Edmonton Art Gallery in 1982 to see an exhibit of Sybil Andrews‘ Linocuts. I was 15, and mesmerized by the prints, by yet another way to observe the world. I am grateful that I had Mrs. Juchli’s exhortation to love art, and enjoy it as I did then. It was over 30 years before I searched for an art medium that I could practice, and with it has come peace and happiness. Thank you Mrs. Juchli.
Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe in my hometown of Edmonton has closed. Greenwoods’ was a refuge for me. I’d go inside while waiting for the bus, in the early 1980’s, and browse. Browse means to feed on buds, and shoots, and I browsed my way through the shelves, discovering books on keeping a journal, the poems of Alice Walker, as well as having my copy of Not Wanted on the Voyage (a re-imagining of Noah’s Ark, narrated by a cat named Mottyl) signed by Timothy Findley. Greenwoods’ was a welcoming place for authors, and for readers. My copy of Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See you in the Morning, by Alice Walker, still has the Greenwoods’ sticker on the back, $6.95, and one of the first books I remember buying at Greenwoods’.
Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe was founded in 1979 by siblings Brad, Gail and Laurie Greenwood. They moved into the newly renovated Tipton Block building on Whyte Avenue in the Strathcona section of Edmonton, AB. Whyte Avenue was also a refuge for me when I was in high school, with the bookstore, cafes, and the Princess Repertory Theatre. It was a part of Edmonton built to walking scale, and I felt independent taking the bus there and then having a whole world open up to me as I walked.
I discovered that since I left Edmonton in 1985, Greenwoods’ moved to another location in 2001, and then back to Whyte Avenue just a little while ago, and sadly, Brad Greenwood died in his office at the Bookshoppe at age 57 just a few months later, and then Gail announced the closure. I remember reading a line in a book in Greenwoods’ about information being the new wealth, that it will be the new currency. That line stayed with me, and perhaps was part of why I became a librarian. Many of the bookstores I have known and loved are gone. Ironically, browse is related to the term web browsers, and most of our browsing now happens online. There are two bookstores in my area that I can still visit, and I am grateful to find their refuge. Both are relatively small, but that doesn’t preclude serendipity and discovery, as the personality of their owners is expressed in book choices.
When I was 7 or 8, our next door neighbor, Mrs. Firth, gave me a booklet called The Festival of Christmas: A Book of Days, written by Mary Hinderlie and Edna Hong and illustrated by Floy Dalton in 1954. Every year I would get it out at the beginning of advent to follow day by day, with activities and drawings. I was intrigued by the illustration of The Ecclesiastical Year, with the liturgical colors arranged in a wheel. I went to a Moravian church, and didn’t recall seeing such a wheel before; Mrs. Firth went to an Anglican church, which likely had more in the way of liturgy and symbolism.
In my usual librarian way, I wanted to know more about the authors, and was surprised by what I found. Mary Hinderlie( 1914-2003) was a Lutheran lay theologian and missionary who spent 3 years in a Japanese POW camp during WWII, with her husband and baby daughter. Mary and her husband Carroll organized theological and political discussions among their fellow inmates to keep spirits up. Edna Hong, was also Lutheran, and she and her husband Howard Hong, were passionate about the works of Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard(someone who I was also drawn to), and became the foremost translators of his work into English. Floy Ann Dalton is a cipher though, with only a reference to her as an “Illustrator for Hire” which sounds much too utilitarian for someone who did these lively drawings.
I enjoyed the illustrations with their quick lines, and the pages in pale green and the type in dark green or red. It’s where I first heard of Little Christmas Eve. The writers explain that on this night in Norway, you invite your oldest friends to sample the baking and see the “shining house of Christmas” but ask also if there is a stranger at the gates, who needs the heart warmth of the coffee and the candlelight of friendship, and being at home in the family of God. So let us look for those who need light in the darkness of winter and of a season that can bring a deluge of loneliness and grief for those missing someone they love.
Imagine coming upon this door! What world of the imagination did it come from and were does it lead? Stratoz and I were at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, and amid the Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings we saw Phillip Lloyd Powell’s Door and Surround. I sat down on a bench to take it in, the beauty of the layers of wood, the warm colors, the vibrant portal over 11 feet tall.
After the Michener purchased the door at auction, furniture conservator, Behrooz Salimnejad, spent months restoring the original vibrant finish, removing layers of latex paint that obliterated the colors. Phillip Lloyd Powell(1919-2008), was a self-taught woodworker who read an article about an artist in New Hope, photographed in front of a wall of books, and wanted that life, and moved there, and set up shop. I admire his focus on creating the life he wanted, and the work that came from that life.
I was drawn to woodworking at age 9 or 10. I wanted a tool set for my birthday. I spent many hours dreaming about what I would make, especially with the chisels. I wanted to sculpt blocks of wood. I don’t know where this came from, this intense desire to have tools. I did get the tool set for my birthday, much to my delight. The box was a golden yellow shade, with the grain of the wood in wavy pattern. The tools had red handles, and fit behind dowels to hold them steady. There were two chisels, but I was disappointed that I had no idea how to create what I was imagining.
I started researching where my tool set might have come from. There’s no label, no brand name. I did find the word “Poland” faintly stamped on the inside, and this led to the “Handy Andy” Tool Sets for children, or more accurately, for boys. As an ad admonishes, “Keep away from Dad! He’ll want to use this too. . .well rounded assortment to help train boys in the correct use of practical tools. ” I don’t remember seeing a label on my set, and didn’t contend with the image of Andy, and his boyish ease with all the fabulous tools. I also didn’t need to keep them away from my father, who was a professor of English, with a wall full of books of his own, but he did stand next to me in the garage supervising me with the sharp implements, as I constructed a dollhouse. This wasn’t what I originally intended, but I slowly warmed to the decoration of the rooms, creating furniture out of scraps of wood, papering the walls with wallpaper samples.
I’ve kept the box of tools over 30 years. I loved the hand plane, skating across the wood. The spirit level mesmerized me with the bubble in glowing green liquid. I took the tool set down from the attic, and put it in my mosaic studio, an homage to my desire to work with my hands, to make things. Phillip Lloyd Powell’s door reminded me of my dreams of chisels and sculpting, and I came across an interview describing his process:
His materials are meant to provoke sensation. He selects woods, colors, and accent elements for their expression.
Powell also considers malleability. He finds walnut, which is softer than maple or oak, fun to shape with his favorite tool, the spoke shave (a side-handled plane for curves) which requires a sculptor’s skill.
The furniture parts are fitted together by spline and rabbit joints, dovetails and butterfly inserts. The wood and colors of the pegs are important to the design. Finally, several coats of oil will bring up the rich grain and color of the wood.
So he loved a plane too, and even the name appeals to me, the “spoke shave.” I have tools for my mosaic work, tools that I know how to use, and with which I can create.
When I wrote earlier about my Fruit of the Spirit Mobile that I painstakingly stitched from polyester double knit, my mother emailed this photo to me, as she has it hanging in her dining room. I had forgotten how pleased I was with the pineapple of Goodness, and the plaid on a diagonal for texture! Self-Control is emblazoned a banana, my least favorite fruit, but I still enjoyed the curve. I may have had a jumper made of the pale peach of Self-Control, and the vibrant orange of Kindness is where my eye goes to now. Seeing it all in the flesh(fruit-flesh that is), brings back the tactile sense of making the stitches, lining up the fabric. This part of the root system that led to my life now as an artist, and my new manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit via the commission from Suzanne Halstead. On Wednesday, Suzanne and I grouted Faithfulness and Kindness. The scale is much larger than my mobile, as is my excitement in seeing it all bear fruit! More photos to come as the process continues.