Easing into a Northern Fall

I am back on the hiking trail, getting some last walks in before the snow flies. The first two weekends in September we have gone to the Beatton Hills between Fort St John and Cecil Lake to climb up and along the ridge that fronts the river valley.

Sharla, Sandra, and Irene are mountain goats and so are the three dogs we travelled with, Gus, Kaiser, and Bear. Getting up to the top of the ridge is STEEP and, since the soil is so dry, slippery!

Although not nearly as long a trip as up to Battleship Mountain the trail is almost as steep.

There are several small dips before the trail finally reaches the top. Along the way we pass many different types of berry bushes and, of course, the Trembling Aspen trees.

Thankfully, the berries this year have been very lush so any bears in the area will be well-fed and not interested in us! (Especially now that I have seen the movie Backcountry, I am happy that a bear has not yet intruded into my space!) Good old Gus, the 14 year old miniature Schnauzer, continues to amaze me with his stamina.

In the far distance of the photo below looking west you can see the highway that leads back to the highway that leads back to FSJ.

Looking east you can see the Beatton River down below.

The photo below shows a mini-ridge partway up the hill.

And way down below you can see one of the vehicles parked along the roadway.

We keep climbing higher and higher …

Finally we reach the top and the ridge that runs along the hilltop.

The dogs are as happy as we are to be finished with the onerous uphill journey.

We saw a couple of crows harassing a hawk in flight.

At the very top is a pumpjack, a small oil well. These are everywhere in the landscape here.

The landscape is really beautiful; we rested here and had our lunch over looking this valley.

Far down below was the ubiquitous wrecked car abandoned in the fields.

Across the highway from the hill on which we are hiking is another matching hill and on its ridge, is Sandra’s house, below silver with red roofs.

I was a bit nervous about the idea of coming down the same way we went up, because it was so steep and slippery, but we found another trail leading off to the left which Sharla believed would lead us down to the river through the forest of aspen.

After one wrong turn, lo and behold, yes, the trail did take us down, albeit very steeply (but not as long as the one that brought us up) to the river below.

Another weekend, another killer trip up the Beatton hills, this time with Sharla, Shelley, and Sharon.

This day was hotter, a perfect late summer day.

We had a bit of difficulty with this selfie, trying to get all four of us, plus the background, into the frame, good for quite a few giggles.

Gus was apparently really bagged after last week’s walk, but here he was back again this time for more.

As you can see, the water in the river is very low – it has been a hot and dry summer here.

Finally, almost all the landscaping is done around our complex. Unfortunately, the landscaping company just left most of the plants sitting around in pots for weeks without water so many of the trees and shrubs they finally planted were already dead. Unbelievable. No-one seems to care about this except me – I find it atrocious.

It has been very dry here for weeks and the forest fire risk is very high. Ty & I were in Fish Creek Urban Forest for the first time in a couple of months and I was very surpised at the number of dead conifer trees.

Down closer to the creek there were fewer dry, dead trees and more greenery. Here, too, the soil is dry, dry, dry, but, amazingly, there is still some wet mud in spots down close to the water. The Creek is very shallow right now, too.

We had a good long walk, two loops around the lower portion of the park, before heading up and out on what proved to be a very hot Labour Day.

At the beginning of this week the temperature dropped to 10 degrees with an arctic wind blowing; I was convinced that winter was coming … but yesterday it was back up to somewhere in the 20s, hot and dry. Things change up here fast in the north country!

Artists continue to join me in the gallery to share their creative journey; so far this month, mixed media and textile artist Barb Daley and painter Laurie Yates, a retired school teacher, have been in, sharing their process with gallery visitors.

Barb is working on some fabric pieces for a group show in November called Varieties of Abstraction. These are part of her homage to Leonard Cohen and the exhibition dates nicely coordinate with the anniversary of his death.

Barb’s mom Jane continued to join her to share stories about the olden days and her life as a tailor back in the day.

Laurie decided to work on some paintings while in residence.

It’s great to see the young kids in the gallery getting interested in how to be creative. Here is Sarah, one of my yoga teachers, with her son Henry who is in his first year of an arts-based preschool held at the Cultural Centre.

The gallery’s furnace is being replaced, which has left the backroom in disarray and meant that everything in storage had to be brought out and put into the multipurpose room next door until the messy, noisy, and smelly (of metal being cut) job is finished.

Laurie braved the less-than-pleasant circumstances to share her ideas with interested folks on her second visit.

I mentioned a while back that I was doing the set projections for the Alcan Craze, a play dealing with the building of the Alaska Highway here 75 years ago. My work on it is done – I have created about 34 short video clips, from 6 seconds to 3 minutes long; now I just have to wait to see how the images look when projected at the tech rehearsal next weekend.

Alcan Craze of '42

I attended one of the rehearsals at the Cultural Centre to see how things were going so far. Director Michael Armstrong and playwright Deb Butler were being interview for the local shaw Cable channel.

The set is pretty minimalist because the projections, on the white cyc (curtain) at the back, will in essence set the scene and elaborate on the action.

Some of the folks from Buddy Holly are also in this production, as are many of the back stage personnel.

I’m looking forward to seeing everything come together at the tech rehearsal.

The weekend of Sept 8-9 saw us rolling down the road again to Grande Prairie to get another art fix. Ty had the week off so we decided to hit the openings in the city, featuring several of the Fort St John and Dawson artists.

Several of us met up at Earl’s, just next door to the Sandman where Ty & I had booked a room – that was very convenient!

Although Ty & I have been through this city a few times, we have never actually investigated the downtown scene so this was the perfect opportunity. GP is about the size of Nanaimo, although with fewer people (about 61,000), and is completely flat. It has three galleries, The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (below – a contemporary art facility that is the second largest in Alberta),

the Centre for Creative Arts, housed in what looks like an old school building, and the Grant Berg Gallery, a commercial space.

The Centre for Creative Arts was hosting two shows opening this night, the Peace Region Federation of Canadian Artists Moody Hues show and a solo exhibition of paintings by a local GP artist.

In addition to the exhibition spaces, this place also has a gift shop and several studios in which to take classes and produce one’s own work for an extremely reasonable price.

Since both openings were happening the same evening, and the two exhibition spaces are very close to one another, people could go back and forth between the two, which was handy.

We slipped out the back door of the Centre and headed over to the AGGP, a recently renovated and expansive facility in the Montrose Cultural Centre. Interestingly, the main floor gallery was just getting set up for an exhibition of Lyndal Osborne, an installation artist from Edmonton whose work I really admire. She used to be a printmaker but has been working in very large-scale multi-media installations with organic media for the past twenty odd years. See her work here. I curated a show at the Nanaimo Art Gallery many moons ago that included Lyndal’s work.

A really good turnout of people from Fort St John and Dawson Creek came out for Mary Parslow and the collaborative exhibition of mary mottishaw and kit fast, as well as the pit-fired ceramic work of GP artist Ken Lumbis. It was great to see so many people I knew make the 5 hour return treck to support their fellow artists. Artists are always very grateful to the folks who come out to celebrate the sometimes years-long creative process that is finally unveiled at these openings.

mary and kit are conceptual artists whose work addresses human interventions in the landscape and the legacy of industrial oil and gas production in the Peace region.

Mary’s prints looked beautiful; unfortunately, for picture-taking at least, there were too many people in the room to get good pics of the works itself.

Ken Lumbis, whose works will also be featured in the Varieties of Abstraction show at our gallery in November, has a nice selection of his smaller ceramic wall pieces installed downstairs.

We had intended to hit the Grant Berg gallery on our way out of town back to FSJ but ended up leaving before the Gallery opened so that will have to wait for another visit.

We stopped for lunch in Dawson at a 50s style diner that had been especially made for the restaurant proprietor in Alberta, complete with chrome fixtures and Buddy Holly music.

And, finally for this report, yesterday on a wonderfully summery day, Sandra, her inlaws, and I visited the shores of the Peace river on the property of one of her friends, to get an overview of Site C and its progress. Sandra’s friend Esther is a horsewoman and owns 1 or 2 sections of land along the river ridge.

We walked across her well-mown fields down to the ridge overlooking the river, accompanied by what looked like an Anatolian sheepdog, a huge and friendly beast.

From here we could see quite far in each direction and observe the work that has been done on preparing the dam site. We wondered whether Ty was driving around in his pickup as we were watching from above.

The treaty 8 bands have a watch-shack here, with a telescope set up to observe the goings on below.

Two photos by Don Hoffman adorn the walls and remind visitors of what the river valley used to look like before construction began.

See more here and here.

Road Trip II and August in FSJ

After a great visit in Saskatchewan, it was time to hit the road again in the ol’ Subaru, heading west and back to the ranch, with quick pits stops in Edmonton and Grande Prairie on the way back to recharge the batteries with a hit of art. The plan was to visit as many art galleries as possible between Saksatoon and Fort St John  and we managed to see quite a few! Above is a photo of a rest stop at a Gas Station/Coffee Shop in Vermilion, Alberta somewhere along the route. While there I saw a tiny prairie dog pop its head up in the scruffy bit of grass – no photos of him but you can see the burrow in the foreground.

But, I forgot to mention in my last post and so will do it now, as we were heading east to Saskatchewan, we did manage to visit the Muttart Conservatory before blasting out of town. Ty is standing in front of one of the four separate garden pavillions that comprise this plant mecca.

The Muttart is like a greatly expanded Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, without the latter’s birds but with sculpture, such as these clay heads.

The temporary Canada 150 pavillion had a lizard crafted from a great variety of plants and flowers and was festooned with Canadiana in the form of flags and umbrellas.

In the desert pavillion we saw something very uncanny … one of those things that make one scratch one’s head, complete with beige travelling hat.

We were using google maps’ GPS function for the entire trip so I never really felt I knew where we were; I was just following the voice, turning left, turning right … not the way I’m used to navigating. But for the most part, it did get us where we needed to go. After a relatively painless 5 hour drive we arrived in downtown Edmonton at the Crash Hotel, a converted SRO crashpad in the ICE district, just across the street from a gigantic construction site which, luckily, was mostly shut down for the two nights we were there.

The first order of business upon arriving was a beer in the very pleasant lobby bar!

Our room was pretty nice, with two queen size beds and a cool mural on the wall. One small downside of the Crash was that the pub downstairs rocked pretty loudly until midnight, hence the two pairs of earplugs placed on each pillow.

It was a beautiful evening so we decided to walk to Syphay Thai restaurant not too far away in the Chinatown area. The trouble came in trying to discern which way was east or south. Neither of us could make much sense of the map because we weren’t able to orient ourselves to any known landmarks, such as mountains, and neither of us knows Edmonton. Ty had been before many years ago but this was my first visit.

We passed by Churchill Square, with its fountain is full glory, and the Art Gallery of Alberta, and just happened to be there as the annual Cariwest Caribbean Festival was kicking off. A DJ spinning tunes, parade costumes and floats, and vendors were all there doing their thing.

I was pretty tempted to take a dip in the fountain – it looked very appealing – but since we were going for dinner, I decided that it would be a bit uncomfortable eating in wet clothes.

After asking a security guard for directions, we headed towards the Chinatown gate and the Thai restaurant.

It looked like lots of old buildings had recently been razed in this area and their land converted (temporarily?) to parking lots. A lot of street construction was also going on in this area.

When we got to the restaurant it was absolutely packed out and of course we had no reservation so it was a bit of a wait but really worth it – the food was excellent. We both really miss Thai food and spicy Asian food in general!

 

After dinner we strolled back to Churchill Square and waited on the stone amphitheatre steps for what was billed as a parade costume competition which was taking forever to get started.

Finally the proceedings got rolling with dancing children, some in costume, and individual competitors in the costume event.

Each participant had a different soundtrack and a unique, colourful costume, some, like the woman below, in one which was part parade float that she pulled behind her as she danced.

I was able to get just a few photos, and none of the really elaborate ones, because both my cameras ran out of juice … sigh.

Another fortuitous happening in this part of town that we did not know about was the Saturday downtown Farmers Market occupying quite a few blocks just around the corner from our hotel.

Once again, trying to find our way from the Farmers Market to the Alberta Craft Council Gallery, we got lost … but, after turning on the ol’ GPS, finally found ourselves at the right place. This gallery and gift shop houses an enormous amount of items, and has exhibition spaces both upstairs and downstairs, the latter huge.

Upstairs, the ceramic work of Ken Lumbis was what I had wanted to see, since he will be showing with a few others in our gallery in November. His work is pit-fired abstracted landscape wall panels, behind Ty in the photo above and on the wall below. He fires these in the BBQ pit in his Grande Prairie back yard.

The gallery window space was full of beautiful coloured glass, something I’d like to see at the Peace Gallery North, since we do have a few glass artists here.

The downstairs space had a expansive show of women’s needlecraft and fabric works. Both of us loved the yarn-bombed chair below.

The space reminded me a bit of one of my grandmother’s basements in the 1960s, with its somewhat shadowy ambience and pillars.

Just down the street is Latitude 53, an artist run centre, where we saw some quite interesting drawings on mylar by a Latin-American artist, who also created a floor piece out of coloured sawdust that was designed to be eradicated by visitors’ footsteps over the course of the exhibition. It reminded me a bit of the sand mandalas done by Buddhist monks designed to be erased and blown away as soon as they’re completed, encouraging viewers to practice non-attachment to the things of the material world, all of which are destined to disappear.

I contributed to the floor piece with a little dance dust-up.

Back down at Churchill Square on our way to the AGA, I was once again tempted by that fabulous fountain …

At the AGA we saw some interesting stuff, including the Alberta Biennale works of Alberta artists.

I’m getting more interested in works like the piece below, that consist of repeated items in a minimalist palette (but not for myself, of course – just can’t leave behind my predilection for bright colours).

The gallery’s fourth floor has a nice outdoor seating area that overlooks downtown.

While there, we saw a collaborative project between an installation artist and two musicians, who were creating a soundtrack for the piece below, hanging strips of mylar, coloured lights, and a stool.

We decided to hop in the car to get to the 24th street commercial galleries that had been recommended to us, and managed to take in almost all of them before it was time to head back to the hotel for a rest.

Another lunch time, another great Asian feed, this time Japanese-Albertan ramen soup bowls with prairie incredients – really tasty.

The Peter Robertson Gallery had some very interesting works; I especially enjoyed seeing the Colin Smith pinhole camera photos again – I really love these, especially the ones taken from the inside of one of those tiny round Boler trailers. (Years ago my Dad used to muse about getting a Boler trailer when he retired, using it to both live in and cruise around the country …).

Our last evening in Edmonton was spent in the university district south of the river with artist Sara  and her husband Ken who treated us to a lovely dinner and a look around her downstairs printmaking studio.

Back on the homeward trail the smoke from the BC wildfires was very apparent as soon as we got some 40 or so kilometers northward. At moments on the trip back we couldn’t see more than about 100 meters in front of us – not good.

We made a quick pit stop in Grande Prairie to visit the studios of Ken and Carol,  Ken a ceramic artist and Carol a mixed media painter, and wood sculptor Candace, and really enjoyed seeing these artists in their own habitat.

Below Ken is showing us the BBQ pit in which his pieces are fired.

Unfortunately, my photos of the second visit didn’t turn out but here are a few photos of Candace taken by Chris Beauchamp. She’s a wood sculptor, using driftwood gathered at her Galiano Island property and worked on in her home studio in GP.

Back on the ground in FSJ the current gallery show is Summer Salon: Big Road Roller Prints, small prints, and paintings by gallery artists. As well as big wood- and linocuts printed at the Big Print steamroller event in June, paintings and more, there is a nice display of colour woodcuts and related plates by gallery artists created at the recent workshop we attended. Below is a photo of me at the epicentre of downtown FSJ, 100th Avenue and 100th Street, across the street from the Cultural Centre and the Gallery.

Summer Salon poster

The Gallery Artist in Residence program continues with a pretty full slate of people joining me in the gallery to share their creativity. This past week Sherry and Barb rocked the clay, hand building pinch pots, mugs, and bowls to the delight of gallery-goers, including one very tiny budding artist.

And Barb D’s “Magnolia Outfall” project got off to a great start in the gallery this past week, as folks with ideas gave their input. She put out the call for creative input into this project which will ultimately result in a fabric wall hanging.

Barb’s 92 year old mum, an old school miliner and tailor, joined her in the gallery for the afternoon.

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It already feels like Fall around here, with the temperature hovering around 19 or 20 and a coolish breeze blowing throught town. We took advantage of the sun to make another trip out to Charlie Lake to see the summer flowers that bloom everywhere here for a very short time.

The Flying Colours artists convened in Baldonel, a rural suburb of FSJ, at Bev’s place for an afternoon of garden appreciating and plein air artmaking.

I am amazed at the size of the gardens folks here cultivate in their “spare” time; Bev’s is huge, with a greenhouse full of flowers and greenery and a fenced area of food crops, including a bumper crop of berries.

Below is the masterpeice in acrylic and collage I created on Bev’s back deck.

And, finally, for this post, last year at the Annual Art auction I was lucky enough to win the grand prize, a helicopter ride for 4 over Fort St John with Canadian Helicopters. Sunday morning was the moment and saw Ty, Sandra, her grandson Caellum, and I out at helicopter lane on a gorgeous sunny morning for our trip. The office has a resident cat, Cherry, who took an instant liking to Ty. After many pats, we were off on our flight.

Below is a video I made of the journey: I thought I might be terrified but it was not the case, perhaps because the view was so expansive. As we left the airport we flew right over Sandra’s house; you can see it in the video, the silver house with a red roof on its own in the field. The furthest extent of our trip was the Rose Prairie Beatton River-side property of Sandra’s brother Bruce, whose place we had been to a while back. It was amazing to see the snake-like extent of the Beatton River canyon from above. As we flew back towards town and Site C, we cruised right over the Hudson townhome and condo complex – see if you can spot our place!

See more photos here, here and here.

Summer Road Trip I: Saskatoon

For Ty’s August holiday we decided to cruise 14.5 hours east down the road in the wheels to the Qualityman Inn, Day Spa, and Suites, a 5 star establishment half an hour south of Saskatoon in beautiful Dundurn, Saskatchewan, pop 500. Its proprietors, Tracey, Darrin, Tango, and Molly, really rolled out the red carpet for us for the 4 days we were there.

One of the very beautiful features of this hacienda is the Tradar Trail (est. 2010), a tree-lined path around the perimeter of the estate, created by Tracey and Darrin and walked by them and their faithful beast Tango twice a day, summer and winter.

From the trail a walker can gaze out over the vast fields of wheat, canola, and peas.

Tango enjoys his daily jaunts, when he’s not hunkered down eating fallen apples from the laden apple trees close to the house.

This view from the homestead shows, on the left, the original farmhouse, now a tractor garage and nesting area for local swallows, the 100 year old barn, used for storage and the odd barn dance, the solar panel array, and the water pump.

Our first day was cloudy, with the odd bit of torrential rain, a perfect day for gallery-going in the city.

Art Placement Gallery, one of the art spaces downtown, had an expansive show of prairie landscapes by a doyen of the prairie painting scene, Dorothy Knowles, who celebrated her 90th birthday in April.

There are still a few old early twentieth century buildings downtown with nice facades and elaborately decorated lobbies, such as the one below. Saskatoon does not have many highrises and the ones that do exist are not very tall. Most of the buildings are no higher than the one below. It has a pleasant, compact downtown area.

Tracey and Darrin were very good tour guides, showing us around the cool parts of town where galleries, studios, pubs, and coffee shops abound.

Ty fired up his holiday fedora, a newish travelling hat that replaced his previous short stovepipe straw hat; with it on, he can always be found in a crowd.

We didn’t see a lot of street art, but a few murals caught my eye.

Seeking out galleries was thristy work so naturally we had to duck into one of the local coffeehouses, which just happened to house the remnants of the Void Gallery’s art collection on its walls.

Initially we sat outside but spitting rain chased us inside, where we watched a chalk artist cum barista execute some underwater images on the blackboard.

While waiting for the rain to subside, we had a fantastic lunch at the Seoul Koren Restaurant just down the block, big bowls of spicy seafood soup for Ty & I, beef, egg, and noodles for Darrin, and veg for Tracey – really great if you like red chilies, which we do! (The below picture shows Darrin and I discombobulated, not sure whether we would actually be getting a feed anytime soon).

 

Sufficiently sufonsified (sp?), in other words stuffed with shrimp, mussels, and noodles, we headed over to the Craft Council gallery to check out the exhibit of ceramic artist Jack Surs, a senior artist from Regina who, to celebrate his 82 birthday, had 82 pieces on display, some of which were enormous.

I was very impressed with his work, especially some of the larger vessels, and many of them had very intricate surfaces designs and glazing. If I had untold money and room space, I would certainly have purchased a few.

He made a number of quirky vessels with tiny animals on top.

I have done a small bit of ceramics and was only able to create tiny candy dishes on the wheel; it takes a lot of upper body and arm strength to throw pots. I am amazed that an 82 year old man was able to make these vessels – they really are incredible (although possibly the huge ones were created earlier …).

The second day dawned sunny and warm – huzzah! – so a bike ride along the river was in order. The Bike Doctor, from whom we had previously rented our steeds, didn’t have any rental bikes available – a brief moment of devastation ensued, and the 5 star rating of Qualityman Inn, Day Spa, and Suites was in jeopardy – but Darrin made a quick call to the Bike Universe and lo and behold, they came through for us with 4 bikes from their 7 bike rental stock.

Suitably set up, we rolled river-wards onto the north path which took us through rolling grassy knolls on the path along the water, past a beautiful, but closed, public pool, and the grounds of the former Saskatoon Sanatorium.

After cruising across one bridge with a pedestrian and bike path running beneath the cars, a great innovation that Vancouver should adopt, we eventually headed back over another bridge with a great view of the river and the Bessborough hotel and downtown.

We passed through Saskatoon’s equivalent of Shaughnessy, with its stately homes and tree-lined streets.

Back along the river we had a great view of the new Remai Modern Gallery, a vast new emporium of art slated to open in October: I was a bit disappointed not to be able to visit it on this trip.

The park areas along the river are beautiful but we were working up a powerful hunger from our cycling explorations, and getting a bit saddle-sore, so pulled into the Cut Restaurant just around the corner from the Bessborough for some sustenance.

Much of downtown is in the midst of roadworks, not surprising since summer is the only time that’s possible here, and orange tape was up many places around the city.

We had a tasty snack on the patio after Darrin had helped the wait staff erect the umbrellas necessary to keep us out of what turned out to be quite a hot sun.

After a quick zip through the Bessborough Hotel to check out the decor, we returned the bikes and returned to Dundurn to rest and recuperate.

The two old farm houses across from Tracey and Darrin’s place are even more rickety than the last time I was here, leaning ever more groundward – not sure how much longer they’ll be able to stay erect. If there weren’t such a tangle of underbrush in the field making it very difficult to get out to them, I would love a closer look.

Just off the Tradar Trail Tracey and Darrin have created a pet cemetery, where the remains of animal friends rest under carved wooden headstones. At certain times of day, the sunlight comes through the tree leaves at just the right angle and  strikes the glade with a golden glow.

Every angle of view across the fields from each corner of the property is interesting, especially with the different crops each being a distinct colour.

I remember thinking when I first came out to the farm from Vancouver that it was a little spartan in terms of vegetation and greenery. Well, after living in northern BC for a year, it seems incredibly lush and diverse here. All depends on perspective!

Below, surrounded by green, you can see the main house in which Darrin grew up, the Qualityman 5 star hacienda.

Tracey is currently researching the history of the big red barn; it’s more than one hundred years old and was the biggest barn built in these parts. On the main floor various treasures are stored; a tractor, Darrin’s first car, below, a Lincoln Continental, old windows, and other farm paraphernalia. Farmers never throw anything out because you never know when it might come in handy.

The upper floor is cathedral-like and is the venue for barn dances, the last of which will be coming sometime soon. The bathtub finds a new use as a cooling tub for drinks when the dance is on.

This would be an incredible space for an art installation – I will have to ponder the possibilities …

The booming metropolis of Dundurn is about 5 kilometers south of the Qualityman hacienda and houses about 500 souls; it also has a cemetery in which rest the pioneer families who tilled this land in the past. We stopped to pay our respects on a windy, sunny day.

Some of the headstones are quite eroded and covered in an orange organic material that is slowly obliterating the surface lettering.

When I was last here with the ladies in 2013 we had walked the Dundurn labyrinth and I was interested to see whether it was still intact – well, it sortta is …

In a park area next to the village’s church, the labyrinth was finished in 2003 and over the years has slowly started to disappear back into the grass from whence it came. I suppose not enough people are walking it to keep the path from becoming overgrown.

Speaking of walking, Tracey took Tango around the block to let him have a good sniff of the area.

Some of the houses here are from the beginning of the 20th century and remind me of the older houses in lower Lonsdale where my grandmother lived.

The garden of the house below looked fabulously full of blooming flowers; upon closer inspection we realised that almost all of them were fake. Odd.

The robin in the bird bath isn’t fake, though – definitely the real deal.

Below is a photo of the road back to the Qualman farm, past several very shallow bodies of water that host many duck families.

On the way back to the city one day we passed by the homestead and studio of a very well-know Saskatoon sculptor (so well-known that I can’t remember his name at the moment) who seems to be an avid airstream trailer collector.

Also in the area are several new mega-house subdivisions, products of the recent and now bust Saskatoom boom.

We saw a beautiful white horse in a brilliant red barn.

Darrin’s sister Lori and kids from Houston were also visiting and we spent some time at the fair with them one afternoon. Of course, Ty was bugging me to go on the ferris wheel but I declined firmly; a fear of heights makes these rides not at all enjoyable to me.

Ty, Darrin, and the kids enjoyed the ride below, being whipped around at about 200 miles an hour.

Tracey the hat lady wisely decided to pass and kept cool in the shade with her many chapeaux.

Very foolishly, I suggested that we all try the Octopus – it looked relatively tame from the ground but was definitely a different story once it got going.

I was utterly terrified, which Ty and everyone else found quite amusing.

And, once again, Darrin emerged victorious at Whack-a-Mole, keeping his crown and adding a Nemo to his collection.

I took several infrared photos of the farm and am starting to play around with them. Below is a picture of Frankie in the Field, the metal sculpture that Barb, Christine, and I created the last time we were here.

Good times! Thanks so much to Tracey and Darrin for their generous hospitality! See more photos here. Stay tuned for Part Two of the summer road trip.

From Canola to Art

Yellow canola fields here are a revelation! I remember watching the first episode of the British version of detective show Wallander, featuring vast fields of electric yellow against a brilliant blue sky, not knowing what the crop was.

Well – canola! Apparently the fields are only yellow like this for a few weeks before harvest. I took these pictures of the fields along the Montney Road north of here, on the way to an art day at Lorna’s farm overlooking the Montney valley.

During the summer the Flying Colours Art Group does a lot of plein air painting and Lorna invited us to her hacienda and farm in Montney to see her little piggies and paint. Their property is on the crest of a hill and below is the view from her gorgeous front veranda, a panorama out over the Montney Valley. The three photos below are a panorama of the valley from Lorna’s veranda, a large porch that surrounds the hilltop house on three sides.

Lorna and her partner are getting out of farming, so they rent out their fields; right now the fields are in peas; this is the brighter green you can see behind the line of spruce trees. They still have some pigs, though, and we all were treated to an inspection of the pigpen and piggies as she fed them. Below some of our group traipsing across the field to the pen.

And the pictures below show the hungry critters at the trough.

Here Lorna and Miep are checking them out more closely.

Here is a photo of the garden area around the house, with the potable water tank (the water is trucked in) surrounded by pink flowers.

Along with art, we consumed a lovely lunch provided by the group, most of whom made their contributions – wonderful food!

These pictures of me in action on the veranda were taken by Miep.

As were the photos below of Lorna and Sasha on the trampoline and the piggies in their pen enjoying a mud bath.

When I saw these guys, I was momentarily amazed at the size of their ears, but then I remembered the pigs ear treats that Brubin used to consume …

After enjoying our time with the pigs, we set up shop on the veranda overlooking the valley to draw, paint, and carve on what was a lovely sunny summery day. Ken, a retired school administrator and teacher, has taken up relief carving and works on wildlife images.

Most of the others favour landscape; below Diana is giving her plein air kit a workout.

Sandy specialises in landscape and was sketching the valley in preparation for an acrylic on black canvas painting that she later completed in the Gallery when she was Artist-in-Residence.

Round hay bales are everywhere on the hills here, and more pictures of the brilliant yellow canola fields on the drive back to town. I could not resist stopping every once and a while to document this vision.

Back at the Gallery, our second artist-in-residence Sandy spent two afternoons painting and interacting with visitors. Here she enjoys a visit with Audrey Bodnar, one of the pioneering painters in the area who has been involved in the arts her entire life. Now 92, Audrey is back in FSJ after many years down in Kelowna and interested in getting back into painting.

Painting in acrylic on black canvas is one of Sandy’s trademarks and she very generously showed Audrey and others how it was done.

Below is the painting she is executing from the sketches done from Lorna’s veranda.

She managed to almost complete two paintings while in the gallery, the landscape from the deck of Lorna’s house, and a 12 x 12 inch sunset-scape, pictured below. Sandy is going to give a workshop on this painting style at the Cultural Centre this Fall.

Ty and I joined Sandra, Sharla, and others for a birthday BBQ in Sharla’s backyard, where we sampled steak and ribs, and the joys of patting Sharla’s old tomcat. (Ty & I are both missing our animal family)

 

On a variable-weather Sunday a group of us headed out to Beaverlodge, Alberta (about 2.5 hours east from here) for the Euphemia McNaught Homestead Festival, a day of art, food, music and more at Euphemia’s country estate. Before coming up here I had never heard of either Beaverlodge or Euphemia McNaught but Euphemia painted with the Group of Seven and left her farm and all its buildings to the Province to be restored and kept as a place for arts and culture events. Below is her painting studio which Miep, Charlie, and Mary set up to display prints.

Lorna, Mary, and I had a table in the sun to display prints and printmaking paraphernalia.

Below is my end of the table with a couple of lino and wood blocks and some mixed media works.

Other artists were there, too, including Dan Arberry, a painter from Grande Prairie, who chats below with Irene, Lorna, and Mary.

Along with art was an owl; a wildlife officer brought his barred owl to the Festival; she only has one wing so can’t be returned to the wild but what a beautiful bird. Lots of people were very interested in her.

Another fun part of the day was riding in the old homestead wagon out to the lake on the property, where a group of folks had fundraised to build a boardwalk and bird-viewing blind.

We rolled slowly through the hay fields, drawn by two large horses.

The boardwalk travels out over the wetlands and culminates in a viewing platform, from which one can see, if lucky, many varieties of waterfowl, dragonflies, butterflies, and … mosquitoes.

Two telescopes have been donated and people took turns gazing with them out over the lake beyond.

I saw a Bohemian Waxwing, the yellow and black bird below, and was able to get a couple of pictures of it.

Later on in the afternoon the clouds rolled in, the wind came up and, seeing rain approaching in the distance, we rolled back to town. Below is a view of Dawson Creek and fields from the truck bypass road.

And a view of the Peace River Valley coming down the highway into Taylor, about 20 km from FSJ.

The landscaping around our neck of the woods is slowly, very slowly, coming together, as is the elementary school being built around the corner from us.

Another day, another trip into the countryside: Sandra invited us to come along on a fishing trip and visit to her property at Upper Halfway, a remote valley about 2.5 hours north along the Alaska Highway – here’s a view from somewhere along the way.

Below is the Halfway River that comes into the Peace down by Hudson’s Hope at Bear Flats.

While we waited to rendezvous with other members of our party, we took a walk through one of the recreation areas up here; Ty points out a board nailed onto two trees for campers to put their food out of the way of bears.

Sandra’s old dog Kaiser enjoyed snapping at the river’s waves.

After cruising along through valleys, fields, and woodland we arrived at the property which Sandra had described as having a “cabin”. I imagined a tiny very rustic wooden shack … well, this cabin was an enormous fully-furnished log house with two smaller outbuildings. The furnishings included quite a few animal heads on the walls.

Atfer unpacking our gear, we drove through the fields down to the river where Ty and Heinz set up shop to fish while the rest of us hiked through the fields.

Sandra has given this property to her four children and their kids: it is 161 acres of fields and pasture along the Halfway river. Below Gus the dog, Sharla, Jane and Sandra walk through one of the pastures, heading south-east. Long grasses and tiny flowers cover the ground here; poor old Gus was just about able to see over them.

Lots of goldenrod plants here, very attractive to these black and white butterflies.

The old RV in the pasture below was used as a game blind, where hunters could set up shop hidden from the various animals that come through here.

Below Sharla carries her container of bear spray, very prudent considering the bear skat evident in the fields.

Along with flowers, the fields have wild strawberries, tiny and delicious red berries almost hidden under the plants’ leaves.

Amazingly, to me, the guys did catch some kind of river trout which they BBQ’d for lunch.

After a lovely lunch we cruised back towards the highway, making one additional turnoff to a riverfront property somewhere south west along a gravel oil road to visit one of Jane’s friends and see her food garden. This property, in the back of beyond as far as I can see, used to be used as an oil and gas camp, its flat field a former air strip for small planes and helicopters.

Marcia works this garden everyday, giving its produce away to charities such as the SPCA.

Below is a picture of the area that was formerly an airstrip.

While there, we took a walk around the perimeter of the place, stopping to check out the wildlife viewing platform that Marcia and her partner have built.

It looks like a tree-fort but is actually quite a large space from which to see out over the fields and trees.

In the trees below we saw a grouse and two babies.

Tiny pink and purple flowers carpet the area. Being an urban character as I am, the feeling I get from being out here in what I consider to be an extremely remote area is a bit of anxiety. Not sure whether it’s a kind of agoraphobia or claustrophia – maybe both!

Back in town, Irene Gut, an encaustic artist originally from Switzerland but here in northern BC for about 28 years, was our Artist-in-Residence, letting people in on the magic of painting with wax.

She demonstrated how she creates works with a hot iron, cubes of beeswax, and specially prepared paper, melting the wax on the iron’s surface, then running it over the surface of the paper, then scribing into it or using paper to make textures in it. She is making a Swiss mountainscape triptych at the moment.

Our weather has been very variable this month, from very hot, dry and sunny, to monsoon-like downpours and lightning storms, to dust storms in which we have to run to close all the windows so the soft sand particles do not settle themselves on every surface, adding to the already dusty ambience in our home.

But the other evening we enjoyed a lovely mellow evening in the garden at Linda and Rick’s Charlie Lake abode, dining Tuscan-style in the garden.

Photos below are by Famous Amos: Two moose in a canola field and sunset over a canola field in northern Alberta.

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Image may contain: sky, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: cloud, sky, twilight, outdoor and nature

See more of my photos here.

Gallery-Going and Walking in July

On a Monday day off, Sandra, Ty & I headed north to Rose Prairie for a visit to Beatton River and the countryside north of FSJ. The fields are lush and green with growing crops, including wheat and canola, the latter’s yellow plants just starting to flourish.

Although there are some large farms and ranches in this area, like the one pictured above, most of the farms are small family or hobby farms. We took a right turn somewhere out there and found ourselves on a narrow, deeply rutted dirt track through a farmer’s property leading down to the Beatton River south of where we had hiked the previous month.

All along the path were plants that I thought were Queen Anne’s Lace but turned out to be the related Cow Parsley. We parked at the top of the ridge and walked down towards the river under a canopy of aspen trees.

Sandra pointed out these cool large orange mushrooms growing at the side of the path.

A ways downhill is this very steep slope that some folks use to tobaggan down in the winter – yikes!

Wild pink roses are also plentiful in this part of the world.

Although the road was mostly clear of litter, Ty did stop to pick up some garbage on the way down to pack out.

You can see how deep the ruts are in the photo below, the result of trucks and heavier vehicles driving right down to the river.

In the background of the photo above is the ubiquitous burned-out derelict car in a field – I don’t get that. A closeup below.

Once down on the flats the woods opened up onto the river bank, dry and also scarred with narrow ruts. Apparently the “island in the stream” in the photos below never used to be here … the river and its banks are always changing according to the weather conditions.

We staked out a spot riverside to have lunch and enjoy the afternoon sun which came and went behind the clouds drifting by.

On the other side of this fast-flowing river, atop the bank, you can see where the ground is sloughing away beneath the stand of trees.

A while later we headed a bit north to the riverside property of one of Sandra’s brothers to enjoy a beer on his deck. Strangely he has some sort of odd electric golf cart stationed deckside which of course I had to try out, zipping around the property quite speedily.

This property is beautiful, many acres riverside and along the banks, with crop fields and gardens as well as untouched aspen forest. It would be fantastic for an artists’ residency in the summer …

As you know, I have been hired as the Peace Gallery North’s manager and my first order of business was to hang and open the Elizabeth Harris show. A few people were kind enough to volunteer to help in that process; below Linda is assisting in unpacking and getting the ceramics ready for display – she was also kind enough to touch up the rather battered plinths with black paint.

It took Elizabeth and I the whole day to unpack, place, and re-place the works, including painting, fabric art, ceramics, and photographs, for display.

A new project for Elizabeth, who is known for her lively and colourful animal paintings and ceramics, is the Canadiana apothecary bottle series below.

One of the guests exhibiting with Elizabeth is Catherine Nicholls, whose fabric piece detailed below I love.

Elizabeth grew up on a ranch outside Fort St John before going south to study and work and her family, who came out for the opening, still lives in the area.

It was great to see friends Sandra, Patrick, and Niki come out, on what turned out to be an incredibly stormy evening of torrential rain, thunder and lightning – a veritable summer monsoon.

Flying Colours friends Sandy, Miep, Linda, Mike and others also braved the rain to support Elizabeth’s show.

A fun part of the evening was the “Harris Singers”, Elizabeth’s family playing a round of Ian Tyson’s Canadian classic song “Four Strong Winds”, joined in by all the gallery-goers present.

Since the show was so bright and colourful, I wanted to wear something that would complement it, so out of the closet came the Turkish shalvar pants that I’d purchased in Gumusluk a few years back.

Good old Ty was recruited to play bartender, a role he does very well.

See more from the opening here.

A wonderful colour reduction woodcut workshop was held at Miep’s studio over one weekend mid-July; even though I was exhausted from working so much, I just had to take that in and got a second wind as I dove back in to the joys of printmaking. Below Sara Norquay, an artist from Edmonton, led us in cutting and printing four colour prints on Japanese Shina wood blocks.

The workshop was very well-attended, with 15 of us taking up all possible spots in the studio to create our pieces.

Although some of these folks have done lino before, I think only one or two had tried woodcuts, a slightly more difficult relief printing medium, in that the blocks are harder to carve and require sharper tools. I had unearthed my cutting tools from the depths of our garage storage unit, where they had not seen the light of day for years so of course they were dull, dull, dull. Sara was kind enough to allow us to use some of her sharp tools, so I took advantage of that.

This process involved cutting two blocks (or in this case, both sides of one block) printing them in two different colours, then cutting away more material from the same two blocks and printing another two (different) colours to complete the image.

I also cut two smaller blocks that I intended to print on parts of my image (below). I decided on the spur of the moment to do something abstract so this composition, which I entitled Energetic Radish Heart, somehow appeared at the end of my gouge.

Not too get to much into the details of this process, I will just say that it’s a bit tricky figuring out how much wood to cut away and where on each of the two blocks to get the optimum results.

Charlie decided to do a portrait piece; above you can see the image he’s working from at the bottom left and below the first block with its colours inked up, red for the eyes and blue for the top.

Mary opted for an image commemorating her RCMP daughter’s trip to Vimy Ridge this spring for the memorial: here you can see the preparatory drawing, one of the blocks, the tools, and the first two colours printed.

Below Sandy is working on a colourful bear piece, with a rainbow roll sky.

After the first day we drove out to Linda and Rick’s place at Charlie Lake for a BBQ on what turned out to be a blustery evening.

Their property is very interesting, with lots of stone structures built by Rick by hand, including rock walls, garden beds, and the combination greenhouse, alchemy lab/storage room, and guest house below.

Sculptures by Rick and Linda are dotted around the property.

They also have grape and kiwi vines growing along some of the wooden trellises that Rick has made.

Inside the greenhouse portion of the building, Linda has many different plants growing, including tropical varieties.

While we toured the property, the guys barbecued the dinner.

Our second workshop day was spent finishing up the printing of our editions of 10 colour prints; Charlie was very happy with his piece, called Zombie.

I printed my first block yellow and the second a brilliant magenta red, seen below.

Below you can see the first two colours, printed by hand on Japanese mulberry paper.

Here are some of the works in process drying.

My third colour was a lovely lilac-pink, below rolled out and inked up.

One of the smaller blocks was also inked up in a deep transparent pthalo blue.

Below are two inking variations, the one of the left with the first yellow colour and the one on the right without it.

Linda, a biologist by training, made a puffin for her first ever print.

Some of the people opted to experiment with varying their colours, as in the landscape example by Sherry below.

My fourth colour was a frosty, minty green which I printed on a couple of the pieces, since I was not yet sure that’s what I wanted.

Linda’s turtle is coming along nicely, printed in transparent shades of green and yellow.

Above is Bev’s hummingbird, below is Mary’s completed Vimy piece and Sandy’s bear.

See more from the workshop here.

I have instituted a Gallery Artist in Residence series; our first artist this past Saturday was Lindsay, who looks very happy to be ensconced in the Gallery and painting up a storm!

Playwright and musician Deb and her husband Mike dropped by and we had a few laughs with them. Deb and Mike have a country-flavoured band that gigs around town.

Lindsay, who loves Emily Carr, created this treescape, as well as worked on two other pieces during the time she was in the gallery. It was great having her there.

With Lindsay below is Ronnie Roberts, a local writer who has a new science fiction novel coming out in August.

Sandra and I did the Fort St John Horticultural Society’s Annual Garden Tour this past weekend. Each of the six homes was out in Charlie Lake area, three out the end of Old Hope Road and the other three on the eastern side of the lake itself (near where Sandra used to live when her kids were small).

I had just met the couple who own the first place we visited at the gallery opening the other night: this place is 161 acres, with a large main house, a 2500 square foot shop and studio,

a corral for horses, several dugouts and a pond complete with small island, and a view out to the mountains west of here. It’s also for sale, so if you’ve ever fancied the northern life, here is your chance!

In one of the rock terraces that surround the garden a cast of an Icthyosaurus, cast from one of the local museum’s fossil collections, is embedded – very cool!

And a replica Easter Island head, brought north from Vancouver Island, presides over the front lawn.

Helen is an architect, painter, and potter, and I loved her enormous studio space, two rooms of which are pictured below.

The studio is three and a half times the size of our condo. I continue to be amazed at the amount of property and “stuff” that people up here have; it really boggles the mind – a very different lifestyle that I’m used to.

The second home we visited, “only” ten acres, had a tent of watercolour cards and small paintings, as well as potted plants, for sale.

The roosters below are for Maggie.

The couple also have a lovely rabbit, found by a neighbour hopping through their yard and now provided with a large mesh hutch here in the back yard.

Just down the road was the final garden on this part of the tour, owned by someone who is a bit of a comedian, apparently:

I really enjoyed the metal-and-wrapped-fabric sculpture of a heron standing around in one garden bed.

The canola crops are just coming in here in the fields, their yellow carpet an amazing contrast with the blue sky.

About half way through the tour, the weather turned stormy and began to rain, too bad! The last two places we visited in what became a torrential monsoon downpour.

The final stop on the tour was set up for vendors and had tents for refreshments; unfortunately, when we were there it was too wet and cold to stay outside for long and we beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of the car.

And, the ever-present wrecked car, this time a VW Bug in the weeds.

See more pics here  and here.

 

Solstice, one more time, and an FSJ Canada Day

I had flashbacks of all those many days and years commuting from Vancouver to Nanaimo while on the BC Ferry back to town. Luckily, it was a beautiful, blustery sunny day for the trip and I was able to take lots of photos of the beautiful mountains that I miss up here.

It is such a cliche to say that we take our everyday environment so much for granted, but, yes, it’s true in my case. I did not fully enough appreciate the beauty I was surrounded with each and every day.

Barb had invited me to join in a solstice cycle with the biking group she sometimes ride with and I was looking forward to seeing her and hopping in the saddle again.

On a gorgeous sunny warm evening a group of about 12 of us rode from 11th Avenue near Alma down to the beach and along to the altar at the western end of Spanish Banks just before the hill up to UBC.

Although I hadn’t gotten the dress memo, amazingly enough I was wearing just the right purple-pink attire for the ride.

Although you can’t really tell from these photos, it was a busy time down at the beach, everyone being starved for sun and sand with the very grey and damp Vancouver spring this year.

Also under the category of things not sufficiently appreciated … cycling in Vancouver! I had not been out on my bike since last September and it was wonderful to cycle on the bike paths and along the beach (although I was definitely saddle-sore the next day). Thanks so much to Pam for the loan of the bike!

Along with our cycling party, a group of three police on dune buggies were at the shrine, enjoying the late afternoon sun and slightly impeding what was going to be a slightly more bubbly toast to the solstice!

Just can’t resist those mountain photos! So much more snow on them this year than the last few years. I remember when we were at Sun Peaks two years ago and there was absolutely no snow to be seen on any mountain tops anywhere …

And freighters!

Charlie Lake is the only significant body of water in these northern parts and no freighters ply those waters, only small sailboats and kayaks …

Yet again more money is being spent on Cornwall Street; after having been turned into what is primarily a bike and pedestrian thoroughfare last year, it’s now being dug up again for a purpose that escapes me, to the ire of some of the residents.

I also took a spin around Kits and Spanish Banks and through Jericho Park on one more occasion, really enjoying the lushness of the greenery.

On my way to Beatrice’s place for lunch, I stopped in at Aberthau Community Centre, down by Jericho Beach, to look at their big empty rooms, contemplating a projection or two in their darkened space.

We enjoyed a scrumptious veggie repast in B’s beautiful garden oaisis.

Under the heading of wonderful views is the sunset from the Burrard Bridge.

Christine, Marsha, and I caught the opening day of the new Monet Secret Gardens show at the VAG; luckily, the lineup to get in was not too long.

Monet as an old man in his garden brought two thoughts to mind: Ty in the distant future and ZZ Top.

American photographer Stephen Shore did a series of Giverny garden photos in the 1980s, a set of 25 in different light conditions that are included with the Monet show. With my current mania for reflection images, I enjoyed taking close-ups of these photos with the reflection of the exhibition patrons seemingly in the background of the works.

We spent quite a bit of time looking at the enigmatic Jeff Wall image below, as you can see by our reflections in the photo.

I really love this Rodney Graham piece below, especially since it’s taken at the mouth of the Capilano River at Ambleside, a place that I spent many days at over the years. This was one of my Dad’s favourite places to walk. The photograph, although taken recently, has the colour palette of one of those old 60s postcards.

Here’s a close-up of the figure’s somewhat deranged look, as if he’s having a senior moment and can’t remember where he is or where he’s going.

Below are two samples of the work in Pictures from Here, images of this part of the world, many of them night scenes with theatrical lighting (which I love).

After a light lunch at the outdoor patio in the gallery cafe, enjoying some of the music from the jazz fest below wafting our way, we returned for the final two floors.

I really enjoyed the “alchemical lab” installation piece below, from Persistence. Here is info about the piece from the VAG website: “a collaborative installation by Vancouver-based artists Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson. Invoking theatre, play, myth and ritual, The Last Waves: Laboratory (2016) recycles and animates various found and fabricated objects in a capricious, sometimes disorienting response to materials. ”

While the exhibition text does not mention alchemy, that eccentric predecessor of chemistry, the piece certainly does call that up in my mind. Folks have been fascinated for a long time with the idea that worthless dross could be magically turned into gold  and alchemical labs were a staple of 15th & 16th century imagery, especially in printmaking, which it itself a kind artistic alchemy. The engraving below is by Breugel and called The Alchemist from 1558.

Here is some info about this piece: In Bruegel’s image, a dilapidated family kitchen doubles as a laboratory. The alchemist sitting at the hearth on the left appears to be placing the family’s last coin in a crucible to be melted in the alchemical process. This point is further underscored by his wife, who is seated in a hunched posture behind him and attempts to empty the contents of an already empty purse. While the alchemist’s shabby torn clothes and spine clearly revealed through his skin signifies their desperate poverty, his thick, wiry hair, also conveys an impression of vagueness and absurdity, not unlike the modern stereotype of the distracted and dishevelled mad scientist. Both the scene and figures imply that the alchemist neglects himself as much as his family in the single-minded pursuit of his occupation. The scholar on the right, in robes consulting alchemical texts, appears to be instructing the activities of the alchemist and his assistant. As if looking through a window to the future, a secondary scene unfolds in the background as the family walks to a poorhouse. This implies that they have squandered the last of their money in the hopes of achieving transmutation in the quest for the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. Furthermore, the scholarly figure and the assistant are no longer with the family, which possibly suggests that the scholar is the corrupter of those who are more foolish to work in the laboratory aspects of transmutation. In this regard, Bruegel’s print serves as a duel representation of the alchemist as both a fool and charlatan. (Dana Rehn, The Image and Identity of the Alchemist in Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Art)

Out the front of the gallery, in the refurbished plaza, the jazz festival continued, with a large audience of people perched on the front steps eating hot dogs and sushi.

My final day of the visit saw me heading to our old stomping grounds in North Vancouver to have dinner with my family at Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant across the street from Cleveland Dam. My nephew Aaron just graduated from the Police Academy and a very proud family saw the ceremony. Father Jess, just retired from the force, welcomed Aaron to the ranks.

Lonsdale Quay gets better and better, with new restaurants and an expanded Presentation House Gallery being built down on the docks.

The bus took me up to the dam where I spent a few moments reliving my youth as I appreciated Grouse Mountain and the greenery of the park surrounding the dam. The last time I had been here a couple of years ago during the terrible summer drought we had, the water was so low in the reservoir; not the case this year; you can still see snow on the Lions in the background.

While in Vancouver I had the pleasure of enoying Pam and Cec’s backyard, an oasis of flowers, with Pam hidden in the background sweeping up a few fallen flower heads. So nice to spend time with these folks and other good friends I was able to catch up with on this whirlwind visit and sorry to miss some of you good people this time!

And finally, I leave you with a beautiful sunset I photographed while walking back to Pam and Cec’s place that night.

See more photos here.

Back in FSJ and I’m gainfully employed once again, having accepted a position as Gallery Manager at the North Peace Gallery in the Cultural Centre here. It’s fulltime at the moment but I will be looking for an assistant soon to help out. Below is a photo of part of the main exhibition space, with changing exhibitions each month; it also has a nice gift shop carrying local arts and crafts.

Gallery 01

Working F/T is a bit of a shock to the system! After work this past week, Ty & I drove out to Sandra’s place and enjoyed dinner and a brew on her back deck, complete with grand kids, which Ty of course got all wound up.

For Canada Day we cycled over to 100th Avenue and took in the Parade; both of us agreed that it was pretty good. We had a great spot curb-side where we could see all the action.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of vehicles, big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones – lots of vintage tractors and cars,

small racing wagons, trick lawnmovers driven by excited riders, hot rods,

motorised toy cars – the Tin Lizzies below,

huge combine harvesters,

horses,

dogs,

and a convoy of first responder vehicles with lights flashing and horns blaring.

The lowrider below, with the snazzy paintjob, is for sale – could be yours.

I managed to score a red, pointed Canada Day party hat to go with my red cycling jacket.

After about an hour of roaring vehicles and flying candy, we rolled down 100th to Centennial Park to listen to music, consume smokies, and check out the plethora of vehicles – more than 140 came out for the day, some of which looked like they hadn’t seen daylight since the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942. Almost all were in fantastic shape, with their proud owners sitting nearby to bask in the glory of our admiration.

The Famers Market was in full swing, as were the food vendors, with long lineups snaking around the parking lot of the Aquatic Centre.

Here’s two overhead shots of the site at Centennial Park by Eagle Vision Video Productions:

Happy Canada Day to you all! See more pics here. Read more about the FSJ celebration here.

 

Celebrating the Solstice in Cedar

Solstice on Vancouver Island seemed like a good idea so I headed down to stay with dear friend Maggie in Cedar, south of Nanaimo. The first few days were typical October Island weather (except that it was now summer …). We took in the Cedar Farmer’s Market in its field outside the Crow and Gate Pub on Yellowpoint. After spending time in the north, I am always amazed at how green and lush everything on the south coast is and how many beautiful colourful flowers there are. So, of course, I had to take pictures of almost every flower I saw:

Since it was a bit of a gloomy Sunday, we decided to do an art, lavender, and labyrinth road trip down the coast. The first stop was the garden and studio of a glass artist whose name escapes me, formerly the Barton and Leier Gallery, a lovely, eccentric collection of sculpture, junk, rusted vehicles, glass, and greenery.

This place would be wonderful as a film backdrop, a scavenger hunt venue, or to play hide and seek in the dusk.

Buddhas gaze out serenly from all corners of the landscape.

The artist was not immediately visible so we just peeked into the shop to see his glass wares, before heading off down the road.

There are several artists and artisans in this neck of the woods and at this moment, I can’t remember their names, but the next studio we visited was full of colourful abstract mandala-like images, as well as painted furniture.

Thinking that the Damali Lavender Farm and Vineyard was “just down the road”, we drove south from Yellowpoint, intending to walk the Damali labyrinth and do a little wine tasting. Damali turned out to be a little further down the road than we thought, south of Duncan near Cowichan Bay, but it was a nice drive on a not-too-busy highway.

Wine-tasting is offered in the wooden house (above) every day in the summer and it was lovely to stroll through all the many varieties of lavender growing here.

I had no idea that lavender came in different varieties, but as you can see the colours and flowers are slightly different from one species to the next.

Although the farm was not huge it took us a bit of time to find the labyrinth. I had thought it would be made of lavender hedges, but it was a smallish Cretan-style labyrinth simply etched in the grass at the edge of the property.

It was so great to spend some time with Janet, also staying with Maggie for a bit; the three of us sampled the Damali wine wares and left with a box full of vintage grape.

A bit peckish after wine-sampling, we headed down into Cowichan Bay (which I’d never been to before) for a snack.

Although very grey and socked in with clouds, the Bay was still beautiful.

The solar piece de resistance was to be the Cedar Keep Labyrinth walk on Tuesday night at 9:24 pm, the exact moment of the solstice, according to the internet-who-knows-all. But, in order for that to happen, we had to clean the path of its organic debris and get rid of the tall weeds impeding the way. Janet took on the task of removing the weeds, while Maggie and I brushed the path free of weeds, pinecones, and other assorted plant material that had wafted down on to it over the months.

Maggie’s labyrinth is a full size Chartres-style path which takes about 15 minutes to walk each way, so there was a fair bit of real estate to clear.

Its centre contains a cement pool, now empty, and a large ceramic pot with plant, next to which is a meditation bench on which to sit while contemplating the universe and its mysteries.

After spending some time clearing away debris, we spent the afternoon, now warm and sunny, painting in preparation for the solstice evening. It was lovely to see good Nanaimo friends Janice, Libby, and Colleen (and get in a round of bridge which I’m missing up here in the north country) who made the treck out to Cedar in the afternoon and I’m sorry to have missed some of you good people on this trip!

I decided to do a couple of small landscapes which I would consign, with good wishes for the coming year, to the solstice bonfire that night.

Janet staked out a shady position under the Japanese maple to execute a watercolour of the flowers in Maggie’s front yard.

We were so happy that it was warm, sunny, and dry finally. The late afternoon had a golden glow as the sun shone through the filtering canopy of the trees onto the cleared path.

As the sun started to set, we gathered supplies for the backyard altar and bonfire; Skye and Sara spent a few moments executing some yoga moves while waiting for the branches to catch fire.

The shed behind me in the picture above, through which the final loop of the labyrinth passes, contains the remnants of my mannequin collection, with random arms and legs and torsos occupying cast-off furniture, a silent chorus of spirits to cheer us on our way. While Maggie, Janet, and I spent some time lighting the labyrinth and mannequin shed with candles, Sara and Skye tended the bonfire.

I consigned one of my small painting to the flames and watched as it slowly crumbled up and dissolved, leaving only some small blue spotted remains behind.

I had brought some of my small coloured LED lights down with me which I hung on the central tree. We enjoyed the warmth of the fire as we waited for the appointed moment and at 9:12 we each set off around the labyrinth, aiming to end up in the middle for a toast at 9:24.

As the sun continued to sink, we toasted the solstice, the new year, and feminine energy.

Solstices happen twice a year – in June and December. The June Solstice happens around June 21 (June 20 in our location), when the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer.  Solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to come to a stop or stand still. On the day of the June Solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position, as seen from the earth. At that moment, its zenith does not move north or south as during most other days of the year, but it stands still at the Tropic of Cancer. It then reverses its direction and starts moving south again. (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/facts-about-june-solstice.html)

The solstice is a day of deep historical and cultural significance. Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar, and bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals linger on in many countries as holdovers from Europe’s pagan past.

In Canada Aboriginal Day coincides with the summer solstice. It was selected in 1996 after the Assembly of First Nations called for a day to unite and celebrate native cultures. The date had meaning because aboriginal societies traditionally marked the summer solstice one way or another. The Seminole of Oklahoma and New Mexico’s Zuni perform corn dances — for rain and the bounty of maize, bean and squash crops. Similarly, Mohawks do Wainodayo, a dance for ripe strawberries, a fruit believed to renew the spirit. The Dakota hold annual sun dances in North Dakota around the summer solstice, which has been a long tradition of many First Nations from the central North American plains region. (CBC website)

While we did not do a corn dance or courtship ritual, we feasted on fruit, bread, chicken, and bread next to the crackling fire.

We finished off the evening with a marshmallow roast over the fire. Good times!

To read my post on the building of Maggie’s labyrinth, click here.  To read about my solstice installation while an artist-in-residence in Ibrahimpasa, Turkey, click here. To see photos of that installation, click here.To read about our Solstice Nevruz labyrinth walk in 2014 at Barb’s place, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

Bright Nights (and Days) in June

(Above: Peter Vogelaar works on the sand sculpture celebrating the 25th anniversary of the North Peace Cultural Centre on June 6. – Aleisha Hendry Photo)
“It’s 10 feet high, 16 feet long, and, if you could lift it, weighs roughly 30 tons. Artist Peter Vogelaar has been plying his trade and etching out a massive sand sculpture at the North Peace Cultural Centre over the last week—his ode to the centre’s 25th anniversary celebrations taking place this weekend.

It’s a welcome and fitting return home for the former Fort St. John resident and business owner. “I’m sure I’m going to have tons of people coming up saying hi,” Vogelaar said last week. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing friends and helping to celebrate the cultural centre.”

With fellow artist Denis Kleine lending his hands to the project, the two are combining a series of images of some of the top performers who have played the centre and the locals who have enjoyed it in return.” (Matt Preprost, Alaska Highway News)

(Photo above Irene Gut)

It has been hot and sunny here for weeks, but of course the weather forecast for the big week-long June arts celebration was for torrential rain. Many eyes anxiously watched the skies and the weather report as it was modified from day to day. Luckily the projected downpour did not materialise until the end of the event and the celebration was held in good weather; good thing, or this incredible sand sculpture would have melted away like snow in the Sahara.

Friday June 9 events included the Miniprint show opening at Whole Wheat and Honey, the Federation of Canadian Artists opening at the Peace Gallery North and the Bright Nights In June Arts Gala in the Theatre at the North Peace Cultural Centre, bringing together loads of local talent. Here is the invitation with details:

Friday June 9th, 2017 – Bright Nights in June Gala
6:00pm:
1940’s themed evening, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to commemorate 75 years of the Alaska Highway.
Peace Gallery North’s Exhibit Opening “Our Home and Native Land” to celebrate 150 years of Canada.
There will be a sand sculpture created over the previous week by Peter Vogelaar and Denis Kleine to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Please make sure you check it out before the Gala begins.
7:30pm:
Gala performance showcasing 25 years of the North Peace Cultural Centre
Join us to recognize and enjoy the arts as we support our local talent as well as headline performers who started their artistic journey right here in our community, including artists like world renowned composer Peter-Anthony Togni, tap dance prodigy Brock Jellison, and contemporary dancer Shannon May. We are also pleased to bring back some of our favorite performers, country singer Tom Cole, up and coming singer songwriter Tanisha Ray, pianists Dana Pederson and Wesley Phan, violinist Lance Stoney, as well as four local dance companies including Studio 2 Stage Dance Academy, The Move Dance Centre, Peace Fusion Dance Company, and FSJ Latin Dance.
It will be an evening to remember as we honour the talent of the past, present, and future in the North Peace region.

Note my logo on the brochure above …

Luckily, Ty was working days so he could join me for the evening’s festivities; here he enjoys a coffee and chat with Mary, one of the print artists. Along with the display on the walls, the print celebration included a door prize of relief prints and a raffle for one of the accordion book of hand-pulled prints, here arranged by Bev.

Ty & I purchased Mary’s raven woodcut, one of the inspirations for the print logo that I designed.

Mary, Charlie, Sandy and others did a wonderful job of setting up the exhibition, bringing in miniature easels for the tables.

After sampling the art and goodies there, we headed across the street to the Cultural Centre to catch up on the Gala events.

Parked outside the Centre is this campervan covered in portraits of Canadians, in celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary (well, it’s actually 15,000 years but who’s counting?). The Gala celebrates the Cultural Centre’s 25th birthday as well as the 75th Anniversary of the completion of the Alaska Highway.

Both Ty & I took a moment to pose in front of Sturgill, a gigantic moose crafted from driftwood by a local artist, now on permanent display in the Cultural Centre lobby. (I do wonder where she gets her driftwood, since there are no oceans anywhere near here … perhaps these are the remnants from the ancient ocean that used to cover this part of the world way back in the dinosaur era).

Here’s what Sturgill looks like from the front (photo Catherine Ruddell):

You may notice that Ty has shed some facial hair, rockin’ the Tom Selleck mustachioed Magnum PI look (he had to shave below the lower lip in order to be fitted for his required full face mask to protect against silica dust while on the site).

(Photos above and below by Twyla Jordan)

I had been unsure as to whether we’d be able to stay awake late enough to enjoy the Gala itself so hadn’t bought tickets (When you get up at five am, the evening ends pretty early). But at 5 minutes to the start, we both decided that, yes, we could do it, at least for the first few hours, joining the throng of culture mavens streaming towards the open theatre door.

Highlighted in the Gala were a number of dancers, one of which has gone on to become a professional dancer in the States, and troupes, musicians (a lot of country and a few classical), and actors (folks we knew from Stage North), all enjoyed by a large and enthusiastic crowd. Here are a few pics of the proceedings.

This group, the Energetic Dance Explosion, is a recent emergence onto the FSJ dance scene; they were great, especially the lead man, and the costumes, complete with multi-coloured flower headdresses and many sequins, were fabulous. They teach all kinds of Latin dancing – I may give that a whirl this winter.

When the first half of the show did not end until 9:30, we knew we had to beat a hasty retreat or we’d both be snoring in our seats for the second half. Apparently the show lasted 4 and a half hours – yikes!

Defying the weather predictions, Saturday dawned sunny and hot for the Big Print event in the Cultural Centre parking lot – huzzah! All the tents for the Art Market were set up the day before and the road roller was already on hand, just waiting for its foray into artmaking.

Alan, the Coordinator of the Gallery, had arranged for T-shirts to be made for the event, bright orange with a big blue roller logo.

Several members of the print group had their works on display and for sale (I understand that some sales were made) and were set up to do demos of relief printmaking.

Catherine, below, is a fabric artist who designs and cuts beautiful small block prints on rubber, used for stamping on fabric, a technique she learned in India.

Below you can see the quilt she’s made with the blockprinted fabrics. She also had several small works of printed fabric (framed below), one of which now has a home at our place.

Everyone was super excited and a bit nervous about the Big Printing, not having done it before. Alan researched the process online and watched a lot of video demos in order to get a handle on what needed to be done. Each artist had been given instructions on the size and depth of block to cut – 24″ by 48″ – to facilitate the printing procedure. Most were making relief prints and working on MDF particle board, but a couple used lino glued onto wood and Judy tried a collograph on matteboard (below is the plate).

Judy’s plate was gorgeous and very ingenious: she used a matte board support, onto which she placed real maple leaves. Glue was then applied  to the board with a gluestick and a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil placed on top, more than covering the entire surface. The uninked plate was then rolled over by the road roller, sealing the foil onto the surface. Judy then folded over the edges of the foil to create a seamless surface for inking.

(Photo above by Irene Gut). Here is the plate, all inked up and glowing in the sun.

Here is the print itself, hanging on the metal fence to dry.

As the morning unfolded, it started to get hot and the inking table had to be moved into the shade because the ink was drying too fast. Below you can just see my back end on the left helping Mary ink her plate (photo by Irene Gut).

Alan had made a jig for the plates and here you can see one of them being placed in front of the roller, ready to go. After slipping the plate into the wooden jig, the beige fiberboard is added, then carpet underlay, and finally a piece of carpet, all sandwiched together in front of the roller.

Here are some photos of the action: it takes a village (or at least a soccer team’s worth of people) to pull this off.

Below you can see four of us working on inking up Catherine’s block, cut pieces of lino mounted on wood, to be printed on fabric. From Catherine: “This shape represents the small stone bead that was found at the Charlie Lake Caves when they were excavated by SFU in the early 1980’s. It was dated to be over 10,000 years old, and along with the other artifacts found at the site, they are considered to be the oldest evidence of paleo-Indian ritual acts in Canada.”

(3 photos above by Niki Hedges). Here is Catherine’s final work drying on the fence (photo by Irene Gut):

Below you can see the entire process of printing Diana Hofmann’s linocut, with imagery based on this passage from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon: ‘High up in the north, in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.’

Here are a couple of details from the plate:

All the prints were really great and everyone loved the process. Although there had been some concern about how it would go, the day was a smashing success, with the crowd clapping and roaring its approval as each print was pulled off the plate and revealed. Here are the rest of the prints:

Alan’s two landscape linocuts (photos by Irene Gut):

Linda’s Eat Fresh and shellacked block:

Miep’s two Howling Wolves (photos Irene Gut):

And Mary’s Trees.

We also had a grad photobomb, recorded here by Niki Hedges:

Another fun part of the day was the printmaking for kids classes, relief on styrofoam taught by Diana, assisted by Arlene and another woman whose name I do not know, and gell printing by Sandy.

And, to top it off, live music all day long, this set by my playwright friend Deb and her band:

To see many more pictures, and video clips of all the plates being printed, click here.

After enjoying that wonderful weekend, Ty anad I headed to Beatton Park to walk the cross country skiing trails (now summer walking trails) on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

The variety of greens in the trees, foliage, and underbrush is amazing. We were alone in the forest this day, with the butterflies and birds.

There are a lot of Monarch butterflies in this part of the world, feasting on the multitudes of dandylion flowers that proliferate here.

Beatton Park has about 15 kilometers of X Country ski trails, now green and covered in many different types of low to the ground wildflowers.

The water level of the lake has receded the last few weeks and the beach is now open for business once again after having been flooded for a few months.

And I think I’ve discovered where the driftwood comes from in these parts; the lakeshore is covered in it in one section of the beach.

And, of course we had to pop in to the deck at Jackfish Dundee for a brew to cap the day – Carpe Diem folks!! Make hay while the sun shines.

 

 

Out and About in June

Summer in FSJ: Dust Advisory

About half an hour north of here is Rose Prairie, a small homesteaders’ community where some of the people that I’ve met here grew up. 15 human members and 3 doggos from the Sunday hiking group headed out there last weekend on a beautiful warm, sunny day to explore the area.

Sandra grew up out here and it was her family’s land, now belonging to her brother, that we hiked through. Here she is unloading one of the two dogs with one of her daughters and grandkids. There are lots of new animal babies around the place, including these small cattle.

Northeast BC is oil and gas country and most of these plots of land have small pumpjacks on them; these ones still have melt water around them.

Since we were walking through private land, there were lots of wire fences to make our way through.

At the bottom right in the picture above, and below, you see Gus, a 13 year old black Miniature Schnauzer who accompanied us, a lovely little dog who reminded me of Brubin.

After we left the road, the first part of our hike was bush-wacking through the trees and underbrush down the hill towards the Beatton River from the high ridge where we began, looking for a cave that Sandra remembered from her past.

The white flowers that you see here are Saskatoons, from which many Saskatoon berries will emerge at some point. I’m hoping that someone I know is a good baker and will make some berry cobbler!

The underbrush was quite thick and it was a bit tricky to navigate, especially as we came closer to the cliff edge and it was quite steep.

We stayed back a safe distance from the edge, noting that the ground had sloughed away in places from the heavy rains this past year.

After coming close to the edge of the cliff and not finding the trail down to the cave because it was too overgrown, we headed back up and over, through the aspen trees and deadfall back to the ridge along the top of the valley.

This trail was a beautiful open scenic walk with the river below.

At this point poor old Gus had disappeared from the group; he had gotten lost in the underbrush and his human, with several others, went back to find him. (Gus was found, exhausted but otherwise ok, and those folks headed back home). The rest of us carried on down to the river, accessed by a looonnnnng trail down through more aspen trees.

Once at the bottom the valley opened up and we walked along the river’s edge, with lots of freshly deposited soft gray sand, to a shady, sandy spot beneath the trees for lunch.

It is true what “they” say about the northern mosquitoes; they are everywhere and enormous (the size of small birds!), although quite slow-moving at this time of year. Industrial applications of Deep Woods was necessary to try to keep them at bay. I keep trying my selfie shots but the optimum picture continues to elude me – I look somewhat deranged here but this was the best of the lot.

Another day, another walk: Pro Tip: when deciding to go for a walk in Northern BC, do not go into the forest – ever – without massive doses of Deep Woods. I forgot that important point when Eliza and I went walking north of town the other day. My forearms were bare and bug-spray-less when we ventured in and by the time we quickly beat our escape out again I counted 18 mosquito bites on my forearms alone – yikes!! Eliza showed me the spruce tips that she was going to make jelly with.

Fish Creek is still running very high for this time of year.

We passed by the old truck graveyard, previously seen only in the snow. Now that I’ve been doing research into the Alaska Highway building of 1942, I recognise that these vehicles are that vintage and probably came up here with the highway. However, I still don’t know what exactly they are doing in the trees here.

Across the East Bypass Road at the edge of town, Eliza showed me the path to another part of Fish Creek that I had not seen before. Here the creek is even wider as a result of several beaver dams.

As we were walking Eliza pointed out a tiny frog on the path.

June is Arts Month in FSJ: below is a report on what’s happening from the local news source.

(An artist works on a sand sculpture at Sand Sensations B.C. in Taylor back in 2013. File photo energeticcity.ca.)

As part of the North Peace Cultural Centre’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations next week, Peter Vogelaar returns to Fort St. John to create a huge sand sculpture in the centre of town. This sculpture will be 16 feet long and 10 feet tall, and will be built during the week of June 3rd – June 9th in the corner of the NPCC parking lot. Fellow sand carver Denis Kline will be doing the finishing touches on Saturday, June 10 during the Big Print Day Art Market from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

On Wednesday, June 7, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm the NPCC will be welcoming the public to come down and witness this masterpiece take shape. The event will also feature a demonstration by chainsaw carving artist Ryan Cook, who will be competing in the Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Competition the next day.

The sand sculpture is slated to be finished for the Bright Nights Gala Reception and Performance on Friday, June 9 at the NPCC.

The Big Print

In the studio folks are working on their big woodcuts for Jun 10. Here they contemplate Miep’s howling wolf.

This project has had a big learning curve for people; the scale, the logistics of carving an MDF plate, and the whole inking and printing process remains to be figured out. Below are some of the tools that Miep has been using, discovering that the large electric drill with diamond tips was better by far than the small hand woodcut tools. Since I’m sure you will be interested to see how it all turns out, I will report on these arts events in my next blog post.

Irene, Regula, and I headed south on a beautiful sunny Friday evening to Dawson Creek for the opening of the Peace-Liard Regional Arts Council’s 35th Annual Juried Show, held this year at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery. On the way, we made a quick side trip to the Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, a curved wooden trestle bridge built in 1942 that used to be part of the main Alaska Highway.

This show is open to artists who live in the Peace Liard Region – Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Fort St John, Hudson Hope, and Fort Nelson, and it travels to a different community every year. Possibly the weather helped, but the turnout was great for the opening; the event included a great spread of nibblies, live music, a welcome and drumming from Treaty 8 First Nations representatives, and awards and speeches by local sponsors.

180 or so works were included and the diversity was breathtaking. Many landscapes, as was to be expected, but also some very interesting conceptual pieces, including the one below by Mary M,

and “Something for Leonard”, below, by Barb Daley, a wonderful mixed media homage to Leonard Cohen. On a Chinese kimono base, the piece includes 8 layers of material, each of which can be lifted up to view. Each of the layers deals with a different aspect of Leonard’s life; the materials include all sorts of fabric, stitching, photography, paint, beeswax, and actual objects such as feathers and the like.

I really love everything about this piece. Other interesting works were the blue Picasso with aliens, below, and

this beautifully-done landscape oil painting by Peter Shaw,

and this very strange wizard with pipe and squirrel piece. The figure reminded me of Ty.

Now that he’s shaved off his beard, leaving only a goatee, the resemblance is not quite as striking but with the full beard – yes, definitely, Ty in a cape.

A number of awards were handed out, including major cash prizes, and I was very glad to see Barb’s work recognised as the Best Conceptual piece. In addition, a number of pieces were sold; the community really supports its artists in this part of the world.

This past sunny Sunday saw a small group of intrepid hikers and one dog make their way to Battleship Mountain, a climbing area between Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd. Leaving at 8:30 in the morning, we first went to the Bennett Dam to try and access the site, but the road over the dam was closed for repair. We then had to backtrack to Hudson’s Hope, then head for the Johnson’s Forest Service Road on the way to Chetwynd. This logging road is a 67 kilometer gravel treck from the highway into the bush, with loose rocks and lots of sand – sort of like driving through snow, especially on the corners. Luckily, we only saw three other vehicles while we were traversing it; each kicked up a huge plume of dust that blanketed everything from sight. Along the way we passed two burnt-out vehicles in a grassy clearing.

After an hour of bumping along, finally we saw the trailhead sign just past the Carbon Lake Recreational area and pulled over to park. We had left at 8:30 and it was now noon; the sign indicated that the 10 km roundtrip hike to the top would take 6 hours … I was thinking that we had started too late in the day for that. But anyway, after having loaded up our packs, we headed off into the bush for the steep climb upwards.

The route was pretty well marked but STEEP – I was worried and not sure that I could make it. But, having started, I just put one foot in front of the other and ascended, stopping every so often for a rest, my heart pounding and breathing laboured – the ol’ aerobic conditioning was not as good as it should have been for this route!

Luckily, there were few mosquitos and the trail led up through the forest so it was not too hot. Periodically, a nice stiff breeze cooled things down as well.

You can’t really get a sense of how steep the climb was from these pictures, because I could only take photos when we reached places where I was not scrambling up with my hands as well as my feet. The group was very kind to me, stopping and waiting while I recovered my breath.

After two hours of steady upward, we were rewarded with this great view of one arm of Williston Lake.

We paused here for a bit to rest and enjoy the view. I got somewhat nervous when the dog – aptly naked Bear – got too close to the edge.

Speaking of which, all of us had bear spray – I was terrified at the beginning of the route at heading into bear country wilderness but soon forgot about it – just too difficult to actually walk to think about getting eaten by bears!

From this viewpoint, I imagined that it would take not much time at all to get to the alpine lake from which the summit ascent began … wrong! First, after another quite long walk still upward through damp areas and snow, we came to what Sandra called “the swamp”, the first small body of water.

I was quite excited, thinking that our labours were at an end but it was not to be … off we trudged, again upward through water and snow, towards the unnamed lake which, since I was very tired, I began to think was an apparition, like those desert oasis mirages that ever recede into the distance.

But, after an additional hour, lo and behold – the lake!

The hill in the distance is the summit of Battleship and I was glad to hear that everyone thought we did not have enough time this day to attempt it. I would not have been able to do it.

We enjoyed our lunch of cheese, nuts, fruit, and protein bars lakeside.

Bear the dog looked pretty tired, too.

I am so glad to have met these folks and joined in on the hikes; I’m seeing a side of British Columbia that I never would have seen otherwise. And they are all really lovely people.

For more info on the Battleship Mountain hike, click here.

For more photos, click here and here.

Spring in the Peace

I am working with Stage North again on a restaging of the Alcan Craze for the 75th Anniversary of the Building of the Alaska Highway. It is an original play “about the impact of the construction of the Alaska Highway on the homesteaders and natives of Fort St. John in 1942.”

“Written by local playwright Deborah Butler and directed by BC Actor and Director Michael Armstrong, this play depicts the amazement and fear of the colorful characters of Fort St. John when they saw the thousands of American soldiers and the huge machinery barreling through the wilderness in a rush to build 1500 miles of road to Alaska in 8 months.” This co-production of North Peace Cultural Society and Stage North Theatre Society will have 6 performances from Sept 29 to October 7. Below are some screen shots from a History channel documentary on the buidling of the highway.

Sue Popesku, the very first person I met in FSJ and a cultural mover and shaker, is producing the play and I will be creating projections and helping with set design. Deb Butler (below: photo Alaska Highway News), the playwright and also a singer/songwriter, is updating the work for the 21st century and I am really looking forward to working with these folks on what promises to be another exciting theatrical venture!

AHsongs

In addition to the play, an Alaska Highway Road Trip guide, two calendars with historical information and photographs, and a CD of original music celebrating the highway have been produced. Here is an interview with Deb about her play. Currently, I am doing research for the videos, watching documentaries on the highway construction, reading newspaper articles, and looking at historical photographs. Sue has put together five huge binders worth of material from the FSJ Museum’s collection of memorabilia. And in an interesting twist, my boss at Community Bridge is the writer of many of those 25 year old articles. She is also the daughter of the photographer who came to town in 1942 to document the construction and whose photographs are in the Museum’s collection. Truly a small world! If you’re interested, here is a bit more info about the highway.

Little did I know, when we took the photo above at Mile One of the highway in Dawson Creek back in August, that I would be involved in its 75th Anniversay celebration.

As a further development related to these celebrations, the author Lawrence Hill, writer of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal, is doing a Northern road trip of readings to support his own research into the Black American soldiers who built the highway, about whom he is writing his next novel.

Untitled

I was fortunate enough to attend his invitation-only evening reading at the home of Brian and Connie Surerus in FSJ (above) with an enthusiastic crowd of local art and history supporters, including folks I had met the other day at the Museum.

Strangely, given that it has not rained here in months, we had five days of steady rain the second week in May and with it, the environment has become significantly lusher and greener. I am amazed at how quickly things environmental change up here. Seemingly overnight, it now gets light at 4 am when Ty is driving home from night shift, and stays light well into the late evening. The trees that were bare just last week have sprung leaves and small wildflowers carpet some areas of the hillsides. Since the photo below was taken on an overcast day, it’s a bit hard to see them but tiny pink crocuses cover the hills at my friend Sandra’s place fronting the Beatton River.

I had only ever seen her place in winter with a snow cover, so it was fascinating to see it now at the beginning of spring, with so many shades of green, yellow, brown, and gold.

Here is a panorama looking from the top of her property east to the river.

And, yes, it is true that one cannot count on being snow-free until the end of May. Yesterday on May 14 I woke up to this:

A hopefully-final for this year sprinkling of snow.

Now, about a week later, the trees are even lusher, the aspens’ leaves an almost glowing brilliant yellow green. Back at Sandra’s over the sunny long weekend, we practised some vinyasa flow yoga on the platform on her grassy knoll overlooking the Beatton River – glorious. And amazingly, her dog Kaiser just sat quietly and kept us company while we were executing our up- and down-dogs.

I wanted to take more pictures of her various bodies of water, and discovered the names and purposes of each of them (they all had looked the same to me, but they are not the same). The one below is a “dug-out”:

This pond is near the front of her property and is a small man-made lake dug out for the purpose of cattle drinking. It can also be used by her grandkids as a natural swimming pool. Below you can see her home in the distance.

The one below, at the bottom of the “draw” (a small ravine), is also a dugout and is on the border between her and the neighbours’ property.

We followed the game trail down and across the hill and walked through the brush down to the water’s edge.

Sandra pointed out all the various plants and animal tracks on the way; there are many varieties of small edible plants here and lots of animals come here to drink.

Below are pockets of moose poop, found abundantly around the property, and moose tracks in the mud.

From the top of her ridge you can see a number of cycling, biking, and ATV tracks on the hills across the river. The Blizzard Cycling Club uses these trails lots, as do hikers.

The second kind of water body that rural people have is a “lagoon”. When I heard that term, I immediately thought of Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. But the northern lagoon is for sewage treatment; rather than having a septic field or tank that needs to be pumped out, here the sewage is piped into large lagoons where it takes care of itself ecologically, so to speak.

Above is the road down to Charlie Lake on the way to Miep’s studio; as you can see the lake is now completely thawed and a beautiful blue. Below is a picture of Miep’s lagoon; when I didn’t know better, I thought it was a natural swimming pool. Surrounding it are the ubiquitous, but now dead, bullrushes:

While out at the studio to work on a new painting, I was also treated to the frantic rubbings and splashings of the many frogs copulating in Miep’s lagoon.

In addition to the frisky frogs, Miep has several sled dogs, chickens (in the coop above), two pet dogs, and a greenhouse full of plants. And cows with babies across the road.

To celebrate Bright Nights in June, a month of non-stop arts events up here, the Print Artists North have put together three hand-made accordian books into which the artists have put small original prints to be given to local dignitaries. If you know my work, you will be able to recognise which ones mine are …

The print artists are also one of the many exhibits being shown in town over the summer for the annual downtown Art Walk; their display is on the walls at Whole Wheat and Honey, the town arts cafe and social hub.

In addition to being a venue for visual art, the cafe also hosts Vinyasa and Vino, yoga and wine with Candace, our yogi, and live music nights. The folks below are planning the next arts event, Lift Off, featuring the art and music of local teens.

Many of the people we have met here live on gigantic pieces of property, several hundreds of acres. Several have “sections”: a section is an area nominally one square mile (2.6 square kilometers), containing 640 acres (260 hectares). Karla, my boss at work, invited me out to her place just outside of town and showed me around her acreage fronting Fish Creek between FSJ and Charlie Lake.

She and Ed live in a hand-built log house with an enormously high cathedral ceiling and an always-burning fireplace.

Karla’s an avid gardener and is just getting her greenhouse up and running for the summer.

They also have a large root cellar for cold storage of the vegetables they grow, allowing them to be almost entirely self-sufficient.

This is the property that she grew up on as a child; now the creek is more like a lake in this area because of the beavers and their dams.

As well as a miniature horse named Dash,

Karla has a dog and a large building containing rabbits; Ed breeds two different kinds of these beasts.

Here Karla is demonstrating good northern attire: fleece, jeans, and the obligatory gum boots.

The gallery curators at the Peace Gallery North, Alan and Barry, are leaving town and Barb and her partner Brian hosted a lovely send-off potluck gathering on a beautiful long weekend evening at their place out by the airport. Poor old Ty was working nights so not able to join us – boo.

It’s definitely Spring: sandals, bare legs, and short sleeves are sported by many. Although it’s warmer, I’m still wearing my long pants and fleece, my one concession to the season being that I no longer wear my Russian cossack hat, just my little summer peaked cap. If it gets up into the high 20s, I may break out the Bermuda shorts.

Today, the last day of the May long weekend, I went hiking with the Sunday group to a fellow named Alex Shaman’s ranch property accessed from Meek’s road off the Hudson Hope road.

Eleven of us, plus one small dog with his own backpack, did the 4 hour round trip hike from the bison corrals to the bluffs along the river and back again.

The first bit was along the gravel road and then we headed off across the fields along a ridge over looking the Peace River Valley.

The small dog did well, and was lucky enough to have his owner carry him up the hills using the handle on the back of the pack.

It was quite windy on the first ridge we stopped at, and after a good look around, we headed back to a different, equally windy but more scenic spot, above the river.

On the second ridge was an outcrop of sandstone hoodoos high above the valley.

A number of our group climbed up for picture taking but not me, being afraid of heights.

Heading back, we bushwacked through a stand of fire-blackened trees from the wildfires that had blasted through here last spring.

I could still smell the charcoal, and as we walked ash from the burnt vegetation billowed up from our feet in clouds.

I saw what looked like animal corrals beneath the tree cover but these turned out to be burnt and fallen trees, lying in horizonatal stacks of charcoal.

As we rolled back to the cars, we saw the bison herd in the far distance. A great walk and fascinating to see the burnt and regenerating forest.

This week it feels like summer and the lakefront area at Beatton Park was flooded and closed because of high water and the excess rain that we had a while back.

But everything is beautifully green.

Hard to believe that not too long ago we were walking across the frozen surface of this lake.

Fish Creek Forest is now devoid of snow and ice; the only remaining hazards are mud and moose and bears …

We saw a tiny squirrel and butterfly enjoying the day, sunning themselves amid the trees and foliage.

We finished up Ty’s week off with a beer on the sunny patio of Jackfish Dundee Pub out at Charlie Lake.

And here’s one of those things that make me shake my head … a combination rifle/backbone tattoo on a young woman’s arm.

And, finally for this post, I will leave you with some photos of the animals to be found on rural property in these parts: the fox and moose below were taken by Miep on her property.

And the photos below are by Irene Gut, taken over the past months out at her property at Cecil Lake, about 40 kilometers north-east of here.

See more here.