Puerto Vallarta!

Thanks so much to Jill for generously hosting us in Vancouver! After a not-too-bad but loonnnnngggg day flying from YVR (up at 2:30 am for the taxi to the airport) through Mexico City to Vancouver, we arrived at the hacienda in Puerto Vallarta. We are staying at the Hotel Posada Lily, corner of Basillio Badillo and Olas Altas, the epicentre of Old Town tourism, until Feb 25, in the same room as last year, number 20. Slightly unfortunately, and surprisingly to me, there is construction right across the street at the Hotel Los Arcos. They are adding a wing that is another story or two higher than the original hotel, somewhat impacting the charm of this location.

However, in the early mornings and evenings, when the banging and grinding has stopped, the place is pleasant. Below is the view from our front balcony, out over the elementary school (may they never tear it down!) and the Lazaro Cardenas Park, zumba-central here in Old Town.

Our room has a small kitchenette and we cook lots and eat out on the balcony overlooking the activity below. On any given night we are treated to Aztec dancers, guys doing acrobatic tricks, young boys singing La Bamba (out of tune), the donut man, chess players, drunken tourists trying to cross the street, muscle cars with blaring Latin music, and huge crowds lined up, for some unknown reason since tacos are everywhere here, at the taco stand du jour across the street … the whole panoply of Puerto Vallarta life.

Maggie has joined us for the first month and is in room 19 next door; we have taken over the top floor of the Lily.

One of the first couple of nights we headed out to grab some pesos from the bank near the Church of Guadalupe, with its gorgeous silver crown lit up at night glowing in the dark, and to sample some shrimp tacos from Ty’s favourite taco stand near the Municipal Market.

Luckily, the tacos are still great and we savoured the street-side feast.

One of the great things about this location is its closeness to the Malecon, the seafront boardwalk that stretches from Old Town out to 5th of Diciembre; we walk it every second day, enjoying the scene; everyone from vendors to dog-walkers to joggers to cyclists to segway riders is out and about in the morning. As usual, Ty is accosted by folks trying to sell him pipes and other assorted smoking paraphernalia (pssst Mr Whiskers, how about some weed?) Volunteers are adding more beautiful mosaics to the grandstand area of the Park.

Pro tip: the best place to get a great cup of coffee is in Old Town at Page in the Sun. We stopped further down the Malecon at an Italian Coffee shop right on the Boardwalk where Ty was given a cup of dark brown liquid that looked like coffee but had zero coffee taste (the grounds had obviously been run through about 5 times before his cup, leaving nothing of coffee for him – weird). My cappuccino was ok, though. (First world problems!)

Also down here for two months are Pam, Cec, and Beatrice, in residence at Selva Romantica, a lovely condo complex quite near our place, where we have been treated to delicious dinners a couple of times.

Each evening around 9 there is a short burst of fireworks which we were able to see from their balcony, looking north.

Another sunny morning, another stroll along the Malecon. Below is part of Isla Cuale, the green oasis of art and culture in Puerto Vallarta.

Below is a photo of my favourite Malecon sculpture; I don’t know the name of the artist but every year we enjoy sitting on these bronze creatures’ laps. Each body has a different selection of animal extremities which I find very amusing.

I love how areas of the bronze have been rubbed golden by the thousands of hands and bottoms that have enjoyed these sculptured beings.

The Mexicans seem to love Surrealism, in art, literature, and film. These creatures remind me a bit of the monster with eyeballs in his hands in the film Pan’s Labyrinth from a while back.

Puerto Vallarta’s art scene is still lively, with new murals springing up around the city. The one below, on the Isla Cuale, is still one of my favourites. Every Friday afternoon expats and tourists play social bridge at the International Friendship Club, whose headquarters are above the HSBC across the river from the Isla Cuale. Maggie and I gave it a whirl, along with about a hundred other people at a forest of white plastic tables set out in the building’s interior and courtyard.

Although I had not played at all while up in FSJ, I wasn’t too bad, albeit rusty. I seem to have forgotten some of the finer details of the bidding, though, but Maggie did not get too exercised about my incompetence.

Below is the courtyard of the Centre; one side is occupied by the Friendship Club, the other by the University of Guadalajara.

Having worked up a thirst with our afternoon of cards, Ty met us and we headed over to the Island for a drink at one of our favourite watering holes, the Brazzas Cafe.

After a few tasty margaritas at the bar, we rolled over to Marisco Cisneros for their fantastic seafood soup.

Friday nights in Old Town see the local Folkloric Ballet company dancing in the Lazaro Cardenas Park to lively Latin music, featuring dances and costumes from several of the nearby States.

We finished that evening by meeting Beatrice for music at the Mole de Jovita cafe, listening to singer and guitarist Neiri.

A nice find was the Bar La Playa right next to the Saturday market; sitting there sipping a cold one, we chatted to several people we knew passing by after visiting the Market.

Having had the Los Lirios Seafood restaurant recommended to them, Pam, Cec, and Beatrice invited us to join them for dinner. A small family-run place which does not take reservations, the restaurant was packed when we arrived. The one hour wait was worth it, though – our seafood burritas were huge and stuffed with hot, spicy shrimp – yum!

Puerto Vallarta is packed to the rafters this season. People have told us that they have never seen the place so full. The hotels are full and if you do not get to the beach by 10, a lounger is not to be had.

So naturally Ty and I were up and out the door early, to be the first people on the beach at Swell Beach Bar, one of our fave haunts on the Playa de los Muertos. Ty is getting into the swing of retirement, project-managing his consumption of cervesas in the most optimum manner.

Sunday is the day when all the local families come down to the beach with all their kids and gear, playing volleyball and frolicking in the water.

And Sunday night is the night for dancing at the main square with the Municipal Band, attracting both locals and tourists. The couple below have probably been dancing together for 40 years and they move together like magic.

I popped into Art Vallarta to see what was up there and to check out my friend Angie’s Pillars of Painting class in the centre’s downstairs painting studio. All four of the students were painting up a storm and seemed very happy with what they were able to produce in only 3 days.

Some of the works from the Women and Men Paint Women show were still up in the Centre’s Gallery, a beautiful, colourful space.

A new clay maestro from North Carolina, Rob, is in residence teaching ceramics and creating a clay portrait bust for the upcoming Magical Mar show featuring works about water and the ocean. The exhibition will feature one of my films, Awash, and paintings, ceramics, textile installations, and sculpture by local and international artists.

Veronica is also there, teaching watercolours to an eager crowd of beginners.

And Carol Anne offers acrylic pour painting, painting on silk, and fused glass classes weekly during the high season. The place was alive with creative buzz.

Lest you think that I’m doing nothing but drink beer and lie on the beach, here are some photos to show that I am easing into the art-making down here as part of the Puerto Vallarta Plein Air Painters, a group of people who head out into the streets every week to paint the local scene.

Every week the group paints at a different location; today’s was the back streets of Gringo Gultch, made famous by the lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who canoodled here in the 60s while making The Night of the Iguana, the film that brought the world to PV.

This is the spot I chose to paint, first sitting on stone steps but then chased off by a constant stream of ants and a very affectionate cat who insisted on rubbing against me and all my gear. He also walked across my paint palette, leading Angie and I to franticly try rubbing all the turquoise paint off his four paws. We later learned his name is Pasquale; he is the cat of a local singer here, Sylvie.

There are quite a few street cats here who look to be in pretty good shape; the one below watched me balefully, definitely not as friendly as Pasquale.

I did the first layer of a street scene that I wasn’t particularly enamoured of, but will see how it looks after adding more colour, lights, and darks.

Here is Angie in the middle of working on her piece; she ended up staying there almost all day to finish it. As you can see, she has all the requisite gear for painting outside, including the umbrella.

See more photos here.

Moving on out – from Fort St John to Vancouver

My last kick at the curating can at Peace Gallery North was the exhibition of student works, The Exquisite Corpse: A Surrealist Game for Three Players that resulted from two workshops on Modern Art I did with 60 grade 4-9 students at Freedom Thinkers Education, a local independent school in Baldonnel. Lots of learning and fun!

Below you can see the new gallery manager Catherine, who helped me hang the 60 drawings.

Here’s an article about the changing of the curatorial guard at the gallery by Matt Preprost in the Alaska Highway News. And, finally for this part of my life, two videos on Shaw TV about this exhibition and my departure from the gallery.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTlDYEJHNCA&t=356s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr_qvHWfuUw

Moving is horrendous! I felt like I had been packing for months, and 3 days before the truck was due to arrive, there was still an enormous pile of stuff to go into boxes from all three stories of our rental townhouse. Hard on the aging back! With three days to go, Ty & I put our collective noses to the grindstone and got it done, 8000 pounds worth of material belongings packed into 200+ boxes was finally ready on Friday morning before the Ellis truck was expected at 8:30 am. Yippee! I had been stressing about how it was all going to go for weeks – was there going to be a hassle with the neighbours getting the truck into place for the move? Would someone park their vehicle on the side of the building so the moving truck couldn’t get it? Would someone need to get in or out of their garage in the middle of the move? Fortunately, none of those dire scenarios happened. Lorne and his crew of 2 were pros, and wrapped, packaged, and moved everything out in five hours without taking a break.

As the guys loaded the truck, we cleaned the place behind them, going from top to bottom, a more onerous job than it might have been if I’d done more cleaning while we lived there. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen, and enormous garage all had to be whipped into shape before our 4:30 pm meeting with the management company to determine whether we would get our damage deposit back. (And, wouldn’t you know, our outside faucet had broken the day before our move and water carried a crap-load of mud into the garage that had to dry and be swept out.) But we did it, as my painful back attests!

Both of us breathed an enormous sigh of relief as the truck rolled out of the complex and away with all our worldly possessions. After a lovely last evening at Sandra’s with friends, dinner and conversation, and a night spent at the FSJ Howard Johnson, a tired, run-down venue, we cruised on down the highway towards the south coast.

For the first hour or so the temperature was about -8 or so and dry, perfect conditions for driving, according to my co-pilot Ty, who announced every change in temperature as we went. After turning off onto the road through Pine Pass to Prince George, the snow flurries started and it got warmer, moving up to the dreaded -1 to +1 temperature range where the driving conditions become sub-optimal as the snow and ice melt. The car shimmied down the highway for an hour or so with me easing off the speed every time it started to dance, making for a somewhat stressful stretch of drive.

As you can see from these photos, the clouds were quite socked in on this part of the journey, hiding the mountain tops. But there were very few vehicles on the road and the snow flurries weren’t too dense.

Arriving in Prince George around lunch time, we cruised down into the city proper, searching for somewhere to eat, and deciding on a sushi spot – Wasabi – right downtown. Ty gives it the thumbs up!

Downtown Prince George looked quite nice, with some good-looking heritage buildings in the city core. After our tasty lunch Ty took over the driving duties and we pressed onward to Williams Lake. The sun came out at some point in the afternoon, making the drive a bit more pleasant. We noticed that, in each of the communities we passed through, the Mom and Pop stores and shopping malls have been all boarded up, replaced by Tim Horton’s, A & W, and Walmart – sad to see.

After a wrong turn along the highway and a cruise through the residential streets of Williams Lake, we eventually found our way to the Super 8 Motel, our resting spot for the night. Ty got together with his old friend Les who has lived in Williams Lake for 30 years, and I took it easy in the motel room, resting my aching body.

After a not-too-bad free breakfast at the Super 8 we were on the road early, passing through Lac La Hache, 100 Mile House, Clinton, and various other small towns on our way south through Caribou Country.

At Spences Bridge boulders rolling down onto the highway meant road crews and one lane traffic and a delay of only 10  minutes as we waited for the big trucks to do their job.

The trip through the Fraser Canyon was not as pleasant, with lots of rain and quite a winding stretch up from and then down again to the Fraser River. Since the clouds were so low, we couldn’t see much of what would have been a scenic part of the trip.

After making good time, we stopped for tea in Chilliwack with Ty’s sister Cynthia and nephew Anthony, before getting back on the Number 1 for the home stretch. The drive into town from Abbotsford to Langley was horrible, with such torrential rain that I could barely see anything in front of me. But upon reaching the Port Mann bridge, the sun came out again – halleluia!

Both of us were so happy to be home! Fantastic to be back on the south coast (and out of the vehicle)! Arriving at Jill’s about 4:30, we decided to immediately head over to Granville Island for a celebratory seafood feast at the Sandbar, enjoying a wonderful King Crab dinner. Yippee!

And some good news about my latest films; An Accident of Being and Life After Life were both selected for the Cefalu Film Festival in Palermo, Italy.

 

Merry Christmas from Northern BC!

Two Christmas cards this year! I couldn’t resist this doggie nativity scene (I can’t take credit for it – the original was posted by a vet in  Ireland); I’ve just added in two special friends.

 

Ken’s the happiest I’ve seen a wood-carver look! Mind you, I haven’t been in direct contact with many wood-carvers … He was pretty happy being the artist-in-residence in the gallery and answering all the many questions about his process. Below Diana pats the head of his alabaster eagle, perched on top of a willow wood stand that Ken also made. Ken used to be a biology teacher and principal at one of the local schools and took up carving after he retired; he’s one of the only people in this area doing relief sculpture.

Before she jetted off for Arizona Sandra had us out to her place for a hearty winter supper of fresh slaughtered chicken (sorry vegetarians!) stew with dumplings – it was delicious. I tried to get a photo of all of us in which everyone was smiling but it was not to be.

Below Ty eyes the cheesecake with homemade berry topping that Sharla’s about to consume; he fell off the no-dessert wagon that night!

Sandra’s house is all by itself in a wide open field area and driving up to it a visitor is struck by the Kudzu (antelope) head that appears in her top window, the remains of a trip to Africa with her husband.

Once again with the cold snap the hoar frost has appeared on the trees; this photo is from down along the river’s edge. I did not realise that rivers could be foggy; sometimes there’s very thick fog along the Peace in the mornings until the sun burns it off.

The photo below of the Peace River at sunset is by Darcy Shawchek.

I did another trip out to Freedom Thinkers Education to talk Modern Art with the grades 4-6 and play surrealist and cubist games. We are going to hang all 60 of the Surrealist Corpses up on one wall of the gallery for 3 weeks in January – my last hurrah as curator here!

December is always the Artisan Christmas Market at the gallery and we expand into the Multi-Purpose room next door for it. I was lucky enough to have 7 volunteers show up to help me put the display together and we finished this room in one day, complete with three lit Christmas Trees.

This year, for the opening kick-off for the Market, we collaborated with the Indigenous Artist’s Market and the Artisan Farmhouse, both down the road on 100th Avenue, on an art-walk style event called Candy Cane Lane, with gingerbread houses, live music, roving carollers, and door prizes.

As you can see Ty was pretty excited about it, set-up in his usual station at the bar table to welcome patrons with a glass of cheer.

 

Along with two local radio personalities, I was asked to judge the gingerbread house competition, with entries from families, adults, teenagers, and children. Here are some of them.

While we have had a lot of snow the last few weeks, it has not been cold, hardly going below zero at all (unlike last years many days of -20 to -30, and week of -40). The photos below of grain bins and fields at sunrise are by Norman Siemens.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, outdoor, water and nature

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

On sunny days the landscape around our neighbourhood is much more attractive. All the buildings are now complete and the “landscaping” is finished (I would have been interested to see how many of the half-dead plants they put in will survive until Spring).

As you can see the snow-drifts are very high! This is a new neighbourhood; most of the houses were built in the last two or three years and almost all of them are gigantic and have gigantic RVs and sometimes boats parked in the front. With the economic downturn lots of For Sale signs have popped up on the streets, although, now, with Site C being given the go-ahead, maybe these houses will sell.

Below is the snowcovered pond near our place.

As our friend Marsha reminds me, this area is Big Sky country and lately the sunsets and sunrises have been beautiful. Below is the road coming back from Charlie Lake, looking out over the fields to the Beatton River valley in the distance.

Barb, an artist friend who lives out near the airport, very kindly had a going-away party for Ty & I, even though we are not actually going until later on in January.

Lots of folks from the Flying Colours art group came to toast us on our way.

I will really miss all these lovely people when we leave.

A few more weeks are left to hike with the Sunday group; last week we headed out to the Beatton Hills for a 10 km hike along the river.

Even though it was not particularly cold, in spots the road was still icy so I had to be very careful where I put my feet, since my hiking boots are super slick on the bottom. Gus the schnauzer and Bear the big dog joined us for the walk; I think Gus must be pretty well almost blind but at 15 years old he is really miraculously energetic and well-able to walk 10 km.

At the end of the road two oil pumpjacks continue their operations day and night. It is still a surprise to me to come across one of these machines in the landscape.

Along the way back Bear discovered the remains of a deer skeleton, from the looks of which the animal was very recently killed.

The sunrise picture below, taken out on the way to the airport, is by Heather Theede.

On Sunday 6 of us got together for a pre-Christmas walk and brunch in Clairmont, a suburb of Fort St John, located in between the city and Charlie Lake. Val and Greg have lived here for 30 years and have about 7 acres along Fish Creek. It was a beautiful almost cloudless day with a brisk, cold wind that made Gus the dog walk with a very high-stepping gait.

Since the sun does not rise very high up over the horizon even at 10 in the morning the shadows are very long and blue over the snow-covered fields.

We haven’t had a snowfall for a while so it was icy and crunchy walking over this area. My hiking boots, while warm, have very slick soles so I had to be quite careful not to slip and fall. (As you can probably tell, I am sort of obsessed about not falling!)

Our walk took us across fields over to the West Bypass road and then back again along the railway tracks, with a stop at the viewpoint over the Fish Creek gully.

Across the gully a moose stood still and watched us, never once moving. You can see it below next to one of the large spruce trees.

Unlike me, Gus had no difficulty skipping along the top of the snow. He led us down the creek bank and across a frozen beaver dam on the way back to Val’s place.

Folks around here still go out into “the country” and cut down their own Christmas trees, know as being “holiday criminals”. Sandra went out with her grandkids and dragged back this beauty now installed in her living room – it must be at least 18 ft high.

We helped Sandra and her family decorate it for Christmas.

The Cultural Centre’s Christmas party was held at the local bowling lanes, pizza followed by ten frames of bowling. As usual, I was hopeless but Ty managed to get two strikes and one of the guys we were playing with had at least 4 as he blasted the ball down the runway.

Katy and her husband tried to teach their two year old to bowl – he seemed to be enjoying the action.

There were a few people in the crowd who seemed to know what they were doing. It seems so simple; just roll the ball down the middle of the lane … not sure why I can’t ever seem to do it.

The Flying Colours artist group got together yesterday for its annual Christmas art-making and food-eating party, with laughter, merriment, and a gift exchange.

On the garage door wall to the left you can see two of my recent linocuts, a skull and heart. I am working on a series of body parts still …

Finally, for 2017, I leave you with some images of the Fort St John and Peace Region taken by members of the local photographers group; these folks get out early and stay out late to get fantastic photos of the local scene. The FSJ grain elevator out by the airport is by Heather Theede.

Merry Christmas pumpjack by Darcy Shawchek.

The photos below of the ‘hood are by Heather Theede.

Hope you are making merry with loved ones this holiday season – best wishes to all!

See more pics here.

Winter is Here!

Our first snowfall happened October 25, almost a month later than last year, with a record-breaking  55 centimeter dump on FSJ. 55 cm!! That’s a lot of snow and it caused havoc, as you might imagine. I just barely got out of our garage; none of the side streets were plowed and the main drags of 100th and 100th had only a single lane each way. Arriving at the Cultural Centre for work, there was nowhere to park, since the lot was not plowed. I did manage to drive the car into the lot but then got stuck in the middle of it, along with every other car and truck that attempted to come in. Below is Oliver, the Operations Manager of the Cultural Centre, digging out one patron who got stuck.

After an hour’s work of shoveling, I managed to free the car from the snow enough to get it into a parking space. And then I was praying that the temperature wouldn’t drop before I left and freeze the car into place!

Since then it has been snow, sub-zero temperatures, freezing rain – in other words, full-on winter. The balcony chairs and table, and the BBQ, have acquired mushroom tops that get progressively bigger.

Of necessity, I have learned how to drive in snow and ice and the proper tires are an absolute must – you might remember that one of the first things we did when arriving up here was get new snow tires!

After a snowfall the city plows and trucks are out in force; first, the roads are plowed such that the snow is piled in the centre of the roads. Then, one truck scoops up these piles and dumps them into a gigantic dump truck which then hauls it away somewhere.

But in public parking lots the snow is simply pushed into big piles in the corner. These gigantic piles remind me of the tall snow drifts when I was a kid in North Vancouver; they could be up to 8 or 10 feet tall and reach up to the eaves troughs of the house.

I continue to go out to Miep’s studio at Charlie Lake when I can. Lately I have been working on a small series of black and white woodcuts of body parts: so far I have a heart, pelvis and skull.

Mary was working on a series of small woodcuts as demo pieces for the class she was teaching through the gallery.

Diana is experimenting with monoprints and collagraphs.

Ken, a former biology teacher and highschool principal, took up wood and stone carving when he retired. He creates wildlife pieces; this one is an eagle in alabaster. In fact, most of these folks are or have been teachers.

Sandy is a retired elementary school teacher who took up painting in earnest when she retired; she is a master of the peace area landscape.

Mary was kind enough to show a couple of us the technique of cyanotype printing, a form of art-making that was originally developed for making blue-prints (cyanotypes are literally blue in colour). You can use photonegatives, drawings, paintings, or photocopies on mylar and actual organic material, such as plants. Below you can see all these materials deployed. Once the material is arranged on paper to your satisfaction, you then place all of it, as is, into a light box for six minutes, then dip the paper (after removing all that material) into a couple of chemical baths to be developed.

Here are some of the materials that I was working with to create mine.

I made several prints but was only happy with one – this one:

I played around with the colour in photoshop a bit.

Mary and Charlie have gotten a beautiful miniature schnauzer pup named Buddy, who accompanies them to the studio. A very sweet little guy, he reminds me of Brubin when he was young.

In addition to her 8 husky sled dogs, Miep has three pet dogs (2 of which are brown retriever puppies) and a couple of pet birds, including this fancy chicken.

I’m enjoying working at the Gallery and curating a few exhibitions there before we head south. Our most recent show, entitled Varieties of Abstraction, featured five artists who shared their individual views of the world around them in works that appealed to both the eye and the brain, giving us alternative views of the natural and human landscapes. I was really happy with how it looked and everyone who saw it thought it was great.

Below is the poster I designed for the show.

Varieties of Abstraction

The opening was great, with music by the Intermezzo Quartet and Ty manning the bar table.

Here’s a link to an interview I did about the show with local TV media Shaw Cable.

We had another Book Launch in October, featuring Pat Ferris, a local writer and cycling enthusiast, presenting his latest, a thriller set in the not-too-distant future entitled His Disciples Watch. Along with Pat, the evening included a special musical guest, local singer-songwriter Lorissa Scriven.

Image may contain: one or more people

The Gallery Artist-in-Residence program I started continues to showcase the creative process of local artists, such as painter Laurie Yates,

painter, photographer, and textile artist Eliza Stanford, working on rug hooking,

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, standing and indoor

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and indoor

Natalie Brekkaas doing pottery,

Ken Forest working on his wood relief carving of two Canada geese,

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and indoor

and Alex Neilson spinning art yarn to make bracelets.

Fort St John has an annual Christmas Parade – I have never seen it because the book club meets the same evening but these photos by Darcy Shawchek give you an idea of what it looks like. This evening was a cold -20 or so.

The photos below, by Norman Siemens, are of Centennial Park all dressed up in lights for the season.

For the past two weeks I have volunteered my teaching services for my friend Lorna’s alternative school in Baldonnel, called Freedom Thinkers. The school is located on the property of the couple who run it and consists of several buildings that used to house a horse stable. Many rabbits cruise around the place.

Freedom Thinkers is small, about 60 students in grades 4-9; last Monday I taught the older students about Modern Art and we did some hands on exercises in Cubist drawing and a Surrealist game entitled the Exquisite Corpse.

For three players, Exquisite Corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis) or rotating corpse, is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed. The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”) In this version of the Exquisite Corpse game portions of a person are drawn or collaged by three different participants successively, without being able to see what has been done before.

The kids really enjoyed the game and the results were great – we pinned all the drawings on the walls and they spent quite a bit of time looking at and discussing then.

I haven’t had much of a chance to hike this Fall; on one of the excursions that I missed the group came upon this evidence of a grizzly bear in the vicinity.

I did get out a couple of weeks back for a hike through the snowshoe trails of Beatton Park with Sharla and Sandra and a few others.

I felt quite out of shape in the company of these amazing women who never seem to slow down – by the end of our hour and a half slog through the snow I was panting pretty hard.

Sandra continues to amaze me with her stamina and strength; one of her grand-daughters came with us, a seven year old who got a bit tired towards the end so Sandra carried her the rest of the way back to the car.

After the hike we headed back to Gail’s place for a lovely brunch of Austrian pastries. I was fascinated with all the birds that make their home in the trees in her front yard, including three beautiful blue jays.

On Ty’s last set of days off we headed out to the Fish Creek forest for a walk through the winter wonderland, having not been there since the summer.

We no longer venture down to the bottom of some of the trails; the slide areas are large and we don’t know how stable those fallen trees are. And who knows if those trails will ever be open again; it would be a massive job to clear out all that log debris.

Ty is a happy man with the anticipation of winter sun coming his way in the not-too-distant future. Here he is in full winter gear, with his orange parka and fleece, good to -40 apparently! I continue to hope that we will not see -40 again this year.

And finally, for now, I’m happy to announce that my experimental short The Vanishing has been selected for the inaugural Short Film Festival of Biodiversity in Porto Real, Portugal.  The main purpose of the Short Film Festival of Biodiversity is the “promotion and diffusion of natural ecosystems and biological heritage through cinematographic and audio-visual works selected according to quality criteria.”

(And lo and below, we are right now in the middle of a snowfall warning, with 20 more centimeters expected by 9 pm tonight …)

See more photos here, here, here and here.

Golden Autumn

 

Well, last year up here winter began with a snowfall that never left on Sept 30. But this year it’s a different story: it’s still sunny and quite warm some days, although at night the temperature goes down below zero. We still haven’t turned on all the heat yet – saving that for later in the year. (The winter electric bills up here are a killer!)

On Ty’s last set of days off we managed to get a nice hike in on Sandra’s brother’s property up in Rose Prairie. When we were there before it was the end of June and summer; now the colours and vegetation have changed and I almost did not recognise some of the places.

The walk goes past two small oil pumpjacks and along the ridge above the Beatton River. As you can see the grasses and trees are yellow and golden now. Really stunning!

Here Ty is pointing out the berry-filled bear poop on the trail. I am amazed that everyone up here can distinguish between bear, moose, deer, and dog poop. I was also a bit nervous to see that this particular pile was fresh. The others reassured me that, because there were so many berries this year, we did not need to worry about becoming this bear’s next snack …

After a warm walk downhill, we reached the riverside and its sandy banks.

It was a pretty warm day and we found a nice spot in the shade under the trees to have lunch. Luckily the mosquitoes have more or less left this vicinity; however, the wasps and ants were still actively sniffing around for food.

The way down was a pleasant stroll, while the way up again was a bit of a hot slog.

This beautiful golden season does not last long, this year about 4 weeks (last year it was 2 weeks). Now, two weeks after this walk, almost all the aspen trees are bare, stark skeletons against the bright blue sky.

For the last three months I worked on the set projections for the Alcan Craze of ’42 with Director Michael Armstrong of Nanaimo and local playwright and musician Deb Butler. The play is about the building of the Alaska Highway in 9 months in 1942, with thousands of American soldiers coming to the north, and the impact that event had on Fort St John and the surrounding area.

All that hard work paid off with wonderful reviews for the 25 videos I produced using historical images and movie clips. My clips were between 6 seconds and 6 minutes long and were used to flesh out the story, projected on the big wall behind the actors. Here are a few samples from the production.

Some of the images were stills, others are part of a moving montage.

  

And here is a video clip of the final scene of Act One, dealing with the drowning of 12 soldiers in the icy waters of Charlie Lake.

Drowning Scene.

Life at the gallery continues: September was a busy month with preparations for the Annual Art Auction which came to fruition on the last Saturday of September at the Pomeroy Hotel, with a buffet dinner, live music, live auction, silent auction, games (Heads or Tails below), bucket draws, and 50/50 draw. One hundred and twenty-five people came and we raised $25,000 for the gallery and visual arts programs in this community.

Featured artist this year was Karl Musgrove, a local rancher and artist who continues to paint every day even after having had a severe stroke that impedes his ability to talk and walk. Below Karl receives a standing ovation from the crowd.

I lasted until the last round of the Heads or Tails game and then was eliminated, leaving Miep (centre below) the happy winner of Cody Smith’s King of the Mountain painting.

Here’s a picture of auctioneer Brian Baldry in action; he’s very good at his job and was able to get some determined folks bidding against one another for the paintings on offer, resulting in very good prices for the work.

Gallery artists in residence continue throughout the Fall, with Judy Templeton wowing the crowds with collagraph printing on a tiny press.

And Laurie Yates painting.

On the day that Laurie was in residence, we had a visit from two Japanese cyclists who were heading through town on their way south, having begun their ride at the most northerly spot in Alaska. One, the gentleman on the left, is riding to the southern tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego, expecting to take two years to get there, and the other is going to Los Angeles.

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We’ve had two very successful events at the gallery in the last few weeks, the first a book launch, reading, and signing with local author Ronnie Roberts, who presented her post-apocalyptic novel set in the North Peace entitled Lost Sentinels. (There is a very active writers group here in FSJ, who meet every month at the library next door to the gallery).

As we pulled into the Cultural Centre parking lot for the event, the cloud formation overhead looked strange and almost apocalyptic.

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Along with Ronnie, local musical quartet Intermezzo serenaded the crowd with Baroque favourites.

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Ty serving wine and chatting up the crowd; he is the gallery’s defacto bartender for these evenings and does very well at it!

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Ronnie giving her signing hand a workout. We sold all but three of her books at the launch.

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And Fort St John’s two bassoonists meeting one another.

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The second event, just a few days ago, was the opening of Flora & Fauna: Block Prints by Catherine Ruddell and Driftwood Sculpture by Michelle Pringle, a beautiful show by two young local artists. It was a great success, attended by a big crowd, and received a very positive review by the local paper. (At the Cultural Centre there is an arts-based preschool, whose members came by the other day for a gallery visit as we were installing the Flora & Fauna show.)

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Here’s a short video I made of two of Michelle’s pieces arriving at the gallery.

Anderson & Libby arrive.

Intermezzo, in its trio version, played light jazz for the opening as the guests mingled and took in the art, including four life-size and over-life-size driftwood animals and an enormous quilt.

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The picture of the artists, below, was taken by Matt Prepost of the Alaska Highway News.

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Photo of Catherine’s block print quilt by Matt Prepost.

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There is also a very active photography club here in town, many of whose members head out nightly to capture the aurora borealis and daily to capture the changing seasons. The three photos below are by Vincent Bedier, whose handle is VinDronus.

I’m very happy to say that a couple of my films have had success recently. My experimental short An Accident of Being has been selected for this year’s Roma Cinema DOC in October 2017. Roma Cinema DOC is a monthly film festival based in Italy that features films, documentaries, and web series from around the world. Every month, Judges award the best films of each category. Every winner is given the distinction of an Official Finalist of the annual event in which Judges and Audience will award the best films of each category. The 2nd Roma Cinema DOC event will take place in October 2017.

And my short experimental film The Vanishing was selected as a semi-finalist for the 2017 Kaohsiung Film Festival International Short Film Competition in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. Held in October and November 2017, the Kaohsiung International Short Film Competition is dedicated to discover new filmmakers and to enhance cultural exchanges through short films.

And, finally, for this dispatch, Happy Thanksgiving to you all, wherever you may be! We had a wonderful meal at Eliza and Edward’s place, with tortiere, homemade soup and bread, and a very tasty dessert, especially appreciated by Ty who has been on a no-dessert diet for the last two months.

See more pictures here and here.

 

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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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.