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.

Some of my favourite things …

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A few of my favourite Puerto Vallarta sights: colourful balloons on street food stands, this one on Insurgentes at Basillio Badillo,

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the bougainvillea bushes on Olas Altas and Basillio Badillo, day and night,

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the gorgeous, gigantic trees in Lazaro Cardenas Park,

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skulls and skeletons,

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street art,

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Art VallArta, the fantastic art studio run by the fabulous Nathalie Herling in which I created these two masks, with the great help of Mexican maestro Froylan Hernandez, worn below by Patricia Gawle and Nathalie. In the foreground you can see some of the works made by Patricia, a ceramic artist who has a studio and gallery in the old town on Basillio Badillo.

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I hope to add more colour to El Diablo at home, perhaps a brilliant red and some shiny green for the teeth.

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Amazingly, these pieces made it home intact. Ty did a wonderful job of packing them in styrofoam and several layers of bubble wrap. Below are pictures of the vessels that Froylan created.

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The red tagine is not completed yet; Froylan is going to add highlights in darker colours with probably a couple more layers of glaze.

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Puerto Vallarta finito

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I am seated on the balcony of suite #13 at the Estancia San Carlos, a small 24 room apartment hotel 2 blocks from Los Muertos beach on Constitucion. We decided to move to a place with a pool for our last five days, just to see whether we really needed it. It’s nice to have the pool, and the courtyard is very pleasant, with two gigantic palm trees, lots of other vegetation, and the two levels of rooms arranged around it. Our place is huge, on the SW top corner, with two balconies, one facing the courtyard and the other the street, a busy one on which the buses run day and night. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large kitchen and seating area. It would be fabulous except that the furniture is so uncomfortable that after sitting on it for half an hour, we can’t feel our butts any longer. But I love its light and airy space.

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My two masks have been completed and are cooling down in the kiln as I write. As you can see from these pictures, I was very excited to see them emerge from the bisque firing under the watchful eyes of Nathalie and Froylan. I spent several hours yesterday glazing both of them and am very curious to see how they will turn out. This morning Ty and I spent a bit of time wandering the streets of old town looking for bubble wrap to pack them in for the trip home tomorrow.

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This town is really beautiful and the weather has mostly been fantastic; we have had a tiny bit of rain and a couple of cloudy days but other than that, El Sol shone.

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We spent a bit of time on Playa Camarones at Mango Beach Bar, a restful change from Playa Los Muertos in our neck of the woods. The beach here is wide and long and not nearly as heavily populated as in the old town. I like to watch all the characters on the beach and in the water; these folks, all seven of them, had piled onto a banana boat and, about a minute into the ride, were dumped off into the water and had to wait to be retrieved since apparently none of them could swim well enough, even with life jackets, to make it to the beach.

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Ah, los colores de Mexico! I’m not ready to leave yet but manyana the plane will whisk us away. Adios!

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Ceramics and other Fun in the Sun

While I wait for El Diablo to be dry enough to fire and glaze, I am working on a new creation.  This piece began life as an alien with three eyeballs and five tentacles, inspired by the octopus piece Froylan is helping Andy build.

First El Maestro threw a pot on the wheel which then became the rock on which the octopus sits. Then he and Andy crafted a hollow head for the beast and eight curling tentacles which I greatly admired.

I decided that my alien, too, would have curling tentacles; however, I didn’t have the skill to create as beautiful ones as those on the octopus.

The first two smaller tentacles I adhered in place of eyebrows, while three others were attached below the nose. These ended up looked like moustache whiskers. A further larger couple I initially intended to attach below the mouth but, upon further thought, I decided against it.

After asking me whether my creation was a predator or a vegetarian – vegetarian – Froylan had an idea for the mouth, based on a trumpet fish he’d seen while diving. He crafted me a very nice small mouthpiece on the wheel; subsequently, we decided that one of the smaller tentacles would be best placed coming out of the mouth for feeding purposes.

As I continued to work on the piece, it mutated from an alien into the Vegetarian Sea Santa you see here. The shape of the mask suggested a beard, so I carved wiggly lines into the clay to indicate wavy hair.

Scales were cut into the cheeks and algae into the area around the forehead; if I had time, I’d probably have made the algae hair more three dimensional by attaching separate fronds and leaves. Given that there’s not much time left to complete the piece, that will have to wait for another opportunity.

The other night Ty and I made our way down to the Sea Monkey beach bar to watch the pelicans swim and wait for the sunset.

While there we enjoyed watching a pair of golden long-haired dachshunds play on the sand, running and digging holes.

Other than that, we have drunk cups of coffee at various outdoor cafes – Caffe del Mar, also an art gallery containing the ceramic work of Rodo Padillo and the paintings of Angie McIntosh –  is a good one,

as is A Page in the Sun, a combo bookstore and coffee shop,

played a few games of pool at the Crowbar in our neighbourhood, run by a woman from Chilliwack,

had a few lunches at Mi Cafe, a fantastic spot around the corner from us,

and spent Sunday evening at a potluck film fest put on by Nathalie at Art VallARTa, watching Birdman and Gone Girl, while sampling some spicy chili, pasta salad (made by me from scratch), pizza, and lots of baked goodies – fun!

I really love the colourful streets here, with fabrics of many colours and stripes, beautiful flowers, and vibrantly painted cement buildings.

See more here and here.

El Diablo Rises

Another day, another beautiful walk to Art VallARTa to continue my work on El Diablo.

The devil was covered in a plastic bag overnight to be kept flexible for further operations this morning. The first order of business was to add a protruding chin to the face, using a separate piece of clay which was then massaged into the correct shape.

I cut lines into the forehead to prepare the surface for eyebrows. After rolling out two small amounts of clay to the correct size, the eyebrows were attached and Froyland helped me to shape and mold them.

We added lines to indicate the brow and wrinkles between the eyes.

El Maestro seems to have been pleased so far!

The next step was to affix the horns; first small holes had to be pierced in the temples of the mask, then the horns attached with slip.

Froyland demonstrated how to attach the horns, holding the mask so that it would not crack as the heavy material was added. I also added cheekbones.

So far, so good. Froyland is working on a couple of vessels featuring imaginary undersea creatures.

As we were working, others continued with their projects, scarves and silk paintings and glazing ceramics.

Since the devil is a master of the art of temptation, Froyland thought that he needed a cigarette …

Small towers of clay were placed under the horns to support them as I worked on the finishing details of El Diablo’s face.

 

The Devil is in the Details: The Evolution of El Diablo at Art VallARTa

I am so happy that Art VallARTa  studio in the Old Town is fully functional now and doing so well. Monday Ty and I went for a visit and Nathalie showed me around what is now a well-equipped large studio and gallery space.

The theatre is also well set up with cushions and blankets for the weekly life drawing sessions held there. The 2nd annual Romance in the Romantic Zone exhibition of art on the theme of love drew four hundred people to its opening night, offering, in addition to framed two dimensional pieces, ceramic and glass wear, and a gigantic wall mural of a heart, a tunnel of love installation through which visitors walked to gain entry to the show – fantastic! wish I could have been there. Nathalie’s piece is the Love Roulette wheel below.

On Monday a large group of folks were painting water colours in one part of the space while a few others worked on clay projects in the high-ceiling multi-media area.

I have decided to take a ceramics course offered by Froyland Hermandez, a Mexican clay maestro, and attended the first class today. Froyland is a very experienced artist who is very patient with newcomers to the medium.

He is able to explain all aspects of the technique clearly and is very patient, particularly with people like me who are not the best students. I have tried wheel-throwing before, and while I really enjoyed Charmian Nimmo’s class, realised soon that it was not for me, given that I don’t really have the arm and shoulder strength necessary to centre and raise the clay higher than about two inches off the wheel. Makes for a rather limited repertoire of objects that can be made, essentially small candy bowls. Although I did make one bowl that I was quite happy with, the only one that did not have walls that were way too thick and heavy.

I decided instead to try hand-building since I am interested in sculpture and particularly like masks. Froyland showed me how to wedge and prepare the clay correctly and how to roll it out like dough ready to be used. After deciding that I wanted to make a mask, Froyland prepared an armature of bubble wrap and tape around which we placed my rolled out piece of clay.

From this humble beginning the mask grew and took shape. After scoring the surface to indicate where the facial features would go, El Diablo, the devil, was begun by pressing indentations for the eyes and mouth, being careful not to press too hard so as to break or crack the clay’s surface.

For the eyes, I rolled two balls of clay which were placed into the indentations, then scored the surface around each eyeball to accommodate the bits of clay that would form the eyelids. These pieces were rolled out and placed above and below the eyeballs then massaged and stroked with wooden tools to create what eventually looked like a pretty decent set of eyeballs.

Next I created a free-standing nose from a separate lump of clay which was kept flexible by being covered with plastic. Two tusks and several teeth followed, each made by rolling out a cone of clay, first using my hands and then the surface of the table.

This process was trickier that I thought it would be; some of the teeth rolled out too long and thin, while others were too big and thick. Getting a few teeth the right size took quite a bit of time, as did getting the two tusks the right dimensions and curvature. These were carefully placed in the mouth indentation so I could get an idea of what the finished mouth would look like. Having decided that they were good, I then scored the bottom of each tooth, and the area of surface on which each would sit, and attached them with slip, very liquid clay.

I was very excited about the horns. These were made with cones of clay rolled out, like the tusks, first with my hands and then on the table top. Froyland and I had a bit of discussion about what kinds of horns would be appropriate. I didn’t really care but he thought bull’s horns would be best so I took his advice.

He believes that, when working on an object from nature, such as a face, one should look at the details of the face, or, in this case, the horns, to see what they are actually like, rather than simply making something up that doesn’t necessary correspond with the actual “thing”. So the horns took a bit of work to get the right dimensions and curvature. Froyland cautioned me not to put the horns on too quickly because they’re heavy and might crack the piece. I am looking forward to completing the mask tomorrow.

While I was crafting El Diablo, Kelly, a former air traffic controller from the States, was working on a wheel-thrown lidded vessel, on top of which she planned to affix a snail and two sea turtles.

To my right Rosemary, from Lethbridge, painted glaze on her projects, a head with small legs on top, and a mask, for her synchronised swimmer grand-daughter.

At another table several others worked with Carol Ann on silk-painting, a process that also looked very interesting. Some of those folks wore beautiful fused glass bracelets made at another workshop with Carol Ann.

Below, El Diablo so far!

After a hard several hours slaving over my clay piece, I met Ty down by the pier and we spent a very pleasant few hours under a palapa at the beach, including a refreshing dip in the ocean, the first one this year. Had the best guacamole and chips with hot salsa ever at the Mahi Mahi Beach bar with excellent service – highly recommended.

See more photos here.

Isla Cuale Stroll and Random Observations

Today we decided to spend our time photographing Isla Cuale and the area around it,  an oasis of green that divides Old Town from Centro. After walking over on a pretty warm day we stopped to refuel at Las Brazzas,  a small bistro on the eastern end of the island near the art studios. It’s the only restaurant left at that end of the  island; all  the others that were open last year are now cat colonies.

Joining us on the patio were Heather, an expat from Ontario, and Irma, a native PVer. Heather has been here for seven years, living in and around the Old Town and working as a care aid. She likes it, but is sick of all the tourists in the winter and says the place is like a tomb in the summer, empty and screaming hot. Just as in every tourist town we’ve been to, the locals have a love – hate relationship with tourism and who can blame them? It was interesting talking with Heather about her experiences here and hearing her insights into the various communities that make up this town.

This day the printmaking studio was open and we had a chat with Dan from North Carolina who was working on a black and white woodcut, his first. He wanted to know why Canadians were less apt to be taken in by news stories about how dangerous Mexico is than Americans. We postulated that more people watch CBC than Fox News…

From the print studio we wandered over to our usual taco stand and then to Le Cuiza, a restaurant, bar, and gallery near the beach end of the island.

Very colorful paintings adorn the walls here and all the wooden furniture is vibrantly painted. The artists here offer workshops and classes and the bar does a good business with Canadians on karaoke nights.

Outside in the gigantic banyan tree iguanas race overhead on the tree’s huge limbs. It is interesting that we have seen hardly any insects here – no mosquitoes, no bees, just a few wasps and a few tiny butterflies. I wonder if they spray the bejeezus out of the place. I don’t miss the mosquitoes but it is curious that most insects seem to have disappeared from the landscape here.

Our final stop on the photo tour was Fireworks ceramic studio on the second floor of Los Mercados, a tiny shopping arcade in a beautiful building  in Old Town.

Arranged around a central courtyard and painted a warm yellow-orange,  the place reminded me of Italy.

Fireworks occupies an airy area with lots of different kinds of vessels and tiles waiting to be painted, as well as books of illustration, patterns, and designs for inspiration. It is a U paint it studio, where one pays for the greenware, paints it, and has it fired by studio personnel. I may give it a whirl.

On the main floor of the arcade was –  glory be – a good looking wine store and a deli with several different cuts of meat, including our favourite hot Italian sausage – joy! Naturally we had to patronize both; I have been missing a nice glass of wine in the evenings. Both places are a bit pricey,  charging close to Canadian prices for their food and catering to the expat community. And they are air-conditioned; I think that was the first air-conditioned environment that I’ve been in  here. Be that as it may, we rolled home with a small bag of goodies that we are surely going to enjoy.  It is good to know that if we crave food and drink that we are used to from home,  we can get it here.

In other “news”:

Some local young artists have started a gallery right down at the beach, selling and showing very colourful paintings and painted furniture.

Here is another of the plethora of VW bugs in this town.

We sampled some mole sauce with chocolate from our favorite taco stand.

Here is another great anabolic steroid ad –  get your roid rage here cheap, cheap, almost free.

Another thing that is “almost free” here is parasailing (oh autocorrect how I hate you. Not parasites, parasailing). One woman high over the beach, ignoring the frantic whistles of the sail master trying to get her to turn the sail towards the beach, just about came down far out in the deep water.

I spoke to two lifeguards on the beach up north near Ley Supermarket who told me that they make at least five rescues a week every week of the year, mostly of people who don’t know how to swim and go in the water after drinking. At this beach there are strong currents not far offshore and the water gets deep very quickly, none of which is evident from the shore unless you know what to look for. Most locals can’t swim, and people drown here every year.

Every day on the waters of PV is a pelican party.

See more photos here