Katherena Vermette came away from the Manitoba Book Awards with three prizes for her novel The Break. She received the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction as well as the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award. Although I would encourage you to buy her novel as well as her book of poetry North End Love Songs a taste of Katherena’s wordsmithing skill is available to everyone even if they can’t afford her published work.
I pass one of Katherena’s poems almost everyday as I walk through Winnipeg’s downtown area. It is called pieces and is inscribed on a wall at the north end of Portage Avenue flanked on either side by the work of local artists.
Spring and Love
Fifteen Dogs and Writing Poetry
The Comfort of a Poem
Filed under Poetry, Winnipeg
A popular new activity we have been trying at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on our school tours is portrait creation with plasticine. It engages even the most reluctant visitors. I’ve found it works especially well with a series of portraits located quite close to one another in our Modernist Tradition gallery. I tell the kids they can try to recreate one of the portraits, combine features from several or create their own unique portrait.
Younger gallery visitors aren’t sure they would like to meet Professor Felix Walter whose portrait was done by Charles Fraser Comfort in 1933. They tell me the professor’s eyebrows are too bushy and his hands too bony. Older students however are intrigued by the professor.
The kids invariably comment on Helen Esterman‘s long neck in this bronze portrait of her by Sir Jacob Epstein done in 1948.
Junior highs seem especially enamored with Rubber Lips a 1997 work by Janet Werner.
Younger students often identify most closely with The Farmer’s Daughter a portrait done by Prudence Heward in 1938. We try to give time for some kind of art activity on every tour we do with students at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. We want them to feel like they are artists too and can be creative just like the artists whose work they are seeing. Their plasticine masterpieces show just how creative so many of them are!!
I Love Art
Sunday Afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
Terry MacLeod interviews Pat Barter Cook
In the weeks leading up to the 2017 Manitoba Book Awards gala, Terry MacLeod who was co-hosting the event, roved the aisles of McNally Robinson Booksellers interviewing people about the books they were reading. Videos of the interviews were posted on the Writers Guild Facebook page. One woman Terry interviewed was Pat Barter Cook and she talked about the book A Man Called Ove. She said it was a story about an older grief-stricken man named Ove who got up every morning with a plan to kill himself. If that wasn’t enough to hook future readers Pat also told us despite the fact Ove was pretty curmudgeonly she had grown to love him almost immediately. On Thursday when I was at McNallys for my writers’ group meeting I walked past the book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman displayed at the end of an aisle and couldn’t help but buy it based on Pat’s intriguing interview with Terry.
I wasn’t disappointed. The book tells the story of how Ove is forced, despite himself, to engage in relationships with his neighbors and that engages him in life again. This all happens in a very funny touching way. The book reminded me of a Ted Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger who describes an in-depth 75 year study of the same people’s lives. The results clearly show relationships keep us happier and healthier. Social connections are good for us and loneliness kills. People who have good social connections live longer, are physically and mentally healthier, and are happier.
A Man Called Ove makes that point in spades! I throughly enjoyed the novel. Thanks Terry MacLeod and Pat Barter Cook for the prompt to buy it.
A Glamourous Evening at the Manitoba Book Awards
Getting to Know Emma Donoghue in Person
A Novel That Took Us Through Eight States
Filed under Books, Winnipeg
I was visiting a school and kids at a table just outside the gym door were selling treats to raise funds for a class outing. “Will you buy something?” they entreated.
“What do you have that’s healthy?” I asked. They were stymied. They had a wide variety of chocolate bars, chips and baked goods for sale. They suggested a fruit juice box but a quick check of the label revealed it was packed with sugar. The only healthy thing I could find were sticks of cheese. The irony of the sales table being just outside the gym door where the kids take their Physical Well Being classes wasn’t lost on me.
There were lots of positives to the kids’ sales venture. They were learning how to interact politely with the public, how to handle and count money, the importance of managing costs and profits and they were working together to achieve a goal. Could they have learned those things just as well if their sales table had featured fruits and vegetables, popcorn, yogurt, sunflower seeds, pistachios and whole grain or rice crackers? I understand those things might have been hard to sell.
It will take some doing to get kids to think healthy treats can be just as delicious and satisfying as unhealthy ones. But it’s a change of perspective families, schools and governments need to work at seriously if we are going to combat childhood obesity and promote more healthy lifestyles for kids. Thinking about what kinds of things we sell for fundraisers- cookies, candies and chocolates might be a good place to start.
Eat Like You Give A Damn
Healthy Environments- Not Gyms or Arenas
I attended the Manitoba Book Awards on Saturday. It is an annual event organized by the Manitoba Writers Guild. I have been a member of the guild ever since I moved to Winnipeg six years ago. It was through the guild I heard about Vast Imaginations the first children’s writers’ group I joined in Winnipeg. The friends I made there helped me find my way into The Anita Factor a collective of talented and published children’s authors who have been mentoring me in my quest to learn the fine art of writing picture books and novels for young people. So I was delighted to be able to attend the Manitoba Book Awards last Saturday with members of The Anita Factor.
Here I am with some of the members of my writing group The Anita Factor. Larry on the far right is a former Manitoba book award winner, Jodi was a Manitoba book award nominee last year and Pat who is standing next to me just published a book with Pembroke Publishers.
This was the first year the event was held in the elegant Fort Garry Hotel and it was a first class evening in every way.
These creative candleholders spotlighted the names of previous Manitoba Book Award winners.
It featured great musical entertainment, professional Winnipeg broadcasters Terry MacLeod and Lara Rae as hosts, a delicious meal expertly served, good wine, and polished and articulate presenters that included last year’s Book of The Year winner Wab Kinew and Rochelle Squires the Manitoba Minister of Sports, Culture and Heritage. We each received a complimentary copy of the latest issue of Walrus Magazine. They were one of the offical sponsors of the evening. That chocolate book in the corner is real and oh so deliciously decadent. Each attendee received one from the talented chocolatier Constance Popp.
After the meal I bought Angeline Schellenberg’s book of poetry Tell Them It Was Mozart at the table set up by McNally Robinson Book Sellers. Angeline’s debut into the literary world garnered her three awards on Saturday night and I consumed her moving book of poems in one fell swoop on Sunday morning. I want to go back and read them all again.
It was great to see Manitoba authors celebrated. Kudos to my fellow Anita Factor member Melanie Matheson who is the executive director of the Manitoba Writers Guild and Ellen MacDonald the guild’s event coordinator who did such a fantastic job organizing the evening. I’m already looking forward to next year’s awards night.
Not One Book Launch But Three
Writer or Palaeontologist?
As you can see from this photo I’m having a delightful time! Recently I had the privilege of taking a group of people from Siloam Mission through the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I usually give tours to school groups so I am always a little apprehensive when I’m asked to guide adults. I needn’t have worried! The experience with the Siloam community was great ! In this photo we are looking at a painting by the great Canadian artist Emily Carr. One of my tour participants knew so much about Emily and her work. I learned a lot from him. And there were other people on my tour who taught me things about Chagall and Rembrandt and Inuit whale bone sculptures and the art of scrimshaw. I had heard of Siloam and the work they do but I have never visited their location on Princess Street. It was an eye-opening experience to meet and learn from the Siloam Mission folks. In this photo we are looking at work by Winnipeg’s own Wanda Koop. Wanda who has an important international presence in the art world hails from inner city Winnipeg and took her first art classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. She won those lessons in a contest and it set her on the road to a remarkable career. The Siloam visitors were so interested in her story.
Rachel Baerg the Head of Education at the Winnipeg Art Gallery led another tour group from Siloam
One of the reasons I love working at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is because it is a place that tries to be welcoming and invitational to everyone and as a result I get to meet so many interesting and amazing people. I hope Siloam Mission will come back for another visit. If they do I’ll be the first guide in line to offer to lead the tour.
Note: The photos in the post were taken by Al Foster and are used here with his kind permission.
What’s a Portscape?
The Dakota Boat
I visited a Maori meeting house in New Zealand and learned a traditional Maori form of greeting. Two people shake their right hands and at the same time place their left hand on the other person’s shoulder. The head is bent, eyes closed and their foreheads touch as their noses are pressed together twice. The two people are said to share the breath of life with one another.
Although we may not greet people in the traditional Maori style, perhaps the way we speak or act towards others when we meet them can breathe life into their existence. Research shows one effective way for high school teachers to make a difference in the lives of their students is to simply greet them by name whenever they meet them in the school hallways or classrooms. It lets students know someone recognizes them and appreciates their presence in the school community. Could this be exactly the ‘breath of life’ some teenagers need?
I used to take daily early morning walks with my mother. I noticed how she made a point of saying a friendly hello or ‘good morning’ to each person we met. I sometimes wondered if perhaps my mother’s cheerful greeting was the one warm kind word some lonely people received that day.
Maori Meeting House in New Zealand
The Maori exchange the breath of life when they greet others. We too have the opportunity to ‘breathe life’ into someone’s day when we greet them in a warm and friendly way.
A Maori Jesus
The Winnipeg Art Gallery is awash with flowers this weekend. A special event called Art in Bloom has paired floral designers and their creations with works of art. I attended yesterday and there was almost too much beauty to take in so I decided to focus on artwork featuring women. What kind of floral art had been created to accompany their portraits?
Scottish artist Henry Raeburn’s Portrait of a Woman is a painting I often stop at when I am giving art gallery tours and together with my visitors we try to figure out everything we can about the lovely woman pictured. Who is she? What kind of family does she come from? What is she thinking and feeling? Why did she have her portrait painted?
Floral designer Heather Page created this arrangement as a tribute to Henry Raeburn’s lovely lady. She decided a traditional bouquet would best compliment the classic style of the portrait.
This 1630 painting of St. Cecilia the patron saint of music by Giuseppe Puglia shows a cherub interrupting St. Cecilia’s violin playing and pointing out something in a sheaf of music. Did the beloved saint who inspired so many composers miss a note or play a certain passage with exquisite beauty? Exquisite beauty probably best describes the arrangement of delicate pink roses Saint Cecilia inspired floral designer Mari Loewen to create.
The Farmer’s Daughter is by Prudence Heward a Canadian artist who sometimes exhibited with The Group of Seven. Floral designer Michele Pitre tried to imagine what the girl in the portrait was looking at and decided she might be staring off into a cool forest. So Michele created this natural arrangement complete with birch bark and woodland flowers and grasses.
Daphne Odjig’s Friends Rejoicing is a recent gallery acquisition and I love its vibrant, joyful colors. The happy women in the painting are celebrating the birth of a child. Floral interpreters Paul Jordan and Jordan Maegher are both in management positions at The Forks in Winnipeg. The Forks is a place of friendship, connection and the bright diversity of the prairies. They felt Daphne Odjig’s painting reflected those values as well.
I was delighted to discover this floral arrangement by Bernice Klassen. Bernice and I attended the same church for many years and our sons were the same age. Bernice was drawn to the orange hues in Ivan Eyre’s Women and Interior because orange is the color of courage. Elements in Bernice’s bold arrangement also echo the vase of flowers in the painting. One of my favorite combinations was this arrangement by floral designer Dorothy Vannan created for English artist Dorothea Sharp’s impressionist work In the Orchard that features a woman picking fruit.
The weather is going to be cold and wintry this weekend but you can escape at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. There’s coffee in the lobby to warm your body and in the galleries you will find lots of lovely flowers and beautiful art to warm your soul.
Flowers of Costa Rica
Flowers of Jamaica
Trilliums- Food For the Soul
Fanny is an English major working in a pub in order to pay her staggering college debt. One night a famous author comes into the bar and a star struck Fanny begins a relationship with him. He’s an alcoholic desperately in need of a story for his next novel. Fanny gives him hers. Her sprawling family history marked by infidelities, danger, step sibling craziness, revenge, passion and death becomes the core of a best seller and a subsequent movie. But how will Fanny’s family react when they discover she has literally given away their family’s story? What will they think?
I just finished reading Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and it left me wondering who actually owns family stories. Many writers use their own family history to create the characters and events in their novels or to pen memoirs . Do they have the right to use stories from their family?
It’s a question being asked more frequently now that so many people share their family stories online. I share family stories. Some people in my family have asked me not to write about them or have let me know in various ways they don’t appreciate it when I write about them. Some people in my family love it when I write about them. Others have questioned my version of events.
Somehow I feel it is okay to write stories about family members who are no longer living. But what if other people in the family don’t agree with what I’ve said about the person who has died. What if they would rather I had remained silent? What if they feel I don’t have the right to tell a story about someone from our family’s shared past?
Commonwealth is an excellent novel and the story it spins intrigues and terrifies and makes you reflect on your own family narrative. Who has the rights to that narrative and who gets to decide how it should or shouldn’t be shared publicly?
A link to family stories I’ve shared in this blog.
Filed under Books, Family
I hadn’t seen this plaque about my Mom till I spoke at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach one Sunday morning. After the service I did a little tour of the church I called home for some thirty years. I found this photo and story posted in the church’s nursery room where families can go during the service or other church events so little children can play with the toys, have a nap or socialize with other toddlers. The nursery is a great place to pay tribute to my mother who was very involved for many years with the Cradle Roll program at Grace Mennonite.
The Cradle Roll was run by a group of older women from the church who visited young parents after their babies were born to express interest and support. They continued to make visits till the children were of school age. They planned and hosted parties a number of times each year so young parents and their children could socialize with one another. After Mom died our family made a donation to the women’s group at Grace Mennonite that Mom had belonged to for many decades. They decided to use the money to make improvements to the nursery as a way to recognize Mom’s love and care for the smallest members of the church family.
It is a fitting way to recognize Mom’s love of children.
My Mom Starts School
You Never Say Goodbye