Monthly Archives: April 2018

American Gothic

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Grant Wood was featured on the CBS Sunday Morning Show yesterday.  If you are like me the Grant Wood painting you are most familiar with is American Gothic.  I was surprised to learn that the models for the painting were Grant Wood’s sister Nan and his dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby. For some reason I had assumed they were a real  husband and wife. Nan later insisted that her brother meant this to be a portrait of a father and daughter.  One detail I had never noticed is how the image of the pitchfork in the man’s hand is repeated in his overalls. The plants on the porch of the house behind the couple in American Gothic are the same as the one in his mother’s hand and just behind her in this portrait Grant Wood painted of his mother called Woman With Plants.  The plant in her hand is called mother-in-law’s tongue and the plant behind her is a beefsteak begonia. Also notice that the cameo his mother is wearing in this painting looks very similar to the one his sister is wearing in American Gothic. Their aprons and sweaters are also of a similar style. 

The house Wood used as a model for his painting is now a national historic site. It is in Eldon Iowa and was built by Charles Dibble in 1881.  Grant Wood was driving through Eldon Iowa with a fellow painter in 1930, saw the house and sketched it. Later he created the portrait with his models in his Cedar Rapids Iowa studio.  The top window of the house looks like a church window and was ordered by the original owner from the Sears catalogue. About 15,000 people a year visit the home and many pose for a photo in clothing similar to that worn by the couple in the original painting.
Dave and I saw American Gothic when we visited the Art Institute of Chicago a number of years ago. There are questions about what kind of message Grant Wood was sending with this painting.   Was it a satire of rural small town American life? Was it a mourning portrait?  Wood’s father died when he was only ten years old. Was it a symbol of the steadfast American spirit? 

Interestingly in March when we were in Portugal I tried my hand at doing a quick sketch version of my own of American Gothic for one of my daily art exercises. 

Grant Wood Self- Portrait

The CBS Sunday Morning Show segment was terrific and I learned so much about Grant Wood’s life and later checked out more than a hundred paintings of his on the Wiki Art site. He created many other portraits besides  American Gothic.  This one called Plaid Sweater is one of my favorites. Grant Wood was a fascinating man and artist even though most folks only know him because of American Gothic

Other posts……….

Don’t Be Scared to be Creative

She’s Real

Picasso’s Grandmother is Canadian

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Filed under Art

Chagall’s Windows in Germany

In Mainz Germany I visited St. Stephen’s Church.  I saw the nine huge gorgeous stained glass windows in this Catholic cathedral created by the Jewish artist Marc Chagall.  Chagall made the windows in the last decade of his life as a contribution to the Jewish-German reconciliation effort.  Chagall himself was forced to flee France after it came under Nazi occupation.  Chagall chose stories from the Old Testament for his windows, stories shared by both Judaism and Christianity.  He hoped that the two faith traditions in Europe could build on their common threads and eventually come to the point where they could reconcile and work together for the common good.

Other posts………..

Chagall and Fiddler on the Roof

A Legendary Love Story Illustrated By An Artistic Legend

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Trying Something New

kombucha tea


Note:  A SCOBY is an acronym for……..symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. You can get a SCOBY from a friend or grow your own.  

Other posts………..

I Drank A Beer in Austria

English Tea with the T-4’s

Putting the Port in Porto


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Does She Have a Chance?

I was walking by the Salvation Army Hostel on Monday and saw a young woman looking at a map printed out from a computer.  “Can you help me?”  she asked.  “I’m not a city girl.  I feel like a lost tourist.” 

She wanted to find the Salvation Army Thrift Shop in St. Boniface.  I told her she could walk with me and once we got to my street I’d show her the direction to go.  I told her I volunteered at a Mennonite Thrift Shop. 

“I’m a Mennonite,” she said.  She told me her name.  Her first name was Biblical and her surname definitely Mennonite. “Where are you from?” I asked.  She named my hometown and as we talked she told me about the schools there she had attended.  I had attended all three myself and taught at one of them. When I asked about her parents she described her father with an expletive and said she never wanted to see him again.  Her Mom had left her Dad and moved to a distant Manitoba town. 

I asked her what she was going to buy at the Thrift Shop. “Clothes,” she said.  “I just got out of prison and all I have are the clothes on my back.”  I asked how she’d landed up in jail. “I assaulted someone,” she told me and then quickly added,  “you don’t have to worry, I am not a violent person.  I was attacked and just defended myself.” 

We kept talking till we reached my street.  I found out she’d been kicked out of high school, had no one in the city she knew, and had no money.  There was a limited amount of time she could stay at the Salvation Army. “I’ll have to find a way to make Winnipeg my home,”  she said. 

When we reached my street I pointed her in the direction of St. Boniface, gave her some money to buy clothes, wished her well and waved good-bye.  I can’t stop thinking about her. I know there is probably lots more to her story than she told me. But………what will happen to her?  What chance does she have?  

Other posts………..

My Husband and the Pope Are On The Same Page


Called to Court


Filed under People, Winnipeg

Really Looking

I’ve walked down Main Street from Bannatyne to Selkirk literally a hundred times since I moved to Winnipeg.  Yesterday I decided to REALLY look and take some photos of the street I’ve walked so often.  mural vine church

park bench with boots

new west hotel

community logo main street

wheel chair

lamp standard

pawn shop


orthodox church

bikes on building side

you are the community

sidewalk invitation main street

main street community

Other posts………

Aren’t You Scared to Live in the Exchange District?


Filed under Winnipeg

Amazing Kids

I am just wrapping up a month of visiting Winnipeg schools in my role as a supervisor for education students practicing their craft in the classroom.  This year I had the privilege of spending time in three different mixed grade one and two classrooms.  I saw amazing things happening in all of them. 

Classroom #1

My student teacher was doing math problems with her six and seven-year olds that involved addition.  These kids didn’t have pencil and paper.  They were adding three digit numbers to three digit numbers in their heads! They had been taught ten different strategies for figuring out addition problems and not only could they complete the calculations mentally they could tell you which strategy they had used and why they had used it.  Different kids used different strategies and that was applauded.  It was amazing. They got it!

Classroom #2

My student teacher had introduced her six and seven-year olds to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid.   First they made a pyramid for themselves. What did they need to feel healthy, safe, loved, good about themselves, to be learners and have fun?  Then the teacher read them stories and showed them videos about joeys (baby kangaroos) and they made a pyramid for them.  One day I watched them work together as a class to make a pyramid for baby emperor  penguins after seeing videos and reading books about them. It was amazing!  They got it! 

Classroom #3

My student teacher is Metis and she did a social studies unit introducing her six and seven-year olds to her culture.  She used a medicine wheel with them. A medicine wheel has four sections emotional, mental, physical, spiritual.  I watched one day while the children took special items they had brought from home or had drawn pictures of and they placed them in the “correct”  spoke on their own personal medicine wheel.  They could explain why they had made the choices they did.  A book might go in the mental section because it made them think. A feather might be placed into the spiritual spoke because it reminded them of creation.  A picture of a favorite food might go in physical because it filled them up and a photo of a grandmother in emotional because they loved her.  It was amazing! They got it!

Our schools are often criticized because they aren’t deemed to be doing a good enough job.  I wonder how many people who criticize actually visit to see the great needs as well as potential particularly in Winnipeg’s inner city schools, to see the great work being done by so many teachers and to see the great kids who are being stretched and challenged to be the best they can be. 

Other posts………..

Cool Stuff

Teachers of Their Own

Rap, Reimagining Winnipeg and Fish Nets

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Farewell Tour

insurgence:resurgenceOn Saturday I gave my last tour of the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  I have toured through the exhibit with hundreds of visitors since last September and have learned so many new things from my tour participants as they pointed out things in the art pieces that I hadn’t seen and shared how the works connected to them personally.  

indian horse posterAt the end of my tour on Saturday I told the group I would be going to see the movie Indian Horse in the evening.  Based on the excellent book of the same name by Richard Wagamese the film tells the troubling story of an indigenous boy’s experience at a residential school.  One of the women in my group had seen the movie and she said the Insurgence /Resurgence exhibit provided a hopeful balance to the film.  The exhibit celebrated the gifts and talents of indigenous Canadians and placed them front and centre. The boy in the film who has a rare talent for the sport of hockey is prevented from celebrating that gift and retreats into a place of darkness because of the prejudice and abuse he experiences.  

gone but not forgotten winnipeg art galleryOne of my favorite pieces in the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit was called Gone But Not Forgotten.  Made from wood collected along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers it is a memorial to people who have lost their lives in Winnipeg’s rivers. This week when I go to the art gallery the works that formed the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit will be gone but they won’t easily be forgotten.  An article in Saturday’s Free Press makes it clear the exhibit will have a lasting impact on the city of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, its staff and visitors. 

Hustle Bustle Downriver House by Bruno Canadien

Other posts……….

She is Gripped By Terror

Four Grandmothers


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Filed under Movies, winnipeg art gallery

Teaching Kids About Being Homeless

An article in Wednesday’s Winnipeg Free Press about a one day event to collect the stories of our city’s homeless people reminded me of a book I recently added to our church library.   Illustrated by a former student of my husband’s Jane Heinrichs and written by Jamie Casap and Jillian Roberts On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty introduces the issues of poverty and homelessness in a gentle way that is appropriate for school aged  children.  Kids learn why people become homeless because of things like natural disasters, mental illness,wars or abusive family situations.   The book uses photographs as well as Jane’s illustrations to pose questions children might have after seeing homeless people on the street.It encourages children to be empathetic.  What would it be like to live on the street? Finally the book empowers kids by giving them practical ideas for making a difference like collecting food and clothing for donation or extending friendship to other children at school who might seem lonely or unhappy. 

Perhaps if we can start early to help children become empathetic and understanding of people who find themselves without a home, society will one day have the will to provide  the adequate housing, supportive services and social connectedness that could end homelessness in North America.  

Other posts……..

Tin Can Art and Feeding the Homeless

Meeting With the Mayor About Homelessness

A Lot More Than We’d Like to Think

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education

Common Threads-Creation Stories

The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole

I was at Canadian Mennonite University, fresh out of high school and taking my first Old Testament course. Dr. Waldemar Janzen, our professor assigned a book report on Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright.  I started reading and grew more incredulous as I turned each page.  The story of creation in Genesis I discovered was not as unique as I’d always thought. It contained elements borrowed from earlier Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation stories, had some things in common with Egyptian creation accounts, and there were many similarities between the Israelite’s god Yahweh and the Canaanite god El. I remember barging into Dr. Janzen’s office and asking him if it was true the Israelites had just cobbled together a creation story using material from other sources. Dr. Janzen reassured me my discovery wasn’t something that should shake my faith. The purpose of the Genesis story was more important than the story itself. 

Rainbow I photographed in Sanford Manitoba

I have come to believe the story’s purpose was to teach us there is a life-giving creative force at work in the world and the world was made for people to care for and enjoy.  

Pangu separates the earth and sky

I visited a grade nine science class this month where the teacher was introducing the students to different cultural stories about the creation of the universe.  He showed a beautiful video where Canadian aboriginal elders told the story of Sky Woman and the creation of Turtle Island.  He used slides to tell them the Chinese story of Pangu who pushed apart the earth and the sky .  Then he invited the students to do research on creation stories from other cultures around the world and share them with each other. Later the class looked at all the stories and talked about not only how they were different but also what they had in common. 

Those students were discovering earlier than I did that there are lessons to be learned by looking for the common threads in the hundreds of creation stories told world-wide. 

Other posts………

Common Threads- Buddhism

Common Threads – The Bahai

Common Threads- Aboriginal Spirituality


Filed under Religion

Learning From Judy Blume

I’ve signed up for an online course about writing for a middle grade audience taught by award winning and popular children’s author Judy Blume. She’s written books like Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing and Freckle Juice. I have just done the first few lessons of her course but I think it will provide impetus and guidance for my own writing.  I’ve made a cartoon to show what I’ve learned from Judy so far.  I’m looking forward to future lessons from Judy. 

Other posts…………

Empty Adjectives

So Much Hard Work

So Excited

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Filed under Writing