Category Archives: Art

An Australian Epiphany

January 6 is Epiphany the day the Christian church remembers the visit the Magi made to see Jesus after he was born. That story has been illustrated in many different ways. On a visit to the Museum of Sydney in Australia, I photographed two visual representations of the Magi narrative I particularly appreciate.

Three Wise Men by Linda Syddickphotographed at the Museum of Sydney

In this tapestry Indigenous artist, Linda Syddick has depicted the Magi like the Tingari, ancient ancestral spirit beings who went on long journeys across the desert landscape of Australia teaching people about important laws and customs. The Tingari Magi are looking at Jesus and offering Mary and Joseph cups of billy tea. Billy tea is a traditional Australian way of making tea by boiling water in a tin can over a fire.

Linda Syddick helps us see how the Biblical Magi story, can intersect with stories from other faith and cultural traditions and enhance our appreciation and understanding of the astrologers’ visit as it is described in the book of Matthew.

A Curiosity in Her Own Country by Phil Mayphotographed at the Museum of Sydney

This 1888 cartoon by Phil May was published in a Sydney newspaper. It shows an Indigenous woman and her child sitting on the street and being stared at. In the late 1800s, Indigenous people in Australia lived out of sight on reserves so people rarely saw them. The cartoonist was remarking on the irony of the fact that although the woman and child represent the original inhabitants of Australia they are being looked at as objects of curiosity by the colonizers who marginalized them.

Australia by Martin Sharp photographed at the Museum of Sydney

In 2009 Australian artist Martin Sharp created a painting based on the 1888 cartoon.  Sharp’s rendition was made to look like a nativity scene. The mother and child both have halos the way Mary and Jesus often do in Renaissance paintings.  The stars adorning Sharp’s painting remind us of the starry sky in Bethlehem that led the Magi to Jesus.  The colonizers looking at the mother and child represent the Magi.

Sharp has used the Magi story to make an important political statement about the relationship between Indigenous and colonizer citizens. It makes us think about why that relationship needs to change.

These two Australian artists give us a new perspective on the Epiphany story.

Other posts………

The Magi Once Got Me Into Trouble

The Magi Around the World

Edge of the Trees

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What If God Is Just A Stranger on A Bus?

The Parable of the Lost Silver Piece by Godefridus Schalcken 1643-1706- The Hague

I appreciate the many metaphors for God in the Bible- a rock, a shepherd, the light, the wind and a king.  I’ve always loved the feminine metaphors in Scripture comparing God to a human mother, a mother hen, a mother bear, a mother eagle and a woman searching for a lost silver coin. But I had never considered the metaphor of stranger in relation to God, till I listened to an interview with Irish philosopher Richard Kearney. 

Abraham and the Three Strangers by Marc Chagall

Kearny pointed out how God came to Abraham and Sarah in the guise of three strangers to tell them the news they were to become parents. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the strangers and gave them food. 

Trinity by Andrei Rublev- 1411 or 1425-27

Kearny said when the Russian Orthodox painter Andrei Rublev created his famous icon of the Trinity he chose to portray them as the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah. 

The Cestello Annunciation by Sandro Bottecelli -1489

Mary, Jesus’ mother also welcomes a stranger in the form of the angel Gabriel who tells her she is going to have a baby.

In his interview, Kearny referred to Botticelli’s painting of Mary and Gabriel because Mary does look somewhat hesitant about accepting this strange being who brings such astounding news. Mary is reaching her hand to the stranger at the same time as she is backing away. 

We know Jesus referred to himself as a stranger, when he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio 1601

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appears as a stranger to fellow travellers on the road to Emmaus. They chat with Jesus and even have a meal with him but don’t recognize him.  

Philoxenia Love of the Stranger by Rev. Charlie Baber a comic artist for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Look closely at the poster to see who Baber has chosen to be the three strangers in his take on the original Rublev icon.

What does the metaphor of God as a stranger teach us? We are so often wary of strangers, yet if strangers’ faces reflect the face of God then at the very least we owe them a smile, a greeting, and perhaps an invitation to share conversation.  

I am finding during the pandemic that just like me, the strangers I pass as I walk outdoors seem hungry for positive recognition and interaction, isolated as we are from other people so much of the time. 

A number of years ago there was a news story about a Winnipeg transit driver who stopped his bus on a chilly morning to get out and give his shoes to a barefoot stranger. The story garnered international attention. The bus driver seemed surprised at all the media exposure he was receiving. He figured most people would do the same thing he did if they saw a stranger in need. 

In 1995 singer Joan Osborne had a hit song called What If God Was One of Us? The chorus goes………

What if God was one of us……………….. just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?

Other posts about strangers on buses………..

Another Friend for the Moment

Bus Chat

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Filed under Art, Reflections, Religion

Missing the Winnipeg Art Gallery at Christmas

I worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for about eight years before the pandemic forced its closing. Many of the pieces of art at the gallery became like old friends to me. I was a tour guide and my knowledge of certain works in our collection was fairly intimate after I had talked about them with literally thousands of people of all ages. Some of the old friends I am missing particularly now during the Christmas season are………..

The Tobit Tapasteries which often hung in the Winnipeg Art Gallery lobby during the Christmas season. The work of a Flemish artist commissioned by King Henry VIII the woven wonders retell the story found in the Book of Tobit an apocryphal Scripture. At one point I knew every detail of the long and intricate and action-packed Tobit narrative as it is illustrated in the tapestries as well as the exciting story about how the tapestries were once stolen from the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  You can learn about that in a post I wrote about the tapestries five years ago called A Magic Fish, Seven Dead Husbands and Thieves That Weren’t That Bright. 

Early Snow by Tom Thompson

This painting by Tom Thompson showing a snowy scene in Ontario was one I often spent a long time looking at with gallery visitors.  I told them the story of Tom Thompson a talented and gifted man who died far too young but is credited with inspiring Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists to consider the joy of painting outdoors and the importance of capturing on canvas the rugged natural wonder of Canada’s stunning scenery. The texture, the colours, the movement and the mood of Early Snow perfectly convey Tom Thompson’s strong feelings about the beauty of Canada’s north in winter.

Adoration of the Magi by Jorg Stocker 

The Magi in this painting by German artist Jorg Stocker are different ages and each represents a different continent- Europe, Asia and Africa. Stocker also shows an earlier scene from the Magi narrative because, in the distance on the road, we see the journey of their entourage as it made its way to visit the Holy Family.

The painting was actually an early kind of advertisement because the people in the painting are dressed in the famous silk and wool products for which the city of Ulm was famous. Ulm was the artist Jorg Stocker’s hometown. The painting often sparked a discussion with my tour participants about how artists have reenvisioned this scene over the centuries to make it meaningful for people living in their time. 

Winter Camp by Mary Yuusipik Singaqti

In the haunting accompanying narrative for this piece by Mary Yuusipik, she describes the hard times she experienced during the 1950s as her family followed the caribou and set up winter camp in the isolated interior of the Back River area of Nunavut. Mary had two young children and miscarried a third as she walked. She buried that child in the snow and kept right on walking. Food was scarce and Mary worried constantly that someone in her family would get tuberculosis.   Artist Mary Yuusipik reminds me of the Mary in the nativity story who also experienced such a hard journey just before giving birth.

Friends Rejoicing by Daphne Odjig

This is absolutely one of my most beloved pieces of art in the WAG collection.  It is by the incredibly talented Daphne Odjig who is sometimes called The Grandmother of Indigenous Art because of the way she mentored and supported young Indigenous artists and inspired them with her energy. Her bright and colourful Friends Rejoicing fairly shouts with happiness.  Everyone is jubilant over the birth of a child. Some people appear to be singing their joy just as angels sang at the birth in Bethlehem. For me, Daphne’s painting sends the message that the birth of every child is a reason for happiness and hope. 

Hopefully, by next Christmas, I will be back at the Winnipeg Art Gallery giving tours, but until then the memory of these marvellous works of art will have to sustain me. 

Other posts………….

And Mary You’ve Seen Hard Times

Picasso’s Grandmother is Canadian

In the Footsteps of Tom Thompson

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Filed under Art, Holidays, winnipeg art gallery

Marbles Lost and Found

About a year after I moved back to Winnipeg in 2011 huge marbles appeared on Portage Avenue. I walked by them every day on my way to work. Some were boldly centred in the median between the two way traffic on Winnipeg’s main thoroughfare but over time I found others tucked away in parks and flower beds and on street corners.  I started taking photographs as I discovered them and eventually located some twenty different marbles.  

Artist Erica Swendrowski polishing one of her marble creations- photo from Pinterest

I found out artist Erica Swendrowski had created the marbles from a gel-like resin poured into moulds and then covered with automotive paint. Erica wanted her marbles to be conversation pieces and hoped they would make people realize that ordinary objects can be looked at in extraordinary ways. They reminded me of the games of Chinese Checkers I played as a child. 

I liked the way the marbles brought colour and variety and playfulness to my Portage Avenue walks to work. I thought it was neat the way different views of Winnipeg’s skyline were reflected in many of the marbles.

Then about four years ago the marbles disappeared from Portage Avenue and I was a little sad. Were they lost?  No, I discovered later they had just been moved. I was glad to see them reappear again in front of the Mayfair Community Centre.  It was a place I drove by regularly as I made my way around the city for various commitments and obligations. It was nice to think the marbles hadn’t been discarded but were still a conversation piece and a bright spot in the landscape for Winnipeg drivers and pedestrians. 

This week in search of less icy paths to walk Dave and I have been traversing city streets and we walked by the marbles at Mayfair Place. I had to stop to take some photos.  Winnipeg is lucky to have lots of interesting public art.  Now that art galleries are closed it is great we can still enjoy creative work like Erica Swendrowski’s marbles as we walk and drive around the city. 

Other posts………..

Junk Drawer

Katherena Vermette on the Wall

The Paddock Restaurant

 

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Filed under Art, COVID-19 Diary, Winnipeg

A Different Kind of Nativity Scene

Artist Genny di Virgilio works on the figures of a doctor and nurse holding Italian flags he has added to his nativity scene 

Italian artist Genny Di Virgilio has created an elaborate nativity scene for 2020 reflecting our current reality.  Mary and Joseph and even the stable animals wear masks.  The Magi stand socially distanced from each other.  Di Virgilio has added a doctor and nurse to the nativity scene. He says they are the world’s current saviours. Only the infant Jesus remains unchanged in DiVirgilio’s nativity scene.

Res House by Kent Monkman

Last year I introduced hundreds of Winnipeg Art Gallery visitors to a nativity scene called Res House. created by artist Kent Monkman. The bottled water behind Joseph reminds us many Indigenous communities still have boil water advisories. Joseph’s jersey references sports teams that have appropriated Indigenous names. Jesus sleeps on a blanket from the Hudson’s Bay Company whose fur trade empire changed Indigenous life in Canada forever. The painted backdrop of the installation shows priests and RCMP officers dragging a screaming child off to residential school. On the tours I led, it was not uncommon to see tears in the viewers’ eyes as they processed the meaning of Monkman’s nativity scene. When we lived in Hong Kong I purchased a nativity scene with characters in traditional Chinese garb for a family we knew who had just adopted a child from China. 

St. Joseph’s Oratory Museum in Montreal set up a modern nativity scene in 2018.  Mary and Joseph crouch beside their son’s manger. Mary is holding a Starbucks coffee cup in one hand and giving the peace sign with the other. Joseph is using his cell phone to take a selfie of the family. Called Hipster Nativity the scene includes a shepherd looking at his phone, a sheep in a Christmas sweater and a cow’s feed trough labelled gluten-free. The Magi arrive on Segways carrying gifts in Amazon boxes. When I visited the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence I Saw Adoration of the Magi painted by Botticelli in 1475.  All the characters in his nativity scene are portrayed as wealthy nobles. The faces of many of the key characters in the nativity scene are actually modelled after members of the wealthy Medici family who were Botticelli’s patrons.

Over the centuries the Christmas story has been illustrated in ways that make it relevant to diverse people living through all kinds of experiences.  If the story is going to have meaning for each new generation people need to be able to see themselves in it.  Innovative artists in both the past and present help to make that happen.  

Other posts……..

10 Nativity Scenes

A Troubling Nativity Scene

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Filed under Art, Holidays

An Inspiration For Our Time

Linda by Elizabeth Wyn Wood- 1932- Winnipeg Art Gallery Collection photo from the Instagram page of Winnipeg Art Gallery director Stephen Borys

Meet Linda. Standing over six and a half feet tall she is an imposing and powerful figure. Her feet are broad and bare but planted firmly apart. Her hands positioned behind her back are large and work-worn. Her hair looks like she may have cut it herself with a razor. Her dress is plain and simple and a slight softening at the waist could suggest she is pregnant although the rest of her body looks sturdy and lean. The lines around her eyes hint of weariness and worry but they stare straight forward. Up close you notice how her jaw juts in a determined way.

Prior to the pandemic, I worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a guide and this was a favourite piece of mine. Linda was created by Canadian artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood in 1932 who said the woman in the sculpture represented the resolve and spirit people had during the Depression of the 1930s.

A photo I took of Linda by Elizabeth Wyn Wood during the Defying Tradition exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2018.

Recently Winnipeg Art Gallery director Stephen Borys featured a photo of Linda on his Instagram page and I thought it was an inspired choice. We are living in a time right now that requires plenty of the resolve and determination that Elizabeth Wyn Wood’s portrait of Linda displays. It reminds us that Canadians survived the Great Depression and emerged from it to build a brighter future for their families. The same outcome is possible as we face our current historic challenge.

Other posts……………..

Talk About Defying Convention

All in the Family

A Memorable Final Day

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Filed under Art, COVID-19 Diary, winnipeg art gallery

All Those Doilies!

Looking through old family photos from the 1950s I have noticed how beautifully crocheted doilies are featured on the furniture in many of them. Check out this photo of my Grandma Annie Jantz Schmidt reading in a chair in her home in the mid-1950s. There are doilies on both arms of her chair and on its back. There is a doily on the record player to her left under the clock and on the table, to her right, there are two doilies, one on the upper shelf and one on the lower shelf.  I think I see one on top of the piano too.

In this 1955 Christmas photo, you can see my grandmother’s doilies on the backs and arms of the couch

I know my Grandma Annie was a gifted crocheter. I have a huge tablecloth she crocheted and so I am pretty sure she made the doilies featured in these photos herself.

My sister and I with our dolls in our home in the 1950s. Three doilies are on the chair where we are sitting.

The name doily is thought to come from a sixteenth-century cloth merchant named Doiley who sold bobbin lace.  Women bought it and crocheted fancy napkins they called doily napkins.  After a strong cotton thread was invented in the mid-1800s crocheting became very popular and by the end of the century, women’s magazines were printing instructions for the creation of doilies. Women thought they added elegance to their homes.

My Dad feeding me while studying for his medical school classes. There is a Home Sweet Home doily on the chair behind him. 

By the early 1900s doilies were everywhere. They adorned almost every type of furniture and were viewed as a must for any proper table setting.

Mom and Dad ready to leave for my Dad’s medical school graduation party in 1959. See the doilies on the chair where Mom is sitting? 

The doily craze began to ebb in the mid-1940s but as my family photos from the late 1950s show they certainly hadn’t gone out of style completely.  

My sister and I with our aunt around 1956 or 1957. There are doilies on the couch and under the plant on the end table. 

Apparently, there is a renewed interest in doilies and there have even been some formal exhibits of vintage ones because they illustrate how women who lived during an era when running a home was extremely labour-intensive still found the time and energy and patience to create intricate works of art.  It was a way to express their creativity. 

My friend Sue and I in a Japanese taxi in Kyoto.  Check out the doilies on the front and back seats. 

I remembered as I was writing this blog that although doilies are no longer popular in North America, there was one place I had seen them more recently.  On my visit to Japan, I noticed the headrests and seats of most of the taxi cabs we took were adorned with doilies. 

I still have one doily.  It sits on my dresser and is a combination of embroidery and crocheting.  It was made by my other grandmother Margaretha Sawatsky Peters.  

Other posts……….

Grandma and Embroidery Hoops

Japanese Surprises

Medical School Graduation 1959

 

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Filed under Art, Family, History

Imagine Van Gogh- Thumbs Up or Down?

I’d heard some really great things about the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit currently installed at the Winnipeg Convention Centre and I’d read some fairly critical things as well. Yesterday I went to see for myself.

I will readily admit my opinion of  Imagine Van Gogh was coloured by the fact that I was excited about attending an actual cultural event with other people, something that is all too rare during the time of COVID.

All precautions were taken. We were in a huge space and no more than five people were in a group. We wore masks, sanitized our hands and guides made sure we stayed six feet apart.

 Some entertainment writers and culture critics have given Imagination Van Gogh a thumbs down because viewers are not in control of when they see the art. If you visit Van Gogh’s work in person in a more conventional gallery you can look at each painting for as long as you like. During Imagination Van Gogh the images change at the will of the exhibit designers. 

There is a bit of historical information about Van Gogh to read before you enter the projection room but critics say people really learn very little about Van Gogh and his life from the exhibit. Cynics claim most visitors are just there to take photos to put on Instagram. Van Gogh’s original works are quite small but the projections in Imagine Van Gogh are huge and some viewers feel like they are trapped or drowning in the images. Others say Imagine Van Gogh is just a kind of crass commercialization of art.  

With Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

I have seen the work of Van Gogh in art galleries around the world. For me, Imagine Van Gogh wasn’t a lesser experience it was just a different one.  Van Gogh’s work was displayed all around us, including on the floor, and I liked the feeling of being surrounded by the colours and shapes and magnified brush strokes of Van Gogh. I could see his works from different perspectives, angles and distances. Sometimes it was almost as if Van Gogh was creating in front of my eyes as the paintings grew and changed while I watched.

All the classic pieces were there. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Irises, his Bedroom at Arles and Starry Night. We saw his famous self -portrait painted after he had severed his ear. I think my favourite piece was First Steps which showed a child learning to walk. I found it particularly poignant because it portrayed an endearing moment in family life that VanGogh never got to experience himself  because of his troubled personal relationships and struggles with mental health. I was intrigued by Van Gogh’s painting of a Japanese woman in traditional dress. I knew many of the French impressionists had been influenced by Japanese prints as had the American artist Mary Cassatt but hadn’t been aware of the Japanese influence on Van Gogh’s work.

 The classical music pieces that had been selected to accompany the show added to my enjoyment of the experience. Although I am glad I have had the opportunity to see Van Gogh’s work in person in the past, most galleries only have one or two paintings. Here I was treated to dozens of them at once.

I am glad we went to see Imagine Van Gogh.

Art can be appreciated in all kinds of ways and finding new methods of making art interesting and inviting to a wider audience especially during a global pandemic is something to be applauded. I’d give the experience a ‘thumbs up.’

Other posts……….

Is It Art? 

Works of Art of Historical Documents?

Hutterite Artists

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Filed under Art, Winnipeg

Neighbours

As my regular blog readers know I have been working my way through a book called Making Comics by Lynda Barry. This has been a year-long project and I’ve been negligent about attending to it of late so I decided it was time to do another assignment.

Lynda’s premise is that everyone can draw and everyone should draw and that too many people have been turned off from the creative experience of drawing by criticism they have received or expectations that they need to be expert at it. Drawing is a way for everyone to express themselves, share ideas, reflect on experiences and cultivate creativity.

The latest assignment in Making Comics was to think about your neighbours in the various places where you have lived and create an image to illustrate something interesting about that neighbour. So here are my three drawings…………

My parents rented a house on Kroeker Avenue in Steinbach in the early 1960s and just one house over from ours was the home of a widow named Agnes who had ten children. I remember wondering how she kept them all separate from each other in her head and how they all fit around a table to eat. My Mom and Agnes became very good friends and stayed friends for the rest of their lives.

When I was in grade two my family lived on Beaverbrook Street in Winnipeg. I went to Sir John Franklin School several blocks from our house. I remember coming home from school for lunch one day and seeing that a car had driven right into the living room of the house next door to ours. I have no idea how it happened but the next day there was a photo of the car inside the living room of the house in the Winnipeg Tribune and you could see a little bit of our house in the photo.

My husband and I owned a home on Westwood Street in Steinbach for many years and we had a neighbour who collected Christmas trees. In January when people had taken down their holiday trees and left them with their garbage to be picked up by the city sanitation trucks, this neighbour went around and ‘rescued’ all the trees and then ‘planted’ them in his backyard till spring. He would make mounds of snow for each tree to stand in. When the snow melted in spring the trees toppled over one by one and then our neighbour would haul them away. From January to April however he had a whole forest of pines in his backyard.

What interesting neighbour do you have a story about?

Other posts……….

Attending a School Named For An Explorer

My Mom’s Friends

Nicest Tree Ever

 

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Filed under Art, cartoons

Between Dog and Wolf

As we navigate the pandemic I have been thinking about a statue in the St. Boniface Sculpture Garden on Provencher Boulevard in Winnipeg. It’s rather eerie and is titled Between Dog and Wolf.  Unveiled on May 26, 2011, Between Dog and Wolf is by Canadian artist Joe Fafard. 

Between dog and wolf in French is entre chien et loup. The expression first became popular in the 13th century and describes a time of day in the morning or evening when the dim light makes it impossible to distinguish between a dog and a wolf.

Between Dog and Wolf by Joe Fafard

Fafard has made his sculpture look ghostly. I kept trying to focus my camera to get a better shot because my photos seemed a little blurry. If you look closely at the empty cut out spaces in the piece, you can see all kinds of silhouettes–a church steeple, a man’s face, a woman carrying a basket, angels, birds, a cocoon, a shoe and tree branches. I’m sure each viewer can pick out their own unique images. 

One translator says the phrase entre chien et loup can also be used to express the sometimes blurry line between the safe and familiar and the unknown and dangerous, between the domestic and the wild. It expresses the uncertainty between hope and fear.

That seems a perfect description of our current time. Many activities that were safe and familiar before COVID-19 can now be dangerous. The pandemic has placed us all in that space between hope and fear. We hope an end to the pandemic will come soon but we also live in fear that it may go on for a long time or even worse never end.

Living in a entre chien et loup kind of space whether by necessity or choice, might not be comfortable but I wonder if we don’t learn the most when we are in entre chien et loup situations.

Other posts……….

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105 Year Old Photo

The Pandemic in Six Words

The Pull of the Stars

 

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Filed under Art, COVID-19 Diary, Winnipeg