Category Archives: Art

Accidentally Finding Desmond Tutu’s Ashes While Looking For the Black Madonna

St. George’s is the oldest cathedral in Cape Town

I’d heard that in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, there was a sculpture of a Black Madonna by the British artist Leon Underwood, who was a teacher of the great sculptor Henry Moore. I wanted to be sure to go and see it.

When we walked into St. Georges there was a man sitting at a desk in the front foyer. I asked him about the Black Madonna and he immediately told us where we might find it.

The Madonna was as beautiful as I had imagined. She looked so strong and confident but also amazingly calm and absorbed in her child. She definitely had an African face unlike other Black Madonnas I had seen with a more European visage.

Jesus was larger than life in the sculpture. It reminded me of how all of our children loom large in our lives especially when they are infants and consume so much of our time and energy and unconditional love.

Mary’s hands and arms were also larger than life. It reminded me of what a ‘huge’ job it is to parent a child, a job where you have to grow your capacity to do many things at once. A job where your arms have to be strong to provide a secure and safe cradle for your child.

It made me think of a man I know whose child had colic and he spent so much time carrying the baby in the crook of his arm that the muscles on that arm visibly grew in size over a number of months.

The Madonna seemed different shades of black depending on the angle I looked at her. The light from candles people had lit at her feet gave her skin a burnished look in places.

Artists have been making black Madonnas since the 13th century and there are many different theories as to why they have done so.

Dr Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba who has written a book about the subject says “the Black Madonna speaks to an ancient cultural memory of the African origins of humanity, representing the original mother of Earth’s children.”

I spent a long time looking at the Black Madonna. I lit a candle and placed it in front of her and had just finished saying a prayer for my grandchildren when a tiny woman came up to us.

She had a wrinkled face, bright red lipstick and white hair up in a knot on top of her head. She was wearing a plaid wool skirt and a white cardigan. Her old-fashioned lace-up shoes tapped on the stone floor.

“I have something else to show you,” she said. We followed her and she walked to the front of the church and up a couple of steps holding onto the brass railing.

She stopped in front of a stone on the floor engraved with Desmond Tutu’s name. She told us in her gentle voice that the world-renowned South African archbishop’s ashes were buried there.

The woman explained that St. George’s had been one church that kept its doors open to all races during the apartheid era in South Africa and the beautiful historic building was where Desmond Tutu’s body lay in state before his funeral.

I had long admired Archbishop Tutu who not only fought tirelessly to end apartheid in South Africa but also championed the ordination of female priests in the Anglican church and was outspoken about equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community.

I was so glad the lovely woman, who turned out to be a volunteer guide at the church, had taken the time to show us the Nobel Prize winner’s final resting place.

As we exited the church I noticed there were quotes by Desmond Tutu engraved on the windows of the cathedral.

I love it when I travel and meaningful experiences like finding the gravestone of one of the world’s greatest human rights activists just happen ‘by accident.’

Other posts………..

Wisdom From Desmond Tutu

Seeing Things In A Different Way

A Pregnant Mary and a Mary with Knives in Her Heart

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Filed under Africa, Art

Zanzibar By Design

I was struck by the beauty of design around me during our two-day stay in Stone Town, the capital of the self-governing Tanzanian state of Zanzibar, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In a walk along the beach with our friends Les and Shannon

We went by an interesting tree

and I stopped to examine the intricate design of its roots embedded in the shoreline.

Our Stone Town hotel the Tembo (it means Elephant in Swahili) was a wonder of design.

From our ornate bed

To our tiled shower

To the stained glass windows in the upper pool area

From the interesting arrangements of objects on display in the hallways

To the design on my dinner plate in the hotel dining room one night.

Dashir Lodge and Safaris had arranged a walking tour through the city with a guide named Almas and from him, we learned the difference between

the Indian design of balconies

and the Arab design of balconies.

We stopped to look at the intricately carved teak doors all around the city

including this ancient one that was the entrance to a home once owned by Stone Town’s most notorious slave trader.

We studied the sturdy design of the mangrove tree scaffolding on building projects.

Check out the mesh of wires above Les and Shannon’s heads

We couldn’t help but notice how the entanglement of electrical and water lines wove unique designs above us in the winding maze of streets

and the way the rounded brass spike covers on many doors made a perfect pattern. The spikes are a modification of a tradition from India where doors were spiked as a defence against elephants used in war.

I was fascinated by the networks of wooden posts used to prop up crumbling buildings,

and the patterns of the coral used to build many of the homes and businesses in Stone Town. In one hotel a section of the wall had been left open so you could view the coral embedded in the walls.

As we walked through the market I admired the fruit vendors’ careful arrangement of their sale items

and the different kinds of headgear people wore.

I was intrigued by the way I could get a hazy glimpse of a statue of Jesus through the design of the iron-wrought fencing around a cathedral.

Our guide pointed out the juxtaposition of a Christian church spire with the spire of a mosque viewed through wires,

and the scalloped top of an old Portuguese fort.

We stopped for a drink at a rooftop bar on our tour and while Dave chatted with our guide

I admired the design made by the many different kinds of rooftops in Stone Town.

And Dave couldn’t help but stop and check out the pattern of rust on this old Aston Martin we walked by.

The designs of Stone Town gave it a unique beauty all its own.

Other posts………..

Lisbon by Design

Merida by Design


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Filed under Africa, Art

Art From Obituaries

Who would think of creating art from the obituary pages of a newspaper?

Dianna Frid that’s who.

The obituary artworks she’s created are currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of an exhibit called Headlines- The Art of the News Cycle.

Dianna reads obituaries, hundreds of them, in the New York Times. She cuts out interesting ones and pastes them into a scrapbook. She circles phrases or combinations of words in the obituary that are thought-provoking or intriguing.

Then she chooses one of the phrases she’s circled

cuts out colourful letters to create its words

partitions the words in interesting ways

and displays them in four black squares.

The phrase the shape of a spoon comes from the obituary of Adrian Frutiger who designed type or fonts. His fonts are used on signs in public places around the world. Many fonts you use when you are creating a document on the computer were designed by Adrian Frutiger or inspired by his work.

This is the page in Dianna Frid’s notebook. She has Adrian Frutiger’s obituary on the right and on the left the phrase she circled in it and the sketch for her artwork

Adrain Frutiger once said in an interview “If you remember the shape of a spoon you used to eat your soup then the spoon had a poor shape.”

He went on to explain that when you are reading something if you remember the design of the font in which it is written it is a poor font. The font should help you read and understand the message of the written words without you actually taking notice of the font …… just as the shape of the spoon should help you eat something and enjoy it without you noticing the spoon’s shape.

Inspired by that phrase Dianna created her artwork.

“Look at me when I talk to you” the words of this art piece come from the obituary of a man named Clifford Nass who did research into how technology impacts personal interaction. He discovered that people were often far too busy multi-tasking on their various screens to actually spend time in meaningful exchanges with one another.

In a talk at Stanford University Nass encouraged people to make face-to-face time with others a priority and suggested we need to bring back an old admonishment he rarely hears now, “Look at me when I talk to you.”

This piece was inspired by the obituary of a musician named Lucia Pamela who liked to tell audiences her album Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela was the result of her building a rocket, touring the Milky Way and stopping on the moon to record her music. She was the ‘only one from earth’ in a place called Moon Town where the recording was done.

You can see many more of Dianna’s interesting obituary art pieces on display at the WAG right now.

Since seeing Dianna’s art I have been looking at the obituaries in the Winnipeg Free Press with a new eye trying to spot unique phrases.

Here’s a couple I’ve found recently.

“nothing left to lose”- This came from the obituary of Stephanie Bednarczyk who left Poland after World War II and came to Canada with as she often put it “nothing left to lose.”

“two peas in a pod” This came from the obituary of James Birch an airline pilot from England who came to Canada in 1953. His obituary said that he and his wife Jean were made for each other like “two peas in a pod.”

I’ve always enjoyed reading obituaries, in fact, I often use them to find names for the characters in my fiction writing, but Dianna’s art has inspired me to look at them in new ways.

Other posts……..

A Different Kind of Obituary

Using Newspapers to Create Art of Exquisite Beauty

He Made Things Tick

Unique Memorials to Winnipeg Folks

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Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

Sunrise on a New Year

Our six-year-old grandson painted this sunrise picture and gave it to us as a Christmas gift. I just LOVE it!

See how the light rises above the dark waters?

See how the sun is swirling with possibilities?

See how the sun’s rays spread out to warm the world?

May your 2023 be filled with light and hope.

May it present you with new opportunities and possibilities to explore.

May it be warmed by meaningful relationships.

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Filed under Art, Family, Holidays

Using Newspapers to Create Art of Exquisite Beauty

Canadian artist Myriam Dion recycles old newspapers into intricate works of art that simply take your breath away. She makes tiny precise cuts in the pages of newspapers to create meaningful masterpieces. You can find some on display now in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The name and date of the newspaper Myriam uses for each artwork are hidden somewhere in every piece. If you look carefully at the top of this photo you can see this one was from an August 2020 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

The page in the newspaper that inspired this artwork was describing the wildfires in California. Myriam often tries to pick appropriate colours and designs that convey something of the story. Here she has used the reds and oranges of the fire and the edge of the artwork looks sooty and singed.

Myriam usually includes some images that relate to the story on the page she uses for her artwork. Here you can see people in their cars trying to escape the fires.

Myriam works with an Exacto knife. With bigger works, she sometimes makes a stencil but most of the time, she doesn’t have a pattern figured out ahead of time before she begins cutting. She just improvises and lets the image and the content of the news story guide her hand. Dion says she has been influenced by handicraft arts like weaving, embroidery, lacework and other traditional handicrafts.

In this piece, Myriam has not only cut but has also folded the newspaper as well to create a collar.

If you look closely you can see an image of American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, well known for her rulings that were instrumental in gaining equal rights for women in the United States.

Myriam used a copy of a page from the New York Times June 15th, 1993 issue, the day President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court.

Myriam used a collar shape for her artwork because Ruth Bader Ginsberg was known for the unique collars she wore with her judicial robes.

There are other pieces by Myriam on display in the current Headlines The Art of the News Cycle exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, each as intriguing as these two. You will want to check them out.

Other posts…………

The Wheat Oracle Who Wore Pants

Perfect Companions

I’m Back At Work

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Filed under Art, Canada, winnipeg art gallery

A Painting for the Globe and Mail

The Toronto Globe and Mail has a tradition of choosing a Canadian work of art to feature every Christmas Eve. This year it was The Bird Shop, St. Lawrence Street, by Maurice Cullen painted in 1920. Although this painting is set in Montreal the artist was born in St. John’s Newfoundland.

It started me thinking about which painting by a Canadian artist I might nominate for next year’s Christmas Eve feature in the Globe and Mail.

Here are five of my nominees.

Early Snow by Tom Thompson -1916-1917 in the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

We think of snow as white. But if you look closely it is a prism of colour. Thompson captures that so beautifully here.

Friends Rejoicing by Daphne Odjig in the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

At Christmas, we celebrate the joy of the birth of a baby. I think this painting captures that beautifully.

Doc Snyder’s House by Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald- 1931
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Painted by the only Manitoba member of the Group of Seven this is such a typical Winnipeg winter scene. It makes me feel at home.

Four Generations by Pitaloosie Saliin the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Christmas is a time when there are multi-generational gatherings of families. This depiction of four generations of women by Inuit artist Pitaloosie Sali is one of my favourite pieces in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection.

Pound Cove Mummers Crossing Coal Harbour Pond by David Blackwood 1985

I love the fact that in different parts of Canada Christmas is marked with different traditions. Here David Blackwood magically captures the tradition of mummering in Newfoundland.

I don’t know if the Toronto Globe and Mail accepts nominations for their Christmas Eve art feature. I’ll have to check it out and see if they would consider one of my suggestions for next year.

Other posts…………

Mummering With A Great Canadian Artist

Good-bye Pitaloosie

Getting to Know L L

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Filed under Art, Holidays

This Woman May Change My Dusting Habits

I hate dusting! If you visit my home you probably won’t have to look too closely to find evidence of that. The other day some guests stopped on their way out our door to admire an art piece in our front hallway.

It is a beautiful painting of my husband’s grandmother done by his cousin Ruth. As I explained why it was in our home to our visitors I noticed the frame and glass was covered in a thin film of dust.

After our guests had left I cleaned it and then started wondering when was the last time I’d dusted any of the artwork in our home? Could it have been years?

Perhaps that incident was why my attention was drawn to an article in The New York Times about the woman whose job it is to dust Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. Now there’s a dusting job I wouldn’t mind doing!

I’ve heard it can get very busy at the Accademia in high tourist season and you have to sometimes wait in line for hours for just a passing glimpse of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. We were extremely lucky because when we visited on a cold rainy day one January we could walk right in and spend as long as we liked examining David, a Biblical character with whom my husband shares a name.

My Dave was particularly impressed with King David’s big hands! He thought the Biblical giant slayer would have made a great basketball player with those impressive long large fingers. I admired the details in David’s face and how Michelangelo had captured his determination.

Eleonora Pucci is the woman in charge of cleaning David. Photo by Chiara Negrello for The New York Times

According to The New York Times article the woman who climbs a scaffold to regularly dust David’s hands and face is Eleonora Pucci. She uses a small brush with synthetic bristles and works on cleaning up David on Mondays when the gallery is closed. She says she considers her job an honour, because she plays a small but important role in keeping Michelangelo’s work at its best for others to view.

Maybe if I adopted a little of Eleonora’s attitude I’d change my own attitude about dusting our artwork too. Much of the artwork in our home is by people we know or is a reminder of a place we have visited somewhere in the world. I should honour those people and experiences by getting out my dust rag just a little more often.

Here I am with an outdoor version of the famous statue in Florence

Other posts……….

The Hands of A Basketball Player


My Husband’s Christmas Present


Filed under Art, Italy

Winnipeg Welcomes the World

During the ten years I have worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq I have given tours to visitors from around the world.

I made a map with stars showing all the places the people on my tours came from last week

But this last week during the five days I worked at the gallery I think I set some sort of record for international visitors. This morning I sat down to list all the countries the participants on this week’s tours came from.

Central America -Mexico and Guatemala

Asia -Japan, China, Korea and Thailand

The Caribbean- Jamaica and Barbados

Africa- The Ivory Coast and Somalia

South America- Chile

The Middle East- Iraq and Afghanistan

Europe- Italy, Belgium, France, England

North America- Canada

Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop’s unique artwork showing the Manitoba Legislative Building at the Forks

This past week made me realize……..

Winnipeg really is a world class destination that attracts people from across the globe

International travel is back after its pandemic hiatus

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is an important place for people from other places to learn about Canada and its culture and history

Other posts……….

A Dream Day At Work

Oh What Fun!

What’s a Portscape?

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Filed under Art, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

On Page One Hundred! I’m Excited!

This week a book called Kent Monkman Life and Work by Shirley Madill arrived in the mail for me. Kent Monkman is an internationally recognized Indigenous Canadian artist whose work has been displayed in galleries across North America. His art pieces tell the story of the relationship between Canada’s Indigenous people and colonizing settlers in unique and graphic ways.

In September of 2019 an exhibition of Kent Monkman’s work called Shame and Prejudice opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This exhibit was hugely popular and it meant I was very busy working as one of the tour guides for the thousands of visitors. Some days I was giving three tours back to back. You can read about that in my post Memorable Final Day.

I wrote many blog posts about the exhibit.

One installation I photographed and wrote about was called Starvation . In it Monkman graphically depicts the way the Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald purposefully starved Indigenous people in Canada in order to get them to move off their ancestral lands so the government could build a railway across the country.

The Starvation exhibit area in the Kent Monkman show at the WAG.

When Shirley Madill was writing her biography about Kent Monkman, she sent me a request to use one of my photos in her book. Since the Winnipeg Art Gallery is my employer I asked their permission to share the photo. A colleague on the collections and exhibitions staff suggested I ask for a free copy of the book in return for the use of my photo. So I did.

This week the book arrived.

And there was my photo on page 100.

And my photo credit on page 101.

I was pretty excited!

One of the interesting things about writing this blog is that I have often been asked to have my photos used in other places. You can read about some of them in my post My Photos Find New Homes.

These connections have made it possible for some of my photos to be shared with a wider audience and have enriched my learning and my life.

Posts about Kent Monkman’s Work………..

He’s From Winnipeg

Ten Things About The Scream


A Different Kind of Nativity Scene

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Filed under Art, Books

A Name and An Identity

Jesse Thistle

I have just started reading Jesse Thistle’s new book Scars and Stars. It is a book of poetry and he writes the following lines about the experience of being homeless.

The hardest part about being homeless was

not hearing my own name for months at a time.

The silence of identity.

Sometimes I’d wander alone,

and whisper Jesse just to hear it,

a reminder that I was still me,

and still human,

and that I, too, had a name.

W. 3-1258 by Bill Nasogaluak – 2020

When I read Jesse’s poem I was reminded of a sculpture by Bill Nasogaluak. It is on display in the Inua exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq. The face Bill has sculpted doesn’t have features. It has a number instead.

Identification tags photographed by Barry Pottle.

In the 1940s government agencies serving the Inuit people decided their traditional names were too complicated to pronounce or spell so they were each given a number instead. These numbers were stamped on leather dog tags and people had to wear them around their necks. In order to access government services they gave their number instead of their name.

Names are so important to our identity. They are chosen with care by our parents and often have a family history attached to them. We all have a need, as Jesse expresses so beautifully in his poem, to be recognized by our names. It makes us feel human. Bill’s faceless sculpture reminds us that when people don’t recognize us by name we lose part of our unique identity.

I always told the university education students I supervised during their internships in schools, that it was very important for them to quickly learn the name of every child in their class and try to make sure they addressed every child by name every day, as often as possible.

During the pandemic when many people were dying alone because family members weren’t permitted in hospitals, Dr Michael Jones the head of a New York medical facility told his staff,Hold your patient’s hand for a minute as they die, and ask your entire team to stop, state the patient’s name and then bow your heads for 5-10 seconds of silence. This will help us all retain our humanity…. 

Jesse’s poem and Bill’s sculpture remind us to be more aware of using people’s names to let them know we see them and acknowledge their humanity.

Other posts……….

That Troublesome Capital L

I’m Her Namesake

Include Me Please


Filed under Art, Poetry