Friday, June 29, 2007

West Coast Morning Show

Yesterday we had a bit of a party over at The House Museum. Of course it all happened at about 10:30 in the morning but we were undeterred by the relatively early hour for a raucous get-together. The purpose of the party was actually to meet with Dorothy King, the host of the CBC's West Coast Morning Show. She is doing a piece about "Step Out of The Room," and she was interviewing some of the participants.

It wasn't clear when the piece will air--sometime next week perhaps. We gave Dorothy far more than she needed in terms of audio recording, and perhaps in terms of scones, molasses buns and tea too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A short interruption

from our regularly scheduled, Newfoundland-centric, program to celebrate Sunnyside Gardens being voted a New York City Historic District.

Hooray for livable, family-friendly, walkable, human-scaled neighborhoods, and the preservation thereof!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Biting off more than I can spin it all started when my friend Barb mentioned that the craft artisans in Corner Brook were starting to get better organized and wanted to work together to get more exposure and get their work out to the public. I don't really consider myself a craft artist so I usually hang about the fringe (so to speak) of that group but this conversation put a little bug in my head.

A month later and....this:

I'm sorry. I have an illness. And in my illness, I find myself purchasing and accepting gifts of fleece, even when I already I have piles of fleece. To my credit (HA!), only the sliver and box of white fleece were purchased. The other stuff comes from my dear, generous friend, Janine, who now owns a small flock of sheep (hint: cultivate friends in the sheep industry) and gave me some of her 2006 left overs and a couple of 2007s too. I think it is better not to speak of the contact Barb gave me of a woman in Newfoundland with friends in the sheep industry who is hooking me up so I can work with local fleece. The less said about that, the better. Remember: I try not to let facts, experience, or ability get in the way of my ambitions. Apparently, floor space is irrelevant too.

But look:

Merino sliver....looks pretty nice, eh?

P.S. look what I found at the used furniture store:

Singer Model 179, hand-cranked sewing machine, possibly over 100 years old but in perfect, buttery smooth working condition. Runs like a charm!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What Next?

Here is a link to one of my favorite artworks ever:

A Short History of America by R. Crumb.

Three posts in a day? That's enough, right?

"O" is for 'ospitality

We have a very good friend who lives nearby named Olive. Olive has become my inspiration for the hospitality offered here at THM. When we visit Olive, and we visit often, we walk right in - no calling first, no planning, no knocking on the door. Olive trained us to do that. And she does likewise at our house. Nearly everytime we stop by she has something delicious baked. Her cheese scones are to die for and her jellies and jams have been labelled "the best in the world" by F&L. It seems we never leave her house without being given a little something to take home: the above-mentioned scones, jellies and jams, or a book or magazine, or a dozen eggs from her hens. Olive doesn't make a big deal about all this. It is quite natural and expected as far as she is concerned.

Olive also keeps an eye on things at THM during the winter months, she has taught me to make jelly (only learn from the best!), how to garden properly in Newfoundland soil, she has encouraged me in this project although I am sure some of what I am up to is somewhat mystifying to her, and she treats F&L like the grandmother everyone wishes they had. Really, I can't sing the praises of Olive high enough. I am so grateful to be her friend and to be the recipient of all her wonderful hospitality. But as I say, if I start singing her praises in front of her, she waves them away with "oh no, that's just what you do"

This kind of hospitality is an important part of Newfoundland culture (a big generalization but a pretty accurate one). In some ways, Olive is right: it is what you do here. Many people don't knock first and tea and a bun is expected at a visit. You never send people away empty-handed. And so it is here with THM. But this is where it gets a little funky. Last summer, I always tried to have some tea buns available for visitors, yet 9 out of 10 refused them along with the cup of tea offered. I often felt that would have been different if I had sold them. Somehow, the relationship between me and the visitors made purchasing the food more acceptable. I never did sell it--I just kept offering and sometimes people enjoyed my hospitality, but mostly not.

I also have a gift shop - really a drawer of a dresser in the livingroom - filled with gifts that I give visitors at the end of their visit as a thank you gift for stopping by. The gifts are not fancy. I have a selection of doilies that I have collected from yard sales, some painted rocks that say "Why are you here?" and some coasters made from left overs from the foyer wallpaper. This year, Lucy has made some little yarn dolls for visiting children. These offerings have been better received, although people sometimes seem a little embarassed. Giving things away to near strangers is an odd dynamic these days, I guess.

But this dynamic is what it is all about. Olive sets the standard very high, but I try!

(Olive, as photographed by L on New Year's Eve, 2004)


Friday, June 15, 2007

The Tipping Point

Yesterday evening, Ivan Emke, a professor of Sociology at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, came out to meet with a group of North Shore residents to discuss economic/cultural sustainability in rural Newfoundland. The House Museum was host to the meeting. I was somewhat disappointed in the turnout--all the men invited did not show up. I will try not to make unflattering generalizations about the other sex, but one is tempted. But that is neither here nor there. Ivan listened to our many comments and asked some very good questions about what exactly allows a community to survive. One question was, "What is the tipping point? Is it when the school closes? The fire house? what happens to make it impossible for a community to stay together?"

As we thought about that and gave out some ideas, it became clear that the key to it all was in the young people in the community. While it is inevitable that some young people will want to leave the community and see the world, it makes a big difference if they know they can come back, that there is a viable life for them back home. I hate to be a one-note Charlie, but for me this issue harkens to something I have been thinking about a lot lately, which is that were society to value work that doesn't generate lots of money, then it would allow more people to feel themselves rich. That sounds so obvious, but really it would be a major shift in thinking.

Imagine someone who grows their own food, raises animals for personal and community use, fishes, gathers their fire wood, knows the land, lives with their family. Are they rich? In Newfoundland, there are people like that, probably more here than most places in North America, but many people would say they are poor. And likely they do have little extra cash floating around. But are they rich? Ivan talked about trying to get his colleagues to adjust their "quality of life" markers to include some of the above activities because otherwise most of Newfoundland is listed as having poor quality of life, which we know is untrue.

What if we started telling everyone who lived a life like that that they were rich? Would more people stay in the province? Would young people feel less ashamed to pursue vocations like carpentry or mechanics (as opposed to feeling pressure to go to college) and be able to establish themselves in their community? I suggest that at least half of the outmigration problem comes from our attitude about what is valuable and viable for our young people.

One of the participants yesterday is an older woman named Minnie who left home at age 14 to go teach in a one-room school house in an outport on the south coast. She was teaching children from about age 5 to probably her own age. After that job, she went to another part of the province, raised money in a strange community for the school and generally had incredible responsibilities for a 15 year-old. As she talked about all her remarkable experiences, I kept thinking "is it so bad to give a 15 year-old that kind of responsibility?" Perhaps many 15 year-olds would be much happier if they had to deal with the kind of real, live, physical world realities that Minnie had to deal with. Not everyone, obviously, but what if that were an option that was valued as much as getting a BA?

In rural Newfoundland, the tipping point is nearing for many communities. I have heard talk of another round of resettlement. Maybe it is time for that major shift in our thinking.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Step Out of the Room, phase II

The group of people working with artist, Marlene MacCallum, met together for the second time yesterday evening to discuss the next phase of their collaborative project, Step Out of the Room. Since they last met at Marlene's exhibition at the gallery at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in early March, each person has taken a full roll of film on a disposable camera in their homes. Last night, they were seeing their photographs for the first time and talking about how they will become the source for installations throughout The House Museum this summer.

The discussion was great. Each person brought such wonderful stories to the table and there was such an amazing mix of ideas. The ages of the people participating range from 12 to over 80, so many generations are represented. Marlene encouraged everyone to think about the photographs as starting points for ideas, not necessarily ends in themselves, and to think of the house - its walls and structure - as the pages of a book to be filled with their ideas. I encouraged people to think boldly, including working directly on the walls.

It was one of those evenings when I thought that art can happen without a physical trace and still be as real as any painting or sculpture.

Unshakeable Logic

While L was perusing Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off, the following:

L: "Was knitting invented before boats?"

me: "Pretty sure boats were invented first. (long pause) Why are you connecting those two things?'

L: "Because if knitting was invented first, we could have called it rowing."

me: "????"

L: "Because you knit in know, rowing."

The torch is passed, don't mess with it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fiber Intake

There hasn't been enough knitting and fiber-related posting going on here. This is partly because I haven't been knitting much and partly because of the photo downloading issue. Let's see if we can't fix that.

Here is a picture of some icelandic wool that I brought up with me. I washed about 1/3 of the fleece the other day. It is drying near our woodstove, along with its newest friend and companion, Minkie.

I immediately set to spinning it. After spinning an entire white fleece, the novelty of brown was irresistable. Look how beautiful my spinning wheel is in the late afternoon sun...sigh...

Some of the finished product.

And here are some other random pictures of life in Gillams of late:

The weather has been cool and grey, to say the least.

But when the sun comes out...the wash.

And, at long last, we see some sign that spring is really here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What's Old is New Again

As mentioned below, I have been reading and enjoying Casaubon's Book. I am ready to take up the 90% emissions reduction challenge or at least do the best I can considering that we live in two places 1000 miles apart. Newfoundland is a great place for this kind of life and there remain many people here who live very close to the land. It is only in the 50 years or even less perhaps that Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders have become less self-sufficient as part of a deliberate "modernization" scheme that coincided with confederation with Canada.

Last summer, when THM hosted the special project that invited North Shore residents to loan items they saw as related to their heritage, I received many things such as a homemade spinning wheel, a chamber pot, those iron things with which to repair shoes (I am forgetting their name!). Nearly everyone who visited who was from Newfoundland saw these items and remarked about them with a kind of longing in their voice, even if it was to speak of remembering them in their grandparent's home. Without getting too romantic about a past that was obviously very hard, I think it is safe to say that there were some benefits to that hardship. For all the back-breaking work, there was a yield that couldn't be measured in material wealth. And, I suspect, that was what was causing the sense of loss I heard in so many people's voices. On the other hand, I am guessing that, if I asked them if they wanted to return to using chamber pots, I would have been met with a resounding chorus of "NO!" but the spinning wheel? Many women touched it and lingered around it, telling stories about either using one or knowing women who used one, and children flocked to it. Could it be we are missing something?

But Newfoundland poses a real challenge. In many ways, returning to a simpler life here is easier in part because there are still people around with the kind of skills and knowledge that have been lost in other places. Yet, adopting or re-adopting a lifestyle without all mod cons has a kind of stigma of poverty and backwardness that Newfoundland has been trying to shake for decades. The reputation of the "dumb Newfie" has been fading in recent years, for sure, and perhaps it has faded enough so that a simpler life could be embraced as part of a heritage of self-sufficiency that is seen as a model not a bad joke.

I wonder if all this tourist industry talk about "cultural tourism" and "heritage tourism" could not have a good purpose in increasing people's pride in those kinds of unique skills so that they become not just for tourist display, but remain well-integrated in everyday life?