Thursday, August 30, 2007


Today is my last official open day and so it is natural to want to reflect on how things went this season. This year was so different from last year--last year was an attempt to make it all work perfectly in one go, to solve all the problems, to be everything all at once. This year, I have been going slower, trying to be more true to my original intent whether or not it jives with what people are expecting when they walk through the door. Of course I want everyone to have an interesting experience and become engaged in what I have here but I realized that last year I was trying to guess what each visitor wanted and bend into that shape. Whew! Talk about a futile, and exhausting, endeavor! This year, I have kept two ideas in my head as a kind of guiding philosophy for this project.

I made the discovery of these two ideas through two experience over last winter. The first was to go to the Sunday salon that the artist Louise Bourgeios holds each weekend in her house in Chelsea in Manhattan. Louise was sleeping that day (she is well into her 90s) so two men took her place as the leader of the discussion. What happens is that anyone can come and bring a sample of their work. Each person is allowed a few minutes to describe it and then the rest of the group talks about it. The two men, one was the former director of The Brooklyn Museum and one was a curator from Brazil (and this why I will never be a successful, famous artist--I can't remember their names!!!), invited each person to sit in the special chair and say their piece. They were remarkably good considering the range of work and the range of quality of work was pretty broad--they were not insulting or demeaning but they were critical in the best way. On my turn, I discussed THM and shared some photographs of the place. The Brazilian curator said that, in a place where there is no real notion of visual art (and he meant like here in Gillams), then I had the opportunity, or perhaps the challenge, to invent one. At first I felt some loyalty to my fellow residents of Gillams and thought "hey! we got art!" but later I understood what he meant more clearly. My making this museum and calling it art in a place where there is not really a complex idea about what art can be means that I have the ability to break new ground and establish new boundaries and definitions--a very exciting place to be and one worth pushing.

The other experience was attending a lecture given by Mierle Ukeles at Erika DeVries' photography class at NYU. Mierle was speaking about her project called "Touch Sanitation" where she shook the hand of every garbage collector in New York City (along with other things) in the 1970s. I asked her how she gained their trust, how she entered this all-male, rough-edged community which would seem pretty closed off to a female artist. She answered that she did it by being completely honest with them. Each morning she went to the garage where the trucks were in whatever district she was to be in that day and she gave a little speech about what she was doing and why. And perhaps most importantly, she made it very clear that what she was doing was art. She said that her honesty broke down the barriers and she only had one person refuse to shake her hand.

Since most of my most recent work has been with non-artist communities, the idea of gaining trust is often at the forefront of my mind and shapes my ability to create whatever project I am working on at the time. When Mierle answered my question, I realized that my bending into a pretzel to provide the experience that I imagined each person wanted was a form of dishonesty. So this year I have greeted each person who comes to the door with a very brief speech about what this place is and its intention. And guess what? People have really responded in a very open way. Hmmmmm...honesty is the best policy....must remember that....

I have kept these two thoughts in my head all summer and I think they have helped to shape this summer's experience. I feel good about how things have gone and I feel excited about where things seem to be heading.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the last official open day for THM. I do have several groups planning to visit in early September but tomorrow is the last day to drift in anytime between 10 am and 6 pm.

To celebrate the end of the 2007 season, THM will host a discussion led by Grenfell professor, Ivan Emke, titled "Why Can't We Be Friends?". All are invited to join in the informal conversation about how environmentalists and residents of rural Newfoundland can work together to make sustainable communities. The discussion starts at 7pm. Refreshments will be served.

See you there!

Friday, August 24, 2007

More South Shore

We had another spinning frolic the othe day. Our friends have a cabin in York Harbour on the South Shore of the Bay of Islands that is a little piece of paradise and even sometimes a little scary--we have been there when water witches have been screaming off the bay and the idea of a cabin perched on the edge of the ocean suddenly seems like a rather suspect notion. But not earlier this week. All was calm and beautiful, at least it seemed that way when we looked up from our work.

As the local pusha-man, I managed to hook two more people on spinning by bringing one of Janine's beautiful fleeces to work with. One thing about group dyeing is that we encouraged each other to try more and more interesting combinations, which we were then very impatient to spin up so we set it near the wood stove.

The two first time spinners were fearless in making colour combinations and they made fantastic looking yarn, making me feel very uptight for wanting to be all consistent and subtle. We split the riches at the end and I came away with one skein of yarn to die for. I had to immediately knit it up:

I set aside my other project. Can you guess why?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wee Ball Yarns: an update

We spent a couple of days on the south shore of the Bay of Islands where I was able to take a photograph of Wee Ball that highlights its wee ball-ness even more clearly. (The view from Gillams on the north shore is partially obscured by Woods Island, a large, flat island that appears to hover just in front of it).

The Tourism Industry: Working for Good not Evil

In the past month, we have had the opportunity to visit with three people who making their living creating handmade objects.

The first two are a couple who live in King's Point in Green Bay, Linda Yates and David Hayashida. They run King's Point Pottery where they make and sell a range of ceramic objects, some inexpensive and clearly made for the tourist market, and some more artful, made with local clay and glazes made from local materials that they have spent years developing and perfecting. In addition to making all these wonderful objects, they run a shop that, beginning this year, also sells the work of other local craftspeople, and they are very active in their community. Linda is a King's Point native and David has taken up the cause with enthusiasm. With their shop at the center, they have created a lively place, bustling with activity and a real feeling of welcome to any and all.

We also had the opportunity to visit the studio of Shawn O'Hagan. Shawn has been living in Corner Brook for nearly 30 years and has had a long career as a painter. In the past four years, she has been using her wonderful sense of design and colour to make hooked mats, children's clothes and painted wooden boxes and bowls. Here are some pictures from her studio where colour is obviously the driving force:

Shawn (facing the camera) speaking with Barb Hunt, another artist living and working in Corner Brook.

I think that what makes them more than just another cog in the tourist machine is that they have not compromised in their vision for their work. Sure, they have small items that nearly anyone can afford and that appeal to a broad audience. But they also have another thing happening that is very engaged in this place. They make work that is unique, that speaks about the experience of being here. Also, they do more than just make their work--they work to make this place welcoming for all. This is, I think, a good thing.

Summer's Disappearing Act

Remember this?

Now this:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wee Ball Yarns

Here in the Bay of Islands, there are a lot of islands in the bay (duh!). One of the most prominent of these islands is officially called Guernsey Island, but it is known locally as Wee Ball. To me, it looks like a piece of something from another world that has been plopped down in the middle of the mouth of the bay. Tree-less and almost perfectly rounded, it sits, half submerged, alerting all sailors and shoreline hikers that this is not a typical place.

I love Wee Ball. I love its strange look, I love both its names, and I love how it changes in appearance day by day, hour by hour as it gets covered fog or stands out, clear as a bell, against the sky.

And since I love yarn too, I love that I can call my yarn, Wee Ball Yarn.

My goal for Wee Ball Yarn is that it be made from local wool and alpaca and dyed naturally, some with plants I harvest locally and some with other natural dyes, but all reflective of the colours of this place. So when you knit with it and wear it, you will have, quite literally, a piece of Newfoundland with you at all times.

At the moment, the yarn I made up for Doors Open is made from some local alpaca and wool from BC, which isn't local at all. Most of the dyeing was local in as much as I went to the local grocery store and bought the kool aid there, but it isn't exactly what I want for it. I am working on it.

We did have dyeing success with this:

Lombardy poplar leaves, soaked overnight with 1.5 cups vinegar, boiled 45 minutes. Mordant: alum. The colour of the photograph doesn't quite do justice to the lovely, sunny yellow that resulted. It's a keeper!

PS. There are still some skeins left from the Doors Open event. If you are interested, I can email pictures to you - mostly pinks/roses, some yellows. Skeins are $20 for 50g, $10 for smaller (approx. 30g). All proceeds support The House Museum.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Doors Opened...

and the crowds rushed in!

The day was a stunning success. We were busy pretty straight from 11am to 6pm with people who might never had otherwise made the trek down the North Shore HIghway. It was a wonderful day, despite the fact that it was pouring buckets in the morning. The rain stopped and the people came and really looked and engaged.

Some pictures:

Marlene Simms of the Humberview Bakery came and sold some her baked goods. She bravely set up despite the grey clouds and was rewarded with a dry day and lots of eager customers. Her mother, father and niece Holly spent much of the day here as well and they were all delightful. Marlene said next year she will bring her Newfoundland pony and we will have pony rides! Here is Marlene with two people who can barely take their eyes off the goods.

Jim Butt (in the yellow shirt) came for the afternoon with his collection of insects--all of which can be found right here in Gilams. It was fascinating, if not a little disturbing too. Jim knows just about everything about insects, plants, trees, and more. Jim kept us all eeewww-ing and yuck-ing all afternoon. He also has become my source for information about local plant for my dyeing experiments.

Olive agreed to sell some her jellies, which were voted #1 at Gillams Day. People with great wisdom snatched them up. She donated the remaining, unsold jars to THM. We graciously accepted the donation--it was a tough decision but we managed.

Talk about win/win!

Here are some of the goods:

Wee Ball Yarns, handspun in the Bay of Islands.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hilly Billies

Patti made an interesting comment on the Tourism, Museum, etc. post. She wrote about the tourists who take the #7 train from Manhattan to Flushing (Queens) for the big tennis event - whatsit called? - you know the's up there will Wimbleton but happens in Flushing (Queens). Anyway, these people, tennis fans, dress as if they are playing tennis not watching it. They wear bright white clothes with a flash of pastel or pink here and there. I suppose I could say something about their bright, white skin too, but that may be uncalled for. The reason they stand out like sore thumbs is that the #7 train is rightly called "the international express" because it carries the richly diverse population of Queens to and from their work every day, every hour. It is a train that is always crowded no matter what time you get on it because there is always someone headed in or out of town to work or play. This is our train, when we are in NYC, and I have strong affection for the train and the people who ride on it. But these tennis people, as we call them, are less complimentary. They get on the train in Manhattan (of course!) and look with horror at the unwashed masses, talk loudly as if no one can understand English, and pretty much show no respect for the people for whom this train is a lifeline. As Patti said, no one would mind them if they would just keep their judgements to their starched and fragrant selfs.

It reminded me of an interview that was on the radio some weeks ago. The owner of a new "luxury condo" development that is trying to get off the ground in neighboring Meadows was being interviewed about whether construction would happen this summer. The owner, who is no doubt a lovely person, kind to children and animals, etc., spoke very enthusiastically but bit by bit revealed that they realized that they had unexpected expenses totalling $800,000 to get the basic infrastructure put in and that one of their largest investors pulled out of the deal. When asked why, the owner (who is German) said the investor thought the area was "too hilly-billy like."

Now this owner sold the idea of this project to the town of Meadows by telling everyone that it would have all sorts of wonderful facilities for the community: a shopping area, a pool, rec center, etc. Apparently he got a standing ovation at the meeting. Now those who were cheering him are hillbillies. I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take before residents of these luxury condos started complaining about the hillbillies in the pool, the rec center, etc., and the gates go up.

No one minds if others see the beauty of this place and want to share in it, but please, keep your judgements to yourself.

The Doors will be Open!

Tomorrow, The House Museum will be participating in the 2007 Doors Open event, along with three other sites along the North Shore and several in Corner Brook. Doors Open is an annual event that happens around the world when places of cultural, historic and/or architectural significance open their doors at no charge to the public. I was thrilled this year when the curator at the Corner Brook Museum and Archives called me and invited THM to participate. I really felt like I had arrived!

Since THM is always free to the public, I needed to do something special to mark the day, so there are some activities planned to make it a fun time for all. You can check out the website for the details but here is a quick synopsis:

Gillams resident and amateur entomologist, Jim Butt, will be on hand with his collection of local and exotic insects.

The Humberview Bakery of Irishtown will be selling their delicious baked goods.

Olive Murphy's prize-winning famed jams and jellies will be on sale - a rare event!.

Get a sneak preview of Wee Ball Yarns! For a fixed donation in support of The House Museum, visitors will receive their choice of this hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn. All visitors will be entered in a contest to win a handknit hat made with Wee Ball Yarn.

Complimentary coffee, tea and juice will be available to all visitors.

PS. Did you notice something about handspun yarn there? More later on that...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tourism, Museums, etc.

As my pal Yoli likes to say, I have this thing about tourism. Wondering what increased tourism would do to Newfoundland - for better or worse - has been a large part of this project. The act of displaying one's culture for the consumption of outsiders changes the culture, but how, exactly? And who gets to make the decisions about what to display and what not to display?

Strangely enough, last year, when those questions were burning fiercely in my head, I was not so successful in getting many people visiting the museum to really engaged in talk about them. For whatever reason, people shifted their gaze, seemed vaguely embarrassed for me and turned the conversation elsewhere. Perhaps my approach was a little off: "You! Tourist! Explain yourself! Here! I've created a museum for you to do just that right over here..."

This year, I decided to take a more subtle approach. There are bigger issues related to the changes Newfoundland is undergoing and tourism is but one of them. Weirdly enough however, people want to talk about tourism! I haven't had oodles of random, drop-in visitors this year, but those who have appeared on the door step really seem to be interested in what this tourism thing is and how small communities, like Gillams, can benefit and how they might suffer.

Gillams is actually a bit off-the-beaten track for tourists. Most people don't really stay and fully explore the greater Corner Brook/Bay of Islands area. It is more of a stop-off on the way to Gros Morne or elsewhere. It is too bad in a sense because I honestly believe it is as beautiful here as anywhere in Gros Morne, less crowded and you can get a heck of a turkey club at Lynne's in Cox's Cove at the end of your journey. On the other hand, it is as beautiful here as Gros Morne, it is less crowded and you can get that turkey club if you want it.

And that is the tourism conundrum. It takes as much as it gives, perhaps even more. Is there a magic formula in which local communities can gain some economic benefit from visitors without falling into the dreaded tourist trap?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Left, right and center

Tourism? Newfoundland? Later on that. For the time being we are awash in kool aid and fleece and can hardly think of anything else. And the elderberries? Eh. Not quite the deeply satisfying experience that we have been having with kool aid. It looked so very promising;

Here are the berries after being soaked overnight and boiled for 1/2 hour. They made a delighttful lavender colour that was exactly like what my manual said would happen.

See? Doesn't that look promising?

But two hours and a big felted piece of merino roving later (grrr!), I had a skein of yarn (and a giant piece of felt) that was...ummm...let us say, tan. Ho-hum. I didn't even take a picture because, really, who needs to see some tan yarn?

Ok. So scratch the elderberries off the list. For the above reason and because I ended up with ants in my pants collecting them--the tree is situated right next to an ant hill, which I stood upon to pick the berries until I was covered, inside and out, with black ants. Neither of us was terribly pleased. Like I said, scratch elderberries.

Back to the kool aid.

Here is the lovely Lucy surrounded by our new obsession.

A quick hat that was begging to be made from one of our earlier experiments. I spun four colors together in several yard intervals, each bobbin slightly different, then plyed them together.

At the suggestion of Patti, here is the latest: some perrendale fleece in three colours, blended during carding. Matches the blanket covering the couch (that's a chesterfield to you). I have the first 2-ply skein soaking now.

Back to tourism, museums and all tomorrow...

Friday, August 03, 2007

As a result of all that dyeing...

All other activities have been sorely neglected. But the results...oh man!

Now that we have explored some of the possibilities of kool aid, we are moving on to more natural are some elderberries I collected from a tree in our backyard yesterday soaking for today's episode in dyeing.