Friday, September 28, 2007

Do Nothing

This piece is the first in what I hope will be a series of crochet works that I think of as my antimacassar sutra series. I am working on a set of antimacassars that use phrases (sometimes from sutras) that I think about regularly. This one, as I hope you can see, says "Do Nothing." I am a firm believer in the power of sitting still. Often that means meditation, but it also means looking out the window and day dreaming. Although our current schedule belies this important message, I recommend it nonetheless.

PS. You can purchase my "Do Nothing" crochet piece (it will be framed) as part of the Sunnyside Community Services Benefit Art Auction on October 18th. Or you can bid or purchase it outright online. All proceeds support this wonderful organization that does so much for Sunnyside residents. Check out the link--besides my own work, there is a lot of excellent work up for bid, and most of it is by local artists supporting their community.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Spin-Out, Baby!

This Saturday is the second annual Spin-Out in Central Park. If I remember correctly, last year's event was moved indoors due to rain (I didn't even spin then, but I was already following spinner's events with a deep longing in my heart). The forecast for Saturday looks good, so expect a sizable number of spinners gathered at the Cherry Hill Fountain from 11 am to 4 pm. Learn more at The event is a good excuse to raise money for The Heifer Foundation. (As if we needed an excuse, but it does make it feel even nicer!) If you can't make but want to contribute, follow the links on the website.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If it's grey enough and dull enough... must be a sweater knit for a man.

A variation on a sweater designed by Charlotte Quiggle in The Natural Knitter. Knit for my brother-in-law, David. I know there must be men out there who love sweaters in wild colours and adventurous patterns, but I just don't know any of them. As I was stitching up the sleeves last night, both Dan and Finn were oohing and aaahhing over this sweater.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Don't Tell Customs

It has become a tradition for me to make up our winter's jelly supply in Gillams and carry it back to New York. It always seems a bit iffy in terms of customs regulations but the risk seems worth it for that magical mid-winter taste of early September blueberries. This year the take was some where in the 60 jar range. As Olive says, about a third are to give away, so don't be alarmed at our jelly consumption! But it did account for close to one third of our trunk space, with another third given over to wool/yarn/spinning wheel. One must have one's priorities.

Fortunately, we noticed this box before we left the driveway.

And here was a remarkable mother-to-be found on the side of the house, just before we left:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When someone tells you that you suck

In among all the activities of getting back into a life in NYC, I have been working on an article for a new artist website, artbistro. The article is about how artists handle negative feedback; stories, tips and advice. It started, of course, with my own "filthy embarrassment" experience but as I spoke with people, and received comments here, I began to realize that this is such a universal experience of artists of all kinds, that it might be interesting to look at it from a more general perspective and see what comes up.

To that end, I am asking anyone and everyone who has ever been told that their work sucks (or words to that effect), to share their story with me. What happened? What did you do? How did it affect you and your work? Also, let me know if I can quote you directly or simply refer to you as "an artist," "a writer," or some other more anonymous title. Since this is a web-based article, I can put links to your website if you have one.

If you prefer not to leave your story in the comments section, then please feel free to email it to me at thehousemuseum(at)nf(dot)sympatico(dot)ca. Put the @ and . in the proper places, of course.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Leaving Home to Arrive Home

We are back in NYC despite the two-days of gale force winds that preceeded our exit from the Bay of Islands. Mercifully, the winds moved northward by the time our ferry left Port aux Basques so the overnight trip was only a bit rocking and rolling, and the day dawned bright in North Sydney. We made it to Bangor, ME in 10 hours, where we collapsed into HoJo heaven--a slightly seedy room with sagging mattresses but all the Red Sox/Yankee action one could wish for in the first hours back on American soil. We were all out cold before the Yankees rallied in the 8th inning and snatched victory from the grasp of the Sox. The next morning in weird fit of collective unconscious, we all reached for our Red Sox t-shirts - separately without realizing the others were doing it also. A family of four, all in Red Sox Dazed and confused though we were, I still had a shred of dignity and quickly made a change. And before you can say "two children, 18 hours in a car with only one book on tape," we were back in Sunnyside, soaking up its ambiance and checking out the four months of weeds in our back garden.

Can you believe fall has only just begun here???

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

Mostly I have avoided giving too much attention to September 11th, not because I feel callously towards those who lost so much that day but because it had become an opportunity for the current US administration to use the tragedy for highly questionable ends--the worst kind of opportunism in my opinion. The term "9/11" has come to mean so many things that there seems like there is little chance to really think about and remember what that day was like for people living in NYC at that moment. But last year, Dorothy King called me and asked me to write a commentary about 9/11 for the CBC morning show, particularly focusing on how those events shaped our decision to spend so much time here in Newfoundland. At first, I really didn't think that it had, but upon reflection, I realized there was a connection. So here is my piece, to be tossed into the pot with all the other words that this day has conjured up for us:

My first visit to the west coast of Newfoundland was in August 2001. I was participating in the now-defunct artist residency program in Curling. I stayed for the entire month of August with my husband and two young children in the old Bank of Montreal building, which had been transformed into artist studios. We traveled around the Bay of Islands, I made art, and we fell in love with this amazing place. We arrived back at our home in New York City in early September and had barely settled in when the events of September 11th took place.

Like everyone who was in the city that day, we have our stories—what we were doing at the moment it happened, what we saw and heard, and how we reacted. And like any witness to events as terrible and tragic as those that occurred that day, our stories are filled with the horror as well as the mundane; laced with moments of profound realization as well as moments of humour. Our stories, like many others, highlight the absurd juxtaposition of ordinary life bumping up against world-altering events. We cried and laughed. We felt scared for our lives and we did all we could to help our neighbors who had needs greater than our own. And like good, tough New Yorkers, we went back to work the next day. While the city was filled with the smell of smouldering remains, we went about our business, convinced that “the terrorists had won” if we let what they had done interfere with our life.

For my husband and I, Newfoundland became closely associated with 9/11. The contrast between what seemed to be an earthly paradise here in Newfoundland and the burning pile of rubble in New York never seemed so great. Newfoundland became a vision that we would conjure up when we needed to imagine a place where it was calm and felt safe.

We returned to the Bay of Islands in 2002, and within a year had bought a house in Gillams, on the North Shore. By 2004, we were spending as much of the year here as possible. I was working on a large art project, the kids went to school, and my husband traveled between New York and Gillams as much as his schedule, and our budget, would allow. We now find ourselves shifting our household to Gillams on a permanent basis.

When I reflect on the changes in our lives in the last five years, I reluctantly acknowledge the way 9/11 has affected our lives. I don’t really want to admit that it has helped to push us closer to leaving the city and made it easier to imagine a life here in Newfoundland. I don’t want to because I hate to think that I have allowed fear to dictate my actions. But I can’t dismiss the enormous sense of relief that is palpable as we drive off the ferry into Port aux Basques. It is a sense of relief at being back in the place that I have come to feel is home, but it is also relief at no longer wondering if each subway trip will be my last, always looking up at any low-flying aircraft, all the 1001 ways that anxiety about the uncertainty of life has flavored our existence in New York.

Yet, even as we may see Newfoundland as a kind of oasis in a brutal world, we hear stories here too. Stories about lost jobs and a lost way of life, about out-migration on a grand scale. Stories about a rapidly changing culture that describe another kind of world-altering experience that seems no less filled with anxiety as my daily trip on the subway. While it is unlikely that Corner Brook will be the target of a terrorist attack any time soon, and pot holes aside, my trip down the North Shore highway rarely leaves me my contemplating an untimely death, I see that life here has its own dire concerns, no less real to people’s lives than suicide bombs and hijacked planes.

It makes me think that September 11th is actually happening everyday only in a less dramatic way. I think the term 9/11 has become so loaded—emotionally, politically, even economically—because it is a graphic illustration of a fundamental truth about life, death, and change. Maybe one of the best lessons of 9/11 we can learn is to take a deep breath, look around at where you are and appreciate it. Be alive right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How Do You Tell the Newfoundlander in Heaven?

We are packing up and getting ready to head south on Wednesday afternoon. This is always the most bittersweet moment for me: while I am usually totally worn out by the summer's activities and the fact that my life is open to the public from Thursday to Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm for eight weeks, I hate leaving. I hate not being able to make long-term commitments here, always having to cut things short. I will miss the air, the mountains and bay out the front windows, the autumn, the winter (yes, I love snow and cold weather--I loved every moment of our winter here in '05!). I will miss the people who make living here so satisfying and complete. I will miss how F&L can run free, cross the street, walk to the store, and play all day outside without me worrying (too much). Safe to say, I will miss it all.

I have studiously refused to let my mind wander into "I don't want to leave--this is my HOME" territory, but as push comes to shove, I have to let myself have a good cry and then try to get excited about all the grand adventures of life in NYC. The best of both worlds, as many have said. I have found one world that I really like--can't I stay here??

P.S. Although I won't be able to write more until 9/17 or thereabouts, there is much more to think about regarding culture and its representation/consumption. I hope our dialogue can continue.

P.P.S the title of this post comes from a joke: Q. how do you tell the Newfoundlander in heaven? A. they are the one that wants to go home.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Freecycle comes to the Bay of Islands!

Residents of the Bay of Islands, from Lark Harbour to Cox's Cove and every town in between, no longer have to send their cast-off furniture and odds and ends to the landfill! Now, you can join Bay of Island Freecycle and give your old stuff a new home.

Click here to join the Bay of Islands Freecycle Group:

Touching a Nerve

The initial shock of being called a filthy embarrassment has eased a bit and I have been able to think about why someone would write that about THM. Odd bits of wool floating around aside, I feel I can say with some certitude that our house is, in fact, not filthy. Occasionally untidy, yes, but not filthy. So what was that person trying to say? And why?

Before I examine those questions, I want to explain why I think it is important not to simply dismiss those comments as ridiculous and ignore them. As an artist, I have many, many times had my work critiqued by wise ones and fools. It isn't always a fun process, it doesn't always result in understanding more about the work and how people understand it, but sometimes it does. I think back to a critique I had in 1994 (as Shawn said, we remember the one negative among the many positive, and we remember them for a long time!). I was at an artist residency in Vermont that included visiting artists who gave critiques and the very first one came and really trashed my paintings--I think she called them "Franceso Clemente rip-offs." Then she turned to this fabric I had pinned to the wall on whim and said, "now this looks interesting...what is this?' After a couple of days of licking my wounds, I went back into the studio, thought about my paintings and looked at that fabric. I thought about how I actually dreaded painting and disliked a lot of the processes related to it (stretching canvas, etc.) but how I loved everything to do with fabric and yarn. Maybe I could make art from them instead... The rest, as they say, is history. So, thank you Ms. Harsh Critiquer! You were a total b*tch, but I owe you a lot.

So, when someone calls my project a filthy embarassment I don't just toss it aside as so much philistine ranting. For one thing, why did it hurt so much? Could that mean there is something there? And I have decided there is something very, very juicy there. I believe what that person meant was that my house, with its cracked walls, ceilings with holes and rough floors represents a Newfoundland that some want put far behind them. They don't live in a house like that--they have a new house, new appliances, new dishes, floors, curtains, furniture, smooth walls, nice fixtures, etc., etc. Many people live in Newfoundland in a way that is identical to someone living in Ontario or BC or New York. That is as much a way of being Newfoundland as any other. I think for some people who live like that, for them to see the rough edges in my house recalls the poverty and hard times of the past, when Newfoundlanders were called backward and stupid and made the butt of jokes. For some, all they see are the rough edges and it really pisses them off.

I have encountered this reaction before and was surprised as the vehemence I was met with. After the first time I realized that I had to be very careful to tell people that I am not trying to tell anyone that THIS is Newfoundland. Although called a museum, this project is not intended to be didactic "representation" of Newfoundland but rather a way of generating discussion about what that might be. Obviously not everyone gets that message.

Of course, trying to say what a culture "is" is a slippery slope. Is it THM? Is it a new house on Carberry Road in Corner Brook? Is it moose, icebergs and fishermen? Is it Wal-mart, Canadian Tire and McDonalds? Is it lace curtains, jellies and jams and homemade bread? Is it wide-screen TVs, Hummers and a 5-bedroom house? You tell me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My Filthy House or Why it Sometimes Hurts When You Open Your Doors

The story goes this way...a friend was in Dominion (the supermarket) and bumped into a fellow North Shore resident. They get to talking and the subjects came and went and then they were talking about the Doors Open event. And the one starts telling the other how the organizers don't want to invite THM back next year (along with another participant) because we received negative feedback. My friend is surprised because it all seemed so successful to them but returns home to let me know the latest gossip from the Dominion check-out line.

I am shocked too since I thought it went incredibly well and I am wondering how it is that this other person even has access to the evaluations (esp. since I never heard a word about anything negative or positive). Finally, today, I reached the source of actual true information--the local organizer of the event--and ask her straight out about what was said in Dominion She tells me that there were a couple (three total) negative comments. This is not so bad considering the number of people who came through--we're talking a 90% satisfied rate, at least. Then she reads the three comments.

One is about how, as an outsider, I should not be allowed to represent Newfoundland culture. Ok, obviously my message did not reach that person because I am not in any way trying to represent Newfoundland culture. I am trying to provide a venue so that others can discuss Newfoundland culture. But I can handle that with some extra attention to my greeting at the front door. At this point, I am dusting my hands off. Heck, these are easy! Bring on the next one! This one I can't remember word for word but it was something along the lines that there was nothing to see here. Well, if that's what you think, that's what you think and there is not much I can do about it. Next! But here is where it gets ugly. The person wrote that they found my house "filthy" and "an embarrassment" and that it never should have been included in the tour since it is a shameful representation of Newfoundland--who picked these sites anyway?


I have to admit I was really taken aback by that one. Filthy? The word rang through my head as I picked up things to prepare for a class coming through this afternoon from the college. I see wear and tear that hasn't all be glossed over but I honestly don't see filth. Such a strong word! More than just dirty but dirty with a tinge of evil. Well, well, I have to confess that one really hurt.

But to find the silver lining, it is good hear from people who aren't all supporters since it is all too easy to surround oneself with the people who say nice things to us. I wish the person had had the nerve to speak up while they were actually in my house--it is the very purpose of the project: to talk about everything here, the good and the bad, the stuff they like and the stuff that pisses them off. And I like to think that getting such a strong reaction means I have touched a nerve, not a nice nerve, but a nerve.

I never meant this project to be easy, and somedays it really is not.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labour Day

In honor of the holiday, some pictures of our recent labours:

We got 10.5 jars of jelly from our day out. But I forgot to put aside some for muffins, etc. so we will have to go back. Where? I'll never tell!

I collected some lichens when we picked blueberries to make some dye, but it didn't turn out so interesting. At the last moment, I tossed in some onion skins I had around and it made a lovely colour. The top picture is the wool I mordanted with alum and cream of tartar, the bottom is some that I just tossed in the pot to see what would happen.

Two of the fleeces that Janine sent - the brown was, I think, her first foray into shearing so the staple lengths are very short and it hasn't been very usable. The white is icelandic and just lovely to dye and to spin.

The colours of this picture don't do justice to this yarn--they are a bit more intense. I was aiming to replicate the colour of some lacy looking seaweed we found on the beach on the South Shore and I am happy to say, I got it pretty much right on. It is about 60% icelandic and 40% alpaca.