Dancing in Gumboots: Comox Valley stories of cultural shift

Dancing in Gumboots: Comox Valley stories of cultural shift

Anthologist Jane Wilde at the Blue Heron Bookstore in Comox  |  George Le Masurier photo

Dancing in Gumboots: Comox Valley stories of cultural shift

By George Le Masurier

You can see everything I love about the new book Dancing in Gumboots on its cover. Two young women sit on a log at a Crown Zellerbach logging site high above Comox Lake in the 1970s, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer from what we used to call stubbies and sharing a private joke.

We don’t get the exact punch line that brought smiles to Jeanine Maars and Gloria Simpson in that cover photograph by Jane Gilchrist. But the book’s 32 first-person stories of women who moved to the Comox Valley between 1970 and 1979 reveal the underlying reason for their happiness.

These were women feeling free and enjoying their lives in ways that previous generations could not.

Dancing in Gumboots is an anthology by Lou Allison and Jane Wilde. It follows the success of their first book, Gumboot Girls, featuring similar adventurous women who migrated from cities, the United States and Europe to settle on Haida Gwaii or the Prince Rupert area.

“The goal of the books was, first of all, to save our stories,” Wilde told Decafnation. “But they also document a generation that represents a big shift in culture.”

Written in the first-person and without much editing, these stories reflect on how a wave of women who settled in the Comox Valley broke down gender barriers as tree planters and fishers, embraced feminism and built lives based on self-confidence and self-reliance.

Many of the women speak with surprising candor about the most intimate parts of their lives, including divorce and sexual orientation, and the challenges of building their own homes. But there is a vivid sense of joy and fun that runs through each of the stories.

The Comox Valley was a small community back then. People knew almost everyone else. There was only one stoplight at Fifth and Cliffe. In 1971, just 13,000 people lived in Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland.

So when long-haired young women — and men — started arriving to scratch some internal itch to live on an island, work as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat or to merely search for a taste of the pioneering lifestyle, it was noticeable.

And was hard to not notice them.

In their stories, these women speak about the early days of the Arts Alliance and the Renaissance Faire, about illegal midwifery, starting the Women’s Self-Help Network, the Youth Chance Society and the Comox Valley Transition Society. That was wildly progressive stuff for a little community still defined at the time by logging and fishing.

For those of us who arrived at the same time and know these women, reading their mini-memoirs will recall fond memories of our own. It takes us on a trip back through our own journeys.

But for those who have discovered the Comox Valley more recently as the surging knowledge-based urban center it is today, these stories provide not just historical references but a deeper sense of place. Knowing who it was that came before you and how they shaped your town’s culture, helps a person understand their own place in the continuum of community evolution.

Plus, Dancing with Gumboots is just fun to read. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure.

 

Gumboot anthologist

“These are flash memoirs,” Wilde said. “We told the writers not to agonize over their essays, just keep them fresh.”

Wilde and Allison created the whole book with only few in-person meetings. They sent five questions to potential contributors via email and asked them to respond in 1,000 to 1,500 words and to do it within two months. It was the same formula they used for their North Coast book.

“The first book was done almost as a lark,” Wilde said. “But then we sold 1,000 copies in the first month and our publisher said, hey, you’ve got something here.”

Wilde and Allison are part of the generation of women featured in their books. They both migrated to Haida Gwaii in the early 1970s and both wrote their own stories in Gumboot Girls, which has sold 8,000 copies to date.

Wilde arrive on the North Coast in 1976 and stayed until 1979. They she left for nursing school, but returned to Prince Rupert in 1981 to practice her new profession. For health reasons, she and her long-time partner, Richard, moved to the Comox Valley in 2016. He died in December.

“As I started to meet women in the Comox Valley, my eyes were opened to a completely different, yet similar migration of women from those I had known on the North Coast,” she said.

Wilde says no writers make any money from either of the books. All of the profits from the latest book go to the Comox Valley Transition Society, and to a similar nonprofit in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii from the first.

Wilde remains noncommittal about producing future anthologies, maybe because she’s accomplished what she set out to do in her first two books.

“It’s kind of the chicken soup of aging baby boomers. It’s stories about our generation,” she said. “They needed to be written down.”

 

 

 

NEXT READING: 2:15
JAN. 17 COURTENAY LIBRARY

 

 

AVAILABLE IN COMOX VALLEY
BOOKSTORES

 

Blue Heron Books
1775 Comox Ave., Comox
339-6111

Laughing Oyster Books
286 Fifth St., Courtenay
334-2511

Abraxas Books
1071 Northwest Road
Denman Island

 

 

LIST OF AUTHORS
IN DANCING IN GUMBOOTS

Roberta DeDoming, Patti Willis, Peggy Kabush, Sandy Kennedy, Susan Holvenstot, Gerri Minaker. Sally Gellard ,Cara Tilston Lee Bjarnason, Devaki Johnson, Rosemary Vernon, Jackie Sandiford, Monika Terfloth, Susan Sandland, Sure Wheeler, Anne Davis, Nonie Caflisch, Denise Nadeau, Olive Scott, Phyllis Victory, Linda Rajotte, Brenda Dempsey, Gloria Simpson, Jeanine Maars, Marguerite Masson, Judy Norbury, Linda Safford, Ardith Chambers, Linda Deneer, Josephine Peyton, Gwyn Sproule and Lynda Glover

 

Both Dancing in Gumboots and Gumboot Girls were published by Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia

 

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The Decafnation lists its favorite books read in 2018

The Decafnation lists its favorite books read in 2018

The Decafnation lists its favorite books read in 2018

By George Le Masurier

Each year on Jan. 1, Decafnation presents its annual collective book report. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share micro-reviews of books they enjoyed in last year. You can read previous year’s recommendations here.

Kathy Gilland DuperronWomen Who Dig: Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World by Trina Moiyles of Alberta. — Ms Moyles travelled to six different countries and interviewed women who dig (garden, farm) in order to feed their families. We meet brave, hard-working women around the world. Canada, the US, Uganda, Cuba and more. Women outside North America get the most they can in order to feed their families and if they sell some products their children may be able to go to school. This is a book filled with hope, the opposite of what we are generally hearing and reading in the news.

Anne BakerThe Boat People by Sharon Bala — “When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and 500 fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security” — review excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Brad MorganThe Library Book by Susan Orlean — This is every bookworm’s dream read, said a reviewer and it’s true. If you love books, you’ll love this book. It’s actually a tribute to libraries via an arson investigation and filled with real-life characters and stories so unexpected, they feel like they’ve been misshelved from the fantasy section. It’s starts out about the 1986 fire that destroyed 400,000 books at the Los Angeles Central Library, and that becomes Orlean’s excuse to introduce the eccentric who’d been the city’s first librarian, a successor who walked from Ohio to L.A. to claim the post.

Robert MooreLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders — An initially baffling, wild, creative and surprising book. Second choice, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hamid — Evocative and interesting voice.

Charles ShelanPachinko by Min Jin Lee, and the Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish.

Sarah SeitzA Little Life by Hanya Yanaguhara — I loved this tale of four young men navigating friendship and trauma. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Also enjoyed Educated by Tara Westover — a memoir about her life growing up with survivalists in rural Idaho.

Meredith Wright HutchinsCircling the Sun by Paula McLain — This book is One of my favorites. It’s an biographical fiction and I was into the book before I realized Beryl Markham was an actual person. I was equally surprised to learn that one of her friends, Karen Blixen, was the character played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. The book is set in British East Africa in the early 1900’s. Beryl was, among other things, a race horse trainer and pilot at a time when those were not vocations for women.

Helena SpearsThe Winters: a reboot of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca — It has great characters, and plot twists. If you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy this one too. A quick, fun read.

Jim LewisWashington Black by Esi Edugyan — This third novel by a Vancouver Island writer offers a unique spin on the traditional slave narrative. Its protagonist, known as Wash, is an 18-year-old freeman looking back on a childhood spent in bondage and on the unlikely events that allowed him to escape a Barbados sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon and travel from Virginia to the Arctic to Europe while blossoming into an accomplished artist and scientist.

Ramon MartinezRiding the Continent by Hamilton Mack Laing, with an introduction by Richard Mackie, edited by Trevor Marc Hughes — Hamilton Mack Laing was an illustrious early British Columbia writer and naturalist. But few know him as how he described himself in his mid-thirties: a motorcycle-naturalist. For several years beginning in 1914, Laing used the motorcycle to access the natural world, believing it gave him a distinct advantage over other forms of transportation. During this period in his life he would take on a transcontinental journey, riding across the United States from Brooklyn to Oakland in 1915. His previously unpublished manuscript of this journey has been hidden away for nearly a century.

Peter JacobsonThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood — A World War II–era family drama turns into a story within a story, within a story — as well as a mystery, a thriller, and a tract on the politics of love, passion, and betrayal. It’s brilliantly written, sharp as a blade, and completely engrossing.

Ken AdneyThe Johnstown Flood by David McCullough — I love everything else I’ve read by him. Also, McLuhan for Beginners (one of the For Beginners series).
Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw (just because people keep talking about him). Jacobs’ Dimensions of Moral Theory (more meta arguments than how to). Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (loved her essays). William Gass The World Within The Word (few writers write so well about writing)

Dan Vie — I generally read no fiction except for an occasional folktale. However, I re-read the Lord of the Rings after several decades, just because the narrative feels topical in this political climate. It is a gorgeous and engrossing read. Tolkien was masterful at crafting a sense of physical environment – the journey takes them through so many uniquely illustrated spaces, and it’s vivid.

Gloria J. BalazsBecoming by Michelle Obama — A great book. Predictable, but warmly entertaining. Loved it!

Robert MarshallAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday — Shortly after 9/11, a young woman working in New York City publishing enters into a romantic relationship with a famous older Jewish novelist. But the book’s second half changes everything, which I won’t reveal and spoil it for you.

Jessie Kerr — Sapiens (a brief history of humankind) by Yuval Harari –This book was difficult to put down. It caused me to reconsider my beliefs, attitudes and bias. I think it is a must read for thinkers. Also I’m Right and You’re an Idiot by James Hoggan. I heard him at the Denman Island book fest. A thoughtful discourse on the toxic state of public discourse. Another must read.

Richard ClarkeHow China’s Leaders Think by RL Kuhn — an informative insight into the machinations of the CCP leadership and China’s dramatic change over past 40 years.

Mary LangWomen Talking by Miram Toews — A small masterpiece. Launching off of a (tragically) true story, Toews explores the many powerful shades of resistance and witness in the wake of oppression and violation.

 

 

 

 

COMOX VALLEY BOOKSTORES

 

Blue Heron Books
1775 Comox Ave., Comox
339-6111

 

Laughing Oyster Books
286 Fifth St., Courtenay
334-2511

 

Nearly New Books
1761 Comox Ave., Comox
339-1278

 

Second Page Used Books
546 Duncan Ave., Courtenay
338-1144

 

Coles
Driftwood Mall, Courtenay
897-3622

 

North Island College Bookstore
2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay
334-5013

 

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The meaning of Guernica explained in a subway

The meaning of Guernica explained in a subway

The meaning of Guernica explained in a subway

By George Le Masurier

What do a gored bull, a horse and flames have in common? No, this is not a three-people-walk-into-a-bar kind of joke. The answer, of course, is they are all prominent images in Pablo Picasso’s most famous painting (Decafnation’s opinion).

But what does it mean? Have you ever wondered about the symbolism in the painting? Is it really an anti-war message?

A New Yorker magazine art critic took a copy down into the Big Apple’s subway tunnels and asked people what they thought. It’s an interesting video.

 

THE BOMBING OF GUERNICA

The bombing of Guernica (Spanish pronunciation: [ɡeɾˈnika]) (26 April 1937) was an aerial bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It was carried out, at the behest of Francisco Franco’s nationalist government, by its allies, the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria, under the code name Operation Rügen. 

The bombing is the subject of a famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso, commissioned by the Spanish Republic.

— Wikipedia

 

PABLO PICASSO

Pablo Picasso was the most dominant and influential artist of the first half of the 20th century. Associated most of all with pioneering Cubism, alongside Georges Braque, he also invented collage and made major contributions to Symbolism and Surrealism. He saw himself above all as a painter, yet his sculpture was greatly influential, and he also explored areas as diverse as printmaking and ceramics.

Finally, he was a famously charismatic personality; his many relationships with women not only filtered into his art but also may have directed its course, and his behavior has come to embody that of the bohemian modern artist in the popular imagination.

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Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Henry Fletcher at The Convoy Club, an attempt to create a co-working space in Cumberland. Photo by George Le Masurier

Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Does Cumberland want to save the historic Ilo Ilo Theatre or does it want to create a performing arts space in the most viable location?

That was a question debated Saturday afternoon in the renovated lobby of the former opera house by about 30 Cumberland business people, residents and performers.

It’s an urgent question because Henry Fletcher, who has spent “a stressful” year trying to save the theatre as a performance venue, has reached the end of his resources and is moving back to Toronto this week.

His parents, who bought the building in 2007, have listed the Ilo Ilo for sale at $1.25 million.

The building began life in 1914 as an opera house and transformed over the years into a movie theatre and a dance hall. It was last used as an an auction house operated by Dave and Cathy Stevens until July 2007.

None of those discussing the theatre’s fate on Saturday questioned the need for a new performing arts venue in the Comox Valley.

“There’s a hunger for performing arts space,” said Meagan Coursons, an arts promoter and executive director of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. “People are starving for it.”

It’s hard to book the busy Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, and it’s expensive for struggling performing arts groups.

And there was no doubt among participants in Saturday’s discussion that a cultural economy could be created in Cumberland around the demand for space.

Darren Adam, owner of the Cumberland Brewing Company, said if the building could be renovated, then the “end result as an economic driver is beyond words.”

But Adam questioned whether a community project to preserve, restore and promote the Ilo Ilo as a performing arts space was a viable option.

Nick Ward, owner of The Update Company, a website design and marketing business, said it would take at least $500,000 and probably more to renovate the theatre building. And Adam doubted whether the village or individuals with the expertise to take on such a large fundraising project had the capacity to do so at this time.

“There’s no privately owned theatre in Canada that doesn’t rely on a public subsidy,” Adam said. “And the village is already heavily taxed.”

He said it took “an amazing effort” to create the Cumberland Community Forest, but to do it again would be “a long shot.”

Admitting that she has a “romantic attachment” to historic theatre, Cursons said the community needs to have a larger conversation about it really wants — to save the Ilo Ilo or to create performing arts space.

The Cumberland United Church building is also for sale at a much lower purchase price and could be renovated more inexpensively.

“We have to focus on one project, or we could lose both,” Cursons said. “What is the more achievable goal? If it’s performing arts space we want, then we need to get this conversation outside of the building (Ilo Ilo).”

The group agreed on the need for a community mandate.

There was also consensus that to attract an “angel benefactor” willing to preserve the Ilo Ilo and transform it into a quality performing arts space, the village has to have a governance structure and a business plan already in place.

And that raised the question if there are people willing to donate time and energy creating a society and a plan knowing that another buyer could tear down the building for some other commercial purpose.

A spokesperson for the Cumberland Culture and Arts Society said they already have a nonprofit society for this purpose. It staged the recent Woodstove Festival. It’s annual general meeting is scheduled for January.

Cursons expressed sadness around how many times people have gotten their hopes up about restoring the Ilo Ilo only to see it flounder again.

An exhausting experience

For Henry Fletcher, the Ilo Ilo has been “an emotionally exhausting period of exploring an idea that nobody in their right mind would undertake.”

Fletcher came to Cumberland with hopes of creating a cultural economy, using the Ilo Ilo as a hub for performing arts, town hall meetings, a dance studio, weddings and other events.

“I’ve been spraying ideas around to see what sticks,” he told Decafnation. “But nobody was ready to join on that train.”

Fletcher is a performer himself, mainly through a fictional comedic character he created called Henri Faberge, a naive buffoon and European aristocrat. Faberge is the protagonist in improv performances whose eyes help the audience understand other characters.

Henri Faberge is also a foil for Fletcher’s own self-examination.

“Sometimes the lines are blurred,” he said, referring to his obsession to animate community interest in his ideas for a common performing arts space. “It me, it’s not me. It’s hard to shut off.”

He questions whether it was his own naivete about navigating bylaws, about how to do fundraising and writing grants and about how to run a business that doomed the Ilo Ilo project.

“I struggle with not pursuing the vision I have. It’s a mental illness, I can’t not do it,” he said. “Everyone wants arts and culture, they just can’t pay for it.”

Fletcher thinks his timing might have been wrong. He sees Cumberland at a point where it has attracted a large community of creative people, yet not enough resources to support them.

But he’s glad for having tried and for the learning experience he’s had.

“Because, you know, it’s the maniacs who are either A) burned at the stake; or, B) achieve a new paradigm and change the world.”

 

HISTORY OF COURTENAY’S SID WILLIAM THEATRE

Vancouver Island entrepreneur E.W. Bickle designed and built what is now the Sid Williams Theatre. The state-of-the-art movie house was opened on June 20, 1935, with a gala presentation of the new colour film spectacle “Babes in Toyland.” E.W. wanted to create the finest movie theatre on Vancouver Island, and his new Bickle Theatre on Cliffe Avenue featured many luxuries that event theatres in bustling Victoria did not offer. Bickle also built and owned Cumberland’s Ilo Ilo Theatre, Courtenay’s E.W. Theatre (subsequently the Palace Theatre on 5th Street), and the Comox District Free Press. The theatre’s current namesake, Sid Williams, actually worked at the E.W. in the 1940’s.

Bickle was a “hands on” theatre owner; many locals still remember attending shows and seeing him sitting in a leather wing chair in the lobby supervising the crowds as they came and went. Well into his senior years he arrived each evening in a chauffeured limousine to collect the day’s box office take. After E.W. Bickle passed away, the building operated for a time as an auction house and later became vacant for a number of years. On an early January morning in 1968, the Riverside Hotel next to the theatre at the corner of 5th Street and Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay burned down. This event was the turning point by which the citizens of the Comox Valley acquired a civic performing arts theatre.

After a great deal of fundraising, a land swap involving Crown Zellerback, a generous donation by the E.W. Bickle family, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of many individuals and groups in the community, the black hole of the former Riverside Hotel got cleaned up. A fountain was built, the old Bickle was renovated and in September 1971 the new Civic Theatre and Civic Square were opened by Premier W.A.C. Bennett.

In honour of a much loved local actor and comedian, it was named the Sid Williams Civic Theatre in 1984. Sid Williams was born Frederick Sidney Williams on October 14th, 1908, in New Westminster, BC, and arrived in the Comox Valley in 1921 at the age of 12. Sid’s earliest stage appearance was in a school production in 1922. This began a lifetime of theatre involvement. From his tours with the Barkerville Players and as Century Sam; his many live appearances, both local and distant; to his television work (on The Beachcombers, PharmaSave commercials, and a documentary for CBC’s On the Road Again), they brought him many honours. Sid also served continuously as Alderman for the City of Courtenay from 1942 to 1964.

Sid ran the Civic Theatre for many years as a one man tour-de-force, and rain or shine could be seen up a ladder every week changing the messages on the theatre’s marquee. He passed away on September 26th, 1991. View the Courtenay & District Museum’s online exhibit Sid Williams: Out of the Ordinary.

The Sid Williams Civic Theatre has been serving the Comox Valley for over 25 years as a performing arts facility, and has had a professional administration since 1992. In 1998, the theatre was closed for some much needed renovations. After a few seismic tests, the City of Courtenay extended the original $1,000,000 budget to an incredible $2,500,000. The renovations extended the lobby, added a concession, a large ticket centre, family viewing seats, a 144 seat balcony, many needed washrooms, larger dressing room space, and much more.

Now a 500-seat performing arts facility, the Sid Williams Theatre will continue to host quality entertainment in the Comox Valley for many years to come.

Excerpted from a history courtesy of the Courtenay & District Museum on The Sid’s website

 

 

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

By George Le Masurier

Art Alchemy, the Comox Valley art collective born out of a desire for more places to see local art, will hang its eighth annual Square Foot Art show this weekend

This article was updated Nov. 20 to include a quote from painter Sofie Skapski

H elen Utsal came to the Comox Valley to paint. She pictured a place “riddled with artists” and wanted to become part of the cultural scene that, she assumed, would have an abundance of public places to see the art created here.

She found something quite different when she arrived. There was, in fact, an abundance of artists working in a variety of mediums. But they mostly worked in isolation from each other, at home and in small out-of-the-way studios, and they all had little visibility in the community.

“It was and still is a struggle for local artists to get their work shown,” Utsal told Decafnation. “There’s just not many places to see art.”

So Utsal began forming the idea of a Comox Valley collective of artists who would create their own gallery and studio space, and share overhead costs.

She rekindled a plan by fellow artists Lucy Schappy and Jennifer Weber to take a chance on renting a space for a studio and gallery. They found a small space in Comox, but it fell through when the physiotherapists that owned the building decided to expand their own office.

Undaunted, Utsal formed the West Coast Art Collective during the winter of 2010-2011 with other nine Comox Valley artists who shared the dream of making local art more visible. The collective staged their first exhibition — a selection of 12-inch by 12-inch canvases they called The Square Foot Show — in June of 2011 at the now-defunct Purple Onion cafe in Comox.

Two years later, Utsal, Shappy, Weber and two new artists, Stacey Wright and Guillermo Mier, found the perfect space at 10th Street in Courtenay, above United Floors. It’s bright, has high ceilings and big windows and is large enough for all nine artists to have both studio and gallery space. They named the new endeavor Art Alchemy.

The artists at Art Alchemy have changed over the years, but the goal of having a place for artists to share their creative vibe and camaraderie has remained a constant.

And so has the Square Foot Show.

The nine current artists of Art Alchemy will be joined this weekend by 38 other mostly Comox Valley artists for the eighth annual Square Foot Show. (Friday, Nov. 23 from 7 pm to 10 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm.)


Art Alchemy artists:  Mary Gorman,Shea Kottila, Sharon Lalonde, Larissa McLean, Nancy Randall Burger, Sofie Skapski, Helen Utsal, Nicolette Valikoski, Maggie Ziegler


It’s the first year the show has been juried and that submissions were accepted through a digital process.

“The whole purpose is to support artists and encourage them,” Utsal said.

Most serious art buyers have traditionally lived in larger cities, where cultural demands are greater.

“The Comox Valley is not a prime market,” Utsal said, noting that most local professional artists — those who support themselves through their art — sell to buyers in Vancouver, Toronto and internationally. “But that’s changing. Our population of art collectors is growing.”

Twenty-five artists have passed through the collective in its first seven years. Artists will rent space for two or three years and then move on, creating their own studios or moving from the area.

Sofie Skapski, one of the current artists at Art Alchemy, describes the experience like this: “I love our studio space here at Art Alchemy because of the openness and the wonderful light. It is important to me to work within a group because working alone in a studio can be isolating. Here we have camaraderie – we inspire each other in a supportive atmosphere but at the same time still maintain our privacy in our own personal spaces.

As the only remaining founder of the collective, Utsal has assumed the role of Art Alchemy’s principal artist, which means she takes on most of its administrative chores, like organizing the exhibitions. But it’s made easy by the “generous cooperative spirit we value and encourage.”

“Everyone pipes up, we’re all protective of the vibe,” she said.

This weekend’s Square Foot show is one of two exhibitions staged annually by Art Alchemy. They have another proprietary show in June that coincides with the Valley-wide art studio tour. And Art Alchemy artists also display their work at the Comox Valley Airport from May through October each year.

The Art Alchemy studio gallery is open to the public at 362C 10th Street in Courtenay. It’s open to the public from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, or “whenever the door is open.”

 

 

 

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Marianne Enhorning: architecture to art

By George Le Masurier

Marianne Enhorning mixes her love of nature and the human figure with subtle architectural elements to create dreamlike paintings that establish her place in her family’s artistic heritage

 

Marianne Enhorning dances around her new Comox Avenue studio/gallery, adding brush strokes to multiple paintings she’s working on simultaneously, sometimes measuring herself up against a life-sized canvas as if she’s trying to connect with the figure of a woman in motion, sensing the image’s next movements.

Enhorning is preparing for an important exhibition in San Diego, one that might result in an American tour of her recent work, a series exploring the beauty and strength of women.

She’s got a dozen new paintings on the go and divides her attention among them, moving gracefully around jars of brushes, paint cans, easels and paint-stained buckets.

The stereotypically messy studio area strikes a sharp contrast to her gallery, where a clean, simple design reveals Enhorning’s Swedish heritage. The gallery would not look out of place in an IKEA showroom.

But it’s no accident that Enhorning’s gallery is well organized and attractive. She has a degree in architecture and worked in that field for 25 years designing houses and small commercial buildings. She spent 10 years in private practice in Vancouver before moving to the Comox Valley, where she continued to do architectural design. She also worked  off and on for a few years with Comox architect John Chislett.

There’s a subtle architectural influence in much of Enhorning’s work that wouldn’t be obvious without knowing her background. Whether she’s painting women, dancers, landscapes or communities of people, they are often framed in vertical linear shapes — trunks of trees, lines of people, stems of flowers or herds of unicorns — and the human figures provide a sense of scale to the grandeur of nature.

“In architecture, I loved the design, and was always looking at the art aspect. The technical side is so unlike me. There are so many rules and bylaws and restrictions. And in the end, it’s not really your own work. You’ve been compromised by all the limitations,” She says.

By contrast, Enhorning says that painting is “completely free.”

“When I’m painting there’s no client, no budget, no rules. I can do anything. Nothing is right or wrong, and nobody can say it’s wrong,” she says.

Art has always been a part of Enhorning’s life, but she didn’t always believe she was an artist.

She counts her grandmother, Louise Peyron, as her greatest influence. Peyron was a famous Swedish artist, who studied in Paris during the Lost Generation of Left Bank artists, writers and ex-pats around the 1920s, a community that included Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Hemingway.

But it was Enhorning’s older brother, Ulf, who their grandmother took under her wing. He became “the artist” in the family.

A SPECIAL PAINTING BROUGHT MARIANNE ENHORNING’S PARENTS TOGETHER: Read this story below

“So even though my parents had tons of art in the house, every room was like a gallery, and art was all I ever knew, my brother was ‘the artist.’ I didn’t think I could do it,” she says.

Still, Enhorning studied her grandmother’s work so intensely that those who know Peyron’s work can now see Peyron’s influence in Enhorning’s paintings. “She was my teacher, I feel it so strongly,” she says.

Enhorning only began painting seriously about five years ago. She was working exclusively with her own architectural clients, and doing some painting while juggling her role as a mother to two young children.

Then she was offered a chance to rent some studio space at Courtenay’s Art Alchemy by her friends Lucy Schappy and Helen Utsal. Enhorning thought she would try it out for a month.

“I painted for a month and I couldn’t stop,” she says. “It was so obvious that I had to paint.”

Yet, she still didn’t consider herself a full-time artist. Even when her work sold well at a small show at Art Alchemy with two other painters, who were also renting space there, she didn’t believe it.

“I thought that’s not real. That’s just my friends being nice to me, buying my painting because they felt sorry for me or something,” she says. So Enhorning kept doing architectural projects, even though she was selling more and more art work.

“Eventually, the counselor I was seeing told me to ‘just keep painting’ and not to come see her anymore,” she says. “Painting had become my therapy.”

So, she did. And now says that “even if a dream job in architecture came along today, I would say no.”

 
An emotional exercise

Enhorning describes her painting process as lying down in a grassy field looking up at the passing clouds on a summer day, seeing them change shapes and transition from one thing into something else. She turns her panels upside down and sideways, and looks at them from different angles, trying to discover where they are going to go next.

“I used to think that when authors said they don’t know where their characters are going until they write it, that was hokey. But it’s not. Now I understand it,” she says.

“The act of creating comes from the soul,” she says. “I get very emotional, I feel the experience of creating so deeply.”

For her series on women, Enhorning stands up close to the panels made by her husband at her exact height. She puts herself in the painting’s shape, trying to experience how the woman might feel, how her body might be moving. That often moves her to tears.

It’s so personal, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it,” she says.

Enhorning grew up with three older brothers, and she wanted to be a boy. She was a tomboy and thought girls were boring. They couldn’t match the thrill-seeking action of boys.

“But now, in my 50s, I realize the strength and beauty and power that women have. It’s taken me until now,” she says.

For Enhorning, the emotional process doesn’t end when a painting is finished.

“It’s hard to understand that people will spend money to have one of my paintings in their life. Obne client told me that my painting makes her feel so happy, so alive. It’s mind boggling,” she says.

Where to see Enhorning’s work

Vancouver Island collectors have purchased the bulk of Enhorning’s work, though she has buyers in Vancouver and Toronto, and is represented by a gallery in Waterloo, Ont. She sells through galleries as diverse as the Salish Sea Market in Bowser, Embellish, an interior design store in Duncan. She will be the featured artist at the Stock Home gallery in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver. Her work can be seen locally at her gallery and the Blackfin Restaurant in Comox.

Unlike some artists, Enhorning enjoys doing commissions, partly because it appeals to her architecture background and love of design. She uses 3D software from her former house design career to mirror a client’s room and create graphics of different size painting on the wall. Then she creates at least three different paintings for the customer to choose.

You can view Enhorning’s work on her website, enhorningdesign.com, on Instagram @enhorning design or at her public gallery in Comox, 1671 Comox Ave, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Next exhibition: Miami, Florida

Since Decafnation visited with Enhorning in October, she had a successful show in San Diego, selling seven large paintings and acquiring two commissions. It was so successful that her series on women was shipped from San Diego to Miami, Florida, for an exhibition in early December. She’s also adding new work for the Miami show.


How a special painting brought her parents together

Just how deep is Marianne’s Enhorning’s connection to art? Well, without art, she might never have existed.

It was a painting by her grandmother, Louise Peyron, that brought Enhorning’s parents together.

Here’s how Marianne Enhorning’s mother tells the story

“My mother was an artist. Her best friend was a journalist for one of the Swedish daily newspapers. She had a younger brother who was a doctor. He wanted to purchase some art, and asked his sister if she could arrange for him to see some of her friend’s work.

“So, he was invited to visit my mother in her studio. Looking over her various paintings, he selected one, and that was a portrait of a young girl.

“Oh, my mother said, that is my daughter, and I normally don’t sell portraits of my children. But, since you are my best friend’s brother, I might be willing to make an exception.

“So, he bought the painting of me, took it home, put it on his wall, and began to think that he would like to meet this girl ….

“Soon after, my mother gave a Christmas party, and among the guests were, of course, her best friend with her brother.

“I had helped with preparations for this party, baking various cakes and cookies, and this young man showed an enormous interest in these cookies, asking me to describe in detail how they were made.

“So, I told him! The rest is history!”

 

 


 

 

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