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Monday, August 25

COMMON MULLEIN


The Common Mullein, or verbascum thapsus, was introduced to my front yard by a friend who referred to it as the "Grand Wizard of the Ontario Roadside".  His attempts at cultivation were unsuccessful, however, many years later this spectacular example of the species sprouted.  

Turns out the tiny seeds can remain in the soil for up to a hundred years, often sprouting after a forest fire or a clearing of other vegetation.  The plant is biennial, producing a rosette of soft and hairy leaves the first year, followed by the tall stalk of yellow flowers the subsequent summer. The plant usually dies after this display, scattering almost a quarter million seeds.





Mullein has been used for medicinal reasons for over 2000 years.  It is most effective against afflictions of the lungs such as consumption, croup and coughs. The yellow flowers can be used to create a yellow or green dye and the stalk can be soaked in wax to create a torch.  

Imported to North America in the early 1800's, Mullein quickly spread to all states and southern Canada.  In some regions it carries the vernacular name "Cowboy's toilet paper".  Driving north, you can see Common Mullein along the road and the further you drive, the shorter the stalks. None of these northern brothers can rival the 9' monster dominating my yard, impressive enough to entice a woodpecker:





Friday, August 22

INDIGO DYE


I've always wanted to dye with natural indigo.  There is something magic about the way the rich blue colour is created by the oxygenation of the dye.  What starts as yellow/green in the dye bath quickly turns blue when touched by air.  So, when a friend requested the use of my yard for his indigo kit, I said "Yes!"  Turns out indigo is a great party activity - the excitement of the colour change somehow summoned Dionysus and corks started flying. Sedate folding patterns gave way to tie dye and experimentation.  Although the results were not as successful as the event, the experience left me wanting to try again and perhaps gather up some walnut husks for another event .... Perhaps Hades will show up. 

If you're interested in indigo dyeing, check out a very detailed description of the process here (I haven't tested their steps), and ways to tie and fold your fabric here.










Thursday, August 21

A MATTER OF ABSTRACTION



While in Montréal for a wedding we visited the MAC (Museé D'art Contemporain de Montréal) with high hopes.  Our wishes were gratified by the poignant video installation Citizen Band by Angelica Mesiti.  In one portion, an Algerian man sings rai music on a Paris subway surrounded by indifferent passengers.  His performance is heartbreakingly beautiful as are the other three pieces, each in an indigenous music tradition, presented by an artist who has been displaced from their culture.
Citizen Band runs until September 7, 2014

Down the hall was the less cohesive exhibition A Matter of Abstraction, pictured here.  This show has been on for over two years, set to close in September.  Perhaps this extended run caused the curators to overpack the space.  Presenting abstract work from 1939 to the present, the exhibition seeks to illustrate the relationship between Quebec artists and their international contemporaries. Although many of the works were interesting, the cluttered curation and strange colour choices for walls and plinths, made the space look more like the home of an overzealous collector than a contemporary gallery.  That said, we like to sift though homes of overzealous collectors and it's a pleasure to spot pieces we like through such visual cacophony.  The tightly packed spaces also made for some interesting photographs.















Wednesday, August 20

DAN GALLAGHER


Last month I headed east towards Port Perry to join a friend in picking up a sculpture specially carved by Dan Gallagher. The setting was idyllic with rolling hills, cornfields, forests in the distance, and a pond nearby. And Gallagher's studio, set up in a half-culvert barn, was messy enough to show that things were really getting done there.

Dan Gallagher studied environmental science and worked in his field for several years, but gave it up to follow his passion for woodwork. Although he started by making furniture, after acquiring a set of carving tools and adding this skill to his roster, hand carving became his main focus.

You get the impression that Gallagher could build anything, and do it efficiently and without drama.  He takes pride in fine craftsmanship whether he is making a Windsor chair, a boat, a garage, hand carved signage or more sculptural pieces.  

Gallagher rarely works on personal projects, so it was a treat to see a few pieces of his own: a "lovers' chair" inspired by snowshoes (about which he says, "one doesn't work without the other") and a whirligig inspired by two identical newspaper headlines published over 100 years apart. "What's wrong with people these days," was the headline in 1884 when a fire in Port Perry saw citizens looting rather than helping put the fire out.  The same headline reappeared in reference to more recent G20 events.

With his sensitivity to materials, textures, and proportions, combined with practicality and know-how, Gallagher is incredibly adept at executing a creative vision, whether it be his own or another's.






















Tuesday, August 19

INSIDE THE COLOSSEUM


Near the end of my time in Denmark, I agreed to join a spontaneous weekend trip to Rome with a few ladies from the residency.  I've neglected to share what I took in while there, and soon after I was there, but will put up some posts in the coming days/weeks.  The Colosseum is a crazy powerful place to walk through and especially so with no tourists!  The best time to go is about half an hour before closing as the tourists start to clear out.  In the last ten minutes I felt like I had the entire place to myself.

I see before me the Gladiator lie;
He leans upon his hand, —his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low, 
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him, —he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.
-Byron