28 April 2013

Lighting Up History With Contemporary Art

A few months ago I connected via Twitter with Jennifer Lyons, the head curator at Museums of Prince Edward County. She sent me an article about a historic house in New York City that had invited contemporary artists into the house to create work to be displayed on site. Jennifer and I got together soon afterwards to discuss how we might be able to collaborate on a project at Macaulay House, built in the 1830's, and located just a few minutes away from Small Pond Arts.

At this time I was heavy into planning for the Firelight Lantern Festival, and as the museum’s Doors Open event was happening the week after our festival, I thought it might be interesting to create lanterns in response to the historical objects on site. Made of bamboo, tissue or rice paper, masking tape and glue, these simple materials are extremely flexible, and can be used to rather quickly create sculptural art pieces. Jennifer was game, so I invited three other artists to come on board, Chrissy Poitras, Nell Casson and Hri Neil.

On a cold day in early April we met up at Macaulay House. Jennifer took us on a tour of the house, and there was no shortage of inspiration to be found. We sat down and discussed what approach we would take. We spent the rest of the day in the cozy kitchen, making lanterns. This is what we came up with.

Teapot and Teacups by Nella Casson
Artist statement - Nell Casson
We began our tour of Macaulay House through the door of the servants’ kitchen; a warm fire was brightly burning and the vessels and objects were lined neatly on the shelves. We continued into the main house, where the fine objects similar to those owned by the Macaulay family were displayed in the grand rooms. I was instantly aware of the difference between the two classes that had lived in the house. Although their lives were obviously different I looked around for objects that both classes would have handled and used. The ceramics and fine china in the cabinet in the main dining room are preserved perfectly. The patterns on the teacups and teapots are so ornate and precious - some even in gold, I was instantly dawn to the pattern and the design of these objects. While working on my lanterns I began to think of these fragile objects as a kind of bridge between the classes. These teacups would be handled by both the lady of the manor and her staff. This teapot would be presented to guests and cared for by the kitchen help. It amazes me that these artifacts have survived. Their fragility is reflected in the fragile nature of the lanterns I have created.

Inspiring inkwell 
Artist statement - Krista Dalby
I was drawn to focus on objects in Reverend Macaulay’s study because this room is a private one, devoted to personal work and reflection. Being a writer, I was easily charmed by the quill in the inkwell; I’ve often thought that you would have to be very serious about writing to use such tools. I chose to create a Bible because it was an object which would have figured prominently in the reverend’s life. I thought it would work well as a lantern, being lit from within, as I imagine his belief in God might have done for him. As my final object of inspiration I chose the clock on the mantle. Wandering through the house you are struck by the sense of time, the lives that have lived in these rooms and handled these antiquities. As the clock was so ornate I couldn’t hope to emulate its details, opting instead to add the Latin phrase Tempus Fugit, “time flies,” a poignant inscription often found on clocks.
Bible, Inkwell and Clock by Krista Dalby
Detail of clock by Krista Dalby, "Tempus Fugit"
Chrissy Poitras with boots
Artist Statement - Chrissy Poitras
We entered through the back door into the winter kitchen. A fire was built and a pop-up studio was created. Memories of class trips and Christmas visits with my family came back to me while we walked through the house and peeked in all the rooms. There were so many objects to appreciate and spaces to inspire, but I was quickly attracted to the two-tone leather children's boots, with the tiny little buttons, sitting on the trunk at the foot of the bed. These boots inspired me to focus on fashion, including the top hat that could have belonged to Mr. Macaulay and the bonnet, perhaps similar to one owned by his wife or daughter. As we sat by the fire, drinking coffee, chatting and building our lanterns I started to realize that these accessories also spoke about family. This association seemed fitting as it related back to my nostalgic feelings upon entering the house. Once the structures of my lanterns were completed I brought them home to my studio on County Rd. 5 where I hand-painted and printed monoprints onto Japanese rice paper for the covering of the lanterns. I appreciated being able to interact with a space that was part of my past in a way that truly connects to my present.

Chrissy Poitras with boots, bonnet and top hat lanterns
Detail of top hat by Chrissy Poitras
Hri Neil outside Macaulay House
Artist Statement - Hri Neil
My piece, Tree House, is a meditation on the relationship between the grandeur of the Macaulay House in juxtaposition to the majesty and isolation of the natural world where it was situated. Set and setting, it's hard for us to imagine the sense of isolation the early settlers would have felt as they engaged the wilds of Canada, struggling to establish an outpost of civilization in what was primarily raw forest at the time. Winds rattling the windows and the shadows of trees dancing in moonlight. Tradition and the vestiges of God and culture holding fast with only a thin skin of wood and brick as a bulwark against the quiet mystery of nature. A home amongst the trees.

Tree House by Hri Neil (click to play video)

Having the opportunity to work in this beautiful historic home was really wonderful, and as artists we appreciated this unique challenge of merging the historical and the contemporary. Our lanterns should be on display for at least the next month, so if you're in the area, stop by Macaulay House and check them out!

Breakfast at Macaulay's by Milé Murtanovski
We weren't the only artists to hone in on this beautiful spot; Milé painted a door depicting both the exterior of the house as well as a scene in the dining room. The door was auctioned off yesterday, with the proceeds supporting the Museums of Prince Edward County.

25 April 2013

The Firelight Lantern Festival

It was a full year ago that Susanne Larner approached me with the idea of starting a lantern festival in the County. We didn’t know each other very well at the time*, but she knew that I had a background in producing theatre and festivals; I had, in fact, been a participant in Toronto’s Kensington Market Festival of Lights for a number of years, so I knew exactly what type of magic she was dreaming of conjuring. Susanne’s inspiration was the Illuminaires festival that she'd seen in Vancouver. Although Prince Edward County is known for its abundant creativity, we had no events like this, and Susanne and I agreed it would be a great way to bring our community together.

poster image by Milé Murtanovski
We put out an invitation to some other creative types, and soon we were calling ourselves "The Department of Illumination." Our goal was to light up the place we love.

The Department of Illumination. Back row, L to R: Norman Marland, Nell Casson, Krista Dalby, Shelby Larner, Susanne Larner, Liz Zylstra. Front row: Milé Murtanovski, Chrissy Poitras, Kyle Topping.
We knew that community engagement would be the heart of our success, so we planned 15 lantern-making workshops throughout the County. There was nowhere we wouldn’t go; we held workshops at a seniors’ home, five library branches, The Bloomfield Centre for Creativity, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Books & Company, Spark Box Studio, and held a special workshop for the Brownies and Guides.

The workshops were an incredible success as more than 300 people turned out to make lanterns with us. We had chosen water as a theme for our festival, although we told people that it was more important for them to express themselves than to stick with the theme. I could relay dozens of stories from these workshops, but one of my favourites is of a father who came to drop off his son. The dad decided to stay for a few minutes to help, and before he knew it, was deeply involved in constructing his own lantern and stayed all afternoon. When his wife called to find out if he was on his way home, he responded "Are you kidding? This is more fun then I've had in months."

Workshop at Emmanuel Baptist Church
Back at Small Pond Arts, the lanterns were piling up…

Most people took their lanterns home, but we made 40+ more to display in libraries and shop windows, and to sell at the festival for those who hadn’t had a chance to make their own.

The day of the festival arrived. Our plan was to gather at Benson Park with some entertainment on site, parade down Main Street to Delhi Park, where we’d have music performances, a shadow puppetry play and light installations to explore. Unfortunately, the weather was ridiculously cold and windy, so we decided to move the festival indoors. We’d had the foresight to rent the charming Picton Town Hall for just such a purpose.
Photo by Phil Norton
We spent the afternoon decorating and setting up the hall. People started arriving early, and they just kept pouring through the doors. Young and old carried lanterns that they’d made at our workshops or at home, ranging from simple to sophisticated, but everyone beamed with the pride of showing off what they’d made with their own two hands.
Kate MacNaughton, photo by Ramesh Pooran
Photo by Kelly Roblin
Then the entertainment began. There was a belly-dancer…
Teresa Burton, photo by Ramesh Pooran
And there was music…

Melissa Larkin and D'Ari Pouyat, photo by Sam Serrano
The wind let up a bit and there was an impromptu and wildly joyful parade around the block.

Photo by Sam Serrano
Photo by Phil Norton
There were drummers...

Photo by Phil Norton
Milé walked around on stilts (apparently “For the glory of Picton!”)…

Milé Murtanovski, photo by Norman Markland
Then we performed the shadow play that I’d written for the occasion, The Monster of Lake on the Mountain.

There was a black light tent…

Photo by Phil Norton
A “Make a Wish” station…

There was more music, and a giant puppet...

Chris Bonham-Carter, photo by Phil Norton
And finally, a little sing-along…

All in all, it made for a most memorable evening in our small town.

Photo by Phil Norton
Thank you to the DOZENS of volunteers who made this happen, and to the HUNDREDS of people who came out to revel in our community’s collective creativity!

Thanks to our sponsors and supporters: Books & Company, Bloomfield Centre for Creativity, County of Prince Edward Public Libraries, Kelly’s Shop, Picton Home Hardware, Picton Recreation Committee, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #78 and Spark Box Studio.

Krista Dalby and Susanne Larner
*through plotting and planning this festival, Susanne and I became good friends, and last November, we even wound up traveling to Ghana together! But that's another story...