26 June 2015

Peter Paylor and another Sticky Story

Earlier this month Belleville sculptor Peter Paylor undertook a 1-week artist residency at Small Pond. He showed up with his tools and started looking around the farm for inspiration.

He quickly found it in a stack of old cedar rails. Soon the cedar shavings were piling up on the barn floor, perfuming the air with that fresh-hamster-cage smell.

He was working on something… something big!

During Peter’s stay I was hosting a Creative Rural Minds event at nearby Loch Sloy; Peter came along and did a carving demonstration.

Here's Peter with part of his finished sculpture, Community. It is built from eight pieces of  cedar rail fence found on the property; it forms a single piece representing a community of ravens. Behind him you can see another carved fence rail he left as a gift to Small Pond. 

But Peter had one more gift to give us. It was a story. I recorded his telling of the story one night over dinner:

“It was the first Stickfest, in 2010 (an annual festival at Small Pond). I sat at the firepit and I was carving a piece of Hesperus (one of our trees that had fallen down), and Lisa sat down and started twisting some wire and making some jewelry. Another woman came and sat down and started knitting, and eventually the circle was filled with people, but we didn’t know anybody. I was introduced to this young kid, who was maybe about 13 at the time, and I was told that he did some carving, and he was curious about me carving this stick. I asked him if he’d ever carved sumac before. He hadn’t, and I had a sumac talking stick in the car so I got it and we talked about carving sumac."

"The woman sitting beside me asked about the stick and I said that it was a talking stick and told her that they’re used in groups and sometimes used in storytelling circles, and I said since you’re holding it, why don’t you tell us a story? Without hesitation she did. She told this cool story, and it was about a tree. And then she passed it to the person sitting beside her, it was a young guy, and he told a story about falling out of a tree; there were a couple of tree stories. There was a very young kid, and I thought that there’s no way that the stick is going to get to him and beyond him, but sure enough he had this great story. All the time this was going on there was a woman sitting there, and again, we didn’t know anybody. She was sitting there signing (American Sign Language). We weren’t sure if she was signing to someone. It turns out it was Mary Tiessen who we’ve since become friends with and she was actually signing for her husband, Jeff, who was sitting beside her."

"When Mary passed the stick to Jeff she signed to explain the whole process of what had been going on and he grabbed the stick and held it against his chest and thought for minute and put the stick down on his lap, and out of his hands and amazing expressive face and out of Mary’s mouth came this beautiful story about how he had gone diving with his father when he was a kid and they had this shore lunch and they had stopped in this cove and it was the most beautiful place they’d ever seen and wouldn’t it be great if we could build a cabin here one day and they thought about it and they went to the province of Newfoundland and they negotiated for years and actually bought this crown land and they actually built the cabin. It was a beautiful story, people were in tears, I was in tears. Then when he was done he got so excited he started giving thumbs up and jumping up and down, and he rushed over and hugged me. And all day at Stickfest he kept giving me thumbs up and hugging me. I asked Mary later, it seems a bit much…? and she said: he never gets to tell a story."

"That was my favourite moment of when I got to use one of my own talking sticks. I actually told this story to one of the organizers of the Ottawa Storytellers’ Group, and last I heard they were planning on arranging a storytelling circle for the Deaf.”

Incredibly, this was the first time we’d heard this story, which happened almost five years ago. It makes me think of the impact you can have on someone’s life when you give them an opportunity to express themselves. And at the heart of it, that is what Small Pond is all about.

After hearing Peter's story, I dug through my photos.
This photo is from Stickfest 2010, and this is some of the
circle of people described in his story.

21 June 2015

Boxtopia Circus at Skeleton Park

Over the past seven years I've been making these ridiculously large cardboard installations. It all started when Milé and I were backpacking around Europe and we came across a street fair in Lucerne, Switzerland. There were a bunch of large boxes set out in the street, and as I watched the kids run around them, I was like... *YES!* 

I brought the idea back to Toronto and Clay & Paper Theatre, where building these installations became a part of the annual Day of Delight Festival, a tradition which the festival continues.

2015: Boxtopia Circus comes to Skeleton Park, Kingston
Three years ago I started making this "creative cardboard kingdom for kids" at Skeleton Park Arts Festival in Kingston. With each project, Boxtopia has grown increasingly elaborate, but this year really took the cake, mostly because I collaborated with three other fantastic artists: Chrissy Poitras, Nella Casson and Kevin Merritt, with the assistance of some great volunteers, Laura Miller and Holly Gilmour.

We started with a theme: the circus! My crackerjack crew had lots of brilliant ideas to bring to the table, and kids and adults just ate it up. There was a midway with several games, and of course a concession which sold cardboard popcorn. Everything was going so smoothly...

Chrissy merchandises the cardboard popcorn.

Until a competitor opened right next door offering cardboard ice cream in three flavours, all for just one cent each!

There was a fortune teller, which provided some hilarious eavesdropping opportunities...

"You will live in a cardboard box... much like this one..."

Kevin and Holly made all these awesome characters which were dotted around Boxtopia and the rest of the park...

...and they made cardboard hats and costumes with some of the kids...

... including this sweet little robot...

Nell and Laura ran the craft zone, where kids could make shakers or animal hats...

And my proudest creation was a "photo booth." You would enter the booth and draw the curtain. Someone would sit across from you and draw your picture... it could be a friend, stranger or sibling, a kid or an adult.

After a few minutes of processing, your 'photo' would come out the slot...

Presto! Your custom-made Skeleton Park souvenir.

There was a "colouring zone" where kids could could express themselves...

... including leaving us funny messages:

Occasionally Milé would fly by on his new jetpack...

... and the ladies on the trapeze were always swinging overhead.

It was a fun and busy place to be...

... with moments of pure magic happening all around us.

My heartiest thanks to the fabulous crew that brought this corrugated wonderland to Skeleton Park:

L to R: Laura Miller, Chrissy Poitras, Krista Dalby, Holly Gilmour, Kevin Merritt, Nella Casson

I had so much fun with all of you... when can we do it again?

Additional thanks goes out to my mom, Felix, Nora and Kate for their contributions.