Thursday, October 18, 2012

Further Reminiscences

Though there is much news on the 'art' front, it will have to wait till my next post. Because today I am feeling nostalgic about my Taiwan visit. There is a story I have not had an opportunity to share, and it is one of those experiences that when I am old and grey (okay, older and greyer), I will pull out and wrap myself in like a warm fuzzy blanket.

As if the whole magical TIQE experience weren't enough, there was a component that took it over the top. I mean, who wouldn't revel in a week of luxury hotel, fabulous meals, stunning artwork and being surrounded by the warmest, most caring people in an exotic locale? But there was one extra element that cinched it as a Top Ten in my memory bank. And that is the connection with the artists themselves. I grew up with two brothers, but I left Taiwan a member of an incredible new family - I have sisters!

I know Patricia Gould well from our many SAQA connections over the years, but it was wonderful to have time to share thoughts on computers and technology gadgets, with which she is a whiz. She introduced me to eWallet, and if you have trouble remembering all your usernames and passwords, it is a godsend. Always laughing, she was great fun to spend time with.

Though I had met Misik Kim from Korea last year in Houston and she is in my Viewpoints 9 group, I finally had a chance to get to know her better, and she is delightful. She is very much the embodiment of her artwork: calm and composed, graceful, with a depth that quietly commands respect and attention. Still waters run deep.

I had met Hsin-Chen Lin in Houston, and was charmed by her warmth and energy, but those same qualities were multiplied exponentially when I watched her in action in Tainan City. It took my breath away to witness her creations--and I don't just mean her stunning art quilts: landscapes filled with colour and movement, and all done BY HAND (her constant rejoinder to me as we strolled the exhibition and I oohed and ahhed over the breathtaking work). No, she organized an event so complex and flawless that I was
mesmerized.Every detail had been carefully planned, organized and executed - the visiting artists wanted for nothing (transportation, student kits, translators, workshops, meals, tours, gifts); the workshops ran like clockwork in a beautiful space, with bento box lunches and bubble tea provided midday; the seminar was superbly organized with all the equipment--mic's, remotes,

projector--working perfectly; the banquet was sumptuous and we were whisked to and from our hotel swiftly and efficiently. Her wonderful daughter Pei (who must feature in a blog post on her own) and sweet husband, Mr. Wu, played prominent roles in helping things run smoothly and making us all feel at home. And through it all, Hsin-Chen smiled, she laughed, and she put everyone at ease. The French have a name for women like her: formidable!
I could not believe my luck in finding Aussie Sue Dennis just a couple of

rooms down the hall from me. She, too, I had met at a SAQA conference in Athens and she is in my Viewpoints9 online group. We became fast friends, and if you've met her, you know why: her wicked sense of humour and frankness make you feel instantly like you've known her for years. I had the good fortune to sit in on her leaf-printing class and can see why she is a much sought-after instructor. There is never a dull minute with Sue and I hope to visit with her after my teaching gig in New Zealand (which is still two years off, but exciting to plan for).

My final reminiscence is about Jin Yuanshan (We called her Ms Jin as none

of the anglos could pronounce her first name properly!) Hsin-chen had shown me her stunning work in the exhibition before I met her, but when she showed up at the hotel, it felt as though we had been friends all our lives.

There was an instant connection with this very talented artist. Her impeccable attention to detail and precision was evident in her astonishing quilt made of floral medallions where each petal was made of hand-rolled silk organza. She astonished us all when she presented each of us with a brooch, a ring and matching earrings made using this technique. We think she must never sleep! I have many group photos where all the artists are proudly showing off our colourful jewelry. She showed both Sue and me how to roll the petals, and we managed one each - it would take many years for me to make enough to make one blossom!
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I'm a terrible blogger.  I admit it.  But look on the bright side: if you're a subscriber, I'm not annoying you with constant updates filling your Inbox.  So that's better: yes, I'm a Thoughtful Blogger.

I've been asked by several friends to please say more about my trip to Taiwan, even though it was more than a month ago and seems a dream. I have to say this: it was the experience of a lifetime.  The entire time I was there, I was spoiled rotten - truly -  treated like royalty.  I tell you, it was a rude shock to return home and be expected to cook dinner, scrub sinks, and go to work.

The Taiwan International Quilt Exhibition, as many of you know, is organized by Hsin-Chen Lin, and I have never attended a better-organized event in my life.  She thought of everything, and as one of the guest artists, I returned home with a suitcase full of memorabilia: a stunning exhibition catalogue - glossy, full-colour, with artist essays and everything meticulously categorized; even a sheet of postage stamps designed for the TIQE. In the photo to the right you will also see some beautiful Taiwanese fabric they gave us.  Too pretty to cut into, I'm afraid.
My very first evening, we went out for an amazing sushi dinner and I was given these beautiful mugs - the handles, when touching one another, are the symbol for "double happiness" often used in weddings, so for me they now represent my connection to Taiwan and I smile every time I look at them in my kitchen.  Usually washing dishes.  I guess I will have to start using Joy detergent.  haha

I cannot begin to imagine the months/years of preparation for this exhibition, and everything went so smoothly.  The exhibition itself took up two floors in the cultural centre (you can see a photo if you look at my previous post). We guest artists each taught two workshops - mine were portraits and landscapes.  Look what a beautiful job my students did with their landscapes (a la Group of Seven).

Here are the wonderful staff (with Hsin-chen and my fabulous translator, Sherry, in the middle) who helped to make sure everything ran smoothly.  You couldn't ask for a sweeter bunch of people.  Helpful, friendly, always smiling.  I wanted to bring them all home with me. Aren't they cute?

And group shots? Oh yes, I have several dozen.  I am sure some will make their way into this blog in time as certain memories come back.  This particular one was taken the day of the seminar where we all gave powerpoint presentations.  From L to R: Yuan Shuan Jin (China), me (Canada), Patricia Gould (USA), Misik Kim (Korea) and Sue Dennis (Australia). What a wonderful bunch of women and the fact that they're so talented too is quite sensational.  It was so much fun touring Tainan with them and enjoying all the whole experience!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Having a Ball in Tainan!

Off to tour Tainan City! Here are some photos of the incredible experience so far - making wonderful friends and eating amazing food. You don't need descriptions, right? If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is an essay on my stay so far! You will think I've done nothing but dine in fabulous restaurants, but that has been the only time I had to stop and take photos!

Arrival at the stunning airport

Who knew I was about to make a fantastic new friend? My driver was Pei, Hsin-Chen's daughter. I want to bring her home with me - she is tons of fun!

Location:Tainan City, Taiwan

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Taiwan International Quilt Exhibition

I leave in ten days for an amazing adventure.  I will be one of the featured artists and am teaching two cheesecloth workshops in Tainan City in Taiwan.  It will be exciting to visit Taiwan again and I am thrilled to be able to get together with the other featured artists, friends from SAQA: Sue Dennis, Pat Gould and Misik Kim.  The organizer of this outstanding event is Hsin-Chen Lin, and I am excited to be able to see her beautiful work in person.

I have two pieces in the exhibition, one of them Nereids, which the purchaser generously agreed to ship overseas for me. This means he will be without the work in his home for many months - and he would not allow me to reimburse him for the shipping costs.  I am so blessed to have such a kind friend and such an ardent supporter of the arts and artists.

The other piece is entitled Inuit Lament and is a commentary on the effects of pollution and global warming on the Arctic Ocean.  What a sad irony that the traditional livelihood of the Inuit peoples, based on respect for the natural ecosystems in their environment, should be threatened primarily by pollution caused by the rest of the world. Sensitive arctic marine ecosystems are at risk and I have depicted their fragility by attaching them only with some lines of stitching - they could easily be ripped from the quilt.  The cheesecloth portrait is from a photograph from the McCord Museum by Bob Stewart entitled "Inuit man, Port Harrison, QC, 1920-21."  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Oh my goodness - for those of you who have been following my adventures (and especially for those of you who have been teasing me about not finding anything on my blog recently), I owe a huge apology and know I have a big IOU to make good on.  Only lack of time would prevent me from keeping this blog up to date.  I have been keeping very busy since Sarajevo and it's time to show you some of what has been occupying me!

Let's get the first IOU out of the way - I've even had emails asking about my daughter's prom dress. Did it end up looking like Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy dress?  I'll let you decide:
We were quite taken with the back, which her boyfriend's "Nonna" altered, turning the neck from a rounded edge into a V-neck and adding a beautiful dupioni silk bow.  So all that searching in vintage stores in Toronto paid off. We finally lucked out at 69 Vintage on Queen St W if you are ever hunting for something cool like this.  The owner, Kealan, helped us out and I hope she likes what we ended up with.  My daughter looked very elegant and now has a lovely summer dress.  Happy ending.

Around the same time, sadly, we lost our beloved golden retriever, Wilson, who was suffering with Cushing's Disease.  It didn't take my daughter long to pay a visit to his breeder and lo and behold, didn't he have some puppies ready to come home!  :)  So puppy training has taken over our home and who has time to grieve when dealing with the energy levels of a puppy!

Next post, I'll catch you up on my creative adventures!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Leaving Sarajevo Is Hard To Do

Got our cab at 4am and headed to the airport. But as we pulled up at the entrance, the cabbie sighed and said something like "Pay." We wondered why he didn't drive in, till we saw a Security van blocking the entrance. We paid, got our luggage out of the cab and started to walk across the parking lot toward the airport but the guard stopped us. "Pay," he barked. Was this some sort of bribery situation? No, it became apparent the airport was closed! (I'll have to look up 'closed' in my Bosnian dictionary later.)

So we sat on the chilly pavement and waited for the airport to open at 5am. Austerity measures, we presume.

Now we are sitting in the Business Lounge (which is a room with a few sofas and a fridge) as we wait for our 6:30 flight to Zagreb (where I will post this if they have wifi). Travelling can be such an adventure. Who knew leaving Sarajevo would be so difficult?

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Location:Airport, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Winding Down

In a considerably lighter vein from my last post, I am relaxing in true holiday fashion on my last day in Sarajevo. I am a little embarrassed by the decadent tone of this entry - please be assured this is NOT my usual style of living; I took photos because it was such an uncharacteristic experience for me.
Let's step back in time to yesterday, when we rose at 6 am to meet our driver who would take us to some of the beautiful sights (and sites) in Bosnia and neighbouring Croatia. We were in Ston by lunchtime and went a short distance to Mali Ston where we dined on the most exquisite grilled calamari I have ever tasted, fresh oysters, salmon pate with freshly baked bread, and seafood and black cuttlefish risotto. Washed down with a Bosnian white wine. This is living!

From there, we passed through a few passport checkstops, and on to Dubrovnic. What a city! My photos are on my DSLR camera, but I suspect I will want to post a few memories after my return to Canada. It was hot, sunny, and delightful. If it isn't called the Jewel of the Adriatic, it should be. En route home, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant that specializes in grilled lamb. Specializes? That's all they have. It was a little unnerving to see the meat of the whole animals being slowly grilled on spits over glowing wood coals (apologies to vegans in the group) but the carnivore in me managed to overlook this aspect of meal preparation and we tasted the most succulent meat served with roast potatoes and a delightfully refreshing cole slaw - not drenched with dressing as it usually is.

My daughter, sadly, had picked up her dad's cold and went through half a dozen packages of tissue on our drive (which we  have only found with an odd violet fragrance) so today she is recovering in bed while I sit on the terrace. Soft music is playing, people are sipping cold beverages and quietly chatting. This is very much NOT my standard mode of living, but it is incredibly relaxing and I am soaking up every minute. I am reminded of my father's favourite rejoinder to decadent treats, "Beulah, peel me a grape."

I just ordered an iced coffee expecting something like a Starbucks iced latte and look what I got!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cherishing My Good Fortune

My visit to this city has been an incredible eye-opener. I knew very little about the history of the area before coming here - that the Winter Olympics were held here in 1984, that there had been a civil war from 1992-95, and that it was regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe - even winning the Lonely Planet's top city to visit ... anywhere ... in 2010.

With all the charm of other European capitals, Sarajevo is understandably a popular destination. It is most definitely walkable, with great shops, intriguing markets, and a café on every corner.  Everyone smokes! And they smoke everywhere: cafes, restaurants, hotel lobbies, even in stores. It's an affordable destination: we noted the city has a decided café mentality - when you can have two fabulous coffees, meat strudels, and spectacular pastries and cakes for a mere $6, well, who wouldn't linger?  OK, I don't, because of the incessant smoke, but you could sit all day and people-watch if you were so inclined. And many were.

But we wanted to know more about the history, and to understand the uneasy peace that exists in a city where Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Roma and more live side by side. So my daughter and I took what is known as a "dark tour." A guide and his driver took us on a wide-ranging four-hour drive that took us up in the hills where the snipers had set up during the war, to the "Tunnel of Life" (that's a photo of me sitting on ammunition cases, after watching a video of the building of the tunnel) to the sad remains of the Olympic bobsled run to the Jewish cemetery now sadly in ruins to the Olympic stadium now overlooking two very large cemeteries filled with those slain during the war.
We struggled to understand how armed forces could launch shells at apartment buildings and schools and the city library and how snipers could pick off unarmed civilians lining up for bread. Our guide showed us this retirement home riddled with bullet holes - even as he described the disintegration of the warring factions of the time, he patiently explained that it was not a case of man being evil, merely men following the orders of evil men. When the soldiers were given 2,000 rounds of ammunition and told their shift was not over till all the bullets had been shot in town, they would come to a deserted building like this and use up all their ammunition there.

Still, even with that hopeful story, there is the story of the Russian poet (a poet!) named Liminov, who joined the Serb troops in the hills, took a rifle and allowed himself to be filmed shooting those defenseless civilians, and claiming with pride, "I know I hit some." And he has gone unpunished. It boggles the mind. I checked my facts and saw the video for myself on Vimeo.

What gets me is the juxtaposition of this heavily shelled building and the modern hotel right next door, 17 years after the war. Now there are so many political parties involved in making decisions, they are paralyzed as they can achieve consensus on nothing, and corruption abounds. So nothing gets repaired. Outside groups, Russian, Arab, and others, circle like vultures, buying property and lying in wait to take advantage. I felt helpless by the end of the tour, filled with sadness for the people who endured such hardship during the war with little help from the outside world. And I felt incredibly privileged to come from Canada, a land of peacekeepers and freedom.

It will take me a good length of time to be able to digest all I learned today.

Tomorrow, a trip to Dubrovnik, then a last day in Sarajevo and then home.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Decompressing in Sarajevo

It's been awhile between posts, so boy, do I have a lot to share. My apologies for being such an unreliable correspondent.
Much has occupied my time, and I will begin with the artwork, as that is what so many of you look for. :) I get it. I love to see new creations too!
Let's start with the teaser I posted so many months ago. I have named the piece "Unspoken" - because we are often reluctant to speak about the homeless and because as I look at his face, I see so much written there that I am sure he has never spoken about.

This piece is based on a photograph by the very talented Leland Bobbe of New York. I came across his work online and when I saw the photo of this fellow, Frank, I wrote to Leland and received his permission to recreate his incredible photo in cheesecloth.

I made the cheesecloth sculpture very quickly but then he spent a considerable length of time hanging around the studio waiting for a backdrop. One day, seized with the moment, I painted a piece of buckram, adding salt ... to represent rain on a windowpane ... or maybe tears ...? He got stitched to that one evening, even though I struggled with how I would finish the piece. I was so uncertain, I packed him up and took him with me to Philadelphia, to the SAQA conference, where I could get the opinions of so many artists I have deep respect for. Well, opinions galore! Quilt it! Mount it! Glue it to canvas! Just put a sleeve on it! And now he sits, stitched to the buckram, waiting for the hanging solution. My current favourite, which must be tested before ruining the piece, is to sew a sleeve to a piece of teal fabric, and fuse it to the back. This may be problematic for rolling around a core and shipping to an exhibition (should it be accepted in one). Experimentation will happen in June. He is 25 x 37".

I am incredibly honoured to have been selected as one of six Feature artists at the Taiwan International Quilt Exhibition in Tainan City this August. My eldest son, Matt, has been living in Taipei for the past year, and I visited him in March, so how ironic that he is returning to Canada at the end of June and I won't be able to visit him when I travel there again! I will be teaching two workshops there: one, my cheesecloth portraits, and the other, cheesecloth landscapes. One of the requirements of the visit was an essay on Nature and Art in Art Quilts for the proceedings publication, so, being Canadian, my thoughts turned to our own Group of Seven artists, who developed a distinctively Canadian style of painting the landscape almost 100 years ago. I wrote the essay and designed my own landscape, using cheesecloth for the solitary tree, and for a few grasses, using the style developed by this groundbreaking group. It is 18" square.

I am delighted to report that after returning from Philadelphia, where I was surprised by at the Art Quilt Elements opening to learn that I was receiving the Heartstrings Award for "Memories of Gombe," I received a phone call from the gallery informing me that my piece had sold. This kind of validation is important to every artist, but I do confess an unanticipated pang upon learning she wouldn't be returning to my home, but had instead gone to a new one. I have exchanged a couple of emails with the new owners, which has reduced the sense of loss as I know she is appreciated in her new home.
That is my Catch-up time for today! More exciting details of my adventures tomorrow.
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Location:Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzogovina

Monday, April 23, 2012

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig!

Back home from Toronto, and I've hit the ground running.

For regular readers of this blog, you know I was in Toronto with my daughter on a mission: the perfect prom dress.  Well, we went to every vintage store in Toronto.  We found a possible candidate at the very first store on Day 1;  it was the perfect style, the desired cream colour, and looked fabulous, but too large and we would have to wait for the seamstress to make it in her size ... and then I saw the price tag, which made me choke: $600. Also, it had no lace and was merely a copy of a vintage style.  So we kept shopping till dinner time.  No luck, though my daughter did pick up all kinds of wonderful vintage accessories: a box purse, a wallet, shoes, etc.  But no dress.  We went to the theatre that night and saw War Horse - spectacular!  If you go, take Kleenex.

Next morning, cool and rainy, as we waited for the streetcar on Queen Street, I saw a penny on the ground.  I reminded my daughter, "Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck." She scoffed until I reminded her we were on an important quest. Penny got picked up in no short order.  First shop we entered, I found a dress buried in the racks that seemed to fit the bill: ivory, sleeveless, lacy, and very inexpensive ... when she tried it on, and I went to zip it up, worried it might be too small, it was like it was made for her.  Success!  I am not permitted to post a photo of THE dress yet, and there may be some slight alteration - shortening and/or creating a low back - but I promise to post a photo on prom night.  A month away.

First on my agenda is to make a piece for the Viewpoints 9 challenge.  Here is what I am trying to respond to:   Or you can "Like" our Facebook page and follow our adventures that way.  This Thursday is the Big Reveal!  Wish me luck!