If there is was one thing about living in a small town that I would change…I think it would be to add a book store. One of the musts on any trek to the ‘city’ is to check out, wander through and linger in a book store. Edmonton has some gems…Greenwoods topping my list. Anyone listening to CBC Radio and their book reviews has undoubtedly listened to Laurie Greenwood weave the wonder of reading into every interview. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Greenwoods in old Strathcona. And the lineup of author readings is fabulous!
In keeping with the IOTAD vision of building bridges across cultural genres – we approached Laurie to do some video coverage of her authors. Nothing speaks volumes (excuse the pun!) like having the author tell the story personally…how it came to be…where the inspiration came from…like Thomas Trofimuk reading from his newest book ‘Waiting for Columbus’.
Laurie is no stranger to the book industry. When we spoke to her about the history of book selling in Alberta she remembered the time when book ordering was done on paper and faxed to suppliers. This. of course, has changed to on line inventorying and instant orders by email…as well as the technology now that a lot of folks use to order books from their homes…and the big box book stores that have resulted in the demise of many small independent bookstores.
Living in a rural community – I confess – I have purchased books online. And waited impatiently for the arrival of the mail. But nothing compares to standing in a store surrounded by books, chosen for their content – not for their ‘re saleability’. Books chosen to support the authors. Chosen for their intrinsic value…and sold by people who somehow seem to know exactly what book you are talking about!
While traveling to see the art and artists in the province is always a treat we decided this year to get on the Alberta Foundation for the Arts traveling exhibition circuit and grab some wonderful art that usually moves past our ‘door’.
In 1981 this provincial exhibition program was developed to provide every Albertan with the opportunity to see the province’s growing collection which now consists of over 7,000 pieces from more than 1700 artists.
This year we brought silver gelatin photos from the Badlands to town, heritage prints made by reknowned Alberta printmakers like Peter von Tiesenhausen and Margaret Sheldon and rare wildflower watercolours from the first botanical book on Alberta flowers by Annora Brown. Etchings and oils by painters and artists that we would never meet…
And this weekend I await the crate containing 22 photographs by George Webber. I must confess here that I thought I was getting photos taken by the artist George Weber…the man who is mostly known for his serigraphs of the province! But after receiving the overview on the Webber photos I am not disappointed at all.
George Webber has been described as a ‘lyrical poet with a camera’. His photos have appeared in books, Canadian Geographic, Photolife and Swerve. In 1999 he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts for his contributions to the visual arts of Canada. Yet he is still not a household name in Western Canada. This is partly due to his shunning of the spotlight – and very likely partly due to his choice of subject matter. For many in the west – rural dwellers – his photos appear very ordinary, often depicting everyday rural life.
His images are unique, special and ‘very western’. He explores the ‘essence’ of his subject matter – whether it be people or landscape. He is fascinated by the passage of time, the surface and underlying qualities of his subjects. His critiques have come away saying ‘he captures the ethereal qualities of the prairies – the desolation, the loneliness, the immensity – isolation…while incorporating irony and dry wit. He shows the symbiotic bond between people and their environment’. “First people touch the land, then the land touches the people”, Webber says.
As I look out the window this week at the cold October rains, naked trees and encroaching winter I wonder how the images will be interpreted! But isn’t that the sign of great art? To evoke emotion.
It never fails to amaze me how after driving the same highway for over 20 years we can still find new creative things to see on the way home. Often the four hour drive ends up in sleepy silence but this week we got away from the city in daylight and found the time to stop at the Urban Forest Pottery Studio. The smell of fresh rain on autumn leaves and wood smoke were welcome distractions on this much needed break after hours of being in the car. Potters Enzien Kufeld and Christian Barr were home and we got the tour!
They are the perfect example of why our advocacy work for the past 20+ years still keeps us passionate about the artistic process. We have seen their art in several galleries around the province but this brief tourist trek around their world surpassed any gallery visit or exhibition. To stand in their – yes IN – their kiln and imagine four days of stoking the fire to produce 40 foot flames to push through the claywork…mind boggling. Christian compares the firing of the kiln and the flames to water flowing over rocks in a riverbed. The smaller kiln (also woodfired) has a smaller firebox so while it doesn’t require monitoring by several people to keep it stoked – but it does require stoking every few minutes. For days.
‘Wood firing is an ancient technique used in many global cultures and was the first process to reach the high temperatures necessary (1200 to 1300 degrees Celsius is common) to vitrify stoneware and porcelain clays. It is the most labour and time intensive, and most expensive way to fire. With near limitless variables, it presents the most mentally, physically and emotionally challenging firing process. To be a wood-firer one must be passionate about it, as there is no other way to create its result in finishing one’s work.” C.Barr and E.Kufeld
While telling others about the things we find when we travel the province(s) is a lot of fun – we hope you get out and seek these adventures on your own. Let the Arts speak for themselves!