Saturday, May 30, 2009

Heavenly Scent

I went for a glorious evening walk along the shore of Lake Washington yesterday while I waited for Isobel's dance class to finish. The Rhododendron hedges in the Denny Blaine neighborhood are huge and spectacular. But it was this shrub that stopped me in my tracks. Or rather, it was the smell of this shrub. It hit me before I had turned the corner of the street and I followed my nose, sniffing like a puppy until I found the source of the beautiful scent. I must have looked quite funny or possibly drunk. Can anyone tell me what it is? It looks sort of like a lilac.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Agouti is Happy to Live by the Sea

It seems to take me a long time to finish things these days, including this painting started when I got back from Mexico in March. Henry and I visited the Yucatan and had a wonderful time in the warm sun hunting for coral stones and swimming. I felt so good, being away temporarily from the cold and clouds that I wanted to paint that feeling.

This is an agouti which is cute animal that looks like a cat-sized gerbil that we see every time we go down there.

We swam in a coral lagoon and searched the beach for amazing coral stones. I was fascinated as I had never seen coral before.

I don't know what these plants are called but they were growing wild on the beach and the sunshine turned them to red and gold. I made a regal bower for the agouti who is feeling very pleased to be living by the Caribbean sea.

This painting is oil on three panels and measures 9"x36".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Visit to Mum and Dad's Garden

My parents have the energy of twenty-year olds and they achieve as much as twenty twenty-year olds. As well as working tirelessly to preserve the native environment in the parks near their home they tend their own garden with a passion that exhausts me just thinking about it. Yes, they are a hard act to follow. They are also a great gardening resource for me and I phone my mother whenever I have gardening questions - which is frequently.

I visited my mum and dad last weekend and took some pictures in their gorgeous woodland garden in West Vancouver. I was astonished to hear mum describe these peonies as her favorite flower as I assumed that her plants are like her children. She loves us all the same, right? Mum - you will have to remind me what this peony is and I will post it here. In fact, once you see this blog post you can tell me what all these plants are, one more time, and I will add their names.

Mum described the interior of this peony as a "jester's hat" which is great! She made sure I understood that she loves these plants as much for their perfect foliage as for their perfect flowers.

My mother loves ferns and told me this was something special, I think, right mum?

I remember this fern had a name something like "Fishtail" which is delightful.

This fern has an amazing greyish blue color that was so pretty with the fallen rhododendron blossoms.

A native columbine whose name will be posted here in a day or two.

My dad had just finished cutting back a huge laurel hedge and had turned the branches into firewood for our Christmas fireplace. We grew up with a couple of wood stoves in our New Brunswick house. Old habits die hard.

Dad's mason bee condos on the side of the house.

Dad's pots of tulips.

The house and garden from across the koi pond.

The patio and bbq area.

Happy gardeners.

My parents were environmentalists even before such a term existed. We were raised on home grown organic vegetables and I am so glad to see that the rest of the world is (slowly) catching up with this far sighted and conscientious way of thinking. Thanks Mum and Dad. You rock!

25 May update
Mum writes:

The fishtail fern is Dryopteris filix-mas 'Cristata'.
The other fern is nothing special but I love the way the fronds open in little knobs. It's Polystichum setiferum.
The peony is Paeonia obovata.
The blueish fern is Japanese painted lady-fern. Athyrium nipponicum I think there are a few new varieties.
The native columbine is Aquilegia formosa.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Sun Never Sets

Nostalgia for the British Empire is one of my most politically incorrect traits. I know that the days when the sun never set on the "pink parts of the map" were days of racism and injustice. Untold horrors occured in the name of Imperialism and I am not saying, of course, that I feel nostalgic for those things. I am talking, instead, about a nostalgia felt by an expat Canadian living in the United States for things Victorian and things that remind me of my Commonwealth upbringing. I miss the kinship of Commonwealth that made me feel connected to little girls growing up in London or Australia or India. Many of our parents had coronation tea cups and Queen's Jubilee tea towels. (Our parents all drank tea!) Many of us ate Jaffa Cakes and Tate and Lyles and used Sunlight soap. I am still drawn to people who know what these things are. We had pictures of the Queen in our schools and family mementos that combined the British flag with local emblems (as in this rug, above, from my friend Jo Jo's house in Halifax). This shows Canadian maple leaves but there could just as easily be kangaroos beside the Union Jack, or lions or elephants, depending on which part of the world we called home.

For those of us who grew up in the Commonwealth there was a feeling of a shared culture that stretched, as the Kinks say in their song " Victoria", from "Canada to India and Australia to Cornwall" This song illustrates my own ambivalence to the British Empire - love and hate, fondness and disgust.

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

I was born, lucky me
In a land that I love

Though I am poor, I am free
When I grow I shall fight
For this land I shall die
Let her sun never set
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

Land of hope and gloria
Land of my victoria
Land of hope and gloria
Land of my victoria
Victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria

Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the west to the east
From the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all
Victoria, victoria, victoria, toria
Victoria, victoria, victoria

There was also an aspect to British Imperialism that embraced the vastness of the earth and its varied material cultures. I was reminded of the positive side of this cosmopolitan attitude while visiting Jo Jo and her mum Mary in Eastern Canada. Their lovely Victorian houses are full of gorgeous objects that reflect a passion for travel and for history.

Cushions on a day bed in Jo Jo's house

Mary's house

Embroidery from Greece

Cushions brought back from a recent trip to Morocco

Victorian craftsmanship ensured that even the baseboard around a door was a thing of beauty.

A Victorian staircase meets twenty-first Century family life.

Looking down the stairs to a couple of soccer balls on the ground floor.

The children's bathroom sink.

Images from Jo Jo's kitchen.

Victorian ruins are embraced in Mary's garden

I have a childhood memory of my father explaining to me that Queen Victoria's birthday didn't really fall at the end of May but that she was such a good and thoughtful Queen that she allowed her subjects to celebrate her birthday when the weather was nice and everyone could go outside for a picnic. I am sure this is an apocryphal memory as my father is no monarchist, but it is rather sweet. Happy Victoria Day everyone!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Magic on the Marshes

I have been away for a few days visiting my friend in Maritime Canada where we spent a wonderful Mother's Day in New Brunswick. We stayed with her mum in the family home, a beautiful old Victorian house on the Tantramar Marshes. While exploring a road that ran toward an island in the marsh we saw this sight ahead of us.

It was a mother fox with her five babies. She wasn't afraid of us at all and we managed to get quite close.

It was magical! The babies were the sweetest little creatures in the world and I especially loved the tiny white tip on their tails, a smaller version of their mother's. The sweet little angel below had just finished gnawing on some poor dead animal and you can see the blood on its cheek. Oh nature! Just when I get too anthropomorphic and warm and fuzzy I am always reminded of that nasty and amazing circle of life.

The wet marsh land was home to many cat tails, which looked a lot like ginger fox fur to me.

My friend Jo Jo with her amazing rubber boots covered in strawberries.

The sun streaming through the kitchen window with the marshes beyond. Lunch was waiting. What a wonderful Mother's Day - for foxes and humans.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stone and a Rainy Day

I watched Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" the other night with my daughter who will be acting in the play this summer. Though the movie was made in 1968 it didn't seem dated. Amazing. I think that part of the reason it looked so contemporary was that hairstyles in 1968 were exactly the same as they are today. Young Leonard Whiting playing Romeo was a dead ringer for Chase Crawford or Zac Efron or one of those young heart throbs. The other reason it didn't seem dated was, of course, that it was so beautifully made.

I mention the movie because I have been thinking about stone this week. Zeffirelli shot so many beautiful scenes in Italian towns rich with Renaissance stonework and cobbled streets. At times I enjoyed the scenery as much at the dialogue. I love European stonework, from the dry stone walls of Northern England to the ochre colored crumbling plaster of Bologna. Here in the Pacific Northwest we tend to use wood to build our houses and garden walls but I have some stone elements in my garden.

There is a slate patio in the front of my house,wet with rain as I photographed it today.

There are concrete steps into which my children left their hand prints and which have the added decoration of fallen cherry petals in todays rain storm.

There is a brick patio behind my house which grows wonderful moss in the cracks between each brick. To an ant (or pillbug) this moss is a giant hedgerow.

My terracotta plant pots must wish they were back in sunny Italy instead of damp and mossy Seattle.

I have been thinking about stone and using it for inspiration on a mural commissioned by a corporate client. They wanted a list of slogans and words about communication and they requested a distressed look. I thought of old Italian walls glowing with layers of ochres and umbers and burnt sienna. I prepared the canvases with various textures simulating stone and years of history.

We artists always enjoy a little bit of subversion so this admonition toward authenticity painted on a faux Italian wall makes me smile.

My client likes things old and Italian, as do I, so she seemed pleased with the end result of this mural. I recommeded that she watch Romeo and Juliet and we hummed the theme song together.