A Good Home, Artists, Authors, Canadian Authors, Canadian Prime Ministers, Northumberland County, Ontario, Portraits, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group

Artist Susan Statham’s Great Year

Blog Photo - Susan Statham in Studio

2017 has been a heck of a year for Susan Statham, and that’s not counting the new arts festival she’s co-chairing in November, or the murder mystery she’s almost completed writing.

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Self Portrait

The Ontario artist – she paints and writes – has produced portraits of 12 of Canada’s prime ministers, a project that required tremendous work.

After thoroughly researching each subject, Susan painted the portrait in her home studio in Northumberland County, east of Toronto.

If you visited her home repeatedly in 2016 and 2017, you’d notice a different prime minister’s portrait on her easel each time.  It was awe-inspiring.

The portraits were commissioned by Galerie Q in Cavan, Ontario, to celebrate Canada’s 150th year as a nation. 

One surprising similarity Susan discovered in ALL of Canada’s prime ministers? They all had blue eyes. (Strange, eh?)

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Robert Borden3

But each portrait is unique.  Susan included cues.  The ‘8’ on Sir Robert Borden’s ring? He was Canada’s 8th PM. Also, a newspaper headline declares the income tax he introduced.  

In PM John Diefenbaker’s portrait, Susan says,  “The Inukshuk represents the opening of the North and the pin on his lapel as the first to sell Canadian wheat to China.”

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Portrait of John Diefenbaker

Canada’s 15th PM, Pierre Trudeau, introduced the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are cues to them in his portrait below.

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Portrait of Trudeau

In some cases, the cue/clue may point to a well-known controversy or personal foibles.

Take, for example, Susan’s depiction of Canada’s longest serving prime minister, William Lyon McKenzie King, who governed through the tense years of WWII, and led the creation of the TransCanada Airlines, among other deeds.

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Portrait of MLMc

Search the portrait and you’ll find other cues.  A lifelong bachelor, King was a spiritualist who visited mediums, conversed with his dead mother, political leaders and his dogs, and owned a crystal ball. He loved dogs — 3 consecutive terriers named ‘Pat’.

“We know about this because he entered it in his very comprehensive diary (1893-1950) – a diary he wanted destroyed when he died. These wishes weren’t followed. In fact, you can read his diary online.” 

Then there’s Lester Pearson, prime minister from 1963 to 1968.  He received the Nobel peace prize for defusing the Suez Canal crisis; Susan wrote the Nobel motto “Pro pace et fraternitate genitum” (“For the peace and brotherhood of men”) on the bookcase behind him.

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Portrait of Lester Pearson

Other telling details:

“In the bookcase are binders representing some of his accomplishments, despite leading minority governments – universal health care, Canada pension plan, student loans, the 40-hour work week, the auto pact, the point-based immigration system, and the abolition of capital punishment. He was determined to give Canada a new flag and despite intense opposition, he persevered.”

Blog Photo - Susan Statham Book The paintersCraft

But there’s yet another side to this talented artist: Susan writes short stories and books. Her novel, The Painter’s Craft, is a murder mystery, set in Toronto’s art world.  

Susan says: “The inspiration for this book, published by Bayeux Arts, came from one sentence in one art class – ‘Cobalt violet is the most poisonous colour in your paint box’.”

Her second novel in the series, titled True Image, is almost complete. It won the inaugural Medli Award for most promising manuscript by a published author.

Blog Photo - Susan Statham and Pet

You’d think that would keep Susan busy enough, but she’s also president of her local arts association, Spirit of the Hills.

Blog Photo - SOTH Partial Group

The group represents 150 artists from diverse disciplines – visual artists, illustrators, designers, sculptors, musicians, artisans, photographers, writers, and more, from Northumberland County and neighboring regions.

Blog Photo - SOTH Festival of the Arts Photo

On November 3 and 4, Spirit of the Hills will hold a Festival of the Arts in the beautiful lakeside town of Cobourg.  Susan and Felicity Sidnell Reid are its co-chairs. The Festival opens with a bi-lingual musical, closing with a concert and anthology launch. A book fair, art show and workshops (Susan’s leading one in portrait painting) take place between these events. 

I told Susan I hope she plans a good long rest in December.

But I’m not counting on it!

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A Good Home, Artists, Authors, Canadian Authors, Canadian Homes, Canadian life

AT HOME WITH AUTHOR YVONNE BLACKWOOD

Yvonne Blackwood is best-known for the books she’s written about her African travels: “Into Africa A Personal Journey”, and “Into Africa – the Return”.

The former bank manager loves books. Writing them, and reading them. 

Blog Photo - Yvonne with Book

Not surprisingly, there are many books in her home north of Toronto. The photo above shows her in the bedroom “nook” overlooking the wetlands behind her home. 

“I can watch the geese frolic there all year except for the winters. A bookshelf stands in a corner and it is chock full of my favourite books along with books bought but not yet read.” 

Blog Photo - Yvonne wetlands2

More recently, Yvonne authored a humorous book “Will That Be Cash or Cuffs?”

Blog Photo - Yvonne at Desk

Long before that book, however, Yvonne wrote two others.

“One crisp autumn morning after exiting the train, I walked briskly up University Avenue (in Toronto) to my office. I noticed a tiny park next door to a large courthouse, and a gang of squirrels were frolicking and having a good time there. The crab apple trees in the park had lost all their leaves.

“It was a beauty to see the slender branches covered with thousands of little ripe crab apples. Some were strewn on the ground and the squirrels were feasting on them. Suddenly, an idea came to me; write a children’s book about squirrels living in a city!”

But she couldn’t find a publisher. Last fall, she “dusted off the manuscripts, edited them”, found an illustrator and published the books herself. 

Blog Photo - Yvonne Nosey Charlie 1

Two Nosey Charlie books – for children 3 to 8 — were published earlier this year on Amazon’s platform, Createspace.

Blog Photo - Yvonne Nosey Charlie 2

How is writing for children different than writing for adults? I asked.

“The big differences are―because it’s a children’s picture book―pictures show the readers a part of the story, therefore, there is no need to spell out everything in prose; you use fewer words. Each book has less than fifteen hundred words.

“You also have to be a bit more careful with the words you use. Although you never ‘talk down’ to children, at the same time you do not use too many big words, and you do not write long, complex sentences.”

BLOG Photo - Yvonne with NC Book

As Yvonne enjoys the summer in her house and garden, there is still more news on the way.

Blog Photo - Yvonne Clematis Vine

A third Nosey Charlie book  will be published in September .

Yvonne says:  “I’ll keep writing the stories as long as I remain inspired and the readers continue to love Charlie.”

Congrats, Yvonne!

 

 

A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.

A Good Home, An Honest House, Authors, Book lovers, Books, Libraries

The Library: My Home Away from Home

Thank you, Toronto Public Library, for including me in your ongoing feature about the people who frequent the library.  I am ‘a bit’ late to post this on my blog, but as you know from the many late fines I’ve paid over the years, I’m always ‘a bit late’!

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

Meet Sarah and Cynthia…

“I’m a bookworm and I’ve loved public libraries since I was a child. Steeles branch has a special place in my heart. Why? Because of the kindness of the librarians there over the years when I struggled to recover from injuries caused by a car accident.

“Sarah and I bonded over a book. It was a PD James book and I really wanted to read it. But I was shocked at the long waiting list. I was #1341 on the list! I showed up at the library every two or three weeks to ask a version of the same question:

“What’s my number now?”

“After a while, I didn’t have to ask any more. Sarah would see me arrive and hurry to her computer to start checking.

“We’d share a laugh and sometimes I’d pretend to be outraged that I was nowhere near getting that book.**

“When my book was published, my librarians were among the first people to receive their own signed copies.

I think they were both happy and proud – after all, they had seen me on days when I could barely use a computer.”

**And yes – I did also get the PD James book! It was “Death Comes to Pemberley”, a perfect blend of Jane Austen sensibilities and PD James’ wonderful murder mystery skills.