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 PM for 8 years. 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

Prime minister for 15 years, 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!

Famous people, Photographs, Portraits

Edward Gajdel – the Artist at Work

Edward Gajdel is regarded as one of the world’s best portrait photographers.  

He has photographed the great, the famous and the powerful, from artists such as singer-poet Leonard Cohen and novelist Margaret Atwood to world leaders such as former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

So when I reached out to Edward to make my portrait for the back cover of my new book, A Good Home, I was thrilled he chose to do so. He and his producer, wife Djanka, pulled out all the stops to get me a spot in Edward’s schedule.

Blog Photo Edward Gajdel

But, on the day of the shoot, I’m hiding a secret: I’m in terrible pain. It’s one of those days when nothing helps and I can barely cope. Standing, sitting, walking – all are very difficult right now.

Still, come hell or high water – as my grandmother would have said – I’m going to Edward Gajdel’s studio on Queen St. West in Toronto to get my portrait taken today.

I arrive at his spacious, modern studio and Edward offers me a cappuccino and ensures I’m comfortable. The man is often described as a genius, but there is no big ego in evidence here.

On the tall walls are images of some of the famous people he’s photographed – Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer and the great jazz pianist Dr. Oscar Peterson.  The many prizes and awards Edward has won for his art, however, are nowhere in sight.

Blog phot Oscar Peterson

Edward knows about the long-term impacts of my car accident. But when he asks how I’m feeling, I lie through my teeth. “Great, just great,” I say.

Perhaps he notices that I’m gripping my cane tightly. That I’m not standing straight.  He doesn’t mention it. He hands me a drink and introduces makeup artist Victoria, a friendly woman who’s a great storyteller. The coffee and the storytelling, I suspect, are meant to help put me at ease, make me feel cared for. I’m grateful.

Soon it will be time for the shoot. I’m vaguely aware of Edward moving lights and tripod around on the white studio floor. Victoria keeps talking to me. Edward continues with his preparations, occasionally looking up to crack a joke.

It’s time for the shoot. I take a deep breath. Today I’m determined to look like an author. I will not look vulnerable. After all, Edward Gajdel is taking my photograph and it’s a wonderful privilege.

I remove my glasses. I put the cane away. It means shifting most of my weight to my left leg, and I pray I can keep standing. Falling would not help matters today.

Edward Gajdel is famous for his gentle, respectful manner. It’s obvious in the polite way he asks me to turn slightly this way or that. As if I might say ‘no’. As if I were someone very important: a prime minister, a famous novelist or jazz pianist.

My right side is ablaze with pain. But I’m doing my best impression of my strongest, calmest self.

Edward takes photos. He looks at them. He looks at me.

“Cynthia,” he says gently, and pauses, sending me a smile of encouragement. “Would you mind using your cane? It won’t be in the photograph. But I think you’ll feel more supported.”

It’s then I remember: Edward Gajdel, the famous photographer, is known for being deeply perceptive. Some people have said they felt he was looking into their souls, seeing part of them that others don’t. It’s one of the reasons his portraits are unique.

Edward has seen right through me, to the pain and the vulnerability. But he sees something even more powerful:  my great need to not be overwhelmed by them on this important day of my life.

Victoria hands me the cane. I accept it. Then she hands me my glasses. I put them on. I turn to look at Edward, and he smiles gently.  I smile back.

And pose for my picture.

Thank you, Edward!

Book Portrait