A Good Home, Arts, Libraries, Myrtle The Purple Turtle, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group

A Busy Week and Purple Fingernails

Accepting a blogger friend’s challenge, I painted my nails purple to attend the Festival of the Arts in Cobourg, Ontario last weekend.

Blog Photo - Myrtle Purple Nails

Of course, my friend won the challenge hands-down (hands-up?) because in this picture below, she’s also wearing a purple shirt! 

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Mandy and Purple Nails

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I’m a volunteer with the Festival and it was a great success! Painters, photographers, authors, actors, musicians and others shared their talents with enthusiastic audiences.

Blog Photo - Festival Marie-Lynn playing guitar

Blog Photo - Pat Calder Stall at Festival

Blog Photo - Festival Mandy Bing paintings

Blog Photo - Festival Book Fair

Blog Photo - Festival Sharon Ramsay Curtis

Blog Photo - Festival Kim aubrey reading

Blog Photo - SOTH Festival Performers

Blog Photo - SOTH Festival gifts for Chairs
Above 6 photos by Hamlin Grange

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In the photo just above, publisher Jennifer Bogart(right) and I are presenting gifts to Felicity Sidnell Reid (left) and Susan Statham (2nd from right), the hard-working co-chairs of the Festival’s organizing committee.  

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It’s also been a great ‘Myrtle week’.  I dropped into A Different Booklist  – one of Toronto’s best-known book stores. Owners Itah and Miguel introduced me to customers Shay Lin (holding a copy of Myrtle), an international student from China, and Qing, her mother.

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Friends at A Different Booklist

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Earlier, CBC Radio interviewed daughter Lauren and me about Myrtle. Metro Morning host Matt Galloway and his team were terrific. They pre-interviewed us, and, when we arrived, made us welcome. Then they talked us through the journey the interview would take.

Blog Photo - Myrtle Interview by Matt Galloway

They were so kind, I suspected that someone in the team must have read An Honest House, which describes my struggles with PTSD, cognitive difficulties and pain following a car accident. So I asked producer Morgan Passi.

Imagine my delight to discover that this is just the way they operate!

Blog Photo - Myrtle interview by Wei Chen

Next, Lauren and I were skilfully interviewed by the wonderful host of Ontario Morning, Wei Chen. She greeted us warmly, made us feel entirely at home and the interview began. 

Bravo, CBC Radio!

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A few days ago, Seattle’s Allen J. Mears posted on Facebook a photo of his daughters, Megan, 8, and Hailey, 6, with Myrtle. I loved it! Thanks to the Mears family for allowing me to share it here.

Blog Photo - Myrtle with Megan and Hailey

I love  photos of children reading Myrtle, courtesy of kind parents and grandparents.

Blog Photo - Myrtle being read to 2 daughters

In these photos, Ashly Dixon in Wisconsin is reading Myrtle to her daughters Denali, 9, Anika, 6, and son Vincent, 2, while their father Damien takes the photos. 

Blog Photo - Myrtle being read to children by Ashly

Ashly says they all love the book, including the brilliant illustrations and Myrtle’s “message of acceptance and knowing one’s self-worth” .

Thanks, Dixon family. 

And don’t you just love the pyjamas?

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Carl Randall, a veteran marathon runner, did something unusual to spread the word about Myrtle.

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Carl at Brunswick County PL

He and his wife Jackie have brought Myrtle to libraries in various cities — including New York, where he recently ran the marathon.

Blog Photo - Myrtle held by Carl at NYPL 2

Thanks, Carl and Jackie! 

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Finally, Kev Cooper – blogger, book reviewer, author and musician — has made Myrtle “Book of the Month” on his website, Books & Music.  Wow, Kev! Thank you!

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A Good Home, Artists, Arts, Canadian Art, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group, Writers

Felicity Sidnell Reid — Arts Multi-tasker

I don’t go out much. But I recently got ‘volun-told’ to help my artists’ group.  You can blame Felicity Sidnell Reid.  I joke that she twisted my arm — most graciously.

Blog Photo - Felicity and granddaughter
Felicity and her grandaughter

An author and radio interviewer, Felicity is always involved in the arts.

She and her husband John moved from big-city Toronto to Northumberland County 20 years ago.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Farm Country

“I love the country,” she says. “And I love the atmosphere of a small village. I feel more relaxed here.”

Felicity lives in “a small house on a large lot with a stream that runs year-round.”

Blog Photo - Felicity garden

Blog photo - Felicity pet

Blog Photo - Felicity Creek

Blog Photo - Felicity Book Cover

Her book, Alone: A Winter in the Woods was published in 2015 by Hidden Brook Press. Skilfully written and illustrated, it’s a survival story about a teenager left alone to look after his family’s cabin and livestock in 1797 while his father fetches the other family members from abroad.

Felicity also chairs the 50-member writers’ group within Spirit of the Hills arts association (SOTH).  That’s how I met her.

Blog Photo - Felicity Sidnell Reid

Welcoming and kind, she took my sometimes-strange speech and always-strange walk in stride, and made me feel at home at my first meeting. 

The monthly breakfast-meeting is supportive, fun and opinionated. As chair, Felicity sets the tone.

“I love chairing the writers’ group,” Felicity says. “Although one might want to shut oneself up in an attic sometimes — to escape from all the email and phone calls – it’s a great bunch of people. And a lot of fun.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and authors-at-book-reading-spirit-of-the-hills

“Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you’re herding cats?” I ask. “How can you be so unflappable and gracious with us all the time?”

Felicity laughs.

“I taught high school for years,” she says. “You have to be unflappable. I’m not sure how gracious I am, but I’ve noticed that if you are, people tend to be gracious back.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and Gwynn

The writers’ group is productive. It initiated a literary radio show – hosted by Felicity and author Gwynn Scheltema – and a Festival of the Arts, being held November 3 and 4.  All of SOTH is involved.

SOTH’s membership includes writers, artisans, musicians, performers and a variety of painters and other visual artists. They come from as far away as Toronto to the west and Kingston to the east.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Red Barn

But most, like Felicity, live in Northumberland County, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

SOTH - Patricia Calder-View of Rice Lake

“Driving through the countryside is always exciting because the hills themselves are so lovely,” Felicity notes. “There’s invariably another incredible view, maybe of a small lake or of Lake Ontario, or the next pretty town, or more hills covered with forest or farms, fields and animals.”

SOTH - Patricia Calder Horse Photo - 2 paints

The Festival will be held in lakeside Cobourg, one of Canada’s most beautiful  towns.

SOTH - Marie-Lynne College St Photo
Credit: M-L Hammond
Blog Photo - SOTH Reva Nelson Marina shot
Credit: R. Nelson

“We wanted to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday but, more importantly, the creativity and diversity of the arts in this region.”

Felicity and SOTH president Susan Statham are co-chairing the Festival.  It includes arts competitions, a musical play, a concert and book launch, a book fair and art show, a panel discussion and exciting workshops.

Blog Photo - Felicity and Authors - photo credit Northumberland News
Credit: Northumberlandnews.com

“What do you hope it’ll do for Northumberland?” I ask her.

“Northumberland, like most places in Canada, is always changing,” Felicity replies. “It becomes more diverse and interesting because of change. We all profit from this. And the influx of artists in the last 30 years has led to increased vibrancy and innovation in the artistic community.

Blog Photo - SOTH Mandy Bing Painting1
Painting by Mandy Bing

“I hope our programme will engage people from our many communities. We want to appeal to young and old, those who have lived all their lives in this area as well as newcomers.”

SOTH - Rene Schmidt The Beacon drop in centre
Credit: Rene Schmidt

Although some Northumberland arts organizations recently folded, SOTH remains strong.

“An Ontario Arts Council study (June 2017) encouraged us. It reported that 90% of those surveyed agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live and 97% agree that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development.” 

As for my involvement? A year ago, Felicity invited me to join the Festival committee.  Committee members feel privileged to help, as does she.

“I love working with others and building a team, so conceiving and planning the festival have been exciting and very fulfilling.”

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Special thanks to Patricia Calder for photos 2, 10, 11 and 12.

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!

A Good Home, Book Festivals, Book lovers

When Books and Music Go Together

Blog Cynthia reading at Word Northumberland

The charming downtown of Cobourg, east of Toronto, played host to two festivals last weekend: the Coal Train Music and Blues Festival and Word Northumberland, the region’s brand-new book festival.

Blog Felicity and Jessica reading

I got to experience both.

Standing in front of the Historic Firehall Theatre on Second Street, you could hear the voices of authors inside, reading from their books. And hear some pretty good live music outside.

There was no conflict between the two.

It was as if one was a soundtrack for the other.

Hamlin Grange, whose photo adorns the front cover of A Good Home, was invited to exhibit his photograph and I was asked to read from the book.  What a thrill it was for us both to share our work with an audience of book lovers – readers,  publishers, illustrators and authors taking part in Word Northumberland!

Blog - Erika pointing to Hamlin's photo

A steady stream of people dropped in to the book festival, where they heard a remarkable variety of readings and got to meet the authors.

In the afternoon, I sat outside with fellow writers Erika Rummel, Felicity Sidnell Reid, and Susan Statham (Word Northumberland’s lead organizer). Residents and tourists alike stopped to chat with us and buy our books.

Cobourg, Port Hope, Warkworth, Rice Lake, Grafton, Cramahe and the many other towns and villages that make up Northumberland County are teeming with cultural activities. Artists of all kinds live and work in this region that’s bordered by lake Ontario at one end, and stunning hills, valleys and farmlands on the other. More and more nature and culture lovers from the bigger cities are moving to the area, which many call “the best-kept secret in Canada”.

Blog - cynthia talking to guest

I met people who’d moved to Northumberland from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and elsewhere. A former journalist with the Toronto Star. A dentist. Several writers and painters. A librarian. An office worker. A photographer. A corporate executive. And more. All professed their love for the region and its cultural offerings.

Congrats to Susan Statham and The Spirit of the Hills writers for their groundbreaking festival. And spirits were indeed high – despite rain in the morning. Visitors and organizers alike, thrilled with this inaugural success, are already expecting a bigger event next year.

PHOTOS BY HAMLIN GRANGE