In the Midst of It All

21 November 2021 – The Eastside Culture Crawl is in full swing, but I almost didn’t give myself permission to take part. It seemed trivial, disrespectful, to go enjoy myself while so much of the province is overwhelmed with destruction and loss.

A succession of Atmospheric Rivers has unleashed widespread once-in-a-century flooding, mudslides, mass evacuations and, at latest count, caused four deaths. Vancouver is spared, but in the midst of all this, how dare we have fun?

And then I try to get my brain engaged, along with my heart. Staying home in Vancouver will not drive back floodwaters in the Fraser Valley. So I make a contribution to a competent disaster-relief agency already active on the ground (I chose the Salvation Army, but there are many others) — and I head out the door.

In the midst of disaster, there is also life and courage and connection. Local artists also deserve support.

I’ve plotted a walking tour, starting with a couple of venues pretty close to home, just downhill off the east end of False Creek, in the Flats. Logical that this should be home to artists, the area was one of the earliest (2016) Vancouver Mural Festival sites as well.

And here’s proof, corner of Main and Industrial Avenue. Look at those murals off to the east and north!

First target, the Arts Factory at 281 Industrial Avenue. Oh good, the Crawl has pop-up signage…

The usual visual kaleidoscope typical of these warehouse locations — so much art, so many types, against a backdrop of pipes, valves, dangling wires and, why not, dog bed with stuffed toy thrown in.

Everybody masked, everybody vetted for Vaccine Record card and photo ID, hand sanitizers all over the place… I talk to assorted artists, spend time with Iran-born Laleh Javaheri. I’m drawn to her deft wire bird doodles …

which she explains illustrate a folk tale in her homeland. Her main work, though, is felt and fibre art, and I realize that a big piece I saw on another wall, Winter

is also by her.

Out in a hall, prowling. Past the green bike and mannequin cyclist, draped in the works of leather artist Ian Greenwood …

and after more halls, more walls, more standing/dangling/draped/floating displays, I am finally back out on Industrial Avenue with my next venue in mind.

I turn north onto Station Street (with Pacific Central Station down there at the end), and cross Southern Street.

I peer into Southern as I pass, still bright with some of those early VMF murals.

Crossing Central Street now, also mural-marked, though none of them VMF-official.

But very much part of the culture! This Culture Crawl, I realize, is only partially, very partially, about the official artists’ venues. For me, it’s the entire context.

Left turn onto Northern Street. “Culture” only in the sociological sense, nuthin’ artistic right here.

Other end of the block, over at Western Street, and here’s the signage.

Up the stairs, at 240 Northern …

with Rob Friedman’s explosion of stained glass on the right …

and Warren Murfitt’s guitar-making and wood-working studio across the hall.

Murfitt finishes what he’s doing as some other visitors also enter his space. He joins us, talks about the woods he uses for the different types of guitar he makes — some rescued wood, some local, some not. And some, to our astounded giggles, from the very building that houses him. “There was a beam there, it wasn’t supporting anything, I harvested it…”

And now a longer hike, eastward to Clark Street. To my delight, I discover there’s a bike/pedestrian pathway running between Terminal Avenue and the train tracks.

I follow it and I follow it, and I’m cheered finally to see what might be Clark, just down there framed by the Grandview Viaduct on the left, with its mural, and Skytrain lines swooping overhead.

Except it’s not Clark, it’s Glen, and I’m in a dead end. Glen ends here, and Terminal — by now I’m on Terminal — well, Terminal is terminal. So I go into that handsome furniture store and ask directions. All is well! Or will become well. I just have to backtrack, and scramble up the embankment onto the Viaduct, which has a sidewalk as well as all those lanes of traffic. It will take me across the tracks and over to Clark Street.

So I do all that, and here I am. Consult my Crawl map… head north on Clark … pass Henry’s Hip Eats and Strange Fellows brewery as I go (all part of the eastside culture) …

and, hurray!, here I am at William Street. And there, right across the street, is my next venue, with its sidewalk signage.

Eastside Atelier. More stairs.

Another of those wonderfully jumbled warrens of hallways, doorways, sudden openings, spaces looping into and around each other.

I circle that imposing wooden sculpture, and discover that it’s a horse-of-course.

Dalyn Berryman’s Palomino, created with Tofino, Squamish River and Furry Creek driftwood.

There are exquisite small works of art, such as this pottery bowl with its moss ornaments…

and an acerbic notice (by the same artist) to behave ourselves when we enter her workspace.

I don’t enter. Instead I stand in the hall, bemused by the artwork framing the claw-foot bathtub opposite.

Around another corner, and this wonderful ode to aging.

It hangs with the works of Annette Nieukerk, whose art celebrates the beauty of aging bodies.

I walk around a while longer, and eventually head back out to Clark, and then on home.

And I vow never to be tempted to iron my skin. Never.

“Please notice …”

15 December 2019 – The quotation hangs in a bookstore window up Main Street near 20th or so — large, neat, nicely framed, and from an author I haven’t thought of in a while but am pleased to remember.

Good advice, and easy to follow a day or two later as I find myself very happy indeed, having an unplanned but discovery-rich walk around Strathcona. It’s the city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, east of downtown, east of Main Street, echoing past lives as well as today’s demographic mix.

What I had planned was a direct trip home, but, right there at Gore & East Pender, curiosity throws me off-piste.

It leads me across Gore to read the Project Bookmark sign …

which is physically next to Christ Church of China, but in literary imagination pinpoints Gee Sook’s laundry & dry cleaning shop as portrayed by Wayson Choy in The Jade Peony.

Now that I’m facing east on Pender, I might as well continue, hmmm? So I do, and that Bookmark sign proves prophetic. There is a lot of art, culture and history to come.

A Literary Landmark, for example, just a bit farther east on Pender. This one connects Paul Yee, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1999 (among other honours) …

with the Mau Dan Gardens Co-operative, right across the street. He lived with his Aunt Lillian in her home at this address in the 1960s, a location to which his aunt returned decades later …

not to her old house, which had been demolished, but to the co-operative that now stood in its place.

I loop around for a while, drop slightly south to Keefer Street and follow it east.

Yes! another of these crow-with-paintbrush doorways that I remember from previous walks.

But this time, I know what it means. Eastside Culture Crawl artists identify their locations and, back in 2009, this was the symbol. (The door also announces, in neat letters: “Entrée des artistes.”) I love it, I love it.

Not to be outdone, MacLean Park, also bordering Keefer, is home to one of City Park’s Artist Fieldhouse Studio projects, all of them housed in now-disused caretaker suites. I don’t know which artist (or community group) is currently in residence, and anyway …

I’m more taken with these spears of birch, rising from the glossy hedge that leads to the fieldhouse door.

Speaking of glossy, speaking of happy-tree, how about this towering evergreen that marks the entrance to Angiolina Court?

Not just towering, but laden with Christmas ornaments, right out there on a public street. Trusting people to admire, but to keep their hands to themselves.

That’s what stops me first, but then there’s everything else: the bike leaning companionably near-by, the fire escape, the red awning & door, the age (1898) of the structure, the rumour that this trim little apartment building housed an illegal still during prohibition, and the certainty that it has housed a corner grocery store since 1905.

The current grocery store is exactly where I want to be. The Wilder Snail is also a café, and I’m ready for a latte. I go in, order my latte, scoop up the very last blueberry scone while I’m at it, and find a seat.

I smirk at the ceiling décor …

and settle back to eavesdrop on the father-daughter combo next to me: dad so dark and bearded, moppet so blonde and pony-tailed, both intent on their chess game.

She is perhaps five or six, and being taken seriously by her father — no baby-talk, just endless loving patience and calm mentoring, helping her see the implications of what’s on the board before her as the game evolves. Finally, inevitably, it’s chess-mate. She nods agreement at her father’s praise — “You’re learning!”– and, together, they pack up the board.

Soon after I move on myself.

South on Hawks, still bordering MacLean Park, where a winter-mossy tree trunk is as vivid as the jacket of the child retrieving an errant soccer ball.

Then, across the street, where … well, I don’t even know what’s going on.

All that comes to mind is that Alice in Wonderland scene where she’s faced with a bottle labelled “Drink Me.”

I share her confusion. Fortunately, there’s nothing visible on the porch to drink.

Soon after, over on Keefer near East Georgia, something I can cope with. It’s another of the City’s Millennium Story Stones, this one, of course, a memory of life on Keefer Street.

Dr. Yurkovich takes us back to 1934, when his father returned from the sanitarium, knowing he was dying and wanting to spend those last days with his wife and children. He died in 1935, his widow spurned public assistance and instead offered room and board in the family home.

More loop-abouts, and finally I’m on Union Street, heading west and homeward bound.

One last treat: a dangling tree ornament, created from horse chestnut “conkers.”

Kurt Vonnegut was right.

I think about my afternoon, and murmur to myself (and now to you as well): “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

 

 

 

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat…”

9 November 2017 – Chant along with me:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat…”

I am not in a pea green boat.

I am in the former mattress factory at 1000 Parker Street, but I am as deliriously enchanted with my surroundings as any fan of Edward Lear could ever hope to be with his nonsense verse.

And, right here at 1000 Parker, there is an owl.

We are on the Surrey Art Gallery bus tour I mentioned last post, the day-long visit to clusters of artists’ studios in two Vancouver locations.

1000 Parker Street, I learn, is a Vancouver treasure, one of those rare examples of a major property developer/manager — in this case, the Beedie Development Group — that decides to dedicate one of its properties to the needs of its city’s artists.

Result: some 110 studios & 227 artists over four floors of a rambling wooden structure that began life in 1896 as the Restmore Manufacturing Company (and has been a few other things along the way).

I begin to think the hallways house almost as many artistic delights as the studios. There was that owl and, look, here’s a painted piano. With fall pumpkins.

The artists we visit speak coherently and engagingly about their lives, their preoccupations, their creative explorations. We’re a sort of dress rehearsal for the 20th annual Eastside Culture Crawl  (November 16-19), when this building, and its residents, will be a key attraction.

As always — at least, for me — it’s the asides, the little sidebars to the main story, that bring the artists most compellingly to life.

Visual artist Tiko Kerr, for example, works in the studio space once occupied by Jack Shadbolt (1909-1998). Assorted materials belonging to that renowned painter had been left behind, including a whole array of paint brushes. Kerr grouped some together, prepped them, and repurposed them as his “canvas” for a tribute painting that now hangs on a studio wall.

Later, when Judson Beaumont, woodworker/founder of Straight Line Designs (“We make quirk work”), explains that an early influence was the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

his beautifully executed, totally functional — and entirely loopy — designs make perfect sense.

His studio is on the top floor. He leads us out a doorway onto a little deck, talking about the work they do, answering questions, out there in the fresh air.

I sight down the old wooden walls to the railway tracks below,  a reminder of this building’s — this whole area’s — industrial/manufacturing past.

Frances nudges me, points straight down between two arms of the building. “Ooooooo,” I breathe. A continuous frieze of street art.

I want to see it! Inside is fine, it’s informative & stimulating … but I want to go outside, circle the building, see everything up close.

And I get to do just that.

Most tour members climb back in the bus for the return trip to Surrey; one other woman & I are staying in town. Jud Beaumont offers us the circle tour of the walls.

He laughs when I read out the company name lined up with his over a doorway. “Survival kits,” he repeats. “But they’re gone.”

I stare down a long building wall, realize I am as taken by the lines, colours & textures of the old building itself, as I am by the new — and ephemeral — artwork that is now part of it.

It becomes one stunning package, a dialogue of component parts that gives energy to the whole.

“The fire department inspector must have hysterics every time he visits,” I say. Beaumont is suddenly serious. “We are completely up to code. In everything.”

Then he breaks out in more laughter. “But I tend not to show potential clients any shots of the outside of the building,” he adds. “It might worry them.”

I’m not worried, I am having the time of my life, scooting from one visual treat to the next. Look at this doorway!

And this gold-sprayed mannequin tucked in a niche!

And Mr. Periscope Rabbit!

And the austere beauty of precisely aligned windows.

I am swept by sudden memory of the wall of north-facing windows on the Group of 7 Studio in the Rosedale Valley Ravine, in Toronto.

Except that Group of 7 building does not have any backchat from a line-up of chartreuse what-nots.

Or the scrutiny of laser-beam eyes in a smirking white face.

Well, it had to turn up, didn’t it?

We started with an owl. Of course there’ll be a pussy-cat.

I prance down the cul-de-sac, for a closer look.

Then I thank Beaumont for his street-art tour, say good-bye to my tour companion, and walk the 8 kilometres home, west through Strathcona, across Main Street, along False Creek, and up the hill.

So much fun.

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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