About shadflyguy

Owner/ operator of Shadfly Antiques, and resident antique at Collectivator.com.

Watching a crooked door become more crooked

 It is no secret, and a point of contention to some that I enjoy things that are in the process of falling down.  I find their slow decent a thing of beauty, and enjoy the anticipation of the stiff breeze that becomes the grain of sand too much; and the thought of the suddenness of their collapse.  It’s just a thing I like.  Observing it, and occasionally documenting it brings me pleasure.  I have never actually been present when anything falls, but I have on occasion seen the after effect which can be fascinating.  I’m not looking for action. I just like to note the day to day movement, towards ultimate demise.  It ties in with my love of antiques and all things old. I suppose that is my defense for the state of my garage door.  I am watching it.

When we moved to our house about seventeen years age, now let me see, yes around 2002 seems right.  If Jeanine were nearby I would confirm.  But in any case, the garage was in a fairly sorry state at that time, and I noticed that there was about a ¼” gap at the left side of the top of the door, showing it’s lean. I could see that the old, minimal foundation was cracked and collapsing and the whole building was beginning to sink in the south/west corner.  I needed the garage right away so did not spend the time and energy to, with help of course, jack up the corner and fix the foundation, thus bringing it back to square.  Also, I thought that as soon as I could organize my storage and empty the space, an alternative would be to tear down the garage, which would allow a second parking space, and then buy a smallish storage shed to house the garden tools etc.

To this day, the interior of the garage is full; well I’ll call it half full as I have made some progress.  But I have never done a thing to stop the building’s slow travel southwards. It’s a fairly big project, and as I say I’m thinking about possibly tearing it down, so what’s the point.

 Plus, over the years I have enjoyed watching the gap above the left side of the door grow wider and wider; slowly, millimeter by millimeter until now it is a good three inches.   It’s funny but the roof line doesn’t seem to change.  I guess as the garage goes south, it is also coming forward, or eastward.  One day, somethings got to give, but that day is most likely a long way off.  Sometimes things take an awfully long time to happen.

If you look carefully in the photo you can see that I have, three times until present, had to change the position of the lock to make the two sides align.  I notice today that it is time to move it again.  It must be all that rain we are getting.

It’s only a question of time.

Ross Butler – Branding, Butter, and Bulls

I was excited recently to learn that the excellent retrospective exhibit of artist Ross Butler, curated by Samantha Purvis-Johnston for the Woodstock Art Gallery is currently on view at the nearby Norfolk Art Centre in Simcoe, Ontario until June 22nd, 2019.  If you’ve ever noticed the classic Dawes Brewery Black Horse Ale advertising, or remember lithographs of cattle breeds displayed in high schools around the province, then you are familiar with Mr. Butler’s work.  What follows is a condensed version of the information presented in the exhibition catalogue. I highly recommend viewing the exhibit, or viewing his work, and hearing stories of his life from his son at the Ross Butler Gallery, located just outside Woodstock, Ontario. .  Here is the link http://www.rossbutler.gallery/

 A Jersey Man

Ross Butler (1907–1997), was born into a farming family in Norwich, Ontario. While he painted an impressive variety of livestock portraits and landscapes, over his life, his true inspiration was the Jersey cow. His fascination ignited at an early age when, after witnessing a ground-breaking sale of a Holstein cow, he convinced his father to purchase registered purebred pedigreed Jerseys for the potential of a similar windfall. Ross Butler would become the primary caretaker for his father’s newly acquired livestock, and at the age of twelve he recorded their daily habits and illustrated their pedigrees.

Butler’s connection with and enthusiasm for the Jersey breed would last throughout his artistic career. The artist’s works were adopted in various commercial branding enterprises, including the logo for the Canadian Jersey Cattle Breeders Association (now Jersey Canada), and the trademark emblem for the Canadian Jersey Cattle Club.

Pursuing Perfection

“Breed standards” designate a set of physical and functional qualities that speak to an animal’s production and pedigree. Standards can vary provincially and nationally, and are defined by the incorporated association for that breed. Ross Butler was a progressive advocate for the development of Canadian breed standards in the mid-twentieth century, deviating from the use of American breed standards. The artist discovered a pattern of correlated body measurements that led to his theory of perfect animal proportions. He eventually gained eager support from various cattle, poultry, and equestrian breed associations for the adoption of these standards, though not without initial difficulty and dismissal.

Butler’s True Types serve as a guide to his theory of animal proportions. Within his creative practice, animal portraiture continues to represent the greater body of his work. The True Types are evidence of his idealist and emotive affinities. Beyond perfection, Butler’s paintings of animals share a unique lifelike quality and individual personality. The True Type paintings represent not one particular animal, but rather the ideal for that breed. The detail with which he built distinct characteristics is both impressive and sympathetic. This attention to detail, combined with his apparent adoration for animals, is exceptional and an important facet of Butler’s life’s work.

Branding Butler

Ross Butler’s commissioned designs exemplify his determination and the journey of forming a legacy within the canon of agricultural art. He leveraged his strongest creation, the True Type. Following much opposition, he eventually secured a contract with the Department of Education that dispersed hundreds of thousands of his photolithographs to decorate the walls of schools across Canada. This contract would transform his cows and bulls into icons of Canada’s agrarian past. He went on to develop a number of branding assignments for various associations and businesses, including the Township of Norwich, Dawes Brewery in Quebec, and the aforementioned Jersey Canada.

At the Fair

His involvement at the fairs started at a young age when he was employed to watch over the cattle for his neighbour, Beryl Hanmer, at the Guelph Winter Fair in 1922. To his amazement, the fair showed thousands of breeds of animals, rewarding an educational experience that surely inspired his calling. His childhood delight for the fair never waned. Among many others, Ross Butler participated at both the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF).

Ross Butler’s All Canadian Holsteins – The Cattle upon the Thousand Hills (1976), shows the best of the breed in each class from 1975. Like many of his works, it serves as a guide for breeders to consult when mastering their herd standards. The painting captures the impressive parade of living Holsteins and represents the artist’s fortitude and passion for celebrating the animals’ excellence through equally excellent representations Only one year prior, Ross Butler painted the captivating Royal Review (1974) for the RAWF. Departing from his typical portraiture, Butler assembled a vision of champions heading to the fair. The group portrait assumes a wonderfully imaginative scenario with multiple vanishing points that suggest a journey, but one with no distinct start or finish. Since the painting proved favourable to the thousands of fair attendees, Butler found an excited audience to purchase his reproductions. The popularity of the Royal Review drew hundreds of visitors to Woodstock, and the reproductions continue to enjoy similar success.

Building with Butter

Butler’s arguably most recognized involvement at the fairs were his butter sculptures at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF). The artist was amused by the concept of a cow made from butter – a reversal of nature. Over his lifetime, Ross impressively formed more than ten life-size sculptures featuring both Canadian and agricultural icons. The most renowned of them, Queen Elizabeth on her Horse Winston, sculpted in 1952 for the CNE, garnered international fame and awarded Ross the trip of a lifetime to England to take part as a media presence at the Queen’s coronation.

Collection Legacy

Ross Butler’s agricultural art can be found in archives, classrooms, museums, galleries, and the homes of Woodstock and Oxford County residents. Butler strove to build a legacy by creating his own opportunities, and his perseverance is inspiring. When faced with challenges, he shaped his achievements and forged a path to success. His practice of collecting and holding the rights to his own images was intentional in building the prominence of his collection. The collection is now maintained and cared for by his only son, David Butler.

Whatever the challenge, Butler humbly yet enthusiastically persisted. The artist married his artistic talent with his adoration for animals by producing his standard types, achieving status and eventual support from the global agricultural community. He built his reputation by working hard as an independent artist, collaborating with businesses and associations, refining his moulding abilities, and avidly collecting his life’s work. Both his commercial initiatives and artistic pursuits offer evidence of Ross Butler as an idealist inventor and a visionary artist.

The Bourgault family of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli

Bronze by Jean-Julien Bourgault

Last week I noticed this small article posted twice to Facebook by two different renowned Quebec antique dealers Michel Prince and Karin Belzile. It is a short history of the Bourgault family who started the well known wood carving community of Saint-John-Port-Joli. Even if you know little of Quebec carving, you have probably run across a carving or lamp created by one of these traditional artists.  Perhaps at the cottage of a friend.  Many people who have visited the community over the years have picked up a memento, and many of these are destined for the rustic summer home.

Medard, Jean-Julien, and Andre Bourgault

For years I didn’t really gravitate to this work, finding it more craft than art, but I eventually began to see some pieces that I really admired.  Mostly family or village scenes from Medard, who would on occasion paint the carvings in fine detail. I recall a scene of a Sunday dinner, complete with turkey, and a completely set table. The family looking on as father was about to set to work carving.  Both the expressions of the people, and over-all integrity of the depiction made it live for me. Since then I have considered the work more closely. 

Medard Bourgault in his studio
Jean-Julien Bourgault in his studio

So here is the article, translated to the best of my ability, which serves as a “starter” to the famous Bourgault family, and the carving town of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli.  If you google their, or the town’s name you will come up with lots of stuff. Or better still, swing by there and see for yourself.

Andre Bourgault in his studio

The importance of the Bourgault Family in the world of sculpture in Quebec.

Since the 1930s, the Bourgault family of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli has been world renown for wood crafts.

The son of a carpenter from Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Médard Bourgault (1897-1967) began working with wood at a very young age using a simple pocket knife. Like many other young men in his parish, he worked on ships, and his interest in sculpture increased with the leisure hours spent at sea. In 1918, he began to manufacture furniture and sculptures in the paternal workshop. The following year, he transformed an old shed into a workshop and often visited Arthur Fournier, a woodworker, who would guide him. During the 1920s, Medard made mostly furniture, but he also made crucifixes and other religious objects. He earns his living working alongside his father.

figure by Medard Bourgault

Starting in 1929, Medard’s sculptures became increasingly popular among collectors, who discovered them through the ethnologist Marius Barbeau and the man of letters and politician Georges Bouchard. They are the ones who encourage Médard to revive the local scenes. In the midst of the economic crisis, Medard, for whom carpentry work was rare, opened a craft counter on the side of the road. In 1931, he invited his brothers Jean-Julien (1910-1996) and André (1898-1957) to work with him, and he began to participate in exhibitions in Quebec and Toronto. The Government of Quebec began to buy from the brothers.  Without planning it, the Bourgault brothers had revived Quebec crafts.

relief by Jean-Julien

From 1933 on, the three brothers specialized. Medard devoted himself above all to religious sculpture.  He made statues for religious communities and carved the ornamental woodwork in many churches. Jean-Julien and André continue for their part to portray the rural peasant culture. Soon their sister Yvonne also joins the company, as well as nephews and other young people from Saint-Jean-Port-Joli.

bust of Christ by Medard Bourgault

In 1940, the Quebec government transformed the Bourgault brothers’ workshop into a sculpture school, whose management was entrusted to Médard. André became the director in 1952 and Jean-Julien in 1958. From 1964 to 1986, it was the turn of Jean-Pierre, son of Jean-Julien, to assume the direction.

Saint-Jean-Port-Joli now bears the name of “capital of sculpture” in Quebec. With the years and the increasing number of local sculptors, the art has diversified and is renewed, as evidenced by the creation of works in resin, stone, granite, clay and bronze. Other forms have been added, including painting.

Checker playing scene by Andre Bourgault

Source, https://sites.ustboniface.ca/francoidenti…/…/texte/T3086.htm

Searching for Marya Zajac

For those of you who follow my blog, you may have noticed a long pause since my last installment. Please excuse my absence. My hiatus was brought about largely by a real need for a break, but more importantly by a desire to focus more of my time to a documentary project which is near and dear to me.  Well, things are moving along nicely now, so I am back to writing.  I look forward to getting back to one installment a week, or as close as I can muster.

Also during this time I was inspired to sort and re-organize my office.  It’s surprising how many items failed to “spark joy” in me, and got turfed.  However, equally important was how much interesting material I turned up that I had completely forgotten about, or perhaps never known about.  Included in this list is a letter from a Manitoba folk artist named Marya Zajac from Manitoba to my wife Jeanine, along with seventeen photographs of her work.  It is dated July 26, 1994.  The content refers to an arrangement they had made for Jeanine to take the photos to France to show to potential dealers there.  I have the vaguest recollection of this, and when I asked Jeanine about it she recalled that summer 1994 was the timing of her mother’s small stroke, and that when she went to France she was unable to do much more than devote her time to looking after her mother.  She did contact a few of the dealers we knew there, but nothing became of it.  In looking at the photos, I realized that I wish I had paid better attention to Ms. Zajac’s work at the time, and had pursed representing her here.  I think her work is good, and honest, and I’ll bet I could have sold a few to our customers.  This being the “high” times when the market was lively, and we were still doing lots of shows and had a large customer base.

Well, hindsight is 20/20, and I was just about to let it lie, and turf the package as a missed opportunity, when I thought better of it.  Why not at least google her name to see if I could find any evidence of her. After all the work is strong and she states in the letter that she had “placed some paintings in another gallery, and so things are coming along very nicely.”  

Sure enough not only did images of her paintings come up, but one of them linked to an Etsy store named AmpersandEtAl,  that is run by Marya’s sister Barbara MacKenzie, and it carries a few of Marya’s prints and original paintings along with Barbara’s craft items.  I read the “about” section and it stated

“AmpersandEtAl is owned and operated by me, Barbara Mackenzie and my sister Marya Zajac. We are both self- taught artists, retired from our day jobs and living in a small town in southern Manitoba.”  Bingo.  I had found the right path.

 In the upper right, under a picture of two young girls which I can only imagine was of the sisters when they were young, there is a contact button.  I wrote to Barbara explaining the history of my inquiry, and expressed the desire to write about it, and requested their permission to do so.  I waited for a reply.

My search for Marya Zajac also led me to a blog written by Barbara MacKenzie called “Art, and Life at the End of the World, becoming an artist.”  Bingo, again.   Very interesting reading where I learned more about the sisters, and their current situation, and a lot about how Barbara sees the world.   Here is a teaser quote.

The Old House at the End of the World

I live at the end of the World.  Perhaps that a bit of an overstatement.     I live in a town that sits on the border of Canada and the US.   My physical world stretches east/west and north but not south.    The Canada/US border is the end of my world.  Also my age, at 74, I am coming to the end part of my life and therefore my world.   I do say that I am going to live another 20 years but who knows what tomorrow will bring.   My house is old, built in 1895.   Probably one of the oldest houses in town.   But its comfortable, paid for and it suits me.    The garden is large enough for the dogs to run, but not too large for me to look after.

The town is quiet, which suits me.   I moved here 15 years ago, hiding to recuperate from emotional wounds inflicted on me while living in the city.  And I have never regretted the move.   Well, sometimes when I would like to order take-away, and there is nowhere to order from.

I am self -confident enough to think that I have something to say, and arrogant enough to think that other people will want to hear it.

Some set their hearts on a rocking chair

The better to sleep out their days

I’m looking for a reason to scream and shout

I don’t want to fade away

Chumbawamba

This blog is my way of screaming and shouting.   I don’t want to fade away     I wish to be heard

What a treat. I like Barbara’s attitude and writing style so I subscribed to her blog.   I’ve read all her posts now, and look forward to reading more. 

A few days later, I received a note back from Barbara stating that they were pleased to extend the permission to make them a blog subject, and she gave me Marya’s e-mail address to put me in direct contact.   I’ve written, and am awaiting a response.   I will write again about this when it happens, and more about Marya’s work.  In the meantime, I suggest you check out the Etsy store and Barbara’s blog.  The links are below.

https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/AmpersandEtAl?ref=l2-shopheader-name

I admit that I am highly critical of the effect the internet and in particular, the social media has had on society, but in a case like this, were you can search for the writer of a letter written in 1994, and moments later re-establish contact, I’m impressed.

Canadian Humourist Arthur Black writes about Ewald Rentz

puppet

Rentz performing at his opening

I was just going through some papers and found an article about Beardmore, Ontario folk artist Ewald Rentz written by Canadian humourist Arthur Black.  We enjoyed listening to his radio programme “Basic Black for many years on the C.B.C., and reading his syndicated weekly humour column.   I don’t know how I came by this transcript of a 1994 show he did on Ewald Rentz,  but the content is sufficiently interesting that I thought to reproduce it here to add to the (hopefully) permanent record of this significant Canadian folk artist.  In looking him up I noticed Arthur Black started his column in 1976 in Thunder Bay, so it makes sense that he would become aware of, and write about a folk artist who lived so nearby.  Arthur Black died Feb 21, 2018, from pancreatic cancer at the age of 74.  Three time winner of the Stephan Leacock Award for Humour, he will be remembered for his humour, and the large contribution he made to the promotion and documentation of Canadian culture.

“The artist brings something into the world that didn’t exist before, and he does it without destroying something else. A kind of refutation on the conservation of matter.”  – John Updike.

You know what’s particularly wonderful about this country of ours?  Treasures, treasures everywhere. No matter how humble or unlikely the surroundings.

Take Beardmore, Ontario.  Towns don’t come much more humble than Beardmore, with it’s population of a few hundred souls nestled in the bosom of northwestern Ontario wilderness about ninety miles due north of lake Superiors arched eyebrow.

It’s a small town, boasting a couple of gas stations, a general store, a motel or two.  Hard to differentiate from any of several hundred other small Canadian towns.  You could drive right down the main street, past the grocery store and the barber shop and be back out on the highway before you knew it. Thousands do, every year.

Ah, but they miss the treasure that way.  It’s the barber shop on Main Street.  That’s where Ewald Rentz lives.

Who’s Ewald Rentz?  Well, first off, it’s “Ed” to his friends. He was born in North Dakota, drifted around a bit through Manitoba, but made his way eventually to Beardmore, where he fell in ove with the land and stayed.

And since all that happened back in 1939, folks take it for granted that Ed’s there for keeps.

In his 86 years Ed’s done most of the things a Northerner does. He’s been a miner, lumberjack, prospector, cook, and as the candy-stripped pole outside his place attests, a barber.

Oh yes, and one other thing.  Artist. Ed’s an artist. World renowned as a matter of fact.

There are collectors in England who salivate for his work. Curators from the U.S., Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver make periodic pilgrimages to the barber shop to see if he’s got anything new they can buy. His work is on display in museums across the country including the National Museum of man in Ottawa.

Ed Rentz is a national treasure. And the barber in Beardmore.  Ed’s what you call a folk artist.  He doesn’t do abstract impressionist canvasses or mobiles a la Henry Moore.  Balsam, birch and poplar are his media. His inspiration comes from the bush he’s wandered through for most of his life.

Ed can pick up a chunk of knotted forest debris that you and I would reject as firewood, turn it over in his own gnarled hands, take it back to his workshop and with the help of a knife and chisels, and judiciously applied dollops of house paint, transforms it into the most exquisite and unexpected bit of art – a ballerina perhaps.  Or a bear cub. Or a Mountie. Or a great spotted fantasy pterodactyl in full flight, with a man on its back hanging on for dear life.

Ed’s tiny barber shop on the main street of Beardmore is crammed full of his works of wonder. Elves, moose, mermaids, wolves, Prime Ministers.

If you are good, and he’s not too busy, Ed might fetch his step-dance dolls. All meticulously hand carved, out of their special cloth bags, set them on the floor, haul out his mandolin, and make them dance for you.

But have a care. Just because he is a world-renowned artist and an unusually fine chap of 86 winters, doesn’t mean that Ed’s not a working man too. My no.  If it’s a Saturday, you may have to talk to him between haircuts. Ed still knows how to give a haircut.

He still knows how to handle knotty customers too – be they balsam or bushworker.

“One time” says Ed, looking at your correspondent thoughtfully, “a nearly bald guy comes in here. I cut his hair. He gets out of the chair and says “wait a minute”.  You charged me a buck when I only got a little bit of hair?”

“I told that guy” continues Ed, “I didn’t charge you a buck, I charged you twenty-five cents to cut your hair.

“And eighty cents to look for them.”

arthur_picture_2

Arthur Black

Rene Dandurand – a carver of great humanity

2By the mid-nineties we were doing a lot of business with Quebec collector, Pierre Laplante. He was, at the time a very successful dentist, and determined collector of Quebec antiquity and contemporary folk art.  A very good fellow who we enjoyed meeting up with every few weeks at his country home, where typically after a good meal and a little wine was consumed we would inevitably end up in his converted machine shed, which was stuffed to the walls with wonderful things, so that I might buy some of what he was prepared to let go of.  At the time he was keeping five or six pickers busy full time in an attempt to find him the “all” of the best pieces available.  They would bring in full truck loads and he would usually buy everything to get the best price, and assure their dedication.  He would sell me all the stuff he didn’t want to keep at very reasonable prices, and that kept me coming back. His appetite was voracious and he rarely said no so there was a lot of stuff arriving.  For a couple of years before we both slowed down we did a lot of great business together.

7

Rene Dandurand in his workshop

One particular evening he suggested that after dinner, he was particularly excited to show me some new work by a previously unknown carver that he had recently become aware of.  That was the first time I saw the work of Rene Dandurand.  It was different than most other work being produced in Quebec at the time, and although I had to admit to Pierre that it wasn’t purely my style (my taste runs a bit more primitive and less Norman Rockwell) I could see that he had real talent and vision, and I liked that his pieces contained humour and emotion.  Pierre was good enough to give us his address and phone number in nearby Valleyfield.  We called him and he was very welcoming.  We made an appointment to see him the following day.  He was very open and we had a good talk with him and his wife Julienne before they showed us his workshop where we bought five or six pieces. I made several stops at his place on subsequent trips but as he became popular there was less and less to buy.

Rene Dandurand is a highly original Quebecois carver. Born in 1934, he started carving in the late nineties, after early retirement from his employment as a machinist. His first piece was a simple small boot, but this was quickly followed by roosters, birds, and figures. Before long his subjects evolved into more elaborate and complex compositions incorporating figures, foliage and animals to tell a complete story.  As Quebec folklorist Lyle Elder points out in his bio of the artist, “Rene Dandurand carves every aspect of the human condition and always with great humour. There is a joyfulness in his vision of people busy at their lives. His carvings are always evocative, charming and full of colour.  Rene Dandurand is certainly one of Quebec’s most talented artists”.

5 Rene Dandurand’s carvings are worked in one piece from a solid butternut or pine block. Some early works are left bare, showing the grain, but most are painted by his wife Julienne, an excellent colourist, after lengthy consideration of suitable colours. Although Dandurand’s children supplied him with a full set of carving chisels, he prefers the familiarity of his two or three ordinary old knives.4

Dandurand’s carvings are represented in major public and private collections of Canadian folk art. I am uncertain if Rene continues to live in Valleyfield, Quebec.  It was suggested to me a couple of years ago that he had passed away,  but as yet I have been unable to confirm or deny  it.  If anyone knows, please let me know and I will amend this article.  Thanks. 1

Billy Orr meets Phyllis Kind

bil1

Billy in front of his cabin

Learning of the death of New York art dealer Phyllis Kind a couple of weeks ago got me to thinking about Billy Orr.  I mentioned the exchange in a 2016 blog I wrote on Billy.  Reproduced here:

“When I did the Outsider Art fair in New York City, I brought pictures of Bill’s place, along with many other examples of Canadian folk art, and showed them to the renowned art dealer, Phyllis Kind. She passed over much of what I showed her, but paused and really had a hard look at Billie’s work. She said “This is interesting.  I’d like to know more about this artist.”  When I got home I sent her photos, a bio, etc, and after a couple of weeks she phoned me to  say that she would be interested if Bill would sell all of the work and she could show it as a reconstruction of Bill’s installation. Naturally she was concerned about the cost of moving all that concrete to New York.   I got in touch with Bill but he wasn’t at all interested. I could tell that for him it would be like selling his family.  Still, Phyllis is no slouch when it comes to art, and her interest reaffirmed my belief that Bill Orr was an exceptional individual and artist; and he was a lovely man to boot.”

bil2In retrospect, “no slouch when it comes to art” sounds a bit flippant, when I was meaning to suggest that “no slouch” is an understatement.  I had and have great respect and admiration for her taste and instincts, and her contributions to the world of folk art.  She was also very nice to me when I was a stranger in the midst of the dealers at the Outsider Art Fair in 1996.

I remember seeing Phyllis Kind standing in a group of five or six other heavy- hitting art dealers in front of a Henry Darger painting in the booth of Carl Hammer.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell that something heavy was going down.  She was quite small and slight; in her sixties, wearing blue jeans and a punk rock, sleeveless black t-shirt, and holding her own in whatever they were talking about. I was struck that she had very thin and wrinkly arms, and I respected that she was strong enough and had the self- respect to put them out there. She was the epitome of cool.  She had grace and presence.

Later that day, which was set up day, I was able to finish my work and have time to look at some of the other booths.  I had brought a few dozen photos of work by Canadian folk artists in case there was some interest with the U.S. dealers.  Mostly, there was not.  Some of them were downright rude.   But when I showed them to Phyllis Kind, after talking for an hour or so on various topics, she looked and passed on them all, but stopped when she came to Billy Orr. “Now this is interesting.”

She reacted immediately to the work, but became more interested when she heard Billie’s story and circumstances.  The opening was drawing near so there was no more time to talk but she asked if I could come by her gallery the next day after the show.   How great, I thought.  Of course I will.

I haven’t had that many, but I have great fondness for those moments in my life where I say to myself, “how cool is this” “Here I am going into Phyllis Kind’s Soho gallery in New York city to show her pictures of Billy Orr’s zodiac sculptures.”  I wish Billy were here.

Can you imagine?  I flashed on Billy in his kitchen telling the mother raccoon who had walked through the front door that “she would have to wait for dinner as he had company”, and I imagined Billy standing next to me in the gallery talking to Kind, and I just tried to make note of everything around me, and everything that was said, and going on.  Now twenty-two years on I remember some of it.

bil5.jpgPhyllis was interested in the fact that Billy had created his own “wooden” version of Stonehenge in his back forty, and that he occupied it with many Irish leprechauns, and zodiac figures he had created in cement.  She imagined having all the work in her gallery, in a type of recreation of Billie’s world.  We excitedly talked on about it a bit more, and we agreed that I would look into it when I got home in terms of interest on Billie’s part, and the logistics of getting all that cement to New York.

I could tell that her interest was sincere, but I could also see a lot of reasons why it would probably just remain a lovely thought.  Billy, predictably wasn’t the least bit interested, and of course the cost of getting all those heavy and fragile pieces to New York was prohibitive.  The end.

Still. It is something to behold. Something that will live on in my head.  Billy Orr shuffling up and muttering “hello” to Phyllis Kind at the opening of his solo exhibition in New York.bil6

The Peaceable Kingdom of Gilbert Desrochers

cover

cover of the 1991 McMichael Canadian Art Collection catalog by John Hartman

As explained by the McMichael Gallery’s Chief Curator, Jean Blodgett in the forward to the catalogue accompanying the 1991 solo exhibition of the works of Gilbert Desrochers, entitled “The Peaceable Kingdom of Gilbert Desrochers” plans for a folk art exhibition had been underway for several years.  He states “folk art seemed eminently suitable for display at the gallery, and an appropriate subject for an institution dedicated to Canadian art.”  He explains that they asked artist John Hartman to guest curate based on his interest and knowledge of folk art.  At first it was planned to be a group exhibit, which was then narrowed down to a few artists, and finally it was decided to focus on the work of one artist, Gilbert Desrocher, whom Hartman had come to know when he was attracted by a sculpture displayed on a fence post he spotted while driving down a back road in Tiny Township on the southern end of Georgian Bay in Ontario. He stopped, and made his acquaintance, and quickly this developed into a strong friendship.  In September of 1990 John took Mr. Blodgett to Gilbert’s house to discuss the dates and arrangements for the exhibit to be held the following year.  It was devastating then when they learned a week later that Mr. Desrochers had died suddenly.

artistGilbert Desrochers was born on May 2, 1926, in Tiny Township.  The fifth child in a family of six boys and one girl. His father Thomas owned a farm on the eighteenth concession, overlooking the bluffs of Thunder Bay Beach. He only attended school for two years when his mother died, and he went to work with his father and brothers on the family farm. “I wasn’t much good in school” he recalled. “I didn’t learn much. I went to school only to smoke. And I slept.  I was always so tired that I fell asleep. I had no notion about school. I had only work in my head. I figured that work was easier than school.”  Our father couldn’t read or write either and said “it’s just as well that you are like me. Come work with me in the woods.” “My father had two hundred sheep, and we took care of them. Also nine cows, three horses, chickens and pigs. In the winter we would cut wood all the time. We didn’t have a power saw so me and Joseph would cut wood all winter. It was a lot of work with cross-cut saws and Swede saws.

In 1941 at fifteen, he and his twelve year old brother Gabe took the money form three cords of wood that they had sold and began walking to the home of their sister Aurore who lived in Toronto. They caught a ride with a group of soldiers and got dropped off near their destination.  Gabe stayed to attend school but Gilbert returned home to cut wood with his father which is what he continued to do until he was twenty five.  Not satisfied with his life he began to wander, returning home only when his money ran out. He would leave and return unannounced, and often no one in the family knew his whereabouts.horse

In 1952 Gilbert was incarcerated at the federal penitentiary in Kingston for stealing a barge. There he worked for a while in the carpentry shop, until he overheard other prisoners saying that they would “get him”. He refused to return to the shop and eventually became uncontrollable and was put into solitary confinement. He had a nervous breakdown and, according to his brother Gabe he was given shock therapy.  His stay in Kingston was two years.   While there that he had his first religious experience, when God appeared to him on the walls.

The day his parole was up he headed north to work in the lumber camps near Kapuskasing.  In 1953 Gilbert’s father died and he became close to his brother Gabe. For the next twenty years he continued to work seasonally in the tobacco fields of southern Ontario, and the bush camps in the North. Occasionally returning to live with Gabe and his wife Lucienne, and to work with Gabe as a roofer.  lizard

In 1975 he was working in Toronto and while looking in the garbage in an alley something struck him from behind. When he turned around no one was there. He concluded it must have been God. After his religious experience in Toronto, Gilbert moved to his brother’s farm near Perkinsfield, where he lived in a small trailer and attended church regularly.

It was here that Gilbert started to carve. He continued to have visions and said that he began making sculpture because God came to him in a dream and told him that he had to make something, then gave him visions of things to make. The dream recurred, and after the third time Gilbert started making carvings.

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Gilbert at home

During the period that he was active, Gilbert created hand carved depictions of the people, animals and events from Christian bible stories. He would often harden the high gloss paint, used to colour and give the necessary details to his sculptures, by heating his workshop, located in the same trailer that he slept, to 120 degrees F. All of his work was created for installation in and around his living space, or on his tractor.

“I promised myself that never would they catch me again to lock me up. That’s why now I’m always alone” he confessed. I’m always watching myself, just in case someone blames me and returns me to jail.  That’s what I think about steady. Never, never do I forget that. I’ll never forget. When I die, why then I figure I’ll be saved. I watch myself because they’ve tried to blame me for all sorts of things and I’ve saved myself every time. That’s why I’m prudent and I’m always in my hymns and I stay close to the good Lord.  It’s a boring life, but I have to live it anyway. That’s why I started to carve all sorts of things, to pass the time and to stay at home.  It’s a sad life but I manage to survive it.”angels

The Waterford Antiques Roadshow – You never know what will come through the door

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part of the current pottery exhibit. Photo by Jamie McDougall

For the past two years our local Waterford museum has been lucky to have an ambitious, enthusiastic young curator named James Christison.  James has done a great job.  Currently there is an impressive show of the Pottery of Norfolk and Brant County well worth seeing.   Last year he had the idea to have an “Antiques Roadshow” type fundraiser for the museum, gathering up 12 local “experts” to appraise any item you have been wondering about, coming from the basement or your grannies attic, for a reasonable sum of $5 each.  When asked, I was happy to donate my time to look over the furniture and art.  It helps the museum and you never know what will come through the door.  The event has gone well both years, with about 200 people in attendance each time.  And of course some people bring in 5 or 6 items so it adds up.  It’s a great deal for those who participate, and is also a great way to increase interest in antiques in general.

Naturally, like on the TV show the main pitch is about money.  Everybody is hoping to find out that item that they paid nothing for is now worth (ta da) $40,000.  Take it away Don Pardo.  But of course the reality is a lot of items are simply ordinary,  and have little or no monetary value. This can be disappointing of course but still, with inquisitive people it can happen that as they learn more about an object they develop an interest, and it becomes less about the money, and more about the value of the item in aesthetic and historic terms.  That’s the fun part, really.  Helping people connect and gain enthusiasm for something.  Be it, pottery, Indian artifacts, furniture, or whatever.  Still, the potential for “making big bucks” is the pitch which gets them in there, and that’s fine too.  Witness the head-line of the (front page mind you) article from the local paper.  In bold type “Cashing in on collectibles”.  Smaller type “There could be big value in yard sale finds”.  And the well written article is pretty much about that.  Which I suppose is to be expected these days when in general so much emphasis is placed on commercial value.  But wouldn’t it be great if there was some mention of the joy many people experience knowing more about their item in spite of recognizing that it had no real monetary value.  I’m a dreamer.

paperI was busy right from the get go until about 2:30 when I told the last man in line that yes, I could go out to the parking lot to look at a chess table he had brought in, but right after that I had to go and eat a sandwich, as I was starting to fade.  A lot of what I saw was fairly common turn of the century prints in late Victorian frames which is one of those “let them down easy” moments.  Some ask, “Are you sure it’s not a painting.  I was always told it was a painting”, and so you point out the company name and date written in tiny print right down along the bottom, and that usually convinces them.  You also look at a lot of chairs, I suppose because everybody’s got some kicking around and they are easy to bring in.  Lots of looking at large furniture on cell-phones.  Some of it amazing stuff, but if they are looking to unload it, it’s hard to think of who you might suggest is dealing in massive, walnut Jacques and Hayes sideboards.  Still, you give them what’s called the fair market value, that being the highest value that would be paid between a knowledgeable buyer and seller in a fair and uncontrolled market.  This is the figure you use for insurance purposes.  You then explain that this figure is often higher than you could hope to receive selling it to a dealer.  Dealers needing to make money, and eat, etc.  It’s amazing how many people do not “get” this concept until it’s introduced to them.

But as pleasant it is to pass a day looking at random stuff, it is the occasional exceptional piece that you hope for.  And this year I was not disappointed.  The first thing that quickened my breath was an absolutely mint large 5 point oil lamp candelabra complete with springs to supply adjustable height. It was all there and with an excellent, untouched original gilded finish.  Probably about 1860.  As it happens curator James came along just after I had given it an estimated value of $1,000 and suggested he had recently considered but did not have the budget to purchases a similar but much larger example with 8 points, valued by the seller at $2,500.   The people had recently bought an old house and the lamp was original to the dining room, but they were looking to change the feel of the room so wanted to sell.  I am hopeful that something might get worked out there.   Serendipity is fun.

paperjeremy.jpgShortly after an interesting well-dressed woman showed me a few items on her phone.  When she hit the shot of the early 19th century folk painted door from Nova Scotia I just about wet myself.  Holy Mackerel, talk about hitting all the buttons.  This thing has it all.  Every one of the four panels, front and back is decorated with scenes of ships at sea, forests, and other maritime features, with every molding decorated with geometrics in lovely colours, etc.  You could see the surface was untouched and magnificent.  A stellar piece of museum quality.    I was able to recreate one of those classic “roadshow” moments.  “Well, a normal door of this period would be worth a few hundred dollars, but I would place a fair market value of $15,000 on this door.  Gasps and giggles all around.  She was of course delighted.  I asked her what she paid for it and she told me she paid a lot for it 35 years ago.  The $750 she forked out just about blew her marriage but she felt she had to have it.  She said the husband is long gone.  I told her she was better off with the door.  We laughed and had a good time for a couple of minutes and then it was time to move on.  Her parting comment was that she had not yet found a place for it in her new home but that she was going home to do so, and fetch it out of the basement.

Then a bit later after seeing a lot more nice, but ordinary things a gentleman took out two rather large (16’x24”ish) pastel portraits of two plains Indians.  I called over Jamie McDougall, he Indian artifacts expert, and he too was knocked out by them.  They are signed by the artist A.E. Robillard, and dated 1909.  They are in beautiful, seemingly original dark oak frames. The men are dressed in “white man” cloths but you can see from the fineness of the lines and strong expressions that they were captured beautifully from life.  The elderly gentleman was excited to find out that they were of value and was interested to know more.  He was not on the internet so Jamie got his phone number and offered to get in touch with the OxBow Museum in Saskatchewan for him.  It felt good to know that these amazing and haunting portraits were now being recognized for the treasures that they truly are.

All in all, a very worthwhile day.  I am already looking forward to next year.paperme

My thoughts after attending the fall 2018 Christie Antique and Vintage Show

 

field1“Canada’s favourite antique & vintage show with hundreds of dealers and almost 10 acres of treasures to be discovered. You’ll find china, jewellery, signs, tins, scientific instruments, folk art, postcards, native artifacts, Canadiana, fine art, nostalgia items, furniture and much, MUCH more! Food vendors onsite. Rain or shine. – you’re sure to find something to love!”

This is the way the Ontario Summer Fun Guide describes the Christie show and I think it’s accurate up to a point. You will find all the things listed above on the field.  What they don’t include in the list and I feel should be, is reproductions: and it should be way up the list.  Perhaps number one. The field is rife with them. And as you stand there and watch the crowd you realize how few people notice, or perhaps care for that matter, if they are buying a reproduction or not.

I saw a man ask the vendor as he lifted one of ten identical cast iron string holders, “so this is old, right.  It looks old.” There’s ten of them sir. He bought it. I rest my case.  I’m afraid that sounds elitist but I think it is a fair observation.

field4This is sort of tragic in the way that a lot of what is happening to our society over the last while is tragic.   Fake is as good as real, as long as it makes you feel good about yourself. If it’s cheap and it looks like an expensive thing, who cares?  Well I care, and I think a lot of people care.

In the interest of education, and fairness for goodness sake, I think that show management should insist that every reproduction is a clearly indicated on the tag as “Reproduction”. That’s all. In fact a separate, uniform tag with “Reproduction” in big red letters would be best.  I think it would make a world of difference, and there’s no down side.  Those who don’t care will not begin to do so, those who know it is a repro will no longer be offended, and most importantly those who are in doubt will no longer feel as vulnerable, and will trust the system well enough to go ahead and purchase that item he or she “thinks” is an antique. If we have to accept that reproductions are a big part of our antique and vintage markets today, and I guess we do, then at the very least, label them as such.  I would think that it is easy to make a strong case to the dealers that this is in their interest, and I doubt that it would even result in less sales. There’s still always going to be lots of people happy to buy a reproduction if it does the job for them.

The problem with continuing on the current course is that it eventually cheapens everything, and dumbs us all down to the point that it all becomes meaningless.  On the field you can already feel that for many it is more of a shopping “experience” than it is an actual attempt to acquire an antique or vintage item. I didn’t see that many people actually carrying anything.

field3Still, several dealers did tell me that they did o.k.  I guess they’ve still got their regulars, and if you sell one or two strong items that can make your day. Also, I have to add that overall, people seemed to be having a good time, and there’s nothing wrong with that is there.  It’s a lovely way to spend the day looking at things, eating some junk food (or better. They offer that now), chatting with friends, etc.  But to get back to business, bottom line, if not enough enterprise is exchanged, the vendors will give up on it. As will the people.

If you go back ten years the Christie show was run by Jeff and Wendy Gadsden and there was no reproduction allowed.  They policed it and would ask you to take down any reproduction they found.  In those days the audience demanded this and would complain to the management if they found out they had bought a re-pop. Jeff would go with the offended purchaser and the dealer was confronted.  It could get ugly.  That seems a life- time ago and a world apart. Where has everyone gone who cared about quality and integrity? Wow, now I’m really sounding like a grumpy old man.  But really. What happened?  Did the I-phones and I-pads and the whole inter-whoop business melt all of our brains so quickly and completely. I can see I’m on a roll, so I will stop.

I notice that of my principal interests, folk art is number six on the list, and Canadiana comes in at number nine.  That feels about right in terms of crowd interest.  But it’s hard for those of us who know that for about twenty of the shows thirty years life span, Canadiana was definitely number one. They wouldn’t even let in folk art for the longest time.

Ah well.  Not to despair.  Change comes, and we never know what form it will take, or when.  In the meantime, let’s do our best to keep our interests alive, and support the like-minded people involved as best we can.  And let’s agree to label reproductions as reproductions.  Some dealers would do it voluntarily if they weren’t afraid of losing their shirts.  It’s really up to the show promoters to come up to the plate. I think it would really help this show, and furthermore labeling reproductions as such should be encouraged right across the industry.  field2