It’s Coq-a-leeky Time

houseleekHooray .It’s coq-a-leeky time. For the past several years my friend House and I go out to our secret spot in a nearby woods and harvest wild leeks.  They grow three quarters of the way down a steep hill so the element of danger grows stronger every year with aging limbs.  Let me tell you, it’s damn hard using a shovel on a steep hill when you can’t balance on one leg.  Jeanine’s advice as I was leaving “try not to fall down the hill”  Exactly.  I had my cell phone with me but realized that if either of us went down there would be no immediate rescue. We made a pact to leave the fallen man behind and press on should disaster strike.  The soil was wet this year, so it was an easier job digging them out.  It only took us about an hour to fill our recyclable shopping bags.

When we had successfully dragged ourselves back up the incline we paused to sit on a fallen tree and observe the moment.  We discussed as we always do how it would be great to build a camping platform at this spot and retreat here when our “other” worlds became too much.  The annual pipe dream. As the sun filtered through the trees we watched the dogs for awhile as they ran around with noses to the ground.  Then, as every year we validated the ritual as something important to us that we will repeat faithfully for as long as we are able. Pause. Time to make our way back through the difficult new growth.

It takes Jeanine a long time to clean the leeks, and take off the little hairy  bits on the ends,  but she doesn’t seem to mind.  We both know what’s coming.  That night we make our version of Coq-a-leeky soup, a perennial spring favourite of many cultures including the Scottish.  We get a pot of chicken broth simmering and drop in about 8 full cloves of garlic, and a couple of cut up potatoes. We let  that simmer until the potatoes are quite soft ( about 15 min).  Next we throw in the chopped up wild leeks (use everything) and give it about another 10 minutes.  A little pepper, or soya if want to give it an Asian flavour.  But not so much as to cover the subtle flavor of the leeks. No oil or fat is involved and we love the flavor.  Most importantly, it is an amazing spring tonic.  I notice I have  better energy the next morning.  Jeanine talks about how in France it is common for people to do a “cure” from time to time.  Short of an absolute fast which can be debilitating and potentially dangerous, they simply restrict themselves  for a few days to eating small amounts of only one simple, nutritious thing .  Some use fruit, others fish or vegetable stock, etc. Currently it is not the only thing we are eating so it can’t be considered a full cure, but we have been predominantly eating just the leek soup since, and will continue until it’s gone. By the way, we wrap the cleaned leeks in paper towels and store them in the crisper.  There are a lot of other creative and delicious ways to cook these little treasures.  I recommend trying to get your hands on some while they’re in season.  It’s worth the effort.

Finding Value in Folk Art


Occasionally I will have a Maud Lewis painting displayed for sale in my shop, and it is sometimes interesting to get people’s reactions to a $6,000 painting that at first glance looks like their 12 year old niece painted it.  A “my goodness will you look at that”, and some covered up snickering pretty well expresses their complete disbelief that something so simple could possibly be worth so much money.  I occasionally will give a brief description of the circumstances of her simple Nova Scotia life, and add fuel to the fire by informing them that in her lifetime she sold them for twelve to fifteen dollars from her tiny little house by the side of the road.  I then suggest that it is probably simplest to think in terms of supply and demand.  The supply of these paintings has stopped since her death in 1970, and there are many more people wanting them than there are paintings available.  This of course skirts the main issue of their confusion as to how anything like this could be desirable in the first place. To answer this you have to go a lot farther.

Charlie Tanner, Mother and Child

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for some people, and I include myself in this group, great value is placed in anything that is produced by man or woman that manages to capture, or in some way manifest beauty.  I do not mean “pretty picture” beauty here.  I mean beauty as in creations that manage to be a celebration of existence, or a connection to the greater truth.  Something that has energy.   This energy can be found occasionally in the works of trained and untrained artists alike.  The real value in truly great works of art is in experiencing them, and in doing so to be educated and transformed by them.  Understanding beauty is our salvation.  Money really just confuses the issue.   So in relative terms, $4 million for a Tom Thompson and $6,000 for a Maude Lewis:  the Lewis is still cheap.

Finding Folk Art

What is folk art.  Any precise definition of art is by nature a slippery process and open to question.  “Folk art” is a term applied to such diverse things as a finely crafted, highly organized Mennonite fracture drawing which expresses the collective manifestation of an ethically based decorative tradition, and yet is also applied to the highly individualistic outpouring of any untrained painter, sculptor or other practitioner.

Folk art is usually one step beyond the mundane.  Not just a container to bring water to the mouth for survival (cupped hands for example), but instead a cup lovingly fashioned to bring pleasure or attract notice even when it is not being used, such as an intricately carved canoe cup.

On another level we can simply say that folk art is the art of the ordinary people.  It is sometimes called primitive art or the people’s art because by definition the artist has not been academically trained.

Folk art is made for one or more of three reasons: to share beliefs and traditions, to make some useful object beautiful, or to express one’s feelings.

Folk art, by definition has been produced and appreciated since cavemen and women started smearing blood and feces on cave walls, but the academic study and appreciation of folk art is a relatively new thing.  An English writer named William John Thomas first coined the phrase “folk lore” in 1848.  At the time most anthropologists considered folklore as worthless peasant creations.  They were more interested in studying artifacts such as weapons, tools and such.   It was through popularized folk tales such as the Brothers Grimm books that peasant traditions and art forms began to become interesting to the intellectual  class.

I would argue that folk art did not show up on the radar of fine art institutions until around the turn of the century in Paris, when Pablo and the boys flipped out over the African art they saw for the first time, and started producing what today is called modern art.  This led to a wider acceptance of all forms of art.  Folk art has become increasingly more popular and studied in Canada, really since Expo 67 gave us a greater appreciation of who we are.

“Open all hailing frequencies”

So oddly, I start this blog space with a rather faded reference to “treky” days  when in fact this is going to be a blog about the life, and times, and observations of Shadflyguy –  humble servant, and seeker of the authentic and beautiful in things produced by past and in some cases of present people.

Come and enjoy with me a nice cup of tea or coffee, or espresso as the case may be, and I will attempt to explain why for the past thirty years I have occupied my waking moments finding, selling, and researching Canadian antiques and folk art, when in my “previous” life I was trained and fully employed making high tech slide extravaganzas, as were “all the rage” then at places like Expo 67, and Ontario Place.

I am going to attempt over time to transfer to this site the four giant drawers I have full of photographs, notes, and background information on some of the Canadian folk artists I have met.  This  in some kind of orderly fashion so as they may be useful to those seeking this previously unpublished material.  I am also going to attempt  to relay some of the juicier “picker’s stories” I have heard in my travels because they are fun.  I may even illuminate some old time dealers tricks, and things to watch out for when buying antiques.  If I really get rolling I may even start to document my furniture restoring techniques. Although I am concerned about the possibility of someone ruining dear Grandma’s rocker and holding me personally responsible…. hmmm.  You can see I am thinking about categories, and ramifications.  I think I may have the hang of this but do I have the chops.  We’ll see.

Right up front I want to thank my daughter Cassandra for leading the horse to water.   O.K. Welcome aboard, and let’s get at ‘er and post this puppy before I loose my nerve.