Sunday, July 23, 2017

Swans and Mythology

 The Ugly Duckling -  Egg Tempera - Catherine Meyers



H. D. 1886 - 1961

Where the slow river
meets the tide,
a red swan lifts red wings                                    

and darker beak,
and underneath the purple down
of his soft breast
uncurls his coral feet.
Through the deep purple
of the dying heat
of sun and mist,
the level ray of sun-beam
has caressed
the lily with dark breast,
and flecked with richer gold
its golden crest.
Where the slow lifting
of the tide,
floats into the river
and slowly drifts
among the reeds,
and lifts the yellow flags,
he floats
where tide and river meet.
Ah kingly kiss—
no more regret
nor old deep memories
to mar the bliss;
where the low sedge is thick,
the gold day-lily
outspreads and rests
beneath soft fluttering
of red swan wings
and the warm quivering
of the red swan’s breast.

I was sent this beautiful poem today written by Hilda Dolittle. She had a deep interest in Greek literature and Mythology. She was born in 1896 and died in 1961.

I entitled Leda, this poem sparked my love and interest in mythology and symbolism of swans, such a creature of indelible beauty.
I saw the word "plucky" used to describe the behaviour of swans. However in spite of their graceful, serene and idealized appearance of beauty, you might even have the impression they are not aggressive or threatening. I actually learned several years ago after watching a nature documentary that swans can be extremely aggressive and will drown the rival swan by entangling their neck around another and forcing their heads underwater. That said, every story and everything has elements of light and darkness.

Through my study of Mythic Tarot I've become familiar with many of the embodied images and the stories of Greek Mythology which has been an interest since I was a kid.

The myth of Leda, the Aetolian queen of Sparta, describes how Zeus rapes her when he disguises himself as a beautiful regal swan, after rejecting his amorous advances toward her.

Leda was already pregnant at this time by her husband King Tyndareos. She had two eggs she bore by her swan-lover. Out of one egg were hatched two mortal children, Castor and his sister Clyemnestra. Out of the other came two divine children from Zeus, Polydeuces, and Helen whose beauty was so great that the Trojan War began because of her. I certainly am not the first nor the last to have a fascination with swans or with Greek Mythology. The story of Leda was often very popular subject matter of post-classical and ancient art in the form of paintings, sculpture, poetry, fairy tales, cultural legends and myths.

I don't know if there's such a thing as a red swan, but here's an interesting sacred story about one.

 Red Swan

Three brothers, who were hunters, once lived together in a forest. They were very skillful and always returned well laden from the chase. One day they all agreed to go hunting. They were each to kill the animals that they usually killed, and then see who could get back to the lodge first and have the game cooked. So they took their finest arrows, and off they went.

The youngest brother, whose name was Odjibaa, had not gone far when he saw a bear. Now this was one animal that he was not supposed to kill, but he forgot his bargain and shot it. Then everything seemed to grow red, and he heard a queer noise. He followed it, and as he tramped on, the noise seemed closer. At last he came to the edge of the lake and there, floating on the water, was a beautiful Red Swan. Every once in a while it uttered the queer noise he had been hearing. He shot an arrow at the bird, but it flew past her. He shot another and another. They all fell near her, but she was quite unharmed. She swam around in the water, bending her head and arching her neck and not even noticing Odjibaa. This made him want her more than ever, so he shot the rest of his arrows. Still she was untouched.

Then he remembered that, in his dead father’s medicine sack, there were three magic arrows, so he ran back at once to the lodge and took them. When he again reached the shore of the lake, he put one in his bow. He took good aim and shot. It came close to the bird. The second arrow came closer, and the third went through her neck. She did not fall into the water, but rose slowly into the air, and flew away towards the setting sun, with the arrow still in her neck.
Odjibaa waded into the lake and picked up the two magic arrows which were floating on the water. When he reached the shore again, he set out to follow the Red Swan. He was a great runner, for when he shot an arrow ahead of him, he could run so fast that it fell behind him.

So now he ran at his greatest speed. But the Red Swan was already out of sight. On he went through the forest, across streams, and over the prairie. At nightfall he reached a town where many Indians lived. The chief made him welcome and let him stay the night. In the morning, he set out once more, and by night he had reached a second town. He stayed there till morning and then continued his race.
By the next night, he had reached a lodge where a magician lived. The old man treated him very kindly. He made him sit down by the fire. Then he spoke a few words, and a metal pot with legs walked out and stood by the fire. He spoke a few more words and put one grain of corn and one berry into the pot. At once it became full of porridge. He told Odjibaa to eat this, and when he had done so, the pot became full again. It continued to do this until Odjibaa had eaten all he could. Then the magician told the hunter to lie down and rest, and in the morning he said to him:

“My grandchild, you are in search of the Red Swan. Be brave and travel on, and at last you will be successful. When you near the end, you will come to a lodge of another magician, and he will tell you what to do.”
Odjibaa thanked the old man, and went once more on his way.
When he had gone some distance, he shot an arrow ahead of him and it fell behind him, so he knew that he was still going his best. He went on for some days and at last saw the lodge of the magician. This second old man was as kind as the first and treated him in much the same way. He gave him food from a magic kettle exactly like the first, and then bade him stay the night. Then in the morning he said to him:

“My grandchild, you are following the Red Swan. Many a hunter has done the same and has never returned. For she is the sister of a great chief. He once had a wampum cap which was fastened to his scalp. One day some warriors came and told him that the daughter of their chief was very sick. She said the only thing that would cure her was this cap of wampum and that the sight of it would make her better at once. The chief did not like to lend his cap, for if he took it off, his head would be bare and bloody. But he thought again of the sick girl and at last gave it to the warriors.

“That is many years ago, but they have not returned the cap yet. They were cheats and are keeping it to make fun of it. They carry it from one village to another to dance around it, and at every mean thing they say, the old man groans with pain. Many young men have tried to get it for him, but all have failed. He has offered many gifts to the one who gets it, and even the Red Swan will belong to the successful one. She is a very beautiful maiden, and for her many young men have risked their lives. You are very brave and will face great dangers. Go as you have come, and you will be the one to win the precious wampum.”

So Odjibaa travelled for several more days. At last he saw a lodge, but before he came up to it he could hear the groans of some one inside. Coming up to the door, he knocked, and a voice bade him come in. On entering he saw a very old man seated in one corner. His face was withered and his head bare and bloody. He seemed to be in great pain.

The young man spoke kindly to him and asked him how he lost his scalp. Then the old man told his story: how the young men had cheated him, and how they were abusing the scalp now. Odjibaa looked very sorry, and when the old man saw this, he began to coax him to try and get it back. He promised him blankets and many other things that make an Indian rich. But he did not mention the Red Swan. Odjibaa noticed that a wall divided the lodge into two parts. He guessed that the Red Swan was behind the wall, for he thought he heard her dress rustle. After he had talked with the old man, and had learned many things about the unfriendly Indians, he said:

“I shall go in search of the cap. When you hear the noise of a hawk, put your head out of the door, so I may put the scalp on you quickly.”
Early next morning he set out, and before the day was over had come near the Indian village. As he drew near he could hear the sound of much shouting, and in a few minutes could see hundreds of warriors dancing and yelling around a pole. On the top of this pole was the scalp. He changed himself into a humming-bird and flew by their heads. When they heard the soft, humming noise, they said, “What is that?” He flew on, until he came near the pole. Then he changed himself into a blue butterfly and fluttered up to it. He took the scalp in his mouth and lifted it from the pole. A mighty shout went up from the Indians when they saw what was happening. But they could not reach the butterfly, as it was so high up in the air. It began to float slowly away with the scalp. This was hard work, and the load was almost too heavy for Odjibaa, but he hung on until he was safe outside the village. Then he changed himself into a hawk and flew rapidly away. When he came near the lodge of the old man, he uttered the cry of the hawk. The old man put his head out, and with a great blow Odjibaa clapped his scalp on. The old man fell senseless and lay very still for a long time.

Odjibaa entered the lodge and sat down to wait. At length the old man opened his eyes and arose. But he was no longer an old man. Instead there stood a handsome, young warrior. He reached out his hand to Odjibaa and said:
“I can never thank you for all you have done for me. See, you have given me back my youth and strength. Now I shall never grow old. You must stay and live with me and I shall make you a great chief.” Odjibaa replied:

“No, I must go back to my brothers. I shall leave early to-morrow morning.” Then the magician began to get ready a bundle for Odjibaa. He put blankets, beads, feathers, and paints in it, but he said no word about the Red Swan, and Odjibaa did not like to ask him. The next morning the hunter said good-bye to the magician and prepared to go.

“Wait, my friend,” he said, as he opened the door in the wall. A beautiful maiden stepped forth. “This is my sister, Red Swan. She is to be yours, as you saved my scalp.”

Odjibaa was overjoyed at this. He thanked the magician again; then taking the maiden by the hand, they set out for his home.

The Seduction of Cygnus -

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Harold Stevenson and Andy Warhol


Harold Stevenson

Harold Stevenson was Andy Warhol's friend and mentor. I got a kick out of what he said about his close friend Andy Warhol. It really made me think about art and business.

I won't give any spoiler alert because I'll let you hear for yourself. Suffice to say it gave me pause to think about those who are great artists and those who are great marketers, and those who fortunate enough to have a good balance between both.
Today I listened to a great podcast that featured an interview produced by Sarah Geis in 2013 with artist Harold Stevenson.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tom and Will Forrestall - Master Class - Parrsboro Creative

Tom's drawing over the front door at the Art Lab he rendered spontaneously Sunday afternoon.

As mentioned previously, I promised to write a post about the egg tempera Master Class with Tom and Will Forrestall on July 5th-9th 2017.

 I was pretty much in a fog this morning and am slowly recovering from an accumulation of five days without enough sleep at night, because I was in an unfamiliar bed, away from home, combined with the excitement of knowing I was going to be painting all day with Tom Forrestall and his son William.

It's an understatement to say it was a surreal experience for me, because I could hardly believe I'd been given such an opportunity, and it was a real eye opener, giving me the tools really needed to create the best kind of egg tempera painting possible.

Tom and William were so generous with their vast knowledge, expertise and skill. They sure make a great team and their working relationship was a joy to observe as father and son, keeping us well entertained with lots of laughter everyday.

Our great group of nine students were varied in their level of skill, and only a few of us had worked in the medium of egg tempera. One individual had never painting before and created some great egg tempera paintings in the class.

To witness the amount of enthusiasm, especially at the end of the five days, was palpable when Tom asked what we thought of egg tempera. The majority of us wanted to continue painting, using this ancient egg tempera paint medium. Tom was very happy to hear this, as was I, having been a convert to egg tempera since after seeing a retrospect of Tom's amazing paintings at the Owen's Gallery, while I was attending Mount Allison University.

Okay that's enough gabbin' I'll post some pictures, but before I do I would be remiss if I did not extend a huge thank you to Krista Wells, Michael Fuller at the Art Lab Studios and Gallery, Parrsboro Creative and Robert Moore. Your kindnesses are so very greatly appreciated. I also want to thank all those in my class for all the great conversations, laughs, knowledge and kindness you shared so generously. It was a wonderful five days I'll never forget. Lastly a very special thank you to Tom, for his prayers.

Tom's India Ink Under Painting Example ( That "you have to sneak up on from light to dark")

We all did underpaintings with India ink, painted studies using the egg tempera paint on paper, and then preparing our individual untempered masonite panels, getting them ready for the traditional mixture of rabbit hide glue and calcium carbonite to make the gesso for our panels to create our final paintings.

William Forrestall liberally applying the gesso mixture.

I documented the process and these photos are a compilation of what we did over the five days of this amazing Master Class with Tom and William Forrestall and nine students.

We used tracing paper to go over our image and then etched with charcoal to transfer our images onto the gessoed panels.


Tom and William Forrestall had an exhibition in the adjacent room and gave a great talk about egg tempera, art and their work. There were some engaging questions asked by the visitors on Sunday, and it was a wonderful wrap up to a fantastic, unforgetable, five day learning experience.

Taz, the very cool and creative, local Downtown cat.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Day After Canada Day - How Little I Know

Listening to Ideas with the great host Paul Kennedy program on CBC Radio for many years, there have been serveral memorable episodes. I'm so very glad I didn't miss this one last night; the last presentation given of the Us and Them series, was Roberta Jamieson.

While listening I came to the difficult realization how very little I know in regards to the history of Indigenous peoples in relation to Colonization within Canada. It was also the first time I'd heard of Roberta Jamieson. What a remarkable woman. Making the time to listen to such a poignent talk by her last night is one of the best things I could do to acknowledge Canada Day. It's both a painful, and very hopeful message that Roberta Jamieson has, and an essential history message that we all need to hear, learn, understand and do whatever we can to bring about positive change within our country of Canada.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tom Forrestall - Egg Tempera Master Class

 Oh MY Goodness! I am so, so excited to find out this week that I will be taking an Master Class with Tom Forrestall and his son William for five days in July!

 I never thought I'd ever have the opportunity to have hands on instruction with someone like Tom Forrestall. I have greatly admired him, especially after seeing a retrospect of his egg tempera paintings while I was attending Mount Allison University in 2011. He had a wonderful exhibit of his work including all of his art journals over the years.

When I viewed his egg tempera paintings at the Owens Gallery that Summer, I was so affected by them I had to hold myself up against the wall. It's an amazing thing when art can have this kind of powerful affect us.

At this time I knew next to nothing about egg tempera, I was a dyed in the wool oil painter and never imagined I'd be anything but. But I was about to do a complete 180 degree about face change in my medium from oil to egg tempera, and I've never looked back.

It was at Tom Forrestall's exhibition that I knew I absolutely had to learn what every I could about how to paint with egg tempera. The problem was, there was no one in the Mount Allison Fine Art Department faculty that knew enough about this medium to teach me.

 That said, I certainly had a great painting instructor that I admire very much at Mount Allison University,professor Christopher Down, who gave me a one of the finest books by Daniel V. Thompson. He is world's leading authority on tempera materials and processes. The Practice of Tempera Painting Materials and Methods (Dover).

However reading a book certainly isn't a replacement for being taught face to face and getting a hands on education from a mentor.  And so while at Mount Allison I was basically on my own, as I attempted to teach myself how to paint using the medium of egg tempera and all the techniques and processes involved, which was a little daunting. It was not like oil painting and I felt in some ways I was starting with the fundementals of painting again.

 Ironically I did get a brief bit of instruction one day on mixing egg yolk and the tempera pigment powder from Tom's grand daughter, who was also attending Mount Allison University in the Fine Art Department at the same time I was.

Tom Forrestall and his son William Forrestall, also an egg tempera painter will be coming to Parrsboro the week of July 5th - 9th that is being sponsored by Parrsboro Creative and will take place at the Art Lab  Studios and Gallery.

Since finding out that I've been given this very exciting opportunity to attend this Master class I've been doing what I call my happy laundry dance that Winston Spear performs here so brilliantly.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

National Aboriginal Day/Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice has always been a very special time for me, and as the years pass it becomes increasingly more significant.

Yesterday I heard a friend say he loved the Summer Solstice but it had a bitter sweetness to it. He expressed that knowing it's the time when there's the most hours of sunlight, and said he looks so forward to, but it saddened him knowing that the days and months to follow, mean there will be lessening hours of sunlight every day. I got the impression he thought it was very unfair. Perhaps he is right but life certainly can be that way. I've learned to remain hopeful and to have courage, in spite of the unfairness in life and have learned to thrive.

I thought about this and I understood the way my friend was feeling. At the same time, I know we can't have the light without the dark, and this is reflected in every aspect of our lives and it is all part of the life cycle.

On the Summer Solstice 37 years ago I married my soul and spirit partner, the late William Hackett. We met at the Young Street Mission in Toronto, Ontario. I think I fell in love immediately after hearing his laughter and when I laid eyes on him..

Bill was a writer, very much a romatic and "heard a different drummer."  We use to love to just hang out and roam around the city. On one such ocassion we wandered into a store with posters. Bill found this beautifully illustrated poem and bought it for me. I was deeply touched and treasure it always.

"Love" - Roy Croft

My late husband's mother was Cree. But Bill never talked about his Indigenous family history.  I have no doubt if Bill was living today, he'd be very engaged in his cultural heritage. He was not a religious man but a very spiritual, deep thinker. He had a great sense of humour, humility and a great love for humanity.

 Nova Scotia was very much his home in spite of being brought up in the heart of the Toronto. When we moved to my home in Nova Scotia, he absolutely loved it and felt a strong connection with the land and the peace it offered his soul.

I don't think it was a coincidence that we were married on the longest day of the year on Summer Solstice, National Aboriginal Day and there is much to be celebrated. As my friend said, Summer Solstice can be happy and sad, like many other celebrations that can be bittersweet, but today I choose the sweetness and to be very grateful.


I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
After all.

Bill and Me - Toronto 1980

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Rich Get Richer

My grandfather in his wisdom, had a saying. "The richer get richer, and the poor get poorer". He experienced first hand the Great Depression and knew the meaning of this old adage. This saying has born itself out and continues to do so because it's the truth.

Naomi Klein is a wise woman, a brilliant journalist, author and activist, who also speaks the truth.
Listening to her today on The Current made me sit up, take notice and I listened intently to what she was saying. What really resonated with me was what she said about crisis and how we choose to respond to it in ours lives. Crisis either makes us stronger or we become overwhelmed and succumb to it. Naomi Klein relates this what she calls "the new shock politics".

I was one of those individuals that wasn't shocked that Donald Trump was elected, nor was I ever a die hard fan of Obama. I've never put my faith in American politicians nor Canadian politicians for that matter.

But as Naomi Klein points out Trump is not like any other politician that's ever been elected. He's a reality TV star, pushing his brand, with his goal being to make the rich get richer and is a culmination of the Western preoccupation with capitalism, accummulation of wealth, power and control. It's what she refers to as being a "corporate coup".

Her message is not one of fear mongering, but reality. It is also not hopeless, but a  hopefuI message, based on higher ideals and solid values that are actualized into activism.
 I look forward to reading her book No Is Not Enough.