Monday, February 12, 2018

The Mysterious place of dark nostalgia....

February 1, 2018
Dark Nostalgia
Kathy Renwald
  Step into the world of illusion and mystery. Pause at the fortune teller, see the curling lip on the ventriloquist’s dummy and don’t forget to pick up a glass eyeball. 
   Welcome to the home of Ron and Gayle Eady at the intersection of dark and light.
  “Some people get it and some people don’t,” Ron says.
  “It” is a boxy commercial building in the Stinson Neighbourhood the couple bought 10 years ago. They left behind a lovely old farmhouse in Burlington to move downtown. Now, close to the CP main line, “We have a great view of the Christmas train,” near parks and the escarpment they are happily imbedded in the gritty creativity of Hamilton.
  “We made the move at the right time,” Gayle says. 

  House prices were high in Burlington and low in Hamilton. The sale allowed Ron to quit his job at outdoor advertising company Eclipse Imaging of Burlington, to concentrate full time on art. His paintings based on industrial images, were taking off.
  The building was a blank slate to showcase his art, and their antiques.  They’ve been collecting for 40 years. In the past 15 years the focus has been on ventriloquist dummies. The marvelous and macabre faces appear to follow you through the house. They come from England, France and the US, dating to the 1800’s, beautifully crafted and haunting.
  “I like them because they are pieces of art, hand carved, and hand painted,” Ron says.
   A display of medical mannequins occupies a special place in the house. Dentists and eye doctors needed to practice their skills, and the mannequins awaited.
  “To go to the trouble to make these so beautifully, some have gears so the head can be tilted, the craftsmanship is wonderful,” says Gayle.
  Beyond the mannequin display is Ron’s office where a tiger from an original circus wagon looks over the room and more medical curiosities are arranged on the artist’s desk.  “Early on I did a series on quack medicine, but these props don’t make their way into my paintings now.”
  Their personal collection of dummies, carnival games, eyeballs, hotel signs, even an HSR rotating bus sign remains at home, but they also sell pieces through their business Vintage Stylings. They have stalls at the Hamilton Antique Mall on Ottawa Street and Southworks Antiques in Cambridge.
  Though the props aren’t represented in Ron’s paintings, they act as inspiration he says.  His big industrial landscapes capture the darkness of smokestacks, blast furnaces, raw metals, and lonely freighters on vast grey lakes. Even when he ventures to paint a natural landscape, a canoe on a pond for instance, you have the sense that something is going to go wrong.
  “I like illusive imagery, it makes you ask, ‘What’s going on here.’” 
   Eady’s ( paintings in oil and encaustic are in private and public collections in Canada and the US. He is represented by the Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto and Earls Court Gallery in Hamilton where his next solo show is in 2019.
  Making a home in a big box allowed space for both a painting and sculpture studio. Using old beams, Eady is sculpting bold figures that seem to pick up cues from both the ventriloquist’s dummies and medical mannequins.  “I like to use the character of the wood to let the personality come out.”
  All three of the Eady’s daughters are artists, involved in photography, fashion design and collage, and surprising to Gayle they all love antiques.
  “I call it dark nostalgia, that’s what I see in my paintings and in our collection,” Ron says.
  “We both love coming into Hamilton on Burlington Street and the factory views,” Gayle says, “And then coming in on the beautiful Cootes Paradise side we feel so lucky to be here.”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Dutch Touch

The Dutch Touch
Kathy Renwald

Wherever he lands in the world Gerard Bos unpacks his shipping container and makes a comfy home.
  Six weeks ago Bos moved to Hamilton from Tokyo where was he was Customer Experience Manager for Ikea Japan
    “My container arrived from Tokyo and then I’m like a little animal about to go into hibernation.  It has to be all unpacked I just need to have it finished. I have a busy job, I’m travelling a lot, and it’s important to me that I don’t live out of boxes for three or four months.”
  When Bos signed on for a three-year assignment as Customer Experience Manager for Ikea Canada, he naturally assumed he’d live in Toronto. “I thought that was the place to be,” he says.
  But it took just one rush hour drive from Toronto to Ikea head office in Burlington for Bos to change his mind.
     He started to look for a place to live close by. Location agents showed him 20 rentals mostly in Burlington and Oakville, but missing was the spark of the big cities he’d lived in across Europe where he worked for Ikea and before that for British Airways.
  "Being in the home furnishing business, home is important to me, I need to feel at home the minute I open the door,  particularly when you live in different countries over the years, that’s even more important.”
 So Bos, a native of Holland started his own home search and focused on Hamilton. "I started to look on Realtor and Kijiji, than driving one day I spotted the building and thought “This is lovely.”
  The building was in the Stinson neighbourhood, a former factory converted to lofts. Bos walked in and said ‘This is it.”
  And it is lovely, with warm wood floors, exposed  beams, and big windows with deep sills. The street with houses dating to the 1870’s, is “like stepping back in time” Bos says.
  When the container arrived it didn’t take Bos long to put things in order. His pieces are well travelled, Switzerland, Belgium London, Glasgow, the island Jersey, Tokyo and more.
  "This is why home is so important, you gather your own things, develop style, the minute your container arrives and you take your things out and find a home for them that suits that layout, and somehow it always works.”  
  Though the loft in Hamilton is two floors, most time is spent on the open space main floor that encompasses the kitchen, dining area, living spaces, office and bedroom. 
  Walk in the front door and you’re immediately in the living space. An antique chest of drawers purchased in London in the 90’s and a slim wooden shelf mounted by the front door help organize arrival and departure clutter.
  To the right is the living room, with a gas fireplace glowing and morning light coming in the from the east. “This has the loft look but it doesn’t have that emptiness you sometimes get in lofts because the ceilings aren’t that high. I like a warm, cozy feel in the home,” Bos says.
   A big leather sofa faces am iconic Noguchi coffee table Bos bought in Belgium 20 years ago, and two Italian designed chairs, are also well travelled. “I love their shape, and they are very comfortable.”
   Factory sized windows have minimal coverings, and the deep sills are all used for displays of pieces collected over the years.
   “I grew up at home with plants and flowers on the window sills, that’s quite common in Holland. These sills are almost like cabinets and great to display the things you love. I do love my Dutch touches.”
   A compact and efficient kitchen faces a small dining area where Bos has grouped “up-cycled” wooden chairs with a mango wood table.
  Beyond the kitchen and framed by hefty wood pillars and ceiling beams another sitting area showcases a beautiful antique glass cabinet that stores dishes, cups and books. It has moved seven times with Bos. A striking orange two-seater sofa divides living room from bedroom. “I spotted it in Sweden in the Ikea design centre before it was launched and had to have it.” Bos swapped out the wooden legs for metal ones for a modern look, using Ikea’s clever mix and match theory of flexible design. He did the same at his window-facing desk, resting a rectangle of bamboo wood on top of an Ikea set of drawers for a warm approach to office decor.
   In many ways Bos’s loft is like a living lab of design solutions. Storage space is at a minimum, so he uses cabinets, trolleys on wheels, and chests for storage. “I’m not a minimalist, but I don’t like a lot of clutter,” he says. To expand the sense of space at night he uses small Ikea floor lamps in each corner of the room.
  Ikea’s philosophy of accessible design and flexible solutions comes naturally to the 52-year-old.
  “Because (the loft) is all open space you need to think about colour schemes, using similar tones, and then creating compartments within the open space, for sleeping work, and dining. If the flooring is the same throughout it helps.”
  Between getting to know Ikea’s 13 major stores across Canada, Bos wants to get to know Hamilton. “I appreciate the diversity and creativity, there’s a nice feel about this city that I like.”
  And it all looks better through the windows with “the Dutch touch."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Path to Pottery

Potter and Pioneer: Emma Smith

By Kathy Renwald

   When Emma Smith and her husband Jesse Black bought their house in Jerseyville three years ago, they were attracted to the big backyard and the commercial zoning designation of the ground floor. Both of them needed work space, Smith is a potter and Black is a carpenter.
  “We learned a lesson though”, 26-year-old Smith says,  “do your research.”
  The only permitted use of the ground floor commercial space was as a general store. “Dry goods and house wares, that’s what we were allowed to sell,” Smith says.
  So the young couple, Burlington natives, eased into the idea. They spruced up the ground floor, started contacting Canadian artisans and less than a year ago opened Black & Smith Country General, as Smith describes it, a country style general store with a modern twist. 
  Inside the warm and cozy space, hand made goods line shelves and rustic tables. Linen tea towels from Nova Scotia are on display along with pillows, wooden animals, cards, bags, books, soap, scissors and jewellery by CP Metal of Dundas. Several sets of shelves are devoted to pottery, including Smith’s wood-fired porcelain and stoneware.

  At the back of the ground floor Smith has her pottery studio where a wheel is set up to catch the natural light from a window and shelves are lined with bowls, cups and jugs waiting to fired.  Between customers, Smith may do some studio work, but the general store, at the crossroad of Jerseyville Road and Sunny ridge Road has been busy. “It’s been building slowly,” Smith says. “The community has been so supportive, but people are coming from Toronto and as far away as Barrie.”
  The path to pottery has been an intriguing one for Smith. A good science student, she was thinking of a career in medicine before a Rotary exchange to Thailand changed everything. “I lived with a family above a convenience store, they had very little but they were so happy. I wasn't sure I was choosing medicine for the right reasons.”
  She came home, and learned pottery at Sheridan College and Haliburton School of The Arts, attracted to the craft by its complexity. “In my studio I’m in control, but once it gets to the kiln it’s out of my control.” 

  Smith’s jugs and bowls, expressive and somehow yearning to be touched, are fired in a wood kiln, a process with deep mystery and magic. The kiln must be stoked with wood for hours and hours to get it to 2300 F.  Different types of wood mark the clay in unpredictable ways finishing the pieces with surprising color and pattern. It’s a process she loves, being out somewhere in the country where the wood kilns waits to be loaded.
  “The four in the morning shift, when no one else is awake and it’s just you with the kiln and you can hear all the animals waking up, the sun is coming up, it’s quiet and you have this roaring fire, that is what I do it all for.”
  That romance blends in with the hard work of creating the ceramics, participating in shows, teaching courses at her studio and Mohawk College, and running Black & Smith Country General(, where the unpredictable happens too according to Smith.

  “People still come in once in awhile and ask if we sell cigarettes and milk.”


Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Personal Museum

A thoughtful way to live. The home of Marguerite Larmand in Simcoe, Ontario

December 15, 2016
A Generous Geometry
Kathy Renwald

  The first home Marguerite Larmand shaped for herself was in a hawthorn grove on the family farm. She was one of ten kids and needed to find a solitary space.  Decorated with the objects she loved, the clearing among the trees became a refuge. “It was a place where I found endless enjoyment.”
  From childhood to adulthood Larmand continued

her magical ways of making the space around her a personal museum. She turned an old hotel in Brantford into a home, made the Burford Armoury her private residence, and now is nesting in Simcoe in a hundred year old house she has named Six Directions Studio (

   “The walls are my paper,” Larmand says, pointing to a spot where she tested 12 shades of white paint, before selecting Benjamin Moore Mascarpone for her backdrop.
  For thirty-five years Larmand taught art in Hamilton schools, from elementary to high school, to McMaster University as an instructor in the sculpture studio. And always she created her own work, paintings, ceramics, installations in the landscape, textiles, sculpting with wood and willow.

   In November she had a show at the Carnegie Gallery Barber Atrium and now the soaring three-dimensional willow works have returned to her home in Simcoe, where she says, they have space to breathe.

  A generous sort of geometry defines each room and allows the display of art to seem effortless. In the 20 by 20 foot living room, which Larmand calls a “room within a room” three sofas square off in front of the fireplace, and beyond that border, works in wire and willow, busts, paintings, pottery and plants are arranged for contemplation.

  This idea of contemplation has become a bit of a magnificent obsession for Larmand, so much so that she wants to write a book about her house, art and the beauty of ordinary objects.
  Chapter one could start in her dining room where the “repository of images” are both striking and subtle. On a ten-foot long table made of hemlock and spruce a glass vase holds spiny, dried branches of Japanese knotweed. An invasive plant cursed by gardeners, it spreads in an arc and almost touches one of Larmand’s massive willow constructions. She calls them drawings, and painted black, lashed together, almost to prevent their escape they do seem like bold strokes of charcoal floated off a page. On the table a platter made by Larmand is marked with chevrons-like butterfly shadows, and holds an aspen branch collected on a walk. On the end wall a painting called Cherry Orchard repeats the linear beauty of the table.
  “You don’t stop being a teacher,” Larmand says as we sit and talk at the table. The lesson here is open your eyes and observe. The weathered branch, the despised weed, “They have their own spirit, they show nature evolving,” she says.
  The sunroom is a lesson in the power of the personal. On one wall shelves are lined with beautiful tea bowls, glasses  boxes, stones and seeds. Over the fireplace is Larmand’s sculpture called Wind Deflector, a piece that takes her back to the family farm and the many hours spent splitting wood for the stove. On the hearth, beautiful dried squash sit displaying their marbleized skin, a pattern Larmand tried to capture in her ceramic glazes. Paper whites are ready to bloom, and a pencil cactus preens in the light of east facing windows. The room is the antithesis of generic, hotel room style d├ęcor one sees everywhere.
  So Larmand is making an outline for a book. It would be about observation, about the bond we form with our homes.
  “The house is never static, its not just a showplace, it’s a place where you live, a place where I work, it’s my own personal museum. What I like is the beauty of the ordinary.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Living Large in a Small House

Unplugged and Loving

Colleen Gaffney is living the unplugged life in Hamilton and loving it.  No toaster, no TV, no worries. The 55- year old shed a lot of stuff and a lot of square feet when she moved from Barrie to Hamilton four years ago.

  "I didn't want to buy right away, so I looked at a lot of apartments, then I found this perfect house.”
  The house in the Strathcona Neighbourhood is 600 square-feet, the one she left behind was 2000. She was particularly pleased at the adequate but not lavish number of electrical outlets.  “I got rid of tons of things that plugged in. I got rid of things with one purpose, so I don't have a kettle anymore, a toaster, a hairdryer or a coffeemaker."
  When she told friends in Barrie she was taking a job at Hamilton Health Sciences they told her she would love Hamilton. She didn't know much it but it didn't take much time to fell welcome. 
“I love the art scene, the music, the food, and proximity to Niagara. Colleen found her tiny house, on a search on the hospital intranet. As soon as she walked in she could picture a life with paired down possessions. She liked the light, the wide open space, the door opening to patio and proximity to work. Though she has a car, it's rarely in use, she walks, takes transit or Sobies around town. Soon her office will move from a mountain location closer to home. She’ll be parking her pencils at an office at Jackson Square.
  "I work in integrated decision support."  
  What a title!  
 "Just say I do software training."

  In her little house much of the action takes place in one room. That's where the kitchen, living room, dining room and sort-of-spare bedroom reside. " I've had dinner parties for eight and five people sleeping over.
  The kitchen with a big el shaped counter faces the living room. Though it has less storage space than she was used to, careful planning keeps it running smoothly for an avid cook.
  In one corner is the flexible dining area. A wooden table, belonging to her late husbands family, seats eight when expanded. Colleen painted the antique chairs red and reupholstered in a bold botanic print. Over the table a rug from Mexico carries on the red theme.
 On the opposite wall a day bed from Ikea adds more seating and serves as the guest room. "It's a nice place to sleep, sometimes you can see the moon cross the skylight.” A selection of hats hang nearby-Gaffney has a fondness for the, but they might be streamlined out soon since they are getting the squeeze from her art collection
  A wooden cabinet stores books, dishes and glasses and anchors an art assemblage including pottery, textiles, sculpture and interesting metal piece that evokes a book cover, or according to Gaffney’s dad something that looks like it was run over by a car.

  In the living room, red turns up in carpets from Iran, a wooden chest belonging to her dad, and a chair and ottoman Gaffney bargained for and had reupholstered in Hamilton. A wee rocking chair from her childhood holds throws and scarves.  She was the first girl born in a family of six, so got her name painted on her chair.
  It took just two days to put her house in order after she moved in. She measured all her furniture in Barrie, had the measurements of her tiny house, so she made a floor plan of what would fit. “I just kept the things I loved,” she says.

  In warm weather the door is always open to the back patio, where the cocooning space has a place to stretch out and read a book. “It’s a perfect place to have a rest after walking home from work.”
  Since moving to Hamilton, Gaffney has been ticking off some bucket list items. She joined Steel City Stories and told her first story in front of an audience.  It was unscripted and about her house. “I loved it, it’s a young passionate group and it was a buzz, to make people laugh.”
  So the streamlined life in Strathcona is a success for a woman who believes less is more.
  “I’ve always been fascinated with small house architecture. I want to live lighter on the planet.”
  It’s possession deficit disorder in the best possible way.