BUZZon.com
Submit Event

From the Noticeboard

Sexual health walk-in clinic

A sexual health walk-in clinic will offer Islanders another way to access sexual health services, in [ ... ]

Brain Injury Support Meetings

If you or someone you know is a brain injury survivor then Brain Injury Support Meetings are for you [ ... ]

Half the Conversation

by Jane Ledwell

Profiles
Reviews

If your eye is drawn to the artist profile in The Buzz in any month, it is probably drawn by a photo of the person being featured. I love these photos. Usually purpose-posed for The Buzz article, they give me a glimpse of a person I’ve met from a new angle, in a new light.

For the past fifteen years, I have usually written the article that surrounds the photo, I hope what you find in the words is a reflection of what I see in the photo: someone from PEI’s arts and culture community taking a solo under the spotlight, a glimpse of personality seen through the lens of an hour’s conversation. There is, I hope, some light in the frame, and some lightness. And I hope the effect flatters more than it exposes flaws.

To me, what’s special about The Buzz is that it creates these small spaces for conversations of word and image. I like being part of The Buzz’s 20-year project to help the PEI arts and culture community create portraits of our best selves. The Buzz’s tone—pitched for enduring quality and long-term relationships rather than one-night stands and cutting-edge cool—is a lot to live up to. Every month, writing the artist profile asks me to be my best self—to listen well, to hear others’ truths, and to share what’s best of others’ voices, words, and achievements.

Peter Richards first invited me to write a profile in 1998. I missed out on the first few years of The Buzz—not to mention all the PEI people and events it featured. It wasn’t until 1996 that I moved back to Prince Edward Island after studying “away.” Although I had grown up here, when I returned, it took another two years before I was beginning to get my feet under me, to meet people here and begin to make a life in the community. Going out to meet a new profile subject every month was a helpful pleasure.

These days, when full-time work and small children make serious one-on-one conversations with grown-ups a rarity, my Buzz interview is still a treat to look forward to each month.

Writing a profile for The Buzz takes me about three hours a month: an hour to hang out and chat with an artist, an hour to draft a too-long article, and an hour to edit the draft down to about 35 words over my assigned word count and then give up on paring more.

When I feel overwhelmed with deadlines and responsibilities, I revisit my schedule to see where I could cut back on work time and increase play time. The easiest thing to cut from my schedule to reclaim a few hours a month would be my Buzz article. And yet, I never cut it. Maybe it’s because my best self is my writing self.

I’ve had to bow out a few months over 15 years—a month here for a major work project, a month there for an unexpected illness, a month or two for a new baby—but only a few.

And yet, The Buzz deadline I remember most clearly was one I missed. In August 2008, I was scheduled to interview someone for a profile, but my dying father’s health took a sudden decline. Unable to sleep, my first and only instinct was to get up at 5:00 in the morning and write. An obituary, for when the time came. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I sent it to The Buzz for them to do with as they wished. Later that day, my father died. When The Buzz came out two weeks earlier, I felt exhausted and exposed, but I was so glad to have a place—a shared place—to pay tribute.

The Buzz is a where we share information about what’s important to us as the community—especially those of us who respond to the most important events in our lives by writing, making, acting, creating, singing, dancing, dreaming.

Thanks to The Buzz, I think we do more making. And we do it on a deadline. Even in this age of social media and the possibility of instantaneous publicity, the 15th of the month is a structuring principle of PEI arts and culture event planning. Events which had seemed ad hoc, loosey-goosey, and random when I was a teenager on the Island in the 1980s gained some structure when The Buzz began. If an event was going to be a success, it had to have a time and venue settled by the 15th of the previous month.

Of course, there are still many ways of seeing success, and I love that The Buzz sees it broadly. The Buzz profiles people at centre stage and those who work behind the scenes. I’ve had the chance to talk with the voluble and garrulous and also with the shy and taciturn. Each interview is a surprise, and when I return to my hand-written notes, sometimes the quietest interview has the most insight. Sometimes, of course, it’s a challenge to meet my own goal of shaping the story using the person’s own words. But even when I make mistakes, even when I cannot make the story flow, and even when I fall back on worn-out patterns and themes, I trust that an article will never be dull as long as it is in the subject’s own voice. In that voice is a spark of their fascinating human creativity.

This anniversary year, as I profile people who have been active in their arts and culture careers for more than twenty years, longevity is a theme. With some nostalgia and some dismay, I notice I’ve been speaking to artists who have outlived the arts and culture institutions and supports that nurtured their early careers. Over 15 years, whether I interviewed emerging or established artists, the strongest theme I’ve heard is the day-to-day struggle to stay active in the arts and culture in Prince Edward Island and the challenge of making a living here. And every one has said the struggle is worth it. Doing what you love, doing meaningful work, making sense of the world through art, giving your time over to your passion is worth it.

In the years when my only flimsy grasp on the cultural community is a monthly three-hour commitment to writing an artist profile, I am grateful that The Buzz has continued, courageous and FREE for 20 years. I celebrate that longevity.

There’s an alchemy to Peter Richards’s selections of who to profile for The Buzz. He combines his mental list of who we should talk to, who we’ve talked to already, who we haven’t talked to for a while, who has something interesting coming up, and who would fit in well with the themes emerging in each month’s edition. And when inspiration strikes, he makes a suggestion, and I arrange for a conversation.

The artist profiles you read in The Buzz are at most half the conversation. So many wonderful stories and insights fall outside the word limits. But The Buzz as a whole fills in the big picture. If a profile is a headshot of an artist, then each month’s Buzz is a panorama that places that artist fullblown in their landscape, in the arts and culture and community scene on Prince Edward Island. And even that’s not the whole picture. When a profile gives you half the conversation with an artist; when The Buzz gives you half the view of what’s going on in PEI, the other half is up to you and your imagination.

Jane Ledwell is…

Jane LedwellJane Ledwell is a writer and editor based in Charlottetown, where she lives with her husband, visual artist Stephen B. MacInnis, and their young children Anna and Sam. She has published one book of poetry, Last Tomato (Acorn Press, 2005) and has been involved in dozens of books and publishing projects as a contributor or editor. She was the 2011 recipient of the PEI Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts, partly in acknowledgment of her writing for The Buzz. Over 15 years, she has written more than 150 artist profiles and reviews. Her current full-time work is as Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

It Takes a Village

Profile: Daphne Large

by Jane Ledwell

Daphne Large (photo: Buzz)The area once known as “Clifton Corner” once was a “bustling village” with a two-storey general store where you could buy everything from beans to furniture. The village continued to bustle as, years later, the original Presbyterian manse became a new general store run by Kitty Cotton, who was also postmistress. “The store was where people would gather on Saturday night—mainly men but some women too—to talk,” says Daphne Large, who in that building has run Village Pottery for a milestone forty years in the village now known as New London.

In the spring of 1973, Daphne Large had only just graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art when her mother noticed the empty store building. In the DIY spirit of art school graduates everywhere, Daphne called in friends to build something of it. “I had a degree in fine arts and education, but I quickly got in the studio and absolutely loved it.” Daphne says, “I was naïve enough to think I could do it all—make all those pots I wanted to make and run the business.”

There was no heat in the old general store, and she got an oil stove that once almost burned the shop down. But Daphne kept much of the old store’s history alive. What is now the “mug room” still has the postmistress’s original letter boxes. Many original fittings remain—including shelves in the main selling area that were once the Saturday night gathering point. The Village Pottery got moved down the road to its current location in 1994. Through 40 years, Daphne says, “People in New London were really great.”

It takes a village to grow a shop, and Daphne says, “I’ve always depended on really great people to work with me.” Many people Daphne hired eventually put their hands to the wheel and became “excellent potters” who now have their own studios.

“I did take education, and that really made a difference,” Daphne thinks. “I had an innate thing where I would just let information go. I think because of that, the shop flourished. It was a little incubator.” And in the winter, the help meant Daphne and her co-workers could experiment with more things and bring in more creativity. Today, there are more than 65 things they make for the shop.

Making pottery for 40 years is not only about starting things but also about follow-through. “In pottery, if you start making a pitcher that needs handles, or a teapot that needs a spout, you can’t just leave it undone,” she says.

Daphne made pots and ran the business while raising three children, and though Daphne’s love of pottery was clearly contagious, she did not expect her own children to take an interest in pottery—until two years ago. Her daughter Suzanne Scott had completed a degree in tourism and made friends around the world. “She was so enticed by places around the world,” Daphne says, “and on the Island it is always a worry people will leave and stay away… But Suzanne had a chance to go to other places, and it helped her see what is here. Sure, it’s a struggle [to live on PEI], but people tend to work it out.”

Suzanne has brought social marketing savvy to Village Pottery that has breathed new life and given “instantaneous access to people around the world.” The inspiration has kept her mom’s joy in her work kindled. Daphne is also delighted at her daughter’s development as a potter. “I bought a slab roller two years ago, as an easier way to get started in pottery,” she says.

"Suzanne is good at multi-tasking and going fast—she picked up a lot from me,” Daphne laughs, “I knew she mightn’t be patient.” Suzanne uses the slab roller for pieces that do her mother proud, but now is throwing too. “Suzanne has managed to double her output over a year and to develop skills in courses at the PEI Potters’ Studio with Ron Arvidson,” Daphne says.

The long-lived Villlage Pottery means intergenerational experiences and meeting the children of people who were children themselves when they first visited the shop. When they celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, two generations of potters will greet two—or more—generations of pottery and art lovers, and welcome them into the village.

On the Road of Song

Profile: Teresa Doyle

by Jane Ledwell

Teresa Doyle (photo: Kat McKeeman)In 1980, when an adventurous, just-out-of-school Teresa Doyle played the Winnipeg Folk Festival, less than a handful of folk musicians were touring out of the East Coast.

At the 2013 East Coast Music Awards in Halifax, the Island singing legend and 12 other of those pioneers received a 25th Anniversary Award. “It was a really nostalgic night,” she says, not only because a “touching speech that Ron Hynes gave made everyone cry,” and because of Stompin’ Tom’s recent death, but because she was missing her friend, Raylene Rankin. “who,” she says, “really had a lot more to see and sing and write.”

Teresa recalls of her friend, “I was remembering back when she was still stuffing her own envelopes [with albums] —and I’m still stuffing my own envelopes, but I’m glad to be here to do it.”

When Teresa Doyle released her first album on vinyl in 1987, it was “the only PEI recording in crafts shops in PEI.” She and others “had to create a whole industry from the ground up. We had to invent it, one step at a time—how to get airplay, how to do distribution.”

The singer followed musical interests and intriguing collaborations, exploring PEI folk legends, touring Japan with early Elizabethan music, making three award-winning recordings of Celtic children’s music and an all-Gaelic album, studying East Indian music and sound yoga, and even returning to singing the jazz she cut her teeth on in Montreal for the seven years between 1980 and 1987—before “it was just time to come home, grow a garden, get married, and have a baby,” she smiles.

“My career has been stumbling from one stepping stone to the next, never with a plan,” she says. “What I’ve done is to follow what interested me.”

Teresa says her new album, Song Road, takes us on her journey and “integrates who I really am” by integrating many styles, themes, and genres. “I just like singing,” she says. “I’m really proud of this record.”

With the coming year a “whirlwind” of festivals and tours, Teresa says, “My career seems to be ramping up, if anything.” However, Teresa says (for all musicians), “In order for people to continue to make music, people must buy CDs and come to shows. It’s takes more than a ‘Congratulations’ and ‘I’m proud of you’…Music has been demonetized. Musicians are living on half as much money as 15 years ago.”

Living on little is part of a philosophy at Rock Barra, the North Side artist’s retreat Teresa coordinates: “There’s no staff, no budget, no debt. We operate from one miracle to the next,” she says. One project of the retreat is to celebrate the northeast of PEI. “It’s a minor miracle,” she says, “a mix of really, really local folks and people who want to do something really outside the box.”

Supporting creativity is vital because “artists need to help revision a new society.” Teresa says, “I’m trying to figure out my role in moving a new vision of PEI forward, that’s community-based and sustainable… I want to explore ways of living communally in rural PEI.”

She recently wrote an anti-fracking song called “Let’s Ban the Foolin’ Fracking,” and says with some fire, “Personally, fracking will be my last stand. If frackers come knocking on our door on PEI…and want to destroy our water and topsoil for all time, that will be the last stand for me. And I think it will be for a lot of people.”

Whatever stands Teresa takes, she will take them with a song on her lips. “I don’t want to be a protestor. I don’t want to be a victim. I would rather be a creator and a visionary,” she says. “Playing music is not a job. It’s not a livelihood. It’s a life’s work.”

Teresa Doyle, the singer, gratefully sums up, “My life’s work has been an exploration of how people use their singing voices in many different cultures. I’m grateful for thirty years in music, and I hope this is the halfway point. I’m excited by the possibilities for us going forward as a community, as humanity, creating a kinder world for our children.”

Teresa Doyle released her 11th recording, Song Road, in February of 2013.

Act Naturally

Profile: Dianne Hicks Morrow

by Jane Ledwell

Dianne Hicks Morrow (photo: Buzz)I believe anyone can write a poem,” says PEI’s new poet laureate, Dianne Hicks Morrow, emphatically. “I also believe a poem can be about anything… And that for me is the whole point.” She is getting over the initial shock of her appointment to the laureate’s role and is filled with enthusiastic hopes and plans for her three-year term promoting the literary arts, and poetry in particular, in Island communities.

“PEI is already known as a place rich in poets,” she says. “I want to go further.” For a number of years, she has led classes in “Writing from Life” for the Seniors’ College at UPEI. The response from those groups to poetry has too often been, “Of course, you know, I’m no good at poetry.” Dianne says, “I want to dispel the fear of poetry, the being intimidated by poetry, and have fun.”

After all, she insists. “Poetry is everywhere. It’s in slogans and signs, big-city subways and buses. And songs!” (She adds as an aside, “I’d give anything to be a singer-songwriter, if only I could sing.”) Dianne says, “I want to reach people who never thought they could enjoy poetry. For people who never take a book of poetry out of the library: I want to change that.”

Dianne laughs that “It was a coincidence that when the announcement was made [about the Poet Laureate] I already had a February 2nd Groundhog Day reading planned at the Montague Rotary Library… This is the kind of reading I would like to do in the next three years. I want to partner with the library system across the Island,” she says. “And that ‘across the Island’ is important to me—I want it not to be Charlottetown-centred.”

Dianne’s own poetry has tried to demonstrate there are depths to seeming simplicity and to themes of home and family. “One of my sons said, ‘Mom, your poems are too simple,’” she recalls, “and I replied, ‘Yeah. Good.’” Her first book, Long Reach Home, came out in 2002; her second, What Really Happened Is This: A Poetry Memoir, with its honest look at the “universal theme” of parents aging and dying, was published in 2012 and won the PEI Book Award for poetry.

Ironically, Dianne was in a “prose phase” when offered the Poet Laureateship—working on a collection of stories about home renovations, mining the experience of “37 years in a 140-year-old farmhouse” and an appetite she discovered among audiences for stories of leaky houses, painting fiascos, and wallpapering disasters.

In recent poetry, Dianne has a travel-inspired suite of poems set in Mexico (where she was heading when we met for this interview) and another suite of similar length from Australia, inspired by a writer-in-residence stint in Tasmania. She worries “that won’t do for a poet laureate.” Here on PEI, it’s dramatic monologues that are piquing her poetic curiosity. “My goal is to write dramatic monologues,” she says, “but I’m still hung up on how to do this. I want to create a mythical voice…” The voices in the community that are giving her inspiration include voices of protest and prophecy she hears speaking out about social and environmental issues.

Reflecting on changes in the writing and publishing scene since the advent of The Buzz twenty years ago, she reflects instead on The Buzz, “What I love about The Buzz is that it is so inclusive and makes the arts available and inviting to people,” she says, “which is what I want to accomplish as poet laureate.”

Already, Dianne has established an email address—This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.—to take suggestions about what the Poet Laureate’s role can include. “Of course,” she says, “I want to carry on the great work my predecessors have done.” She has received intriguing ideas already—and unusual requests for readings, including from a Pilates group. This excites Dianne. “The bottom line for me is that I don’t want to talk to the same people all the time.” She reflects, “Each laureate has done what comes naturally. For me, that’s visits to schools, readings, and workshops.” And poetry coming naturally to Islanders is Dianne Hicks Morrow’s theme for the next three years.

Come Into My Parlour

Profile: Gordon Belsher

by Jane Ledwell

Gordon Belsher (photo: Katelyn Fraser)The carpet on the wall is a dead giveaway: I’m in a recording studio. True to its name, Gordon Belsher’s Guernsey Cove Parlour Productions studio is in a parlour room in beautiful, Guernsey Cove, PEI. Gordon first started recording there in 1991, beginning with his own group, Jar O’Comfort, which also included his wife Charlene. Since then, it would be hard to name an Island musician who hasn’t made the drive to Guernsey Cove. “It has been quite a journey,” Gordon says.

In addition to work as a touring musician, especially as accompanist to Richard Wood, Gordon has now completed more than one-hundred recording projects for varied artists, with a special touch for vocal and acoustic music, and a love for twists on the traditional. “The studio was set up to complement the live performance, and in years the studio is busy, the live performance is less so, and vice versa,” Gordon says.

“I love to hear good music. Someone has said there are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music—and I believe that. The philosophy we have here is that whatever level of talent you have, whatever level of ambition, we won’t let a recording out of here until it is as good as it can be.”

That respect for artists has led to many highlights over more than 20 years, including the family project “Saxafras” with daughter Savannah on vocals and son-in-law Todd MacLean on saxophone, to fiddler Cynthia MacLeod’s astonishing debut recording at 16 (“She was fearless,” Gordon remembers), to recording the late Doug Riley at his place in Little Pond (“He was a consummate, astoundingly good musician. All I had to do was capture it”).

Though performing music predates producing, Gordon’s Music PEI nomination for Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year for “Passed Presence, Past & Present” is a first as a solo artist. “The first band I was in was in 1964,” he says, gesturing to Beatles memorabilia on the piano, to put the date in context.

“I don’t think the scene has gotten easier or harder,” he says. He toured as a 22-year-old bass player with Buddy Knox in the days of six-night stands in small towns. He remembers one Monday or Tuesday night in Richibuctou, playing for an audience of six. “Well, Gord, how do you like the big time?” Buddy asked him. “But,” says Gordon admiringly, “Buddy would give those six people the best show they’d ever seen.”

Gordon brings that same ethic to work as long-time accompanist to world-touring fiddler Richard Wood. He has known Wood since Wood was nine and performed with Wood and Darla Chaisson in the Olde Dublin Pub when the two performers were so young “they had to have special permits and sit in they kitchen when they weren’t playing.” A friend commented “he calculated the total age of the band—and, he said, ‘Gord, you’re way more than half.’” Gordon says, of Richard Wood, “He’s had ups and downs, and is now playing better than ever.”

As a touring musician, he says, “If you can convince a hundred people a night to pay ten bucks each to see you, you can make a living that way.” But money’s not the motivator.

“Family is the most important thing,” Gordon concludes. “I’m a lucky man. The money has always found a way to work itself out.

“You have to trust the cape—and jump,” he says with a grin, after more than twenty years in flight, never freefall.

Continuing with the theme begun with our January profile of Carol Bellamy of Demi Pointe, we plan to talk to Island cultural movers and shapers who have been active for 20 years or more—to resonate with The Buzz 20th year.

Getting the Pointe

Profile: Carol Bellamy

by Jane Ledwell

Carol Bellamy (photo: Buzz)Nothing is more exciting for a young ballet dancer than going up en pointe—finally dancing on the tips of the toes in elegance and grace. Nothing is more important to achieving this milestone than properly fitted pointe shoes. And no one on Prince Edward Island has fitted more young dancers with shoes than Carol Bellamy of Demi-Pointe dance shop.

“Your feet are important—they have to last you the rest of your life,” she says, smiling and remembering the many first pairs of pointe shoes she has fitted on Island dancers. “You take your time with the first pair. It has to fit just right. With the first pair, it’s nothing to pull out 15 pairs to try on!” Soon, one of those first fittings will be Carol’s last. After 25 years as owner and operator of Demi-Pointe in Charlottetown, Carol is selling her business and retiring.

“I was en pointe for three years as a kid,” she recalls. “One of my girlfriends was taking dance from her aunt. I said, ‘Mom, I want to take ballet too.’ Oh, I loved being on stage,” she says. “But you get to a point that your life gets hectic—and there are boys—and there’s just not time anymore,” she recalls of when she stopped dancing in her later teens.

She proudly points to a picture of her daughter Valerie from the recent production of Nunsense in Dartmouth and glows with pleasure that her adult daughter is still active in music and dance. Originally from Ottawa, Carol and her family moved to Prince Edward Island when her second-generation dancer daughter was ten.

Valerie had an unusually shaped foot for dance. “I couldn’t get a shoe in Halifax,” Carol says, “and I thought, if I’m having this much trouble, everyone must be.” She asked her daughter’s dance teacher if there was room for a dance shop in Charlottetown, and the answer was “gosh, yes.” Carol approached her father for a loan of $3,000 to get started, and the shop has been open ever since.

Carol, a trained nurse, continued shifts at the hospital in addition to running the shop, and margins were slim in the first five or six years. “You were doing well to get $100 a day, starting out,” she recalls. The shop’s original spaces she describes lovingly as “cubbyholes.” But opening the shop even brought Carol back to dance again as an adult.

During Carol’s time at Demi-Pointe, dance has “expanded like nobody’s business” in PEI. From one ballet teacher in Charlottetown, there are now more than half a dozen, and, as Carol laughs, “every nook and cranny has a step-dance teacher… There’s so much dance on TV now—even cartoons that make younger ones interested in dancing,” she says.

She knows what dance gave her as a young girl. “It taught me how to keep myself fit. It gave me good posture. And, of course, a love of Classical music. Dance exposes kids to things they may not be exposed to ordinarily.”

And going up en pointe is “what ballet is all about,” Carol enthuses. “That’s what motivates them [as young dancers]. They keep going in their dance lessons because of that.”

At Demi-Pointe, they don’t sell to six-year-olds who want to go en pointe before they and their feet are ready. But as a special order for one six-year-old recently, Carol smiles and admits, “I made a compromise.” No pointe shoes, but “I sewed ribbons on her ballet slippers.” Carol says, “It has been a fun business. These kids are so enthusiastic! It has helped keep me young, dealing with children.” And, indeed, she is youthful and lithe at 70.

“I’ve really enjoyed the last 25 years,” she says. “It has really been worthwhile. Kids I fitted for their pointe shoes are now bringing in their kids. It is like an extended family.” Retiring now to enjoy time with her grandchildren across the street, and to practise the harp she began playing ten years ago, Carol will always carry with her the joy of seeing young people outfitted for dance.

The Art of the Organic

Profile: Ron Arvidson

by Jane Ledwell

Ron Arvidson (photo: Buzz)The first time Ron Arvidson saw a potter transforming an unformed lump of clay, the young art student knew it was a “magical” art he wanted to master. After creating pottery professionally more than 40 years, the soft-spoken potter makes modest claims for his magic. “I try to grow from one piece to another,” he says. “One [piece] has to be better than the last… There’s no fun doing it the same again and again.” Ron says, “I like the whole thing to be brought together—colour and texture matched to the organic form of the clay.”

Ron says that to support this evolution, he tends to “work in series, evolved from a particular image.” An avid birder, he says, “Bird images come up again and again and again. Landscape is involved in a lot of them too.” Though the landscape used to be “really literal,” more recent pots subtly build from earth imagery at the foot, through lines of overlapping glaze, towards sky at the top.

His current work is a series of plates in black-and-white based on drawings of birds—crows, heron, osprey. “They are more realistic,” he says, and yet, “drawing with white is not just lines developing: it’s removing the black. It’s like a wood cut—a process of taking away.” His hope is each piece will be “a drawing you don’t have to frame.”

The plates capture Ron’s love of birds. “Birding is a great occupation,” Ron says. “People can bring birds into their life… Even a backyard birdfeeder can develop into something beyond that; it can lead to an understanding and appreciation beyond that. You can develop a sensitivity to nature.”

Such sensitivity takes effort to value in a mass-produced consumer world. Examining the serviceable mug and cutlery before him at the café where we meet, Ron comments practically, “It’s getting to a point you don’t really need the item that is handmade, that has a design component or decoration.” The mass-produced stuff, though, is “pretty sterile, pretty much the same.”

He muses, “Now that you can go to a computer and create a design on the computer and have a 3D image printed, it’s hard to justify making something that starts with a ball of clay. But,” he says hopefully, “I think there’s a growing movement to appreciate nature”—and along with it, the organic, handmade, and artisanal.

“Plan B” protests against highway development and habitat destruction underscore this for Ron. “Plan B shows it has gotten to a point things have gone a little too far. Making products has gone too far.

“People are not happy with things being imposed on them and want to take control of their environment and what they have in their homes. They want not just mass-produced [stuff], but more and more people appreciate the hand-crafted item, the homemade loaf of bread, the homemade meal. They appreciate [things that are] locally made from local products.” He feels sure “this is going to become more central.”

The work of a potter is often solitary, so connecting to others through teaching is “essential” to Ron. He says, “It comes back to the fact that working in the studio, I didn’t like working alone all the time. I like the idea of working with other people and talking to people on a regular basis. I like working with others solving problems, and getting others’ input.”

Beginning a career in the handmade, Ron says, “is like a young farmer—it is not an easy pathway… You’re going to have to grasp a path and take it on yourself to explore.” He speaks admiringly of the new generation of Island artisans doing exactly that.

Ron now reflects on one of his biggest early influences, Saskatchewan potter Jack Sures, and realizes his hallmark was “he approached it as an artistic endeavour.” Pressed to suggest how he wants his own work remembered, Ron Arvidson says, “I want people to appreciate it for the quality of workmanship, and for real growth and development and change over time.” Clay doesn’t change or grow without the potter’s hand, the artist endeavouring.

The Fine Print

Profile: Lionel Stevenson

by Jane Ledwell

Lionel Stevenson (photo: Lionel Stevenson)

"Photography is a vast subject," says Lionel Stevenson. "There is no discipline, from medicine to astronomy, that doesn't use photography. But fine art photography is not concerned about the things that are recorded so much as the expression."

Though he grew up in New Brunswick, Lionel Stevenson's beginnings as a photographer were here. In 1947, at eight years old, he found $5 on a Charlottetown sidewalk in Charlottetown and knew precisely what he wanted: a camera. He also knew precisely what he wanted to photograph and from what vantage point: his family farm from the hayfields.

A major retrospective of his work at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery retraces Lionel's development from 1962, 15 years after that first photo, with an emphasis on the preoccupation that emerged for him not long after that first photograph: the perfecting the print itself and the expressive art of photographic printmaking.

Ten years after capturing that first photographic image, a second turning point for Lionel was his first experience in a darkroom developing silver prints. Diverted from studying architecture, he took up work in a commercial darkroom in Ottawa, and in 1968 the opportunity came to make prints for legendary American photographer Berenice Abbot, who was limited from the darkroom by emphysema.

"Some described her as the best silver printer of the 20th century, which I didn't realize at the time," Lionel recalls. "She was such a fine printer, at first I had a hard time pleasing her," he says. "She would doanything to get the prints she wanted. We would work for days to get the first print from one negative. My whole method of printing changed. I saw what the possibilities were."

Lionel says, "I was incredibly lucky." In addition to her own accomplishments, Abbott was instrumental in bringing the work of Eugène Atget to North America. "She met him a week before he died and did a portrait," Lionel says. "Atget was the father of modern photography, and some think he was the greatest photographer who lived."

With access to the prints of two of the finest photographers of the 20th century, Lionel says, "The down side of the whole thing was only that I wasn't in a place [in my artistic development] to ask what I should be looking for."

Lionel returned to Ottawa and turned to street photography as well as fine art and documentary projects. In 1970, another turning point: a print he made called "Gatineau." "It was the first [print] in which everything worked out exactly as I visualized it," he says. This is the lead picture in the Confederation Centre retrospective. Having made the photograph, Lionel remembers thinking, "I know I can do this. I can get what I want. The question then becomes what do I photograph?"

"When photography started, a number of people took up photography and these photographers used large cameras. They were concerned with selecting what would be in the picture. They controlled everything and processed and printed their own plates," he says.

Kodak introduced cameras that told the photographers "you push the button, we'll do the rest." Lionel says, "This was a good thing in a way. It put photography in the hands of the public. But it took control away from the photographers. Pointing the camera at things became more about the things than with the art." Lionel's search was for subject matter that would result in art.

"After a while," Lionel says, "I wanted to come back to the Island," where he had summered with his family in his youth. "I had never really lived here - and yet I missed it. As soon as I got back to the Island, I realized I missed the salt air. I missed being near the sea." At the time, there was a need for a commercial studio. And Lionel was still photographing on his own 8x10" film - architecture, landscape.

"The landscape is very quiet here," he says. He recalls a Newfoundland-based friend of his partner, painter Terry Dunton Stevenson, commenting that the PEI landscape is "so horizontal, it's like getting seasick" to look at it.

Subject matter is a challenge here on the Island as anywhere. "Another thing with photography is that people have wanted to make things look nice," Lionel says. "Tourism photography has an ulterior motive of selling that has affected everyone." On the other hand, "There's a tendency to do the opposite in fine art photography - to photograph the banal. To photograph the pile of garbage, which is just as bad, in a way."

Despite - or perhaps because of - Lionel's exacting training in making photographic prints, the whole retrospective, except two prints, is entirely digital. Lionel does not romanticize the darkroom.

"The digital process is far superior," he says with certainty, "because it is more flexible. The printing process was a struggle to get what I wanted. I would work for weeks to get the print I wanted." A close examination of digital art photographs prints during a trip to Amsterdam marked another latter-day turning point and convinced him to sell everything analog, from camera to darkroom equipment.

"It's only a change of medium," he says. "All the problems are still there with what's in front of the camera. You have to deal with it just the same."

One interesting problem is the problem of colour, which Lionel describes as "overamped" by much film. As he digitizes from film, he is able to "digitize the colour as I saw it."

Still, Lionel says, "I work mostly with black and white: most things don't need colour. Black and white is more abstractŠ It's easier to get distracted and not see the photograph in colour. It's easy to get lost in the image, or get lost in the subject. I was falling into that too, until I clued into it." He prints in colour "when the image demands it."

In Lionel's view, digital photography actually helps give primacy to the print. "Every device" - every individual camera, tablet, or phone - "has it own colour rendition." Colour looks slightly different on your computer and mine. "The only thing that doesn't change," Lionel says, "is the print."

Lionel quotes Ansel Adams's famous quotation that "The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance," and always looks forward towards the performance.

"I studied a program developed by Ansel Adams to train myself, through a series of steps, to see in black and white," Lionel says. The systematic process allows him to memorize the tones of greys. He has learned to see in a new way. "After doing this for years, you see the values in the greys and are able to adjust the processes to get what you want," he says.

"Nobody does this," Lionel admits. "Ninety-five percent of photographer accept what they get in a print."

Lionel's sensibility is now fine-tuned to creating the final piece of art he envisions. The beginning point, now, is always to see something that would make a beautiful print. "If you don't photograph it, if you just look at it, you dull your sensibilities," he says. "You dull your sensibilities if you don't go towards it, to make the new thing - to make the print," he observes.

When people visit the retrospective, they will see fifty years of photographs and prints that have taken a year to make. "I'm hoping people will make the leap to seeing the art: to seeing the print," Lionel says. When you look at a photograph, "you always see the subject." And "when photos are technically excellent it's harder to see the photograph as an object," he says, "but I want people to see the print: the new thing that has been created."

Events Calendar

September 2018
S M T W T F S
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30

Some Upcoming Events

Colette

October 15–25
City Cinema rating tba
Dir: Wash Westmoreland, UK, 111 min. Keira Knightley, Dominic  [ ... ]

DMayne Event returns

With guests Jerry–Faye, Jamie Comeau and the Crooked Teeth, and Math Class October 12 at Spo [ ... ]

The Song and the Sorrow

Mille Clarke’s film of Catherine MacLellan and her father Gene at Charlottetown Film Festival Oct [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Drawing the line

Profile: Sandy Carruthers by Jane Ledwell Retired for a year now after twenty-five years teaching  [ ... ]

Free transportation at Cloggeroo

The provincial government will sponsor free transportation at this year’s Cloggeroo festival to he [ ... ]

Charlottetown’s Historic Squares exhibit...

The City of Charlottetown Planning and Heritage Department has created an exhibit exploring the hist [ ... ]