Taking an Object for a Walk – post 7

On a crisp clear November day V and I headed back to the Art Gallery of Ontario to find the next object to inspire us to walk.

We were intrigued by Violence Lucide (1963) painted by Claude Tousignant.  This is a large painting of a black circle on a white background.  V chose it.  We discussed rolling the circle down the street, throwing it on the ground to create a black hole that we could then jump on and disappear into.  There were some nice possibilities for taking this work for a walk, but we decided to keep looking and come back to it if nothing else struck our fancy.

We stopped at soapstone sculptures and landscape paintings.  V was open to anything, which I was really pleased to see.  She understands how an object can unlock so much if we use our imaginations.  I feel we are just scraping the surface of the possibilities, which is exciting.

We entered the room entitled “Art and the Institution”, I believe, with impressionist inspired paintings hung in a salon-style i.e closely hung from floor to ceiling.  V was immediately drawn to the paintings depicting children, of which there are a few, and she settled on Interesting Story (1898), a painting of two children reading together.  The children share a large open book on their laps, and beside them sit two more well loved books.  They are sat against large soft cushions under a window.  A very cozy scene.  They are in their night gowns and it looks as though it is an older sister reading to her younger brother.  This painting is by British-Canadian painter Laura Muntz Lyall.

V set to work studying the painting and set up a drawing station on a folding stool provided by the gallery. She took this task very seriously, stating out loud her intentions with her drawing and which parts she was working on.  She had a small audience at times.

After she was finished she joined me on a bench in the room and we had a chat about the painting:  Who are the kids?; What are they reading?; Is it a big sister and a little brother?; Where shall we take them?; Where will they take us?.  V decided that they are reading a book about clouds.  Together we decided that we should head to a library and take out picture books about clouds – so this is what we did.  V approached the painting and whispered to the children that were planning to take them for a walk to a nearby library. This is what she told me she said; although I think she said more as she was whispering to the painting for quite a while.

Back outside on Toronto’s streets we headed north up Beverly towards the Lillian H. Smith Library, also home to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books – a perfect connection!  On the way we discussed clouds – how they are formed, what they do, what they look like.  There was not one in the sky.  V pretended that the two children from the painting were skipping along the street with us.

We took a jog down Cecil Street and then north up Ross Street to College Street.  V and I had never been in this library before.  Statues of a winged lion and griffon flank the arched doorway and welcomed us in.  We asked the librarian if she knew of any picture books about clouds.  She indeed did and was able to find three.  We read the books there at the library and decided to check them out so that V can show them to her little brother just like the children in the painting.

Painting women and children was what Laura Muntz Lyall was known for.  This particular painting happens to be one of the AGO’s most loved works of art and it has been shown in an exhibition of gallery favourites.  Lyall exhibited widely and won awards in Canada and abroad, although she is not widely known today as she was most likely overshadowed by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven who were also exhibiting widely at the time.  She is noted to be the first female Canadian artist to have an international reputation.

Lyall seemed to have a way with children. In doing a bit of reading about her after our walk, I came across the passage below which brings things full circle when thinking about my intention to include my children in my work.

“With children, she was always at ease. Meeting then, she immediately won their affection or adoration, often to the astonishment of their parents.  She calmed some of those who sat for painting sessions by letting them join in the process.  During “rest” period she allowed them to touch her paint tubes and sometimes even to paint their own pictures.  With others, she told fairytales. …  In everything Muntz did with children, she treated them as equals, regarding the world from their point of view.”

Connecting the works of art at the AGO to books at the library, with a walk in between, would be a really lovely project to do with children – or anyone for that matter.  I am realizing that Taking an Object for a Walk could be a life long project.  It is a method for a number of outcomes – acquainting oneself with an artwork, with a city, with a walking partner, and it is a true test of the imagination. It will be interesting to see if V and I continue this in years to come, in both Toronto and other cities we visit.

Sources: Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of women and childhood.   By Joan Murray                                                                   Printed for Boardwalk Ventures Inc. by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal. 2012.

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Taking an Object for a Walk – post 5

There is possibly no better museum for this project than the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum has a large variety of footwear to choose from, from all over the world, spanning a history of 4,500 years.

I took V out of school again. Another lovely warm autumn day. We started with the collection in the basement as suggested by the staff at the front desk. There were so many interesting shoes to choose from. I’d like to give every pair a try.

V chose Christian Dior stilettos from the 1950’s. They are silver with a small decoration made of strands of leather pieced together into a rounded shape on the toe.

I chose Margaret Atwood’s shoes in the display case of celebrity shoes. I happen to be reading Wilderness Tips and Survival at the moment, both of which I came across while sorting through old boxes of books in recent days, so it seemed fitting. I haven’t picked up any Atwood since high school.  I believe Atwood calls the Annex home, so we were in the right locale for a Margaret Atwood themed walk – or so I hoped.

V wanted to go to the Island to try walking in her stilettos in the sand. I didn’t have the energy to do this, and steered her closer to the museum. I did wonder if any of Atwood’s characters are Islanders or if Toronto Island is a setting in any of her books. The following day I read the next story in Wilderness Tips and sure enough one of the characters lives on the island.

Atwood’s shoes are crocheted blue cotton with some green near the toes. They have a few green stones sewn on the toe and an ostrich feather positioned sideways. The heels are made of carved wood and are not very high. The caption at the museum reads that her shoes “give us a glimpse into her unique sense of style”.

We drew our shoes in our small sketch books. V also chose a dress on display in another part of the museum and added that to her drawing. V pretended that she was taking Atwood’s shoes out of my drawing and placed them on my feet and did the same for herself.  She had a practice go in her (impossibly high) heels. She calls high heels “clogging shoes”.

We waved at the man and woman at the front desk and off we went onto Bloor Street.

I asked V about her heels – “My clogging shoes feel blanket soft, refreshing, cozy! They are made of real silver and are heavy. They feel like they are giving me high energy when I walk”. Again she has a different mode about her. She is walking with purpose in an imagined reality. I swear I could hear her stilettos on the pavement!

We headed west along Bloor street. Since I had said nope to going over to the Island I said okay to going into the nearby playground for her to test out her shoes in the sand. We walked south on Huron and entered the playground. V took her “shoes” off and placed them in the sand next to a play structure. She then poured sand into her imaged shoes. Once satisfied she put them back on, and met me back at the gate to the playground.

I decided I had better walk Atwood’s shoes over to Coach House Press. Maybe these shoes had been there before, to one of their parties? We walked around the building peering into all the windows watching the presses whirling and spinning and clickety-clacking. A man was doing tai chi right in front of the entrance. Otherwise we may have knocked on the door to explain our project.

We then headed West along Bloor St. to Spadina. V played on the granite sculpture of large domino pieces at the corner. She said her shoes were going “tappity-tap”.

We strolled up into the Annex and walked around a few streets before deciding to go for perogies and a beer at Future Bakery which signaled the end our walk.

Some reflections on this walk:

After today I have realized that I need to let go of my preconceptions of how these walks should go. I will listen more closely to V’s suggestions and go with them in the future. In retrospect going to the Island might have been a good idea – although a long walk. I constrain things a bit too much, even in my choice of object. I chose something that I found intriguing, but also that I thought would be comfortable to walk in – which is a bit absurd seeing as I won’t be walking in the shoes at all. I applaud V’s choice of large stilettos – I wouldn’t be able to walk across the room in these even if they were my own size. I realize now that I am being too practical and literal. We will definitely come back to the Bata Shoe Museum. There are so many interesting shoes to choose from.

Next week a walk from our stay in the Gaspésie.

 

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