ARTFUL BLOGGER: Fabrizio returns as midwest Comet

BY PAUL GESSELL

Fabrizio 9

Poster for Fabrizio’s Comet, an adaptation of Mark Frutkin’s award-winning novel into an opera by James McKeel

Ottawa author Mark Frutkin returned home from vacation two years ago this past August to be confronted by a surprising email. A professor of music and lyric theatre, James McKeel, from a liberal arts school, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, was asking Frutkin’s permission to turn his 2006 fable-like novel Fabrizio’s Return into an opera.

Fabrizio’s Return won the Trillium Award, as the best fiction book in Ontario the year it was published. The story is a magical tale of a remarkable violin, religion, alchemy, forbidden love, and a troupe of commedia dell’arte actors in 17th and 18th century Italy. And now Fabrizio has returned in a most unexpected way after Frutkin consented to McKeel’s request.

IMG_20141016_222823

Making the magic: co-collaborators James McKeel (left) and Mark Frutkin (right).

“Of course I agreed,” says Frutkin. “He (McKeel) worked on it for over two years, including through his sabbatical year. I was officially co-librettist but the work is really his. He would send me music clips (electronic facsimiles) and portions of the libretto as he finished them and I would comment and suggest. So he adapted the novel, scripted it, and wrote all the music for orchestra and voice, and directed. A real Renaissance man!”

comet 8

A performance of Fabrizio’s Comet by students at St. Olaf College. The play is an operetta based on the book Fabrizio’s Return by Ottawa author Mark Frutkin. Photo: St. Olaf College

The result was Fabrizio’s Comet, an operetta, performed Oct. 16-18 at St. Olaf College. Now Fabrizio is about to hit the road. Fourteen cast members, along with their costumes, masks, props, set pieces and pianist will perform excerpts at some schools in the Northfield area, including Sibley Elementary Nov. 6 and Prairie Creek Nov. 13.

But that is not the end of Fabrizio. McKeel has even bigger plans than school performances.

comet 13

One of the student actors performing in Fabrizio’s Comet at St. Olaf College. The play is an operetta based on the book Fabrizio’s Return by Ottawa author Mark Frutkin. Photo: St. Olaf College

“This one feels special and I’d like to work with Mark to improve it and promote it to other colleges and professional companies,” says McKeel. “Seeing it done with our limited resources gave me a taste for the possibilities with a bigger budget for set, costumes, lighting, effects etc.”

McKeel is no amateur. A baritone, he has sung more than 70 roles with opera companies and festivals in the U.S. and England. Performances range from The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, to La Boheme and Carmen. His list of artistic collaborators include Philip Glass and David Hockney. An avid composer, McKeel has written more than 60 operas, operettas, musicals, choral works, arts songs and song cycles, which have received commissions, grants, and premieres from such organizations as the Kennedy Center and Minnesota Opera.

Frutkin and his wife, Faith Seltzer, attended all three performances of the operetta in Northfield.

“The music is absolutely first-rate, the acting was pretty good for student actors, the singing was generally excellent,” says Frutkin. “A live orchestra makes for a fabulous sound. Access to the streaming is up now on the St Olaf home page.”

comet 18

A student actress performing in Fabrizio’s Comet at St. Olaf College. The play is an operetta based on the book Fabrizio’s Return by Ottawa author Mark Frutkin. Photo: St. Olaf College

The tunes are “extremely catching and lovely,” says Frutkin. “They’re still running through my head.”

Frutkin was astounded that McKeel had even learned of the novel Fabrizio’s Return because the book was not published in the United States. McKeel can’t remember how he came to buy the book.

“It was either online or at a local bookstore,” McKeel said in an interview. “And I just happened to read the synopsis, and the characters, plot, and commedia troupe screamed for some sort of musical treatment. Mark is such a poetic and sensitive and engaging writer that tunes and lyrics kept springing to mind as I read the book. I then took a chance and emailed Mark about the possibility of setting his novel and he said that he loved music and opera and was enthused to have it set to music. Off we went!”

 

SOUND SEEKERS: Rotter’s Club Nee’wollah Revival

BY FATEEMA SAYANI

Winston Smith

Winston Smith. “Soma Holiday” appears on the Rotters Club 35th anniversary CD, released on Nee’wollah (Halloween) at Zaphod’s.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, Ottawa punk sounded like this — that’s the Reverbnation link to a 1979 compilation album called Rot ’n’ Role, which features such bands of the era as the Bureaucrats, Vendetta, and Winston Smith.

Originally pressed on vinyl on a limited run of 500 copies, Rot ‘n’ Role has been remastered with six new tunes and is being reissued as a limited edition CD on Friday at Nee’wollah, a celebration of the ‘70s-era Rotters Club. Nee’wollah (that’s Halloween backwards) was an annual theme night at the club, which stood at the corner of Bank and Frank Streets from 1977-1980, and later moved down the street beside Barrymore’s, where it became — under the same ownership — The Eighties Club.

The anniversary party happens on Friday, Oct. 31 at Zaphod’s with a host of players from the era. Ted Axe of The Action brings his band Sister Hyde to stage, and comedian Mike MacDonald — a former Rotters Club playbill regular — will MC the event. Blackshirt Highwaymen — featuring Rotters Club co-founder Carl Schultz — and Arson are also on the bill. Tickets are $35 and include a swag bag.

At the show, expect an audio tour of the punk scene of the era along with a collection of archival footage and photos from the day, some of which appear here, below.

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WEEKENDER: Lots to ghoul on Halloween Weekend

BY MATT HARRISON

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me

A still image from the Twin Peak’s film Fire Walk With Me, courtesy of New Line Cinema

Twin Peaks Art Show FREE
It’s 25 years later. Dale Cooper is old, sitting inside the Black Lodge, confusedly watching a dancing midget and a backwards-speaking Laura Palmer.
After years of rumors, it was recently announced that Twin Peaks, which first aired in 1990, will return in 2016. For anyone counting, 25 years later is 2015 not 2016, but it’s close enough (poor Dale will be trapped in the Black Lodge for one more year).
Perhaps connected to this much-anticipated (by fans) news, there’s a Twin Peaks-themed art show this Thursday, Oct. 30 at Victoire — that’s the clothing shop on Wellington St. W. Fifteen local artists are participating in the show, plus expect cherry pie (“Where pies go when they die”) and coffee (“Black as midnight on a moonless night”) and the odd fan — I’m guessing — dressed up as their favourite character. It’s a free event, from 7 to 11 p.m. This is an event that is part of Support Local Month.
Victoire is at 1282 Wellington St. W.

1950s-60s Ottawa Films FREE
You’ve heard him on CBC’s Ottawa Morning doing film reviews; maybe you’ve even attended a Canadian Film Institute

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REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA: Because a forest in Nepean is a national hub for connecting kids with nature

This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

By MATT HARRISON

Photo by Rémi Thériault

Photo by Rémi Thériault

Tell someone that your child’s school is in a forest, and you’ll likely get some strange looks — as well as a string of questions: “What do the kids do all day?” “Are kids outside in the winter?” “Is it safe?”

Marlene Power, founder of Carp Ridge Forest Pre-School and the visionary behind the headquarters for Forest School Canada, has heard them all. Mostly, parents’ initial reaction is “That’s so cool.” But there’s also skepticism. A school in the forest? Year-round? In Canadian winters?

That’s because we have become accustomed to a school having four walls. But ever since Power read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, she has been determined to help children reconnect with nature. She began in 2008 by creating the Carp Ridge Forest Pre-School. After two years, she was ready to expand her vision. In her search for a natural setting closer to the city, she found the Wesley Clover Parks, the Terry Matthews venture located at the former home of the Nepean National Equestrian Park.

At the new space, she is setting up Forest School Canada, a 600-acre outdoor learning centre for children “to build ongoing relationships with nature.”

“Nature becomes the classroom — a room that’s ever-changing, depending on the season,” Power explains. “A fallen tree could result in imaginary play. Learning can be built upon with science experiments, storytelling, or ‘loose parts’ — sticks, rocks, pine needles, whatever they find. The key piece is that kids lead the learning process.” 

That requires educators who know when to offer insight into the learning process and, more importantly, when to stay out of the way.

Forest School Canada will also allow Power to train outdoor educators looking to start similar schools elsewhere in the country, as well as teachers with public school boards. In that sense, Power is creating not just an outdoor school for children but also a hub for a new form of education in Canada. 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: The horror show that was Kingston Pen

BY PAUL GESSELL

2_The Dome from above

The Dome from Above, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

The late Roger Caron became one of the most famous inmates of Kingston Penitentiary and not because he was a macabre serial killer like other residents such as Clifford Olson, Russell Williams, and Paul Bernardo.

Instead, Caron was a serial robber. But he was also a writer and won the Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction in 1978 for Go Boy: Memoirs of A Life Behind Bars. In the book, Caron describes his first impressions of Kingston Penitentiary, which closed in September 30, 2013.

“Kingston Penitentiary seen through a winter blizzard was enough to strike terror into the bravest heart,” Caron wrote. “Nine acres of cement and steel perched on the very banks of Lake Ontario and buffeted by a bitter and howling wind blowing off the frozen lake. It had the appearance of a fortress: high, gray walls all around; and tall guard towers commanding each corner of the wall. Seated within, on high stools and cradling high-powered rifles, were the blue-uniformed sentinels with license to kill and maim.”

Cell decorated with Harley Davidson, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Cell decorated with Harley Davidson, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Caron’s description is apt, according to a new book of hard-edged photographs taken by celebrated Toronto photo-artist Geoffrey James during the last months the federal institution was operating. The book, Inside Kingston Penitentiary: 1835-2013, from Black Dog Publishing, is filled with dozens of gritty, depressing, and very revealing photos of the architecture, inmates and guards of this infamous place. An exhibition of those photographs continues at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston until Dec. 7.

“I first entered KP at the tail end of its life,” James writes in his book of photographs. “Slated to close after being in operation for 178 years, it was a world that I wanted to experience and document before the prisoners were transferred.”

Recently vacated cell, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Recently vacated cell, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

James admits he was ill-prepared for the experience, his knowledge of prison based on often inaccurate Hollywood portrayals of life behind bars. But James soon figured out the place. The hopelessness of KP is found in his shots of mournful prisoner graffiti, groups of joyless prisoners idling, not just for a moment, but for lifetimes, and the old stone architecture that is the stuff of nightmares and horror movies.

The one hopeful area James found was an outdoor compound containing a teepee and a native sweat lodge.

“It is the sacred ground of the Native Brotherhood,” James writes. “There are sweats every month and quarterly changing of the season ceremonies. I attended two of the ceremonies and they were a ray of light in a bleak landscape.”

A “ray of light” perhaps, but not brilliant sunshine. The photographs of the Aboriginal men in their rituals still seem drenched in despair.

The book and photographs by James have created an important documentary record of life in Canada’s oldest and most infamous prison. It’s the kind of book that should have been shown to Roger Caron as a teenager — it just might have dissuaded him from embarking upon a life of crime.

Geoffrey James: Inside Kingston Penitentiary is at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston until Dec. 7.

Exercise yard, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Exercise yard, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

WEEKENDER: Five things to do on the weekend of Oct. 23 to 26

BY MATT HARRISON

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A screen still from Tru Love, feature film at this year’s InsideOut film festival, which begins Thursday, Oct. 23 until Sunday, Oct. 26.

Tru Love
Just as Capital Pride signed off this week, the 8th annual, fall edition of the LGBT Film Festival — InsideOut — gets underway. The four-day festival features a variety of long and short films, including docs as well. The festival, running from Thursday, Oct. 23 to Sunday, Oct. 26, and screening at the Bytowne Cinema and SAW Gallery, is a chance to view “the best and most diverse films by, for, and of interest to LGBT communities.” Gala night, Thursday, presents Tru Love, an award-winning film by directors Kate Johnston and Shauna MacDonald (who also stars in the film). It’s about a woman who falls for her friend’s mom, a relationship that is sabotaged by the mom’s daughter. Tru Love’s Ottawa premiere is on opening night at 9 p.m. Throughout the fest, expect screenings, artist talks, panel discussions, and parties. Tickets: all-access pass, $80 — and then there’s a slew of different prices for films/events. Best check online here. More about InsideOut visit their site.

Amy Johnson, fearless pilot who is among the women aviators being featured in the Spitfire Dance, a play being performed at the War Museum beginning on Thursday, Oct. 23.

Amy Johnson, one of the fearless aviators who is among the women being featured in the Spitfire Dance, a play being performed at the War Museum beginning on Thursday, Oct. 23.

“We began when the sky was clean and ready for the sun” — Beryl Markham
Amelia Earhart is perhaps the most well known of her fellow female aviators, but there were other pioneers, boldly flying the skies in a time when the perception is that generally men dominated aviation. Spitfire Dance, a play opening this week at the Canadian War Museum, introduces us to Earhart, and other courageous women of the World War II era: Beryl Markham, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west; Amy Johnson, who set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s and flew air transport in WW II; and Jackie Cochran, who was a talented racing pilot and contributed to the formation of the wartime Women’s Auxilary Army Corps and Women Airforce Service Pilots. Spitfire Dance is written and directed by Clint Ward, and opens on Thursday, Oct. 22 and runs until Sunday, Oct. 26. See here for diverse show times. Tickets: $31 adults — prices vary with age and combination with admission for the general museum. More info here.
Canadian War Museum is at 1 Vimy Dr.

Canada’s National Treasure
Before the snow flies, enjoy as much of this lovely weather (he says facetiously) as you can — preferably with a fork in one hand and a giant artery-clogging bowl of fries, curds, gravy, and some mystery-ingredient in the other. Poutine Fest takes place on Sparks Street beginning on Friday, Oct. 24 and running through to Sunday, Oct. 26. While admission is free, those gravy-slop bowls aren’t. Pay-what-you-eat as you graze from a variety of the city’s top poutine trucks/restos. There’s also a $30 pass, each day, that allows you to jump-the-queue to get your fix (comes with two free poutines, a toque, and envious, hateful stares from the other suckers waiting in line). Big D’s, Bonita’s Cantina, and Twisted Potato have gluten-free options. Games & prizes too. More info, visit here.

Warm Weather Brings Worms
Having been tricked into thinking it’s spring, swarms of insects — mostly ladybugs — have been appearing as of late. But the fall weather is bringing out another species this week: the bookworm. Unrelated to the warmer weather, theirs is an annual appearance, caused by the autumnal migration of celebrity authors to Ottawa. This week the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival kicks off a seven-day festival, packed with star-authors, readings, discussions, signings, and opportunities for schmoozing. Events that piqued my interest this weekend are: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload with Daniel J. Levitin (Friday, Oct. 24) and Escape from North Korea with Heather O’Neill, Christine Fischer Guy, and Monia Mazigh (Sat. Oct. 26). But that’s me, and there loads of events to choose from. For the full schedule, visit here. Festival passes are sold out. Individual event ticket prices vary. The festival is held at various locations throughout.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Canadian contemporary art biennial quality over quantity

BY PAUL GESSELL

Howie Tsui      The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013 Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board 4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC  

Howie Tsui    
The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013
Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board
4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Photo © NGC

Shine a Light: Canadian Biennial 2014 is more compact than the National Gallery of Canada’s two previous biennials, but this exhibition is far more memorable, with one wow after another. Several individual artists are each given a room to display their wares, making the overall exhibition seem like a series of mini-exhibitions of some of the best contemporary art being created by Canadian artists.

Additionally, most of the art chosen for the biennial is what curators call “accessible” — in that most people will “get” the installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, and films, and not be left bewildered as to what is really going on.

From Vancouver, Geoffrey Farmer is represented by a massive installation, Leaves of Grass, originally exhibited in a somewhat different form at the prestigious international art fair dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. The installation includes more than 16,000 photographs of celebrities, consumer products, natural disasters, and wars snipped from Life magazines during the period 1935-85 and glued to sticks stuck into floral foam, forming a crowded line 124 feet long. The whole contraption sits atop a long, narrow table with the photos-on-a-stick rising six feet above the table top. One could spend a day just eyeing this photographic review of much of the 20th century.

 

Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Geoffrey Farmer Leaves of Grass, 2012, cut-out images from Life magazines (1935–85), archival glue, miscanthus grass, floral foam and wooden table, installation dimensions variable, installation view, dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, 2012. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Another room has seven large format photos from China by Toronto’s Edward Burtynsky. Nearby is a room for Kelly Richard’s imaginative film Mariner 9, revealing an imagined scene on Mars. Vancouver artist Luke Parnell fills a room with an installation about the commodification of West Coast Aboriginal art called A Brief History of Northwest Coast Design. Another Vancouver Aboriginal artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, has his own room to display drawings and paintings, including the iconic Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky.

The biennial is meant to showcase the gallery’s contemporary art (including indigenous art) acquisitions from the last two years. Not all new acquisitions are exhibited in the biennial. This time 80 works from 26 artists are on display. That’s only about a third of the acquisitions.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

That means works by three Ottawa artists — Melanie Authier, Lorraine Gilbert, and Annie Pootoogook — are not part of the exhibition, despite being acquired during the past two years. Last time, one of Authier’s abstract paintings became something of a signature piece for the biennial. Paintings were scarce commodities in this new exhibition. The two drawings and one lithograph by Pootoogook are from 2004-5, before this one-time art star originally from Cape Dorset, Nunavut became a tragic street person in Ottawa.

Ottawa ex-pat Howie Tsui, now of Vancouver, is in the exhibition with his contemporary take on an ancient Chinese scroll painting. Tsui’s work, The Unfortunates of D’Arcy Island, tells the story of an island off the British Columbia coast that once housed a leper colony for Chinese-Canadians. Music fans will remember Tsui as part of the band The Acorn. In the last few years that Tsui has been away from Ottawa, his work has matured — it looks less like street art, has more gravitas, and, in the case of D’Arcy Island, a strong connection to Canadian history rather than Asian fantasy.

The biennials are products of a team of curators from contemporary art, photography, drawings and indigenous art. The chief curator for this biennial is Josee Drouin-Brisbois, curator of contemporary art. In a curatorial essay, Drouin-Brisbois explains how the exhibition came to be called Shine a Light: “Artists can be seen as modern-day philosophers and visionaries who shine light on events, places, and people that have been obscured, forgotten, or marginalized by history and societies.”

Shine a Light continues at the National Gallery until March 8.

 

SOUND SEEKERS: Waxing nostalgic about Souljazz Orchestra

BY FATEEMA SAYANI

Photo credit: Luna Begin

The band in the basement of Babylon in 2005, a year before their first album was released. Photo credit: Luna Begin


The Souljazz Orchestra hosts a Vinyl Reissue Party on Saturday, Oct. 18 at Babylon with guests The Goods Sound System and DJs Andy Williams and Scott C. Expect a top-shelf dance party with a nostalgic spirit inside the club where the band first launched its live soul-jam get-downs nearly a decade ago — 10 p.m., $15.

The group is celebrating the release of their back catalogue. You can now get all five Souljazz Orchestra albums on heavyweight 180-gram wax. Expect to hear all the textures and warmth that comes across in those records. It amplifies the balmy feel of the tunes, which have drawn sold-out audiences across Europe where the band tours frequently. (Check out this archived Souljazz tour diary for a few laughs).

To mark the occasion, Sound Seekers picked its favourite Souljazz tunes from over the years. Chime in on Twitter (@ottawamag) with your top tunes from each album. Use the hashtag #souljazztoptracks.

Here’s my picks:

Freedom No Go Die (2006)
The catchy “Mista President” got everyone moving, including BBC DJ Gilles Peterson who added the track to his Top 10 list of Worldwide Best songs for that year.

Manifesto (2008)
“People, People” puts a cry for solidarity to a heady beat with call-and-response plea to keep on keeping on.

Rising Sun (2010)
“Serenity” is exactly what it sounds like, a calming eight-minute interlude that shows the band’s expansive range and talent that takes them beyond their afrobeat origins.

Solidarity (2012)
“Conquering Lion” has a regal sound. It’s got snaky, cascading horn lines and a seductive beat that follows a hot heat of sweaty, clubby tracks.

Inner Fire (2014)
“Celestial Blues” is a soulful hip-hoppin’ cover of the 1971 Andy Bey track. The band filled out the originally sparse song with a bumpin’ arrangement of trumpet, trombone, flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, vibraphone, piano, upright bass, and percussion.

To get a taste of the band’s entire catalogue, check out this mini-mix on Soundcloud.

 

 

Photo credit: Luna Begin


WEEKENDER: Five things to do on the weekend of Oct. 16 to 19

BY MATT HARRISON

DeadHearts

Film still from “Dead Hearts,” a film screening at this weekend’s Ottawa International Film Festival.

Ottawa International Film Festival
Only four years old, the Ottawa International Film Festival is definitely a new kid on the block by comparison to other, more star-studded film festivals in Canada. That said, the OIFF continues to impress with a well-curated selection of films from around the world. It opens with a gala on Thursday Oct. 16, and runs until Sunday, Oct. 19. Piquing my curiosity is the slasher film, Girlhouse (after all, it’s almost Halloween!) on Thursday, Oct. 16. And the behind-the-scenes doc — My Father and the Man in Black — about Johnny Cash as seen through the eyes of his Canadian manager, Saul Holiff, who committed suicide. His son and the doc’s director, Jonathan Holiff, piece together the untold story through letters and telephone recordings; it screens on Friday, Oct. 17. The short comedy, Dead Hearts, features a very young mortician (think ‘kid’) who will “give his heart away to find true love;” this film is billed as a “gothic bedtime tale”. It screens on Saturday, Oct. 18, and features “love, loss, kung-fu, taxidermy, and werewolves.” For the full schedule, visit the site. Prices are: individual screenings, $10; OIFF Gala (opening night), $50; or the see-everything pass, $95. All films screen at the Mayfair Theatre.
Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St.

Poison!
It’s 1914 and war is in the air, spies are everywhere, and on a cool autumn evening in an old mansion, a group of socialites imbibe a new beverage unaware that cocktails can be… fatal! This is the setting for Murder with a Twist, a murder mystery being held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (Oct. 16 to 18) at the Billings Estate, beginning at 7 p.m. each evening. The murder-mystery-comedy is put on by the Ottawa Storytellers and tickets are $15. For more info, visit here.
Billings Estate, 2100 Cabot St.

Art Battle
[Memory lane time] Back in the early 2000s, blah blah blah. But one memory from that millennial period is the brief spat of iPod battles that pitted ‘DJs’ against one another, each selection garnering either cheers or jeers from the crowds. In that vein, I see a parallel with the Art Battle format that happens semi-regularly. During the battle, artists are given 20 minutes to produce their best work, whilst patrons mill about observing the contest and then vote for the best pieces. I doubt the masters pumped out their best work in 20 minutes, but I’m sure the battle does produce some interesting composition despite the haste in which they are created. Voting is followed by a silent auction. The ‘battle’ is at Arts Court on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 student/adv. tickets; $20 regular. More info here.
Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave.

Skeletons in Gatineau (FREE!)
Most people’s impression of The Museum of Nature is that what you see in their displays/exhibits is more or less the extent of their collection — au contraire mon frère (or soeur). Ten and a half million specimens of plants and animals are housed in a building the size of five hockey rinks along the edge of Gatineau Park. Known as the Museum of Nature’s Natural History Campus, this Gatineau building is opening its doors this Saturday, Oct. 18 for a rare glimpse into the facility and its massive collection. See how dinosaurs are prepared; get insight into moss and lichens; check out the Large Skeleton Room (including ones hidden in closets!); visit various labs, and peruse the Rare Book Library, which includes Sir John Franklin’s 1823 account of his first two expeditions to the Arctic. Museum scientists, curators, and staff will be on hand to answer questions. It’s free, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s also a BBQ — cash only. More info, visit here.
Museum of Nature’s Natural History Campus, 1740 Pink Rd., Gatineau, Quebec

Celebrity Chef/Gardener (FREE!)
Trussed up in a tweed jacket, sipping a pumpkin-spiced latte, taking in pedestrian cacophony with a care-free air that shouts autumnal bliss — if, while striding through the city in this seasonal rapture, you happen to stroll through the ByWard Market, don’t be surprised if you bump into celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, a wagon, and lots of harvest-y food stuffs. That’s because this is Harvest Weekend in the ByWard Market —Friday, Oct. 17 to Sunday, Oct. 19.There will be a street party Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. featuring — naturally — food, live music, a sidewalk sale, and a historical slideshow. Saturday, starting at noon, there will be activities for kids, including wagon rides and an activity tent, as well as a Food & Drink show (1 to 6 p.m.) featuring Crawford who’ll be doing demos and signing books. Sunday, the Food & Drink show continues (1 to 5 p.m.), this time featuring CBC’s gardening guru Ed Lawrence. More wagon rides, book readings, and activities for kids.
Full schedule here.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ottawa Art Gallery resurrects pioneering artist Alma Duncan

BY PAUL GESSELL

1967 - Untitled (Blue Circle) - Private Collection

Untitled (Blue Circle) │ Sans titre (Cercle bleu), 1967, Alma Duncan. Acrylic on canvas │ Acrylique sur toile 69 x 88.8 | 69x 88,8 cm Courtesy of a Private Collection │ Gracieuseté d’une collection privée

Sometimes the Ottawa Art Gallery gets it right. Really and truly right. And that is the case with its new exhibition honouring the late ground-breaking artist Alma Duncan.

When the history of Ottawa is studied, the focus is usually on the politicians who passed through the capital. Little attention is paid to the entrepreneurs, dreamers, and artists who made Ottawa what it is, beyond Parliament Hill.

Thus, ALMA: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917-2004) gives us a window into the often overlooked past of Ottawa’s cultural life. Yes, Ottawa did have a cultural life beyond the costume balls and skating parties at Rideau Hall. Away from the vice-regal and political hurly-burly, people like Duncan were making this a far more interesting city. Indeed, Duncan was a role model for all women, not just artists, trying to live an independent life.

1958 - Self-Portrait with Red Stripes - Private Collection2

Self-Portrait with Red Stripes │ Autoportrait avec rayures rouges, 1958, Alma Duncan. Oil on masonite │ Huile sur aggloméré 50.8 x 63.5 | 50,8 x 63,5 cm Courtesy of │ Gracieuseté de D & E Lake Ltd. Fine Arts, Toronto

Duncan was born in Paris, Ont., in 1917 and moved to Montreal in 1936 at age 19. She studied under renowned artists Goodridge Roberts and Ernst Neumann, and was soon exhibiting with the Art Association of Montreal.

In 1943, during the Second World War, Duncan received a government commission to create art related to the homefront, specifically Canada’s shipyards, munitions factories and other industrial projects. That same year she moved to Ottawa to become an artist with the National Film Board (NFB). Back then, the NFB attracted some of the most creative minds in the country to come to Ottawa to make films of all kinds, including animated ones.

Duncan invaded traditionally male spheres through her wartime work and her animated films. She was always ahead of the times. Check out the self-portrait done at age 23: Alma is wearing trousers. That must have sent tongues wagging.

Folksong Fantasy, 1951, film still from Who Killed Cock Robin, National Film Board of Canada

Folksong Fantasy (1951), Alma Duncan. Film still from Who Killed Cock Robin, National Film Board

At the film board, Duncan met Audrey (Babs) McLaren. The two collaborated on animated films and lived together for four decades. (That must also have sent tongues wagging). They both quit the NFB in 1951 and formed their own film company, Dunclaren Productions, and made several internationally-noted stop-motion animation short films. In those days, women didn’t just go out to form a company and market their products around the globe. No one, I guess, told Duncan and McLaren.

By the 1960s, Duncan returned to full-time painting and drawing. She was commissioned to create a series of postage stamps for Canada Post. She painted abstract works, including the Woman Series of 1965 that were exhibited in the National Gallery to much acclaim. Those black and white artworks reduce the female form to what the Ottawa Art Gallery calls “geometrically anthropomorphized shapes.” They were a hit.

1966 - The Family - Private Collection

The Family │ La famille, 1966, Alma Duncan. Canvas collage on masonite │ Collage de toile sur aggloméré 60.4 x 103 | 60,4 x 103 cm Courtesy of a Private Collection │ Gracieuseté d’une collection privée

The idea of the Duncan exhibition originated with Jaclyn Meloche from the University of Ottawa visual arts department. Meloche had written her master’s thesis on Duncan. She took her idea to Catherine Sinclair, senior curator at Ottawa Art Gallery. Soon Meloche and Sinclair embarked upon a journey to resurrect Duncan, who just died in 2004.

The exhibition is divided into several parts: portraits, war works, nature drawings, abstracts, and bric-a-brac from her animation films. Some of the films are being shown on a continuous loop at the gallery.

Personally, I find her self-portraits the best of the lot. In those paintings, Duncan usually depicts herself in the act of painting. She was an artist and wanted to be seen as such. And in those paintings, Duncan has a confident look — a bold look. This was not a woman to be trifled with.

Alma: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917-2004) continues at the Ottawa Art Gallery until Jan. 11, 2015 and then tours Ontario.