During the week there is a gallery manager at the Fort Gallery, but on Saturdays and Sundays, we, the artists, have to mind the store. Today is my first day for this, and being the worrier that I am, I came a day early to find out just what I have to do.
First of all there is the dreaded alarm. Bette, one of the others, had taken time to tell me all about it at the last opening, but of course, Memory-like-a-sieve didn’t write it down and I needed a refresher. About noon, I hopped in the car and drove across the Fraser River to Fort Langley. It was grey and rainy. What’s new?
Inside the gallery, though, Claire was doing duty, drawing in her sketchbook in preparation for a new work. With dynamic black and white photos of dancers, she was plotting out a composition, emptying the background of all clutter, in a line drawing that had as much activity to it as her photo figures. It was a delight to see.
As we engaged in discussion, all thoughts of the grey, rainy day outside disappeared. Terry soon arrived to take the second portion of the shift. Each of us had sold a painting from this show and were elated. Claire had a different one to put up and we helped her with it. It’s another protest against the Olympic decision that women ski-jumpers are not permitted to compete in the games. With her fertile mind and sense of humour, she has a female figure lifting another into that flat out form that ski-jumpers take as they fly through the air. There are red tassels dangling from her breasts.
Those are nipple covers” she laughs. “There’s a real name for them, but it doesn’t come to mind. ”
“They’re called pasties!,” adds in Terry with more laughter.
“”Yeah! Oh, yeah! Pasties. What are the women supposed to do? Are they only acceptable to these men-decision-makers if they wearing pasties?”
“If they won’t let them compete, what are they supposed to do? Pole dance? And did you see? There’s a delegation of pole dancers asking for that to be an Olympic event. Now if they accept that and won’t accept women’s ski jump…..” The thought trailed off and we all shrugged our shoulders and grimaced in half smiles.
On the Sunday, I was sitting the gallery by myself. I had written enough down to remind me of the alarm codes and I got in without any mishap.
In the adjoining Open Space, there is a wonderful program going on. It’s a teaching and learning space. People who want some coaching in their painting can come, at low cost and continue to be mentored. Some of the gallery artists teach mini-courses that will help aspiring artists to improve their work. It’s a flexible arrangement meant especially to provide learning opportunities for those who have a modicum of training and who want to continue on, improving their skills, expressing their thoughts in paint.
One of the artists from the Fort Gallery teaches print making there and another who is a specialist in art therapy, teaches journaling through art as a means of becoming more aware of one’s self.
It so happened that Betty Spackman, the author of this Open Studio program, was there mentoring her Sunday group of four artists. As the students painted, absorbed in their individual expression, I had a chance to talk with Betty. We are very privileged to have her here. She is internationally active as an installation artist, and her works are absolutely delightful, full of humor and insight.
She is encouraging me to think about teaching in the Open Studio, myself, since her involvement may be diminishing as she moves forward into new projects that may take her away from us and back to Europe and Toronto where her principle art practice has been located. Her next show is in Penticton.
Mid afternoon, a couple of interested onlookers came into the Open Studio and were welcomed to have a look and then encouraged to come into the gallery next door.
An elegant man in his seventies, I’m guessing, with a faint Dutch accent that I recognized came through and I engaged him in conversation as his wife went onwards into the gallery to have a look. Was his accent noticeable, then? He seemed gently amused. I then spoke of my own Dutch heritage, though I can’t speak a word of my father’s mother-tongue.
There was a joyous moment of recognition. It was Willy van Yperen! It was a fantastic moment of awe that this coincidence of our meeting should happen.
“Do you come out here often?” I asked.
“Never!” he replied. ” We decided to come explore Fort Langley for an outing. I haven’t been here for simply ages.”
We got to reminiscing.
As a student just after high school and then in all my years of university, I had worked at Henry Birks and Sons, the famous Canadian jewelery shop. One of those first summers, Willy van Yperen had immigrated from the Netherlands to repair jewelry in the workshop above the store. From time to time, I was able to go up to this fascinating place where a team of men worked over their benches, mostly repairing rings, brooches and necklaces of the elite of Vancouver. There were engravers of silver to monogram cutlery and platters; there were watchmakers and gemologists. There were stringers of pearls and various other artisanal disciplines there.
For a young girl who had grown up in a family of teachers and knew nothing but, it was like being allowed into Santa’s workshop. Whenever I had a chance to linger there, I did. Willy must have been maybe ten years older than I, and a kindly soul. He allowed me to watch him work and we chatted, though I dared not stay to long. It was an organization that expected employees to have their nose to the grindstone and there was to be no idle chitter-chatter. I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting either of us in trouble with the hawk-like managers.
In my final year of University, a friend and I were playing hooky from our classes on a sunny afternoon. We were wandering the shops of Upper Tenth Avenue, a village like shopping district that served the students and the intelligensia of the University of British Columbia. We entered an interesting jewelry shop that was beautifully arranged in a designers fashion (unlike the warehouse style of the mass-manufactured jewelry shops).
There, in a window midway down the shop, overlooking his rows of rings, necklaces and brooches, was Willy, bent over his workbench, lit by the intense lamps that clarified his minute crafting.
He had just escaped the drudgery of his Birks employment and was now set up to sell his own creations. He was, after all, an artist, not the repairman that Birks had made him out to be. And so we come full circle.
I have spent the last 23 years working in a profession that had nothing to do with my art work. We are both retired, though he is ten years ahead of me, even still.
He promises to come out to my show in July and once again, I will be delighted to see this cosmopolitan jeweler, designer of excellence, and listen to his faint Dutch accent.
I believe in destiny and I am often amazed how some individuals, important in my life, keep coming back through with that spark of friendship that does not diminish, carrying reminders for me that I must keep up my standard and reach for excellence.