Absent and Present



It has been one month since I took a year’s  leave of absence from giving tours as a volunteer guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Do I miss it?  Do I miss walking into the Museum and feeling in a way that it is “mine”?  Do I miss looking for my friends guiding or researching or browsing the book store?  Do I miss checking out who is checking coats or looking at tickets?  Do I miss the nice feeling of waltzing around anywhere I like because I wear a tag?  Not yet.

I have spent almost all the month of July in Muskoka country.  It’s not a bad place for a guide who loves Canadian art to be.  Gliding in a canoe or swimming in a Group of Seven country lake can’t hurt, right?  It is a totally different world from the city environment of the metro or searching for a parking spot.  I have only read for pleasure here and happily concentrated on my own writing.

Some things remain the same though.  I think that besides a love of study, a good guide should have keen observation skills.  Here I learned how many kinds of grass there are.  I learned to look and see how many shades of green there are.  I learned how many minor treasures are to be found in a dump.  After all, one of the lectures we enjoyed in preparation for the Faberge exhibition opened our eyes to the opinion that the missing Imperial Faberge eggs are in North America. Our distinguished speaker encouraged us all to scour garage sales and recycling centers.  Although I haven’t yet found a Faberge piece, you would be amazed at what people throw away.  Yesterday, I came home with two beautifully embroidered tablecloths.  A quick spin in the washing machine and the table is set for the seven (yes, 7 ) visitors we are expecting here in Eden tomorrow.  I can hardly wait to show them the frogs.

The picture?  A certificate I was given just before I left town.  Seems I conducted over 500 tours…..but who’s counting.  I know I’ll be back because I can’t resist the thrill of studying for a new exhibit or for some obscure item in the permanent collection.  In fact, the only pang I have had about my absence was a stab of regret when I missed a reference on the Antiques Roadshow.  Chinese porcelain has been a bit of a mystery to me so far.  I wonder if there’s anything in the library here……..

PS.  Today I was published in an on-line magazine “The Lake” out of the UK in the August edition.  Lucky me that my name starts with “C” which means I get to be read first.  The other poets are certainly more widely published than I am and their awards are pretty inspiring.  Check it out on line.

Country Mice attend an opening



The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently hosted a party for the opening of an exclusive exhibition of wedding dresses (make that wedding attire) designed by John Pail Gaultier.  I had a ball guiding his big show a few years ago so I was dying to see what had been whipped up for the “Love is Love” theme.  The finale of every fashion show is the wedding dress but given Jean Paul’s very inclusive attitude to love, I was sure more than dresses would be on show.

I have been spending a lot of time in the wilds of Muskoka with a dear person whose tastes run more to home-crafted birdhouses and planting various strains of potatoes than the Parisian fashion scene.  I anticipated something of a culture clash as we left the house.  I was dressed in my only fashion item – an ancient Escada jacket of startling checked fabric embroidered lavishly with butterflies.  I bought this in a consignment shop (second hand to you) more decades ago than I care to remember over the objections of my conservative friend who dresses only in black, grey or beige. It grew on her after a while. Thank God shoulder pads are making a comeback.

Speaking of beige, I had to bite my tongue when I noted that my escort was wearing his best black pants teamed with ……another color shoes. However, bitter experience has taught me that if you want the guy to show up, don’t comment on his outfit.

We arrived to a mob in the lobby that brought a hunted look to the eye of my shy woodland lad but with a flash of my volunteer guide ID we were whisked upstairs with the VIP’s. There wasn’t much elbow room up there either but the museum had devised a charming way of crowd control.  We were given colored rings (in keeping with the wedding theme) and admitted to the exhibition in groups according to color.

As a woman “of a certain age” I can say that many of the openings are attended by my contemporaries.  This was different.  City mice and men ,dapper  damsels and dogs were out in force and wearing the most fabulous shoes!  My footwear has been confined for many months to snow boots or rain boots.  I have never worn heels like the ones I drooled over that night.  “Wear chic flats”, you say. I have a habit of paying my bills and some of those mules and ballerinas would make  a serious dent in my budget.

One thing being a guide at the museum cured me of is the desire to acquire art.  I get to study it, look at it and discuss it with visitors.  Soirees like that one help me dampen my ardor for clothes and shoes.  I can never aspire to that level so – just look and admire.

To my surprise, my country mouse was a great hit.  He is very sociable and no one even noticed his shoes.  Well, maybe they did and copy-cat designers will make him a trend setter.

Oh, the exhibit?  Fabulous, darling.  Just check out the Irish knit inspired his and her outfits. Oh, I kept the orange rings – you never know when they might come in handy.

Art Heals



I had a little blood test at the hospital today.  I seem to be doing a lot of tinkering with my health lately.  I find it excruciatingly boring but, like an old car, I suppose I need more maintenance these days.  Anyway, as you can see from the picture, an imposing statue of Queen Victoria has been hauled down the hill from the old Montreal hospital of that name.  I always noticed the great art in the old hospitals which have now been blended together in a brand new superhospital.  There have been all sorts of scandals surrounding the building of this facility but it does have the virtue of being on flat ground.  Four major hospitals were build half-way up the mountain in the middle of town!  Perhaps it was a sort of primitive screening tool.  If you didn’t have a heart attack or break your leg on the way up or down, you deserved  treatment.  Anyway, the three hospitals grouped in the new building are accessible by metro and there is ample (if expensive) parking.  Today I was thrilled to see my old favorite ensconced in the entrance hall.  We were even invited to touch the queen’s knee for good luck!  I was not aware that it was created by a niece of the queen, Lady Feodora Gleichen. When I say, niece, you really have to look her up on Google or Wikipedia which will give you the low-down on her connection, complete with family tree diagram.   Can you imagine a woman creating such a monument in the Victorian era.  Good for her!

There was a beautiful bronze and marble plaque on the other side of the hall and was amused to see that some observant passer-by had noticed the name of the artist.  It seems the official sent by the Royal Bank, who probably paid for the installation, had failed to see the name at the bottom of the plaque.  I think it was put up in the Royal Edward Chest Hospital on St. Urbain Street.  As far as I can make out, the inscription reads, “The Electric Spark which opened the doors of the Royal Edward institute for Tuberculosis at Montreal-  completing by the magical aid of science, a  noble Handiwork of Mercy.” It certainly is a strange dedication but that’s what I could make out.  I think it is shame that the artist who created this work doesn’t get credit so tomorrow I will brave the labyrinth of public relations of the Bank and try to get that corrected.

Now, as for the title of today’s post, that’s the philosophy of the community art activities of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I volunteer.  What a great combination of science and art I experienced today.  I know if I had something really wrong with me I might not be so delighted with these old works.  Today I was lucky enough to find a touch of humanity and connection with our history as well as the high tech and mysterious world of modern medicine.


Public sculpture



In winter I was posting a little about graffiti. There are some great examples here in Montreal but over the past week or so, I’ve been surprised by the great public sculpture around town. Here are two pretty classic examples. The beautiful copy of the winged victory of Samothrace was a total surprise. Montreal’s long summer construction projects forced me to take an unusual shortcut down a very beautiful little street close to Tupper St. ( the old Montreal Children’s’ Hospital area). As you can see they have a more mysterious and obscure figure peering over the upstairs balcony. Can’t tell you who this is.

The more flashy Pinoccio and Venus de Milo homage is a little one. (yes his work can be B I. G ) by Jim Dine. This was outside a gallery on Greene Avenue and I think I’ve seen other works by this artist here before. OK, if you don’t know this guy, just google him. You can see a You Tube interview that is so facinating. He is a painter, sculptor, poet, decorator and such an unpretentious and sincere soul. I really got that impression,when I heard him speak. If you want to see more of his work, our museum has quite a few pieces including a painting. Pinoccio is such an important theme for him. Scratch your head if you will but…don’t forget, Pinoccio was just a piece of wood before he ran away, hurt his father, fell in with bad company and finally got enlightened. Hmm sounds like the journey many of us make towards being a grown up, no? Well worth exploring, Jim Dine.


Borrowed plumage




Today day the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opens the Faberge Exhibit.  I will be guiding today and for the next two months.  I have already done the “walk through” that guides are permitted before the show officially opens.  It is really lovely and all my fears if how such tiny objects could be displayed to advantage have been put to rest.  I have studied quite a lot but I admit to a bit of a jumble in my mind as to some dates but, the “borrowed plumage” will carry all that along.  My dear friend Masha kindly lent me this beautiful necklace of Easter egg pendants and I am afraid my vanity made me jump at the chance to wear it for this exhibition.  It is very interesting from a historical and social perspective too.  Of course the true gold and creative genius are exemplified in the bottom picture but. . . sometimes we can indulge our worldly side too, I suppose.