Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Garden of 2016

Gardening has always been part of my life. When I was a youngster growing up in the Garlic Flats, my first toy was a shovel forged by my dad in his blacksmith shop. I grew up surrounded by gardens: a front yard garden, another in the back yard and a much larger side yard garden. We had no lawns. 

We all shared in the garden work and learned early were our food comes from.  Our gardens were a mix of flowers like poppies, calendula, bachelor buttons, cosmos hollyhocks, and vegetables. The flowers attracted birds and bees and other pollinating insects and in a good summer our gardens were brimming with vegetables – an abundant, edible landscape wonderful to behold. 

I like a garden that has a wild natural look, one that’s treated like a work of art using plants for their shape and color. But unlike a work of art the garden escapes the control of a finished work of art. Nature knows best. Plants grow, move and constantly change in size and color.  I plant in beds large and small. Some plants like corn and potatoes need a lot of room. Others, like beans, carrots, eggplant, okra, peppers, various types of lettuce, and radishes can fit into smaller beds. Each bed has a different mix of herbs: dill, parsley, summer savory, sage, rosemary, mint and basil. The perimeter surrounding the beds is planted to perennials: Karl Forester grasses, Saskatoon bushes and flowers. Rouge sunflowers often plant themselves, as does dill, burgundy and green lambs’ quarters. Each year the garden takes a different look.

 This year has been an especially good garden year. I’ve never seen plants bigger and more productive.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


I love honey-sweet, tangy rhubarb. I enjoy it on my cereal in the morning. And I enjoy it with plain yogurt drizzled with maple syrup.

I have three separate plants in my garden, some I’ve picked weekly and shared with family and friends, some I’ve cooked as a simple compote for myself. A third plant on the east side of the garden I’ve only started to pick. Yesterday, as I was picking some stalks from that plant I noticed several gigantic leaves. Rhubarb leaves bigger than I’ve seen before. Sure we’ve had good rains recently and lots of prairie sun. But there was something unusual in the size of the leaves that caught my attention.

A recent Financial Post article by Lawrence Solomon: “Hooray! There’s reason to celebrate that CO2 levels are rising,” that my brother-in-law sent me, jostled my mind. Plants love CO2. Could it be the over 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere has given the rhubarb leaves an extra growth spurt?  Nature loves abundance. Should I celebrate?  Should I shout out “Hooray” with my 400 ppm CO2 filled lungs?  Not likely!

CO2 levels are rising at a rate of 0.04 % annually. Existing coal fired plants and over a billion cars spewing out CO2 may well raise that to 550 ppm.  Concentrations that high were last seen 23 million years ago. That may be way more than humans, plants and animals can handle. Welcome to the Anthropocene!*

What the planet needs is a green thumb species, working with nature, building healthy soils in backyard gardens, in community gardens and adopting Miquel Altieri proposal for an agroecosystem of agriculture which “could sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.”

Let’s start digging and planting!

* "Record Levels of CO2 Herald the Future of Climate Change", by David Biello in the November 10, 2015  issue of Scientific American.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Cicansky Gazebo

Large or small, a gazebo is a refreshing focal point in the garden, providing shade, shelter, rest, and intimate views of the surrounding landscape. It's a place where life and art are rooted, a place where the smell of wet earth, the sight and feel of nature's fecundity and the rhythm of its unfailing cycles reminds us of our place in creation. And it's a place to watch butterflies and bees among the flowers, to delight in the passing seasons, the evening moon and the morning star.

Grow Regina and I have actively begun the process to raise funds to allow the construction of this gazebo in the Yara Community Gardens on Queen Street in Regina. If you would like to help, or make a donation, please contact Grow Regina.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

One of my book projects

I'll be presenting at the launch for my brother-in-law Joe Varro's new book, "Tracks". Join us at the Art Gallery of Regina on Thursday, October 30th, 7:30 pm.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Eternal Garden

Digging the winter garden of 2014.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My new Exhibition

"The power of Victor Cicansky’s sculptures result from the intimate relationship the artist has with the art of gardening. When emulated in clay and bronze with his carefully attention to detail Cicansky’s enhances the often overlooked beauty of common fruits and vegetables. This effective use of materials accentuates the dependency of humanity on produce and allows the sculptures to speak to the delicate and fleeting existence of the bounty of the harvest."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Urban Wildlife

Life in our little corner on Turnbull Place has become a lot more interesting since my new neighbour Jack has moved in.

Jack is a lagomorph, a prairie white-tailed jackrabbit. He has taken up residence in a bushy corner of my front yard dominated by a large, spreading Colorado Spruce, surrounded by tall Karl Foerster and shorter Oat grasses, amidst local drought-tolerant flowers.

The prairie jackrabbit world -- like our own -- has become more fragile and complicated. Moving into the city is a flexible and resilient way for Jacks to adapt to habitat loss and climate change.

In early spring, Jack is out on the boulevard eating green grasses and dandelions. Several times I have seen him out there with a partner. No March Hare madness on display... Jack is discreet. He's just claiming his little patch of paradise.

We acknowledge each other. We share the same space, breathe the same air and are blessed by the same sun. Walking along the boulevard where he is crouched down, he looks at me as if to say, "This is my world too!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Gazebo for Grow Regina

This is my working model, a maquette 15" high and 24" in diameter, laser cut in MDF, a representation of the gazebo planned for Grow Regina. Large or small, a gazebo is a refreshing focal point in the garden, providing shade, shelter, rest and intimate views of the surrounding landscape. It's a place where life and art are rooted; a place where the smell of wet earth, the sight and feel of nature's fecundity and the rhythm of its unfailing cycles reminds us of our place in creation. And it's a place to watch butterflies and bees among the flowers, to delight in the passing seasons, the evening moon and the morning star.

This gazebo is still a work in progress. The Cicansky Gazebo is being planned for installation next year at the Grow Regina Community Gardens, and will be fabricated of powder-coated metal. It will also be  available in sizes from 25 feet in diameter to the size of a child's dollhouse. The railing around the gazebo can be custom-designed using a child's drawings, or a variety of other designs.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Harvest time

Dug these carrots in the garden. They were celebrating a spectacular garden season. Let's boogie!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gone fishing...

This was my first trip fishing the great northwest off Prince Rupert – out on the water the sky was grey. It was cold and windy with whitecaps heaving… But it was a different world under water. The fish were biting. My first fish was a 28 pound chinook.  Then a 17, 19 and 25 pounder not including the three that got away. On the last two days the sky cleared and the sun broke through. The water was flat and the eagles soared. Long live the wonder of the great northwest!

Wet and Wildness

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and wildness yet.
                    -- Gerald Manley Hopkins
And then of course, there were the ones that got away...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Totems of the Self

At first glance, Victor Cicansky's books seem to constitute a motley autobiography, a multivolume Song of Myself:  "My Life With Clay", "My Garden Palette", "Regina: My World", "My Bronze Age", and so on. The titles point to two of his central preoccupations: the cultivation of gardens, and the making of art in clay and bronze using "My Colours"  glazes and patinas. Like Joe Fafard, his colleague from the days of the Regina Clay scene, Cicansky has a mischievous talent for befuddling the eye of the beholder. Even his bugs are ironically comedic, having exercised their "biting" wit upon the volume entitled "Control of Insect Pests".Upon seeing the damage inflicted by these trickster devourers, I was reminded of Bacon's famous dictum that "some books are to be tasted," while others are to be chewed and digested".
– Dr. Eva Seidner, for the Mira Godard Gallery

In literary works there are significant differences between an autobiography and a self-portrait, and it would be interesting to pursue elsewhere the question of whether or not similar distinctions apply in the visual arts. For the moment, however, I wish to focus on the clearest and most basic distinctions between Cicansky's books and the universal idea of "the book" as collated information printed on paper and bound between boards.For even without the benefit of Cicansky's background notes, the viewer understands that these volumes and their titles stand for passages or "chapters" in the life of the artist. But of course, Cicansky's books are not books in anything other than their outward appearance, which in fact belies their true nature. They are simulacra  conceptual representations of what Cicansky's autobiography might look like, if he were to publish it in book form.
– Dr. Eva Seidner
We are accustomed to thinking of the Great Books as somehow transcending the realm of existence in which their mortal authors and readers must dwell. But even a book whose ideas and mode of expression survive through many generations cannot endure forever as a physical object. By fashioning his books out of clay, Cicansky seems to underline their fragility and their connection to the earth, from which all things come and to which all eventually return, to come again as new forms in a new season.
– Dr. Eva Seidner

Self-Portrait: A Small Library 2011 was part of The Self-Portrait Show, the 50th Anniversary Exhibition at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto from mid-March to mid-April. Excerpts from "The Patient Labyrinth of Lines", the accompanying essay by Dr. Eva Seidner are ©2012, reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The First Day of Summer

It's been another cool, wet, grey day. The sun made an appearance late in the afternoon and stayed for a few minutes, just a glimmer. The real summer heat that pole beans and tomatoes love, hasn't arrived. Unless we get a couple of hot hot sunny months there won't be much of a bean, tomato and squash crop.

On the bright side, the paper birch outside my kitchen door is luxuriant. In over 15 years I have never seen it hung so heavy with glossy leaves. Branches droop with the weight. The hostas, berginias, wild cow parsnip and Siberian Irises thrive in the cool wet conditions. The plants are taller and the colors more vibrant. In the far corner of the garden the fragrance of the Korean lilacs is seductive.
An iris I traded for and planted five years ago has finally bloomed. The information I got with the trade was that it was a tall purple iris. I didn't know what to expect. The purple blooms are huge almost the size of my open hand. In a brief moment of morning sun the deep chokecherry purple standards and the wine colored falls are dazzling. There are few flowers in my perennial beds to match this iris for striking blooms.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Winter Trip to the Foundry

On February 1st, with afternoon windchill temperatures a mean -34°, I left for Calgary and the foundry where I have my bronze work cast. I phoned the highway hot line and was informed that winter driving conditions exist to the Alberta border: blowing snow, drifting and icy sections. It’s a winter drive and I carry extra clothes, a sleeping bag, food, water, candles and matches. I have good winter tires but I am still cautious about my speed. The panorama of snow and sky that unfolds before me is not exactly a winter wonderland; it’s a slow and difficult drive and it was a relief to see Swift Current through the drifting snow. I decide to stay the night. Overnight, the temperatures moderated somewhat, the wind died down, and the warming sun on the highway made for good winter driving to Calgary.

Next morning the bronze casting excitement begins. Bronze lost wax casting process has been around for long time and was known to many cultures as far back as 4000 BC. and has survived as medium for artistic creation .

There is something magical about the metamorphosis of a creation modeled in clay or wood and wax being cast into bronze. It’s a process that depends on the power of fire. Simply put, the original sculpture is invested in a refractory slurry, air-dried, the mold of wood and wax is burned out, leaving an empty refractory shell into which white-hot bronze is poured. With the investment (the shell) cleaned off, the bronze sculpture pieces of the original sculpture, sit in a pile on the floor of the foundry waiting to be assembled by the skillful foundry team and the artist. A patina is applied to the sculpture and then lacquered to protect the finish.
If the trip to Calgary was challenging, the return trip to Regina was even more so. I finished my work at the foundry around 2 o’clock Friday afternoon, had my van loaded up and was ready to go. The weather advisory from Environment Canada was not good. A big storm was brewing over the Cypress Hills that would affect Medicine Hat, Maple Creek and Swift Current, and would begin pounding the region with snow and freezing temperatures beginning Saturday afternoon. Rather than be snowbound in Calgary waiting out the storm, I decided to drive to Medicine Hat, stay the night and head for Regina early Saturday morning.

I was warned that the weather and the road conditions along the Number One could be unpredictable. It was raining as I left, but less than an hour out of Calgary the rain turned to hail, then it started to snow, which turned into rain again and continued to rain all the way to Medicine Hat. Unpredictable indeed! I stayed the night in Medicine Hat.

The Saturday report on the Saskatchewan hotline warned against unnecessary travel on a stretch of highway from Maple Creek to Swift Current that’s always unpredictable with blowing snow, icy conditions and most worrisome, black ice. There were patches that bore out the road reports but for most of way the driving was slow, and would have been uneventful but for the small herds of antelope along the north side of the highway. The pronghorn antelope is found only on the Great  Plains of North America and is so fast it can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour and can outrun any predator.

Stopped in Swift Current for a cup of tea to prime myself up for the final stretch of road. Surprisingly the sun was out, and the highway was mostly clear and hazard-free. Outside the town of Herbert I passed a moose munching on twigs and grasses.

I was feeling a bit hungry myself and determined that upon my arrival home, I’d stop at the new Orange Boot Bakery and pick up a warm freshly baked baguette, stop for a bottle of good wine, and along with the Applewood Smoked Cheddar in the fridge at home, I’d rest and celebrate another successful trip to the foundry.

And finally, here is the finished table that I brought home from the foundry:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Winter Garden

I’m sitting in the kitchen looking out at my winter garden. Recent storms have piled drifts upon drifts of snow covering most of the perennial stalks I left standing in the fall cleanup. The prairie sunflower, clumping grasses (Karl Forester, yes, that's the name of the grass), yarrow, a couple of rose bushes and tangled pieces of driftwood, tall enough to defy the drifts, poke through the snow.

Alongside Karl Forester, October Corn, a five foot tall bronze sculpture has easily managed, for several decades now, to withstand the elements. Further down the garden path sit two terra cotta self-portrait planter pots buried under the snow.

Closer to the pond stands a lovely clumping paper birch, lustrous white in the bright January sun. Next to it half buried in the snow is a sculpture of the persistent and tenacious dandelion. In the icy pond cattails gone to seed are among the perennial survivors.
Bordering the pond, old weathered prairie bones I collected over the years, sit in a pile, reminders for me of Regina’s past as Pile-o-bone, a landscape still I carry around in my head. The pile-o-bones lie comfortably under the snow.

My fascination with the bones surfaced again when Reginians celebrated the city’s centennial in 2003. As I handled some of these old bones I was struck by the strong resemblance between the architecture of bones and plants. Vertebrae have the look of an exotic prairie amaryllis, limbs like stems and flat bones like leaves. In my imagination these bones were transformed into a garden of ceramic bone plant delights. Two of these sculptures sit outside my kitchen window radiating color in my snow drifted winter garden.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blight-free Shovel Tomatoes

I love tomatoes. Nothing beats the feel of holding a firm vine ripe tomato in hand...except the taste. For decades now I have been able to satisfy that love by planting between 25 and 30 mostly heirloom tomatoes.

This past summer my plants, loaded with green fruits, struggled through the cool, moist weather catching enough sun to produce a few mid-season ripe fruits. If the rains stopped and if the summer warmed up, it looked like I'd have a fair crop.

Then late season blight hit. Large brown spots began appearing first on the leaves, the stems and then the green tomatoes. I picked all the sound green tomatoes, washed them in a vinegar water solution, and laid them on newspaper in the cold room hoping to ripen them. After a week or so I noticed brown spots developing on some of the green fruits and decided to process the remainder into a green tomato relish.

There's always next year. Hopefully extreme cold weather will kill off the fungus and my tomatoes will flourish under the hot prairie sun. Meantime I have created my own shovel blight free tomatoes. Check them out:

               Tomato Shovel
               6 1/2" x 22 1/2" x 12"
               Clay, glaze

               Sliced Tomato Shovel
               6 1/2" x 22 1/2" x 12"
               Clay, glaze

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grow Regina Community Garden

We all need to eat; and our food choices are many. Walk into any supermarket today and you are confronted with an abundance of food from all over the world. Not so long ago, in my youth and probably yours, most of the food we ate was grown right here. Times were tough but we ate well. Back then you built a house and you planted a garden because you intended to stay there for a while. Children grew up with backyard gardens and had the pleasure eating food fresh from plants in the garden.

Prosperity, convenience and propaganda slowly disconnected most of us from our food source: the garden soil, the sun and water that fed us. In a recent survey of children in large cities like New York, when asked where their food came from, they responded that their food came from the supermarket in plastic containers.

Ecological thinking and concern for where the planet is heading; and the clamor for good locally grown food, safe food, accelerated the growth of urban community gardens and farmers' markets. Well known is the Strathcona Community Heights community garden in Ottawa, Urban Eden in Edmonton and Cypress Community Garden in Kitsilano where I visited recently, a lovely spot in the middle of the city. More and more people are joining together to start community gardens.

Grow Regina is volunteer group of people gardening collectively with a mandate to enhance the social, economic and cultural well-being of Regina residents. The energy and inventiveness of this group makes it stand out as an inspiration, demonstrating what is possible when a committed group of gardeners come together to create a garden to grow food for themselves and others. It is a model for schoolyards, for backyards and even front yards and other modest green spaces in the city. The school children that are already involved in this community garden are learning how vegetables actually grow and are already committed citizens donating their harvest to the Regina Food Bank, providing families with children like themselves with good food for healthy bodies and healthy minds.

The next exciting building phase for Grow Regina is the gazebo that we are proposing to build that will be a centrepiece in this garden. It will provide a place for the gardeners to meet, relax, and talk about the unusual vegetables they are growing like purple broccoli, blue corn, Black Prince Tomatoes, orange cauliflower and yellow fingerling potatoes. Imagine culinary demonstrations in the gazebo, where food, grown in the garden, is prepared as an edible work of art, shared and eaten under its canopy roof. The gazebo may also provide a cultural venue for poetry readings, musical performances inspired by the garden and for collaborations with groups like New Dance Horizons who host the Secret Garden Tour. Weddings anyone?

A project like Grow Regina Community Garden does much good. I am pleased to offer my imagination to enhance this community effort to foster the passion for gardening and love of nature and art to deepen the sense of community and to give this place a soul.