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.