World Art Day – A Declaration of Spirit

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Today, it is World Art Day (WAD).  And what better day to celebrate than the 564th birthday of Leonardo da Vinci.  Why WAD?  After all, we are surrounded by art and creative accomplishments on a daily basis.  But to set aside a day for the whole world to participate, to party, to enjoy – that is an entirely different happening. It is collective resolve to become involved in the full measure of artistic expression. It is offering art to those we love.

Dr. Elizabeth Elliott - Declaration of Spirit

Dr. Elizabeth Elliott – Declaration of Spirit

Art is a profound reflection of what we hold dear, symbolizing our values and belief systems.  When we experience art, we enter the whole of human experience.  Today, I want to offer a glimpse of this thought with art that celebrates the memory of Dr. Elizabeth Elliott,  Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Restorative Justice at the School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University.

The corridors of SFU have a peaceful reverence on Sundays mornings.  This is when I visit the totem pole that is dedicated to the “compassionate and courageous spirit of Dr. Elizabeth Elliott.”

Carved by two First Nation men in 2011, nearby signage describes the symbols that are embodied in this remarkable artwork:

“A single female figure is wrapped in the wings of an eagle, whose strength and wisdom guide a journey honouring social justice and human dignity. Leading the way is a tiny hummingbird, whose grace and tenacity opens our heart in the face of injustice.  The figure holds a bowl of water for the hummingbirds, who with a single drop, and then another and another, can make a difference.”

I have never met Dr. Elizabeth Elliott, but I feel a connection through the creative endeavour that honours her memory.

Let us continue to offer art to those we love.

Acknowledgements: Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Men of Ferndale Institution who honoured Dr. Elliott; Correctional Service of Canada; Alex Paul, Spiritual Elder

 

Beira

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Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

Seasons have unpredictable natures, and struggle to retain influence over earth days.  Winter has lost most of its control over Vancouver, but has sent a covering of snow in parts of Eastern Canada. Transitions are never smooth, and seasonal weather patterns, which can take on a tug-of-war appearance, seem to adopt human characteristics.  Is it any wonder that mythologies build upon this idea?

In my farewell to winter, I came to know the one-eyed giantess Beira, Queen of Winter, the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scottish mythology.   Wielding a magic hammer, her brilliant white hair set against dark cobalt skin and rust-coloured teeth, she formed mountains to serve as her stepping stones and set up Ben Nevis to be her mountain throne. Loch Ness came into being when she transformed her inattentive maid, Nessa into a river that gave us the spectacular Loch that draws thousands of visitors to Scotland every year. In her more reflective moments, Beira herds sheep, but she is ever vigilant against “spring,” using her staff to freeze the ground upon which she walks.   The Winter Solstice defines the end of her reign as Queen of Winter, and ushers in Brighde, the goddess who rules the summer months.

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

The Queen of Winter will return, for on the longest night of the year, she drinks from the enchanted Well of Youth and grows younger day by day.

There is a wistfulness when we let go of what is, to accept what comes next; even a goddess feels a sense of loss.  Yet, the possibility of renewal is always present.

“Folk tales and myths, they’ve lasted for a reason. We tell them over and over because we keep finding truths in them, and we keep finding life in them.” Patrick Ness

Scottish Highlands - Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands – Loch Ness

Farewell to Winter

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Remnants of Winter

Remnants of Winter

Spring has come.  The daffodils announced the arrival of a new season, which was underscored by the rainy days that followed.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the world has stirred as if from a deep sleep and is welcoming a warmer sun.  Even as I embrace the energy of rebirth, I cannot help but recall the comfort of hearth and home where tea and a fine book filled the long winter nights.  Winter is a time of respite and contemplation that accompanies an inner journey.

In the midst of the new growth, the remnants of winter remain as a reminder to seize the moment, for winter will come again.

“Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”

“Seize the day, and put the least possible trust in tomorrow.”

Horace

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

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Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

“The frog is quite powerful in our thinking. It’s one of the creatures that can go in two worlds, in the water and in the upper world, our world. . . The frog is one of my family crests, but I don’t know the family story, how that came to be one of our crests.”

James Hart, Haida Master Carver

On Sundays, the corridors of Simon Fraser University are quiet, as if at rest before the commotion of student activity that accompanies the coming of Monday mornings.  Within this momentary pause, I take the opportunity to visit the Frog Constellation that is situated in Saywell Hall, by the SFU First Nations Student Centre. I have been there many times over the years since its installation and have come to sense a silent companionship with the sculpture. The Frog Constellation tells a love story that begins when a young man cannot find his love, only to learn that the frog king has whisked her away to his domain.  A wise old man gives him the knowledge of where to dig in the earth.  Millions of frogs come from the young man’s excavation, the last one being the frog king that carries his love back to him.

Within the themes of loss and recovery, it is the search that resonates within me.  It is the wisdom of age combined with the strength of youth that brings about resolution.

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

Frog Constellation

Frog Constellation: A Love Story

 

James Hart is a master carver who apprenticed with the late Bill Reid.  He bears the Haida name, “7idansuu” [ee-dan-soo], as hereditary chief of the Statas Eagle Clan.

 

The Art of the Story

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Halifax Trip 2003

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Photography is about storytelling – told without the inconvenience of words.

A few years ago, I purchased an inexpensive digital camera to document a family trip.  I confess that I gave the camera very little thought; in fact, I left the instructions at home, deciding to take the “point and click” approach.  I would never consider embracing the title of photographer.  That designation was left to those who carried tripods and huge cameras with impressively long lenses.  While I admired the tenacity and dedication of shutterbugs hauling heavy photography gear, I considered the apparatus an impediment to any adventure that I planned to undertake.

Halifax Trip 2003

Sailing on the Mar II

And then something happened along the way.  I heard the story.  Despite my haphazard approach to taking photography, with every shot I captured a moment in time that would never be repeated. And therein lies the mystery; for photos allow us a second look, a recollection of an emotional response, a reminder that we have lived on this earth.

Photos bring the narrative of the moment, insulated from the noise of the present.  With a simple click, we stop time.

“These people live again in print as intensely as when their images were captured on old dry plates of sixty years ago… I am walking in their alleys, standing in their rooms and sheds and workshops, looking in and out of their windows. Any they in turn seem to be aware of me.”

Ansel Adams

The Beginning of Always

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Ancient Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”

Dante Alighieri

I love beginnings, a fresh start, a new adventure with promises of open roads and opportunities.   Energy, anticipation and hope are all wrapped up in “firsts.”  As a whole, we understand what is required in the early stages:  set up a plan, identity a goal, make a list, share the list.  Oh, the rush of adrenaline as we race into the future.  There will be an end, of course.  And what a glorious feeling it will be when we come to the end of our journey, knowing that we have given our best.

Beginnings and endings are the bookends of our existence.  Two points of time that frame the experiences, both good and the not so good, that nuance our lives.

And then there is always…forever.

Ancient Eqypt

The Great Sphinx

Forever is a very long time.  We may say that we will love forever and remember forever, even though we are not here forever.   Since the beginning of time, however, we have been pursuing the concept of “always” with a boundless passion.  Ancient Egyptians believed that death was only a temporary interlude before rebirth and a new journey.  The ancient Etruscans envisioned sea horses and dolphins transporting souls to Elysium, the Islands of the Blessed.  Ancient Greeks crossed the river Styx on a boat, steered by Charon.

Are we so different from the ancients? William Shakespeare, in his play Hamlet, called death: “The undiscovered country from whose bourn, No traveler returns.”   This thought is echoed by Chancellor Gorkon, in Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country. (You may recall that Chancellor Gorkon stated that Shakespeare could only be perfectly experienced in the “the original Klingon.”)

Ancient Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza

We recognize and embrace forever for it seems to be in our DNA to press forward, to take “a next step.”  Here’s a thought:  what if “forever” was in the moment?  That every breath we take (the average person takes between 17,280 – 23,040 per day) the possibility of always is before us.  As Emily Dickinson once wrote:

 “Forever is composed of nows.”