Archive for November, 2013

Places of Her Heart – a book review

November 22, 2013


Places of Her Heart: The Art and Life of Barbara Boldt, K. Jane Watt in conversation with Barbara Boldt, Fenton Street Press, Abbotsford, BC, 2012

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Barbara Boldt, a Fraser Valley artist, aged 82, has been painting British Columbia landscapes and portraits since the 1970s. Her biography was shaped by K. Jane Watt, an accomplished historian, who visited her regularly for coffee on Monday mornings. Their conversations turned to formal interviews, resulting in a coffee table book offering a rare glimpse of a German-Canadian’s life journey, accompanied by visually rich art work begun in Boldt’s middle years. Watt also had access to Boldt’s family archives and personal papers. Some of these treasured items, including drawings by the artist’s 19th century ancestors, also find their way in these pages.

We learn of Boldt’s comfortable childhood in the 1930s in rural Germany, on a patch of land named Stiegenhof, in the north Rhine-Westphalia region. The advent of the Second World War and Boldt’s father’s enlistment in the army are detailed. The war years, the bombings, the splitting up of family—and miraculous reunion is also chronicled. “This remembrance of loss can be multiplied millions of times over in the lives of others in wartime,” the author observes. “There can be no going back, no return to what once existed.” These memories will come to haunt and inform Boldt’s art.

In 1952, when Boldt was 22, her family immigrated to Canada. Boldt eventually married and raised three children in Nelson, later moving to Vancouver. Boldt first realized the magnitude of the German peoples’ culpability for the Jewish holocaust during her years in Nelson, having read an article in Time magazine. She also acknowledged her nation’s collective shame and the silences within her family.

After her children left home, Boldt began taking art lessons. Art soon became a passion that her marriage could not sustain and in 1980 Boldt divorced. “This period was both a time of letting go of the old and of leaping in to the new,” the author observes. Boldt moved to Fort Langley area and began to explore her ancestral roots, proud of the many artists in her family tree.

She reflected more deeply about her own past as well. As her art education progressed, Boldt developed a preference for realism, using the mediums of oils, pastels and watercolors. She also found working in her studio, using photographs she has taken of a landscape or person, suited her better than painting in the outdoors, on site. “Using a realistic style, I’d rather discover than invent the pattern and design in nature which a casual observer might fail to see,” she says. The author notes Boldt’s landscapes sometimes have an abstract quality—“of stone shaped by wind and tide.”

This is particularly evident after Boldt takes on a younger lover named Graydon. Her paintings flourish as she paints the mystery and beauty of the Alberta “Badlands” and the caves of Gabriola Island—as well as numerous portraits of Graydon. Among Boldt’s studies of stone is “Gaia”, a Greek word meaning “Mother Earth.” Her oil paintings of a favored Gulf Island site she calls “Gaia,” depict a rocky shoreline with honeycomb-like patterns and has a sensual quality. “Her paintings illuminate a world that seems static but catch a moment in time, a fleeting quality of light, a place on the cusp of change,” the author observes.

Boldt’s numerous exhibits, include a Fort Langley show in the 1990s, entitled “True to my Heart.” The exhibit was built around “seeing her life through the lens of her childhood self as it juxtaposed images of childhood with new work” the author writes. “It was a compendium of special times and visions that had made Barbara who she was as a woman, mother, friend and artist.”

The economic difficulties of being an artist and a single, older woman have been part of Boldt’s reality. Like many creative people, Boldt has also faced, reluctantly, the many time-consuming tasks involved in marketing her art. She has persisted, despite these challenges. Most difficult for Boldt has been the tragic loss of two of her children, both in their middle years. She confessed the pain will never pass, in a letter to a newspaper, where she addressed her losses, but also affirmed the importance of moving on. “I am a painter,” she wrote. “I like to paint the ever-rejuvenating miracle and beauty of Nature, fully aware that what has grown also must die in time.”

In 2000 Boldt moved from the Fort Langley neighborhood to nearby Glen Valley where she continues to teach art and holds open houses. Her art is masterful, as the final pages of reproductions in the book prove, her landscapes expansive and awe-inspiring. “The subject must be meaningful to me,” she says. “To my experience, to my memory—and it must be working from photographs that I have taken myself.” Included as well is a detailed appendix of Boldt’s prolific art and an index.

In the ‘Afterward’, the author offers her own thoughtful reflections about Boldt. The artist’s life stories are both “fiercely individual and surprisingly universal,” Watt believes. Boldt’s art is a reflection of the world around her, the author also contends, a “beauty that comes from simply being over time.” Time spent among these pages of text and images will surely lead the reader to agree.

Looks Like Daylight

November 16, 2013


Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, by Deborah Ellis

Author Interview and book review by Janet Nicol

“History impacts on the present,” says Deborah Ellis, discussing her latest book Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids in a recent telephone interview. “Situations grow from the past.” Ellis gained this understanding and a great deal more travelling across North America for more than two years, talking to aboriginal children and teenagers living on and off reserves. “Children don’t get recognized for having opinions,” she observes. “They have a lot to say.”

Instead of turning these interviews in to fiction, as Ellis does when writing award-winning novels for and about young people, she lets First Nations, Metis and Inuit youth tell their stories in their own words. “Half of the interviewees are Canadian and half are American,” she says, travelling with her tape recorder as far south as Texas, north to Iqaluit and along the Pacific coast to Haida Gwaii. “I attempt to keep myself out of the book as much as possible.” Even so, Ellis’ trademark empathy and respect for young people is evident in the trust and open responses she elicits.

Each of the 45 people interviewed is identified with a first name only, along with his or her age and a brief biography. Photos of some of the interviewees and scenes of their communities are included. All describe their realities with courage—both heart-wrenching and inspiring. Suicide and addiction issues—among other challenges—appear in some of the young people’s stories but so do their wise thoughts, selfless dreams and their wealth of talents and achievements.

“The interviews underlined for me the variety of experiences of aboriginal youth, good and bad,” Ellis says. She says the positive experiences for young people often occur “when they are able to get back to traditional practises and to connect with their elders.” Ellis also hopes adults reading the book will see it as a “wake up call” about the way young people are treated.

A forward by Loriene Roy, who is Anishinabe and a professor at the University of Texas, gives insightful and helpful context to these interviews. “These are the stories of young people who have inherited the challenges of colonialism,” she writes. …“Yet they live and, often, thrive.”

Tingo, aged 14, begins the collection. He describes a ‘family systems’ program he joined: “We talk a lot about grief because that’s been a big part of our lives as Native people—grief over losing our land, our language, our customs, our ways. Grief often comes out as trouble.” Tingo was born in Kelowna, British Columbia, and is Blackfoot on his mother’s side and Nicaraguan on his father’s. His young life has already taught him much as he concludes: “It’s your life. Find people who will help you live it.”

Mari, also age 14, says “I feel more Ojibwe than American.” She is active in a dozen different ways—from anti-smoking activism to clothing design. “The more I do, the more I want to do,” she says.

Pearl, aged 15, is from a Cree reserve in Ontario and determined to give back as a police officer when she becomes an adult. “If I become a police officer I’ll never use a car,” she says. “I’ll walk around and know what’s going on and people will know that they can trust me.”

For Tulane, aged 14, growing up in an artistic Navajo family in the American southwest, “Art helps us find our way back.” He is interviewed alongside his equally artistic sister, Myleka, aged 13, who says “I’d love it if other people would keep doing art all through their lives, even if they don’t think they’re good at it. Art helps you to see things.”

Ta’Kaiya, is 11, from the Coast Salish Nation and lives in Vancouver, BC. A determined environmentalist, Ta’Kaiya was part of the Freedom Train that went across the country to protest the Northern Gateway pipeline. “If we don’t take care of the earth there will be nothing left but mocking silence for what we could have saved,” she says.

Jeffrey, 18 comes from the Waruppa Wampanoag Reservation on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts and is involved with United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), an organization that brings together native young people and provides leadership training. “Native youth are hungry to be connected to something,” he says. “They can find that connection here and in the traditions of their own communities. Sometimes they have to go looking for it, but as long as they believe it’s out there, they’ll find it.”

This is not the first time Ellis has been inspired to publish oral interviews. She has also talked with Palestinian and Israeli youth, children in North America who have experienced bullying and young people living through violent conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, generously donating portions of her book royalties to organizations helping young people. All proceeds for Looks Like Daylight will go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Ellis acknowledges there are separate realities among First Nations youth and other North American youth. “Racism is an issue,” she says. “Young people take the lead from the adults around them.”

The author also sees friendships and commonalities among young people, regardless of their background. Ellis says there is a “huge wealth” of knowledge among aboriginal people which all of society can benefit from.

“It’s an exciting time for everyone,” she says. “There are a variety of First Nations media, such as television and newspapers, which we can access to learn more.”

The last words in Looks Like Daylight go to Waasekom, aged 16. He is Ojibwe from the Saugeen First Nation in Ontario. “My spirit name (“Waasekom”) means ‘when it’s night and lightning fills the sky and it suddenly looks like daylight,’” he explains, inspiring the book’s title.

Waasekom says he speaks at rallies, “with authority, yet people can see that I’m a peaceful person. I’ve worked hard to get this way and I still have a long way to go. I’m not like most guys my age who waste their time listening to the sort of music that poisons their mind. I need my mind clear and strong. There’s work to be done.”

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Republished from Our Schools, Our Selves, Fall 2013
Also published in BC Teacher newsmagazine, Nov/Dec 2013