Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Where do 1.6 million stray cats go during the winter?

Catherine Mann’s outdoor cat shelters are reusable

Catherine Mann isn’t just a cat lover, but a cat

activist who’s decided to do something herself to address the never-ending population of stray cats that make Montreal home. The Concordian Online estimated in 2007 that Quebec had an

astounding 1.6 million stray cats, and there

doesn’t seem to be any decline in sight.

“When a cat shows up suddenly looking for food, I know it’s a pet that’s been abandoned,” Catherine says. “It’s not normal for an indoor house cat to be suddenly expected to hunt for food and survive outside.”

Students come and go and leave their cats behind as do neighbours who are relocating. Unlike other feral animals, cats do not make nests or search for housing in preparation for the winter months. Those that do survive reproduce at an alarming rate as females are polyestrus, meaning they can come into heat again and again throughout the year.

“It’ll take a huge combined effort to tackle the abandonment issue here in Quebec,” Catherine maintains. “Providing outdoor shelters and hooking people up to low-cost spay release programs is just one small effort in the process.”

One effort entirely her own is a simple lightweight winter shelter she has designed to be

completely waterproof. “I’ve been building them for eight or nine years,” she says. “I started out with cardboard boxes taped together and covered them with shower curtains for waterproofing.”

Her design has evolved over the years into the present model, which is reusable over multiple

winters. The styrofoam walls are an inch thick and the front panel isn’t glued, making it easy to remove for spring cleaning and refurbishing. All other walls are glued on and secured with drywall screws.

A narrow corridor leads to an interior living space filled with hay. The shelters measure either two or four feet all around, accommodating two or four cats each, although Catherine can make custom orders of any size. They only come in blue, since “pink is the only other colour the styrofoam comes in and it’s very noticeable against the white snow.” Most people prefer them to be inconspicuous, normally keeping them on or under their balconies.

She has fifteen regular customers, and last year sold a total of 50 shelters. “I have customers all over – they come from as far away as the West

Island and the South Shore. I charge people to cover the cost of material only,” she says. “The labour is free.” The small shelter sells for $25, the larger one for $40.

For more info or to place an order, contact Catherine at catherinelindamann@hotmail.com.

Labels:


Flora MacDonald's high altitude humanitarianism

In her two decades since retiring from Canada’s political scene, ex-Progressive Conservative minister Flora MacDonald has not just taken her pioneering expertise abroad, but taken it literally to new heights.

Recently featured in the CBC documentary Flora’s Mission for her development work in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, the now decidedly ex-Conservative MacDonald – who opposed the Harper merger, and recalls having last voted for the Green Party – was on the ground before NATO and before the War on Terror.

“During the civil war, after the Russians were driven out,” she says, “when you had all the different groups fighting with one another, something like two million – mostly men – were killed. It meant a large number of women left behind in the villages. When I went in there at first, it was with CARE Canada, providing food to those many, many widows.”

At the same time, MacDonald was working with Future Generations International, a group specializing in delivering aid to some of the world’s most remote frontiers. “We were working in places like Tibet, Northeast India, and Peru, and I began to appreciate what could be done in these high altitude areas, where not many other NGOs work,” she explains. In her personal effort to expand the group’s reach into Afghanistan, she recruited Afghan-Canadian Abdullah Barat, who features prominently in the documentary story. His roots in Bamyan Province’s Shahidan Valley made it the center of that expansion. “So that’s where we started,” she says, “and we’ve taken over that whole area of work from the international group.”

MacDonald believes the most crucial part of her current project is building the democratic institutions that make development durable.

“We got all the villages we were working in to elect their own local council,” she explains. “Before, everything was run by warlords, or run from the capital. This new approach involves the people in a way they never have been before. Where we find it most important is in health and education, that they have something to say about it.”

“We started with one village, and others saw what this council was doing, and they began to copy it,” she recollects. “Eventually every one of the 72 villages in the Shahidan Valley had their own council, and that system spread to other valleys, so what we got was the basic structure of governance chosen by the people themselves, and that’s very important.”

“Whether it’s getting electricity for a village by installing solar panels, or building aqueducts, or bringing in school programs,” she says, each community setting its own priorities is key. Logistical obstacles often dictate. “To look at some of the photographs I’ve taken for my PowerPoint presentations, you’d wonder how we ever get over the roads,” she marvels. “The flight time from Kabul to Bamyan is 20 minutes. The drive takes 10 hours, down into deep valleys and over high mountains.” She still has to climb in the back of a four-by-four to get around occasionally, and sees firsthand how “one major requirement is road building. Once you build the infrastructure of good roads, you can get a lot more done.”

“One of the first things we had to encourage,” she recalls, was a fundraising drive for a vehicle capable of getting Abdullah and his gear through the harsh terrain. “There are very few trucks of that nature in that province,” she notes, and once found and pressed into service, it became the workhorse of the operation. “So that’s been our vehicle for getting around to take all the supplies that we’re able to deliver,” she says, “whether it’s seeds, notebooks or pens, or whatever we’re able to help out with.”

Besides lacking transport and infrastructure, the communities that Future Generations reaches have their own kind of energy security concerns. “One of the things we desperately need is wood for home heating,” she says, “but we have to grow the trees to do that, so since 2002 we’ve planted about 850,000 trees – fast growing trees like willow,” that are harvestable in three or four years. “It changes the lives of the people when they have greater access to wood. There’s nothing else for fuel. So when I drive into Bamyan Province and see row after row after row of these trees growing it’s great.”

While some progress comes quickly, MacDonald sees other things taking time. There’s a sensitivity required “not to upset the kind of practices they’ve had traditionally,” she says, observing that at social events, for example, separation of men and women is the norm, “and that is not going to change easily. But when they have their councils and begin their planning it’s important – when we’re talking about birth control, for example – that men and women talk about it together.”

“At first it wasn’t easy for Abdullah to get in and answer questions about birth control,” she says. “But, he’s since been married, and has two lovely children, and he’s showing them that two children, if well spaced, is perhaps enough. He’ll talk to them about the things he and his wife talk about. It was difficult for him in the beginning but since he’s gone back to Bamyan he’s really become a leader in making sure that people open up and talk about things.”

If gender divisions are softening in Bamyan Province, the region has coincidentally been as much at the forefront of pioneering women’s leadership roles as the former leadership contender herself. “A year and a half ago in Bamyan Town, when they elected their Shura, for the first time they elected a woman to head it,” recalls MacDonald. “That hadn’t happened before in the whole history of Afghanistan.”

In a country where religious violence is still a lurking threat for every female, she says, “it wasn’t easy for that woman starting out. But when other women in other villages saw what she was doing they began to say ‘we can do it too.’ So now we see more and more women being chosen to be members of the local councils, and they become role models for other women.”

While the relative success of Bamyan is heartening, not every part of Afghanistan is so lucky. “Unfortunately, at the present time the Taliban is spreading. It hasn’t come into Bamyan Province, but it’s in the provinces that you need to pass through” in order to get there, MacDonald attests. “There are about ten provinces in the South and East where the Taliban is a force to be reckoned with. What I’d like to see in the other provinces is more of the kind of work we’re doing in Bamyan, because that’s providing more security – the people choosing what they want to do. It’s a stronger base.” And, she adds, more adapted to the scope of the task: “the Canadian troops in Kandahar and NATO elsewhere, they’re doing a good job, but they’re up against a much bigger force. The kind of work we’re doing with the people, so that they’re not lured away by the Taliban, is equally important.”

She sees that poorly understood in Ottawa. “I’m not happy with the current government,” she says, maintaining “there has to be a lot of change in the way that CIDA [the Canadian International Development Agency] operates. We don’t seem to have any strong ministers in charge, and the government doesn’t seem to be paying that much attention to it.”

When Canadians think of the situation, she says, “they should understand the length of time that these people live,” noting that the average Afghan woman lives to 49, with men just reaching 47.

“Anything we can do to help correct that – to help change that to a much longer, fuller life,” she says, “is worth doing.”

Info on Future Generations Canada is online at futuregen.ca.

Labels:


Retrospectives for the future

Lifelong biography aficionado Christian Aubert has lived to see technology revolutionize the accessibility and longevity of his work.

“I grew up before TV,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of evenings around the table, with me always asking my mom and dad and grandparents what it was like when they were kids.”

Curious about the predecessors he never got to know, he’s long regretted the loss of family stories and memorabilia to the ravages of time.

“Most people probably don’t even know the names of their great-great-grandparents,” he laments. “A lot of people do family trees, and put in a lot of effort... but in the end there’s names, places, dates, very little in between. A lot of time is spent preparing photomontages set to music and that kind of thing... but within a couple of generations, they’re just people – you don’t really know who they are.What I like to ask people is: what if those people could talk to you?What would you like to know about your own great-great-grandparents? We like to say we give life to that family tree.”

It wasn’t long ago, he notes, that “only the most fortunate” had the means to produce and archive a video memoir of their own, while the traditional written memoirs and photo archiving prove “too daunting for most people,” according to his experience. But now, technology has put the tools within reach of everyone. “I started about seven years ago with biographies, and shifted more and more to video,” he says. Aside from the logistical improvements (interviews are typically filmed over a full day or half day), “you literally see who the person is – you transmit more than the words.”

He stresses the value of shared characteristics that are lost on paper: “You see their essence, pick up their body language, hear their voice. Also, we find it’s important to do [the interview] in their mother tongue – with subtitling if necessary – so besides helping communicate we can maintain a bit of the cultural heritage.”

Finished bios run mostly between three and five hours,with the longest clocking in at over seven, according to Aubert’s recollection. Of the editing process, he says, “So far, everybody leaves in everything.”

“This isn’t an interview that has to fit into an hour for the Biography Channel,” he jokes. “You get the whole thing.”

Info: bios4ever.com

Labels:


High end fashion at Place Kensington

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

Most people think that fashion shows are about haute couture but the Kensington Knitters would disagree. For them it’s about having fun and displaying their knitted creations.

“We model, we're not very sexy but you get the idea,” said Miriam Berger, founder of the Kensington knitters club. “All of this goes to Father Johns, for the street children,” she said as she pointed at the stacks of blankets, hats and scarves that were to be donated to Dans la Rue (an organization founded by father Emmett Johns, serving youth living in the streets or youth at risk).

Residents, Berger and Elinor Cohen organize the Kensington Knitters who meet weekly to knit blankets. “The two of us are retired professional social workers,” Berger said. “We try to develop leisure time activities with a purpose. We're helping Father Johns.”

“This is one of the few groups that supplies us with blankets,” said Father Johns. He explained that Canadian Tire used to donate blankets to the homeless but then someone from the Old Brewery Mission went public saying that the homeless don’t need blankets, they need housing. “Nobody said that they didn't need housing, but when they're cold, a blanket does pretty well.”

“Its hard work but it’s worthwhile,” Cohen said. “The street kids walk around with them on their shoulders.” This isn’t only about the kids, Berger said. “Socially it's wonderful. We get together and have tea and cookies, we talk and we fool around with knitting.”

Cohen explained that the residents knit squares and then she sews them together and crochets the edges to make complete blankets. “Every blanket is a combined effort. Each square is made by an individual.”

Every November the knitters model their “fashions”. This year, they had less residents participating than in previous years but the atmosphere was still jovial. “Not as many residents get involved because the age group is older now,” Berger said. “There are more resources in the community so that they can stay in their own home longer, rather than coming into a senior's residence.”

This year there was live music and a witty MC while the models strutted along the catwalk with their blankets draped across their shoulders. The auditorium was filled to the brim with residents who turned out to see the show. “Everybody who knits gets a flower, formal speeches are made and then we have the parade.” Berger said. “The mobile residents model and then we pick a couple of waitresses who offered cause not everyone can do it. So many of them are on canes and walkers.”

“I'm getting kind of used to seeing all this beauty but the first time I saw the fashion show, I was going to rush down to Holt and Renfrew and say I've got an idea for you,” Father Emmett Johns said. “They quite appreciate these. We love our kids, but we're not able to give them the warmth that a good knitted blanket does in the middle of a winter's night.”

Labels: ,


Coffee, tea or paint?

Deanne Hall-Habib, Bertha Truchek, and Gloria Meiloff (photo: Shannon Rose)

Most of us love chocolate and some of us are coffee addicts but what do we think of these delicacies as painting mediums?

“When they told me the paintings were made with a medium of coffee and tea, I thought ‘you can’t go wrong,’” said John Zampetoulakis, owner of the newly-opened Kokkino’s café where the paintings are being displayed. “I lucked out. I think it’s great. As we were putting them up, people were buying them.”

As I walked in and joined the crowd sipping free coffee and eating baklava, I saw dozens of beautiful paintings depicting landscapes, flowers and animals. The framed paintings were all over the cozy, warmly lit café. One of the paintings in particular caught my eye. It looked like it had been torn. “Her dog ate the painting and then she stuck it together again,” Zampetoulakis said. There’s a picture of the dog underneath the painting.

Gladia Jarka, a member and artist of the Women’s Art Studio of Montreal, explained that when instant coffee, tea or cocoa is mixed with water, it becomes similar to a sepia toned watercolour.

“It’s fun, it’s quite forgiving. But it has its own set of challenges,” said Pauline Shapiro, a member of the studio who originally brought this idea to the group. “I saw an exhibition of paintings in Bromont at the chocolate festival and I saw some people doing coffee work. I researched the Internet and I found out how to do it.” She demonstrated the technique to her fellow painters.

“I went to a gallery and it was all wine and cheese,” Zampetoulakis said. “Everybody was so into themselves. Here, everybody’s nice.” The paintings are reasonably priced and Zampetoulakis bought one for his daughter as a Christmas present.

The exhibition continues at Kokkino’s, 5673 Sherbrooke, corner Harvard, until December 14.

Labels: ,


An art career spanning seven decades

(photo: Susan Horan)

Women of Anita Shapiro’s generation were either teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Anything outside of that wasn’t really accepted. “My mother and father would have liked me to go to McGill,” Shapiro says. “You would go to McGill for an arts degree and do teaching after, which most of my friends did.” Those were the 1930s.

Going against tradition, she chose a different profession. Growing up in Westmount she was exposed to a close community. Her neighbour’s father was also her doctor and she learned that they had relatives in Boston. Her friend went to Boston to study, got an arts degree and came back. “She was a few years older than me and she got a job at Eaton’s and that’s where I got the idea,” says Shapiro with a sparkle in her eyes.

She took art classes at Sir George Williams University in the 1930s and followed up by studying life drawing and landscapes with Herman Heimlich. They would go out on location, practice and learn everything about drawing. In those days there weren’t many books available, as they all came from Europe and had to be translated.

After that she got a job in the advertising department of Morgan’s doing illustrations of merchandise. “We would be given an empty page and we would have to plan it,” she recalls fondly. She worked there during the war years and had to be very creative with resources. “You get your merchandise and you invent the figure, or else somebody tries something on and you do a life drawing. It was really a fun job.” She worked there from 1940-1946, leaving to get married and raise three sons. Taking care of family and working as an artist proved to be a challenge. “It was hard to do freelancing because it was only on the weekends,” she says. “Whenever I had a call to do some work, it was just the time that I had other plans.”

Once her children were grown, Anita was back into her professional career full swing. She belonged to Powerhouse, which later became known as Le Centrale. “I wanted to meet other artists,” she remembers. “This was in the 1970s and I met some very nice people who I’m still in touch with.”

Over the years she’s perfected many styles of artwork including abstract, still life, figures, and cubism, in various media including charcoal and acrylic. She was influenced by the impressionists and loves colour. Her latest paintings explode with colour and shapes, a stark contrast to these dark fall days.

Going against the norm proved the right decision in the long run for Anita Shapiro, who sums up art’s lifelong appeal in noting there’s little that could keep her from it: “These are such fun to do!”

Labels: ,


Bridging the gap

It may make for an unusual friendship, but the pairing of volunteer advocate Mark Cosentini and Barbara Richardson has been a hit.

“He’s a gem,” says Mrs. Richardson of her 28-year old advocate.

West Island Citizen Advocacy introduced them in September of 2007 and since then Cosentini has been her chauffeur, handyman and shopping companion. For the 79-year-old widow, his practical and emotional support means that she is able to maintain her independence while still living in her own home.

“He’s an expert in a lot of things, he notices if things need to get fixed around the house and will do anything that needs to get done,” she says. “I can’t think of anyone better than him.”

The match has been beneficial to both. “Some people may feel that volunteering is a chore, but I really enjoy the time I spend with her,” says Cosentini. “I think I’ve changed, I’ve become a much more patient person.”

In addition to his weekly commitment to his elderly protégé, Cosentini volunteers with CIMOI (Centre d’Intégration Multi-Services de l’Ouest de l’Île), which helps newly arrived families adjust to life in Quebec. He also helps at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board with children who have learning difficulties. “There are so many different organizations that need people, and volunteering is a constructive way of helping people out,” he says.

Richardson realizes the difficulty of holding onto a great volunteer advocate and hopes her new found friendship will continue long into the future. “He’s a good talker and great listener, I’m going to hang onto him for dear life.”

West Island Citizen Advocacy is a community non-profit organization that matches volunteer advocates with people in the community who need practical or emotional support, whether elderly, intellectually or physically challenged, socially isolated or experiencing mental health problems. Support can include daily assurance phone calls, social visits, accompaniment to appointments, or help with grocery shopping and errands.

For more information about becoming a volunteer advocate, please call West Island Citizen Advocacy at 514-694-5850 or 514-631-9151. There is a match waiting for you.

Labels:


Art powers child development, says researcher Wright

“When you’re young, you discover what you’re good at,” says Robin Wright, Professor of Social Work at University of Windsor. “I was great with kids.”

Canada’s top researcher in the impact of arts participation on youth development, Wright determined effective ways to recruit and engage youth in community-based arts programs. As co-investigator of the National Arts and Youth Demonstration Program (NAYDP) with her husband, Dr. Lindsay John, she concluded kids participating in structured arts activities gain increased confidence, improved interpersonal and conflict resolution skills, improved problem solving skills, and skills in arts activities.

Graduating from Toronto’s Humber Community College with a Child and Youth Worker Diploma, she capitalized on what she learned as a playground supervisor in Hamilton’s poorer neighbourhoods and in Toronto’s housing projects. Her focus was “disturbed children” – a term used in the 1960s to describe children with acute emotional and behavioural problems. She’d been working for 15 years in treatment centres in Toronto and Hamilton, as well as in schools with teachers as a team leader, before she pursued a university degree in social work at McMaster University.

“We know so much more now than before,” she says. “Then, no one was talking about abuse, sexual violence, or domestic violence. It got on the table when Trudeau brought in the divorce laws, which made it easier for women not to be chattel. Recognizing women’s rights made getting a divorce easier. There were strong social policies to support women and children, better than what had previously been in place.”

For her degree Wright researched “the kinds of programs to build and have in place in the school system as interventions to prevent students dropping out of school, antisocial behaviour, and violence, and to increase academic achievement.” Her doctoral study subsequently showed slight behavioural improvements with interventions like classroom management, cooperative learning, peer tutoring and mentoring.

When she was hired at McGill, she aimed at longer term prevention programs that could provide models for positive youth development. With support from the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation and public funding, she gathered a research team to conduct the National Arts and Youth Demonstration Program to gauge how effective arts programs are in enhancing the life chances of children and youth in lower-income communities. The three-year study in five Canadian sites showed that community-based organizations could successfully recruit, engage and sustain the participation of children and youth in structured arts programs, and that the children involved in displayed greater pro-social behaviours and self-awareness. It also showed positive impact on school performance and on the children’s families and communities.

Her current work is in assessing the impact of the arts experience on children who participated in the NAYDP in 2001. If they’ve retained positive outcomes, Wright hopes the results will help futher promote and expand community-based arts intervention for children everywhere.

Info: mcgill.ca/naydp

Gisele Rucker is the Director of the Academy at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts.

Labels:


Universal Access benefits everyone

Gina Lacasse with colleague Leslie Bagg

Gina Lacasse feels like a very lucky person. She has a family, a job she loves at the NDG Community Council, and a solid network of friends and colleagues. The fact that she’s confined to a wheelchair for most of her day is rarely on her mind, except when something, like a dysfunctional elevator, compels her to ask for assistance. “I only feel disabled when I feel my physical limitations,” Lacasse says.

She credits her foster mom, Aline Lacasse, for recognizing her potential and her “drive beyond belief” to be autonomous. “She never asked what I couldn’t do, but pushed me as far as I could go.”

Her home on Benny Farm, adapted to her needs, brings a great measure of independence to her life. It features hallways that are wide enough to navigate in a wheelchair without scratching the walls. There are no stairs. Removable cupboards allow her to use the sink. Most important, the apartment is designed to be easily modifiable if necessary, should counters and light switches need to be moved.

Though Lacasse is happy at home, she is frustrated by not being able to help her increasingly frail mother as much as she would like. Since her mom’s residence is not adapted, it would take a group of people to lift the wheelchair and help Lacasse negotiate the entrance.

As our society ages, Lacasse believes that what used to be seen as accommodations for people with disabilities is now of necessity to older people. She says her dream is that all public and private spaces will eventually become barrier-free. “Seniors can benefit from adapting their home because their quality of life will improve. There will be less displacement; if you need a wheelchair, you won’t have to move. Physical limitation is everybody’s primary fear. I think it doesn’t have to be.”

The concept of accessibility is still a work in progress that may take three main forms: Adaptation means adding specialized equipment in certain parts of the home. Older buildings can be transformed, sometimes at great expense, to accommodate special needs. This is done on a case-by-case basis in already existing environments.

Since 2000, section 3.8 in the Quebec Building Code stipulates that new buildings must be accessible. Written with wheelchair users in mind, the needs of people with visual, auditory or cognitive impairment may not necessarily be met all the time. As well, the accommodations may be separate from what the majority of people will use, implying an unintended and subtle form of exclusion.

Universal access, or universal design, tries to meet the widest variety of needs, allowing all people to use the facilities in the same way. For example, rather than have a ramp for a few and stairs for most, a slight incline would allow everyone to enter and exit the same way. This benefits mothers pushing strollers or elderly people who use walkers as well.

It’s not easy finding an adapted home, especially an affordable one. According to Josiane Lamothe of the Société d’habitation du Québec, of the 16,074 social housing units that have been created since 2003, only 6% are adapted. At Chez Soi on Benny Farm, all 91 subsidized rental units for seniors are occupied, with 50 names on the waiting list.

Lacasse sees adapted housing as the solution that would keep an increasingly greater number of people out of institutions and also as a way to create a more inclusive society. “My struggle is personal but I’m doing it publicly for seniors and special-needs children.”

“Your first experience of yourself is in your home. If you’re severely disabled, your limitation will be directly proportional to the degree that your home is adapted to your needs.”

The SHQ’s Programme d’adaptation de domicile (PAD) can help subsidize necessary adaptations to your home. If you rent, the landlord must apply.

For low-income seniors over 65, the Logements adaptes pour aines autonomes (LAAA) may be helpful. If you rent, the landlord must consent to the work in writing.

Info: 800-463-4315

Labels: ,


We've got rhythm

Dance is all the rage in 2008. With the recent craze in popularity for shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance,  we are starting to see dance as more than after-school ballet class, or what the kids get down to in the hip hop clubs. It is for anybody who can catch a beat.

Edgar Lion and Roberta Woloz Mendelson are a tap dancing duo who have been bringing the beat, or tapping the beat, since 2000. They prefer to go by Eddie and Bobby.

As a teen in 1930s Vienna, Eddie frequented the cinema, which at the time was playing only gangster movies and musicals. He loved the musicals and took up ballroom dancing in high school, which has become a life-long passion. He fled the Nazis in 1938 and was later brought to Montreal by a distant relative.

“I’ve always loved tap dancing, but there was no instruction in Vienna at the time,” Lion said. In 1986, at the age of 66, he saw a newspaper ad for tap dancing instruction at the Westmount YMCA and has been “hooked ever since.” It’s never too late to learn. He met Bobbie Mendelson in 2000 when they were both performing in plays at the Cummings Jewish Center for Seniors.

Bobbie Mendelson, born in Montreal, learned tap from an early age. A mother of 5 and grandmother of 10, her legs are those of a girl in her 20s. She’s a born entertainer. “It all started with my mother’s love for the piano,” she explained. “We danced around the piano as kids.”

She grew up with a “creative passion” keeping busy with tap dancing, ballet, acrobatics and school plays. She was a member of the modern dance group at McGill University and taught fitness classes for many years.

“I’m passionate about entertaining and keeping in good shape. I never liked to say ‘for my age.’ That’s out, I hate that… I’m supposedly a good looking girl!”

Staying fit is an integral part of her life. “Body, mind, love and passion,” she said. “It’s kept my mind happy. When you have that passion, it diffuses out to every area of your life like when you read stories to your grandchildren.”

No doubt dancing keeps us in tip-top shape, but it can also be a fun and interactive way to keep you young, long and lean. Next to Bobbie's killer legs, Eddie stands tall with excellent posture at 6’1”. He is thin and strong. "My dancing has kept me in good physical shape. No problems. Always a positive attitude," he says. "My GP says he hasn't met anyone in as good a shape as I am in my age group."

For someone interested in joining in on the dance craze, Bobbie suggests looking into centers that offer fitness courses that integrate rhythmic aerobics. "So much of it has become like hip-hop."

Eddie and Bobby create their own choreography or modify an existing routine. Their one-hour show is sprinkled with jokes. Their  repertoire includes popular tunes like The Joint is Jumping by Fats Waller, and other favorites like Tea for Two, We've Got Rhythm, Love is a Simple Thing, and In The Mood. 

They perform in social clubs, hospitals, and senior residences in the Montreal area without charge. "They always ask for encores,"  Bobby says. "We feel like we owe them money for the fun that we have performing and for giving us the pleasure and satisfaction that light up their days. We connect with them, people catch on to it and they smile."

If you are interested in contacting Eddie and Bobby to book a performance, please call 514-486-8138.

Labels: ,


Innovative artist goes for the funky

Une, Deux, Trois Tasses

"I'm on a high right now. Many good things are happening in my life," says Cote St-Luc artist Carol Rabinovitch.

"My son just got married and so did my daughter, within two months of one another. My husband and I are ecstatic but I'm also excited about the art show" – an exhibition at Cafe Volver featuring acrylic and one-of-a-kind ballerina prints, displayed beside the work of established artists Myrna Brooks Berkovitch and Joyce Slapcoff Stuart. "The response was fabulous."

"Myrna's mixed media art is magnificent. She's my mentor and she inspires me as my teacher. Joyce's oil landscapes and ballerina prints are appealing. I felt honoured to be in the same show," says Carol, who is coming into her own in a big way. She has exhibited at six Montreal galleries, and her whimsical works have been in solo shows at Gryphon d'Or and Dix Mille Villages.

Her work has also been featured at Mountain Lake Arts Auction on PBS, The Art for Healing Foundation at Maimonides, and Mesquite Restaurant. At one exhibit, she showcased her collages of recycled objects featuring bottle caps, CD fragments and badges. Called Blue Hawaii, it was a hit.

Her fun personality pops out in each one of her paintings, from wardrobe, watches and wedding scenes to shoes, dancers and musical instruments. "My passion flows in bright colours. I take the traditional and make it whimsical and illogical. I'm often told that my paintings are unique and highly imaginative."

Jazz Queen

Carol has the uncanny knack of creating a new version of something ordinary that she sees. In her piece Jazz Queen, a shirt sporting the word Ôjazz' and a male musician's face have been morphed into a Picasso-like female playing a saxophone. It's full of her signature swirls and dots. Vibrant, almost kaleidoscopic, it seems to move before your eyes. You can almost hear the music.

"My overactive mind turns the mundane, such as a teacup, into an amu­sing version. On this tea theme, I created an Alice in Wonderland series of paintings." There is joy and humour as teapots dance about in a colourful background speckled with spirals, stripes and dots. Talent pours out of her, just like the tea in her teapots. Called Party of Teapots, this series' themes are painted on tiny 7-inch-square canvases, currently on display at TMR's Gallery Archipelago.

"I never set out to change the image – it just happens, but I see that each piece shares a commonality: vibrant colours, simple lines and seemingly unrelated objects are prevalent. They seem to go together. I'm just happy that people respond to my art with a giggle and smile. They must have something going for them."

Hot Hot Hot

Admittedly, Carol says, she may be a tad crazy. Even her son nicknames her Crazy C. "Sometimes, I have to remind myself that less is more. I just want to keep adding more decorative motifs." But she certainly has found her crazy calling. It's at the end of a paintbrush. To date, Carol has sold several of her paintings abroad and locally.

She also generously donates her art to charity fundraisers. Her website is at earthartgallery.com.

Labels: , ,


Jet-set golfer takes a swing at painting

Side by Side (photo: Peter Smith)

Peter Smith can’t recall which came first – swinging a golf club or dabbing the paintbrush. But one thing is certain: the precision of his putt is at par with his painting.

Both have played an integral part in his life for the past 35 years. His pursuits of the perfect landscape to paint and the perfect golf course to play on have led him to the four corners of the world. Combining both while traveling, he claims that the game of golf is not that far removed from the art of painting.

“I’m always looking for perfection whether it’s in the stroke on the golf course or the stroke of a paintbrush on canvas. Inevitably, I rarely find that perfection, yet I know it’s there. In both, I have to envisage and imagine what I’m striving for,” he says, having golfed and painted landscapes in 37 countries. He has produced hundreds of paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections all over the world, but you need not travel far to enjoy the picturesque views he has captured – his paintings can be seen in various store windows on Monkland and of course in his studio, where private collectors gather.

Although he is an award-winning golfer and writer – having published 15 books on golf and 14 on travel, plus countless articles – Smith is far more intent on talking about the challenges of painting.

Peter Smith

“A painting is not like a photograph, which represents what the eye sees. A painting is what the heart sees. I try to capture that sense of enjoyment rather than a mere photographic image.”

He succeeds exquisitely. His paintings have a striking quality of tranquility and timelessness. His vast azure skies are as interesting as the demure trees that give way to the powerful horizon above them. Nothing goes unnoticed by Smith – just as his eagle eye helps nail a nine-iron, so too does it hone in on the minutest of details destined for his landscapes. Look at his leaning boats in the painting Side by Side. It all seems effortless, yet every shadow, texture and colour is filled with detail. No matter the scene, each has an inherently neat, almost manicured look. The effect is calming.

“For me, painting is a very peaceful activity that at the same time demands concentration, just like golf. Interestingly, both involve strategies. With golf, I have an end in mind and to get the score I want, I need to use different tools and a plan according to the terrain and weather conditions. Similarly for a painting, I know how I would like it to look. The art is in achieving that end, through technique and feeling without compromising spontaneity.”

Peter Smith is online at peterdsmith.net.

Labels: , ,


Miniature art is anecdotal and personal

Cactus Road

Roxanna Kibsey's studio is a shocker. And so is she. Aside from the usual clutter of paint brushes, palettes, tubes of acrylic, colour spatters and canvasses, her studio is brimming with all kinds of objects: hundreds of beads, thimbles, glue tubes squeezed to the end, tiny porcelain objects, miniature figurines, pieces of fabric and inch-high furniture.

Just when your eye has processed all the items, the scene takes on a sharper perspective: Kibsey appears wielding a knife, dripping in red.

"Oh, don't worry, it's just paint," she laughs. "Red is my favourite colour. It's bold, it makes a statement. I'm finishing off the background in one of my tree paintings. It's for a person who lives up north." Cleaning the knife with a cloth, she then picks up a pair of tweezers. Moving them in the air beyond her stunning paintings of tree trunks, roosters, flowers and houses, she points them directly at their unconventional target — a real doll house. It's a wondrous work of art that any Thumbelina would be proud to live in.

"Do you like it?" Kibsey asks. "A bit too small for me, but I wouldn't mind owning this replica of a Chippendale chair on a life-size scale," she jokes. "It's taken me even longer to put the finishing touches on this decorated doll cabinet. It has miniature dishes, even a perogie bowl. It's just like the one my mom had when I was a little girl."

Not only renowned for her magnificent birch bark paintings that she renders on canvas using knives, Kibsey also produces pictorial doll-size miniatures. "My paintings reflect the larger side of my imagination, but half of my brain lives in a tiny world full of childhood memories. I make miniature memory pieces using miniscule objects." One of her thematic montages consists of a recycled wooden soap holder housing a five-inch tall fisherman dressed in appropriate attire. He has a rod and frog on his lap, netting behind him and shells around him. There's even a boat in a bottle at the back. This piece is for her brother who loves fishing.

The objects she finds come from all corners of the world. "In Australia, I found that bottle, fairies, Aboriginal beads and buttons, even a violin broach. I rarely go anywhere without scouting around for the small stuff."

Roxanna's miniature art is anecdotal and personal. Each little item displayed on pint-size furniture tells a specific story in itty bitty ways. She recently created a piece for her mother's 80th birthday. It includes a half-inch square 1957 photo of her mother and herself, a perfume bottle, a little button, a string of old pearls, and vintage beads. Assembled on a little dresser whose drawers are open with personal effects spilling out, it is a darling treasure of cherished memories expressed in art form.

"I make these miniature memory art pieces using tweezers and glue. The objects I find are mainly recycled and they allude to the life of the person. My fisherman piece is for my brother. He likes to fish. My niece is a painter, so I created a piece that holds a canvas on a miniature easel which stands beside a cut-out photo of her. The entire work can sit in the palm of your hand."

Roxanna owns, eggs, mixing bowls, bottles of milk, rolling pins, even roosters — all as tiny as your fingernail. "My little world is something I can escape to. As for the big houses and trees I paint, they reflect the big side of reality, and sometimes, it's overwhelming."

Roxanna Kibsey is searching for artists who use found objects. Her website is at kibseystudios.com.

Labels: ,


Multitalented artist leaves her print everywhere

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch is an NDG artist who excels in experimentation. She crosses over all forms of expressing visual images. She is a printmaker, painter, watercolourist, and pastelist. Her collage and mixed media pieces are presently on show in Agora Gallery in Soho, New York City.

“I’m thrilled that New York is going to display my work for a year. It wasn’t my first choice,” she says, “but I couldn’t get a gallery here to show my collages — I was trying for three years. Curators told me my work was ‘too New York,’ whatever that means, but I took their advice, and went (via email) south of the border.” Her mixed media work on trees was recently shown at Montreal’s Café Volver, and her art has also been shown at the Georges Laoum Gallery (formerly the Montreal Museum of Fine Art store).

Myrna was a long time associate at Gallery Shore on Monkland and at the Saidye Bronfman Centre where she headed the children’s and teens’ art department. She is presently teaching collage at Henri Bradet Centre in NDG, but her soft spot for The Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors still remains strong.

Kimono and Blue Rose (watercolour, ink)

“I ran the art program there for three years. I loved doing it because the people there learned so much. It was a great way to connect to so many who have always wanted to express themselves through art. As an animator there, my idea was to introduce them to various art forms, develop their curiosity and stimulate imagination. They explored sculpture, jewelry-making, stained glass, and painting.”

She did this with ease, for she’s an eclectic artist. Her pastels of flowers are as inspiring as her watercolours that lyrically portray women draped in kimonos. Her beautiful faces reflect the pensive thoughts of women who seem to rise out of antiquity. Pompeii and Athens come to mind.

Myrna has also taken her printmaking talents to others with her fossil graphs. “I select the plants. I do it with kids and adults. We use my own garden to get the plants and flowers. I grow the ones that leave dyes — begonias, delphiniums, irises — and I also incude the weeds. It’s so much fun.”

Striped Kimono, Striped Landscape (watercolour)

Indeed, this grandmother of five keeps branching out. She’s presently taking classical ballet dance lessons at Studio Biz four times a week — she’s been dancing since 1972. Nothing holds this spirited artist down. She’s even created stage and set designs for choreographers. Now she’s ‘dancing’ her way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with her pastel workshops. Still finding time to create mixed media illustrations for Shoshanna Bret Anisman’s children’s book, titled ‘My Grandma Doesn’t Wear a Helmet’, Myrna has just written her own book on the creative process. It’s surprising she finds alone time to paint for herself, but she’s had a lifetime of experience doing that. “From the time I was small, I used to communicate my dreams by escaping from reality through collage and drawing. I found solitude in this. My family was traveling a rocky road which affected me. Fortunately my creative spirit took over. I was lucky.”

Humble by nature, this renaissance woman has embarked on many different paths. After nursing for three years and raising three kids, she spent seven years at the Saidye Bronfman studying the very art forms she now teaches. In 1980, she started formal art education studies, graduating from Concordia University at the age of 42. Nothing stops her desire to learn, through good and bad times. They say what goes around comes around, and this woman rightfully deserves the rewards she’s now reaping. She’s won five international prizes for her drawings and prints, and to date, has been the featured artist in 18 solo shows.

“I am blessed because I get to do what I love create my own way and share it with others.”

Labels: ,