Thursday, November 29, 2007


This is the original 'Bird Heaven'.
The new and improved 'Bird Heaven' is below.

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Bird Heaven

I just re-read my Elizabeth McGrath book called 'Everything That Creeps'. I LOVE her work. It takes shadowboxes and art to a macabre level that I'd love to see in my own work. (The fact that she did a community service stint in a morgue is evident in her approach.) Anyway, after re-reading her book, I knew that I had to attack 'Bird Heaven' from my own viewpoint. Elizabeth's work is consistently about what she wants to say, and she never tones it down because she thinks she might offend someone.

I completed 'Bird Heaven' in August of this year (2007), but as soon as I was done, I wasn't happy with it. It was on display at the local cafe for two months. But a week ago, after re-reading 'Everything that Creeps', I drove over to the cafe, took 'Bird Heaven' off the wall, took it home, took it apart, added some more details, took out the word stand ('oh Death, where is thy sting?') and stuffed the box with more birds.

'Bird Heaven' was originally a commission for an undertaker. When I worked on it, I tried to think about what the undertaker might want. As a result, I wasn't happy with it. And guess what? The person who commissioned it liked 'Good and Evil' much better and bought that instead. So I learned my lesson. I should always make the shadowboxes the way I want. They tell a better story when I go with my gut.

I should have that tattooed on my forehead- GO WITH YOUR GUT, in some gangsta script.

So here it is- the new and improved 'Bird Heaven'.

'Bird Heaven' was inspired by a bird that my cat brought to the back door. My cat, Angus, had had his fun torturing the poor bird and left him dying. I can't hate him- he's just being a cat. Angus brings me lots of birds and mice but they're usually dead. I bury them in the garden and then later use the skulls in my shadowboxes. But this bird was different. I was gardening that day, and every time I walked near the back door where the bird was dying, the bird would cry out. He was really mangled and I knew he only had a few hours to live. It was very disturbing. I felt so helpless and all I could think was, "You'll feel better soon, little bird. You'll be in Bird Heaven and there won't be any cats."

'Bird Heaven' has lots of bird skulls on the left and right side of the box. In the centre is a garden with a big tree, lots of flowers, and a two nice bird baths. The scroll above the tree says 'Honor Roll'. There's a little girl with bird wings who is talking to the bird in the birdbath.

That's me. The man, also with wings, is the undertaker who is guiding the dead birds toward the garden.

Thank you Elizabeth McGrath for reminding me to Go with Your Gut.

So now I think I'll try a shadowbox on a completely different subject- women of the Wild West. Annie Oakley, Belle Starr......... hmmmm. Women and guns and horses. I'll let that idea percolate for awhile.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007



What is it about? Well, you'll notice the gray General Electric Canada Control box says '36 24 36' on the front. These are considered 'perfect' measurements for a woman (even the Commodores in the song 'Brick House' say, "36 24 36- what a winning hand!") .

The girls in the shadowbox (and the gray Control box represents tv and the media) are being programmed to believe that they should all look the same and think the same. The wires that are going into their heads end with little flowers, which is my way of saying that these messages seem harmless to the girls. The thought bubbles above their heads also have a flower. They seem to be willing to accept this seemingly harmless programming. They absorb these 'look the same- think the same' messages as they stare straight ahead with sparkling eyes.

Their heads are the same size. Their dresses are the same size. Their shoes are the same size.
In the background, however, are a bunch of vintage bingo cards. There are lots of numbers. This is my way of saying that your body numbers are a crap shoot- you might measure 61 33 25 or even 40 32 37 because of heredity or medical conditions or you like to eat like a real person. Just as there are many numbers, there are many women and many ways to dress.

The centre of the flower at the bottom is a Jones Soda cap that reads, 'Try Again'.

You think that women can be so easily programmed? You think that women buy into the 'only one size is perfect' game? Most of us don't. So I say guess what, Media? Try again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dating Circus

Two Power

Joan of Arc Hears the Angels (Vox Angelica)

The Dating Circus

The gentleman who bought 'Wedding Circus' asked me to make another circus-themed box. Here it is! I just completed 'Dating Circus', which I have been told is the best shadowbox I've done to date. It is going to be hung in a room at the Retro Suites (a very cool and funky hotel located here in Chatham).

I feel quite honoured!

I am currently working on some smaller pieces for a show called 'Through Women's Hands'.

The cute little piece, above, called 'Joan of Arc Hears the Angels (Vox Angelica)' is only 4.25" x 6.25". Just to give you an idea of scale, 'Dating Circus' (above) measures almost 36" x 30" x 4". Making smaller pieces is fun because I can do them in a day.

I think I will make more of these mini-boxes in the future. Not everyone has a whole wall they can devote to one shadowbox.

Plus, there are some topics that are pretty simple to illustrate and only need a little box to get the point across. 'Joan of Arc Hears the Angels (Vox Angelica)' only needed a face, a reference to angels, and a sword- voila.

I will be submitting "Two Power" (above) for the show"Through Women's Hands". It's also a little piece that took me less than a day to make.

I wanted 'Two Power' to illustrate that although we live in a techno-rich world, the real power comes from our relationships with each other. Even if we look and act like robots, we still have hearts and we still need love.

Now, I have to get back to a big commission I'm working on for a gentleman from California. I'll post photos when I'm done.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Car Photo Emerges

My friend Cheryl told me to post one of my car photos.
So here's a recent one, taken on Canada Day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Start

It all started with an art show called Eye for Art, held bi-annually here in Chatham, Ontario. It was 2006. I wanted to enter. But I don't have a typical art practice. I don't paint flowers or landscapes, and I don't do sculpture. Actually, I don't really have a practice per se. I just like artistic challenges.

A month before, I had found a photo in the garbage and it was calling me to make something with it. I decided that I'd try making an assemblage, or shadowbox, around the photo and see if it would be accepted and considered 'art'. I called the shadowbox "1914" because the photo was of the yearly assembly of the Knights Templar, and it was taken in front of the Parliament Buildings in August 1914 about a week before WW1 was declared. With little pieces that I found in local thrift stores, I made reference to events that occured in 1914, including the catastrophic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River, and the emergence of a bear called Winnie the Pooh.

'1914' WAS accepted. And it sold on opening night! Suddenly, I was an 'artist'. Chatham is a small town. People talked to me about how much they liked '1914'. They asked if I had any other shadowboxes. Could I do it again? Did I want to? I enjoyed making '1914' and I decided to keep going.

And so it began. I made 'Suffragette- Woah Nellie!', which was about the suffragette movement, with a focus on Nellie McClung. It was purchased as a gift for a lawyer. Then came 'Good and Evil', which was incredibly detailed and intricate. It was purchased for a local undertaker and his wife. Then came 'Wedding Circus', which was purchased for a hotel room in a boutique hotel. These weird little shadowboxes were selling!

I do not have any formal art school training. This work arises out of my childhood fascination with dollhouses and miniatures, and works with my skills in layout and graphic design. I find old picture frames and have a handyman build the box in behind. The items in the boxes are found at the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and sometimes my sister will send me neat things in the mail.

I have since found out that Joseph Cornell was an artist who did shadowboxes back in the 40's and 50's, and his work is highly collectible today. His works are inspiration.

So who knows where this will take me? I enjoy making the shadowboxes, they are selling, and in December (2007) my work will be featured in Art & Life, a magazine that is created just outside Seattle. I am teaching a kids' art class on shadowboxes at our local cultural centre, and I've had a few commissions. I'm currently working on an order of 5 boxes for a gentleman from California.

I am thrilled. All because of a photograph I found in someone's garbage, and a chance I took in entering an art show.