The Thamesford Mill Project

The old grist mill in the town of Thamesford, Ontario has been a familiar landmark on the Thames River for more than a century. The first mill on this site was built in 1845 when Thamesford, then known as St. Andrews, was establishing itself as a major agricultural center in southwestern Ontario.

This view of the mill with the Thames River in the foreground was taken in October of 2012.

This view of the mill with the Thames River in the foreground was taken in October of 2012.

The mill produced both grist (ground grains) and finely ground flour, and when it was destroyed by fire in 1898, it was quickly replaced by a new five-story building that soon became one of the best flour mills in Ontario.

Flour from the Thamesford mill was sold across Canada, and shipped to Great Britain and the Caribbean Islands.

In the 1970s falling water levels in the Thames River made it difficult to operate the mill machinery, and it became necessary to use electrical power to turn the grinding wheel. Sadly, the mill eventually closed, and for more than a decade it has been a derelict building with a proud past, but an uncertain future.

In this image of fallen bricks, I brought out the colour in the bricks, and left the background in contrasting black and white.

In this image I emphasized the colour in the fallen bricks, and removed the colour from the building wall to increase the contrast between the bricks and the background.

Citizens in Thamesford have been attempting to generate interest in the old building in the hope that it may be possible to restore all, or part of it, and give it new life.

In July of 2012, I was invited to join a group of 24 artists in southwestern Ontario who were asked to submit their interpretations of the historic Thamesford Mill site for a traveling exhibition organized by Oxford Creative Connections in Woodstock. Each artist submitted up to three pieces to the jury. The media ranged from watercolour, acrylics, and oils to photography and a three-dimensional construction. The jury selected one piece from each artist.

My three submissions included a view of the mill with the river in the foreground (see above), a cascade of fallen bricks shown at the left, and the long, narrow piece shown below that emphasizes the array of interesting shapes in the old building.

This photo of the Thamesford Mill taken in September of 2012 was selected for showing in  the traveling exhibit.

This photo of the Thamesford Mill taken in September of 2012 was selected for showing in the traveling exhibit.

The jury selected the log, narrow piece. This was a good choice – it sold on the fourth day of the exhibit that opened at the Elm Hurst Inn in Ingersoll on December 18 and ran until January 15.

The exhibit will be on display at the  Community Employment Services Gallery in Woodstock until March 05. It will then move to the Woodstock Hospital Gallery for the period from March 05 to April 09, and then it will be on display at the Thamesford Library.

 

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Annual Mini Show gets good review

Red DoorFor this year’s annual juried Miniature Exhibition at the Art Exchange Gallery in London’s Wortley Village, I submitted two pieces – 784 Richmond Street (shown at the left) and Mill on the Thames (shown below).

This is the 8th year that Al and Karen Stewart have sponsored this popular event, and the show consists of more than 120 pieces by 90 area artists. Each piece measures just 3×4 inches for wall pieces and 3x4x3 inches for sculptures. The wall pieces are displayed in an 8×10 inch matt. Al and Karen frame and hang each piece.

The show includes works in a variety of media from drawings to paintings, mixed-media to sculptures.

The London Free Press published a review of the show on February 4, and called it small in size but big on innovation. My Richmond Street photo was one of four pieces used to illustrate the article.

Mill on the ThamesTroy Ouellette of the Art Exchange was quoted in the review. He said “I am astounded at the diversity of subject matter and media in this year’s show. You will notice in Pat Gibson’s work of an old slide (Cottage Memory), which certainly comes from a different period, in stark contrast to David Ogilvie’s digitally manipulated work of an old Victorian house (784 Richmond). Both are dealing with older themes, but handling them in new and surprising ways.

Ouellette called the show a great opportunity to collect work at a modest price, plus a chance to meet some of the artists at the opening.

The show opened on February 12 and will run until March 2. The opening reception is on Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

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Discovering Puglia: The Trulii of Alberobello

The home base for our first week in Puglia was Hotel  Sovrano (www.hotelsovrano.it), a small and comfortable family-run hotel in Alberobello , a town of about 11,000 located in the province of Bari, Italy.

A. Trulli houses in Alberobello with symbols painted on their conical roofs. B. Trulli shops in the commercialized district of Alberobello. C. View of the commercialized district.

Alberobello is famous for its unique trulli houses. These unusual dwellings are built of local limestone. They are usually square and have very thick stone walls. The roof is a dome topped by a spire. There is generally a central room, with additional living spaces in alcoves. Residential trulli are whitewashed, and their roofs are often decorated with symbols having religious or superstitious significance.

In the 15th century the trulli were constructed a secco (without mortar) using only dry stones. Apparently this was a very clever way to avoid taxation, for when the King of Naples sent his agents to this area to collect house taxes, they usually found nothing but piles of stones. House? What house? After the tax collectors had gone, the wily folks of Alberobello reassembled their dismantled homes and continued on with their tax-free existence

Some of the Alberobello trulli are now gift shops, restaurants, doctor’s offices, hotels and B&Bs, but many are still used as homes. There are about 1500 of them in and around Alberobello, and because this represents such a unique architectural and cultural phenomenon, the area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano at the head of Alberobello's main street

It is a pleasant walk down Alberobello’s tidy main street which is lined with interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. The street begins at the beautiful Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano, and it continues south to the main town square, an open space with tables for eating and benches for people watching –  a favourite pastime of the old men of the town.  From a belvedere just off the south side of the square there is a good view of many of the town’s trulli that are concentrated in a commercialized district on a slope facing the town centre. (See photo C in the panel above.).

The Church of St. Antonio

Restaurants and shops that sell local wine, orecchiette (little ears) pasta, and a variety of souvenirs line the narrow streets that slope upwards from a flat area that was once a riverbed, but now marks the area of an underground aquifer. At the top of the hill stands the Church of St. Antonio built in 1926. It is the only church to have a dome shaped as a trullo.

A second trulli district on the opposite side of the riverbed is a quiet residential area with no shops. There are about 400 trulli in this part of the town. 

We were very fortunate to have been in Alberobello during the last week of September when Alberobellesi of all ages attend the celebrations that honour saints Cosma and Damiano, Greek physician brothers who were cruelly martyred in the 3rd century.

During the Festival of Saints Cosma and Damiano, Alberobello is a blaze of lights from the town square to the Basilica.

For four days in September there are fireworks and concerts in the square by local and visiting orchestras and bands. The main street leading from the Basilica to the town square is a blaze of light every evening, and the street is jammed with the faithful who patiently jostle their way to mass, and then view the wares of itinerant street vendors who offer a vast selection of merchandise at bargain prices.

The streets are congested during the festival period – especially at night, but the friendly crowds are a model of orderliness and civility. No drunks, no looters, and no riots here, just families and friends enjoying a very special celebration.

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Discovering Puglia: Introduction

This past September and October my wife and I visited Puglia, Italy with a group of very talented painters lead by Toronto artist Barry Coombs (www.barrycoombs.ca). Barry is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, and for more than 20 years he has been leading workshops in Canada, Italy, France, Greece and Mexico.

Barry Coombs (front center) with his Art Workshop Group in Barletta, Italy

It was a grand two-week experience – the artists sketched and painted, and I took hundreds of photographs. I have included some in this blog,  and there will be more in future posts.

Puglia (pronounced poo-lee-ah) is a region in the southeastern tip of the Italian peninsula with a population of about 4 million. With an area of some 19,000 square kilometers, it is about three times the size of Prince Edward Island. 

A fishing boat entering the harbour at Trani, Italy

Puglia’s broad plains and low hills are bordered by the Adriatic Sea in the east, and the Ionian Sea in the southeast. The most southerly portion of the region forms the heel of the Italian boot. Because of my Canadian maritime heritage, I felt quite at home here. The many ports along Puglia’s 800 kilometers of coastline support a large fishing industry, and they also provide ferry connections to northern Italy, Croatia, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

Vineyards near Alberobello, Italy

Puglia has a warm, dry climate. Its few rivers are located in a tableland in the northern part of the region that is one of Italy’s most productive agricultural areas. Other areas receive water from  underground aquifers, and agriculture dominates throughout most of Puglia. The region is well known for its highly productive wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards.

And the region has so much history! Over the centuries Puglia has endured many conquerors. First came the Romans in the 3rd and 4th centuries, then the Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish, Turks, Venetians and even the French who controlled the region from 1806-1815. It wasn’t until 1861 that Puglia became part of Italy.

A 13th century castle in Barletta, Italy built by Frederick II

During the late 12th to early 13th centuries, Puglia was a favorite residence of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. He built castles throughout the region that are still standing today. The one at Barletta (shown in the photo at the left) was captured by German partroopers during World War II. In my next post I will show you some photos of Castel del Monte, one of Italy’s most unusual castles.

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Discovering Puglia – Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte near Andria, Italy was built by Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century.

Castel del Monte is an unusual castle located about 11 km southwest of the city of Andria in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. High on a hill with no other structures around it, this structure can be seen for miles, even from the Adriatic Sea some 50 km to the east. The photo above was taken in the late afternoon as the shadows began to lengthen.

Ground floor of Castle del Monte

The castle was built in the 13th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. When it was named a World Heritage Site in 1996, UNESCO described it as a unique piece of medieval architecture that has exceptional value because of its perfect shape and blending of cultural elements from northern Europe, classical antiquity and the Islamic world. What makes Castel del Monte so unusual  is the fact that it is an architectural tribute to the number eight. Like a gigantic baptismal font, the structure was built in the shape of an octagon. The castle’s two floors have eight rooms built around an eight-sided courtyard, and there are eight octagonal towers.

View from the center of the courtyard

The octagonal nature of the structure is obvious when you lie on your back in the center of the courtyard and look up at the sky. (My wife pretended she didn’t know me when I took this shot.) As can be seen in my photo below, the number eight theme is also evident in a prominent double window on the second floor that has an ocellus with eight circles. 

In the 18th century, looters helped themselves to the castle’s marble columns, ornamentation and even the window frames. After centuries of neglect, the castle was purchased in 1876 by the Italian government and a long process of restoration was begun. During World War II, it was used as a storage site for art treasures from the nearby city of Barletta.  

This window on the second floor of the castle has an ocellus with eight circles.

UNESCO called the castle “a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture”, but since it has no moat, no drawbridge, and no stables for horses, it appears that it was not built as a defensive fortress. So what was its purpose? It no doubt served as a  prominent symbol of Frederick’s power, but perhaps it was also intended as some kind of temple.

Frederick II grew up in Palermo, a town characterized by the co-existence of people of different religions and cultures. He was a Christian, but he freely embraced both Jewish and Islamic traditions, and he spoke many different languages. His court was a gathering place for the leading minds of the day – architects, musicians, astrologers and mathematicians, including Fabonicci, the Italian mathematician who introduced Arabic numerals to the West. Fabonicci’s influence may explain why the building has “divine” proportions based on the so-called “golden number” (1.618), a mystical ratio found in other famous structures, for example, the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

Some say that Frederick II was an egomaniac who thought he was the reincarnated Christ. The octagon is regarded as an intermediate symbol between a square (representing the earth) and a circle (representing the sky), and as a religious symbol it represents ascension, rebirth and resurrection.  Perhaps Frederick built Castle del Monte simply as a hilltop retreat where he could feel closer to God.

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“In Praise of Canvas,” an exhibit at Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre, St. Andrews, NB

It has been a busy summer and fall, and I have neglected my blog. Now is the time to play catchup.

My exhibit on Grand Manan Island in July was followed by a show at Sunbury Shores Gallery in St. Andrews, NB (www.sunburyshores.org)  The exhibit opened with a well-attended reception on  August 12 and it ran until September 7. 

I was privilaged to share the gallery space with Michael Chesley Johnson (www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com). Michael is a plein air painter who is well known for his oil and pastel landscapes of the Canadian Maritimes and the American southwest. He spends his summers at his studio on Campobello Island, NB, and his winters in Sedona, Arizona.

My exhibit consisted of  19 digital prints, and all but one were on canvas. The title of the show (“In Praise of Canvas”) is an indication of how excited I am about using canvas as a support medium for photography.  The comments in the guest book were very encouraging. There was even one from someone who signed in as Sarah Palin and wrote “you betcha.” Some examples of the pieces that I exhibited at St. Andrews are shown below. 

Ties That Bind

 

First Snow

Blue Mussels
  
  
 
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Island Images: Memories of Home

Greetings from beautiful Grand Manan Island – now ranked third on a list of the “World’s Seven Best Small Islands” which was recently compiled by Readers Digest. Grand Manan ranked just ahead of Santorini, and it was the only Canadian island to make the list.

I was born on Grand Manan, and this New Brunswick island was my home for the first 18 years of my life. There will always be a special place in my heart for this wonderful island and the people who live here.

Grand Manan has a growing arts community that consists of both island regulars and summer residents. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to exhibit my work at the Grand Manan Art Gallery from June 30 to July 12. The show consisted of 46 pieces that ranged from traditional seascapes to more contemporary minimalist and abstract images.

Most of the images were printed on canvas. Oil painters have been using canvas as a support medium for more than 500 years, but photographers have not been able to print their images on canvas until relatively recently.

In the early 1960s artists like Andy Warhol began using commercial silk screening technology to transfer images to canvas. It is much easier and convenient today. Photographers can now use a variety of excellent inkjet printers to print directly on canvas with archival-quality inks.

After the image is printed, the canvas is stretched and stapled to a wooden frame, and sprayed with a protective varnish. The end result is a piece of art that is vibrant, durable, light and easy to hang, and because glass is not required, there are no distracting reflections.

Digital photography and artistic canvas make a superb combination,  and it appears that photography on canvas is rapidly gaining in credibility on the art scene.

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