The Culture Crawl

I went on the Eastside Culture Crawl yesterday. It’s the fourteenth year for this public art progressive. Over three days, artists on the east side of Vancouver open their homes and studios to the public. This year a diverse mix of three hundred artists participated showing paintings, woodwork, sculpture, textiles, jewellery and more. Although there are art festivals in other neighbourhoods, this is by far the coolest. I felt hip just being there. Even if it’s raining, and it usually is here in November, thousands of people turn out. We were shoulder to shoulder in most studios yesterday and parking was at a premium, even though a lot of people walk, take transit or cycle to the venues.

My friends and I began the day in Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood, on the edge of Chinatown, and a work of art in its own right. There’s an eclectic mix of architecture, restored Victorian and Edwardian homes, many with heritage designation alongside the boxy Vancouver specials, old tenement housing, Buddhist temples, quaint churches, and abundant artist studios. The idea is you wander through the neighbourhood looking for yellow balloons, which signify an open studio. You can also plan your tour by referring to the map which you can download from the crawl website.

Joan Tayler was our first stop. She makes creative, functional jewellery and other useful items out of polymer clay: Christmas decorations, whistles, barrettes, spindles for spooling wool and pretty brooches that double as a holder for your reading glasses. My friends bought some of her gorgeous angels. I went gaga for the little containers. When my friend picked one up with a ladybug on its lid, a real ladybug crawled onto her hand! Not sure how the artist managed that bit of magic. At the next balloon, sculptor Sandra Bilawich’s medieval looking candleholders and dancing bears were also bewitching.

We stopped at the Wilder Snail Café for a delicious lunch, paninis and cappuccinos all around. There is very good eating in this area, an important part of the crawl scene. Across the street was Paneficio Studios, home to several artists. Arnt Arntzen is a furniture designer and builder who uses reclaimed wood and metal. Giant old surgical lamps lit the room and the aviation inspired work he was exhibiting. A propeller stool was getting a lot of attention. Valerie Arntzen is an assemblage artist. Yes, she’s married to Arnt. They live above the studio. He builds big, she builds small, so it works, she tells me. Valerie uses found objects and her own photos to create visual memories. I really liked one collage called straight from the heart. It had bullet shells around the edges pointing to three small spiritual statues centred in the frame. Richard Tetrault does woodcuts and linocuts, but it was his Italian Series that made me weak in the knees. I have a weakness for anything Latin.

We ambled in and out of funky studios. Some of them had secret passageways. We’d go in one door, then emerge into a back lane. Even the back alley scenes were artistic. Four mop heads hung over one balcony railing. A red canoe was wedged atop a gate. Wintery gardens lounged in big back yards. Later we stopped at the Union Market, a Portuguese bakery and eastside institution. While my friends were buying the famous corn bread, I was dancing in the street to the strains of calypso music. Abbla Banji is masterful on the steelpan.

Then we moved on to some of the buildings. This part of the festival is held in a light industrial area and the studios are stacked into old warehouses. In the Old Foundry Building, we found Heather Craig. Her beautiful acrylic and graphite on canvas series got us all thinking, maybe because they were titled: brain drain, brain map and thinkings. Marie Bortolotto was an amazing wood carver. Her seed pods looked like they were about to burst. Oliver Harwood’s boats appeared to be carved from coral, but the stone was called tufa. I loved the beautiful life size figure carved from the same porous rock. It was charged with emotion. I asked him what it was called, expecting him to say Madonna with child (mother of Jesus, not the rock star). He said Figure.

At 1000 Parker, a four-storey warehouse perpetually on the verge of being shut down by the fire department, we climbed the rickety wooden stairs to the fourth floor. A hundred and eleven artists make art here. It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed in this maze of a building. First my friend insisted we all go into the bathroom just to see the view. As I stood at the sink where the artists clean their brushes, I gazed across rooftops and pigeons to see a spectacular view of the city. We were pretty tuckered out by then, so we only went into a few studios. Of note were Katherine Surridge and her acrylic Earth Report Series and Elizabeth Barnes, a brilliant colourist who paints dizzying geometrics.

At our final stop, we sunk into some deliciously soft textiles. Julie Pongrac hand knits wraps and scarves made from merino wool, mohair, silk, cashmere and angora. I was tempted by a shawl, the colour of blue hydrangeas. Her studio mate, Mia Weinberg had a blue theme going, too. Her beautifully patterned blue-green shopping bags were made from the fencing material from the 2010 Olympics!

I had wanted to visit Jordan Bent’s studio because I’d been impressed with his paintings a few years ago. I had also been invited by a Facebook friend to Blue Lantern, Robi Smith’s studio, but we simply ran out of time. Next year, I’ll put them first on the list.

I crawled home tired, inspired and way outside of my box.

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