Mary Kroetsch works in a variety of media including sculpture, painting, and printmaking, but she has always been lured back to fibre and the stitch, which often appear in her mixed media work. Primarily self-taught, she has attended classes at New Brunswick Arts and Crafts College, George Brown College, the Toronto School Board's Art Centre, and the Stratford Festival of the Arts. She obtained Certification in Textile Surface Design from the Haliburton School of the Arts and completed the foundations accreditation for the Artists in the School Program sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council. As an active member of several professional organizations that support the Artist Community, Mary's works are part of private and public collections including St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, the Ilkley Museum in Yorkshire, England and the CAMAC Centre for Art and Technology in France.
Mary admits that she has always turned to making art and let the creativity consume her when she rather needed to face difficult realities in life. Now with the fragile health of her partner, Mary's sense of responsibility to the preservation of the memories entrusted to her care has taken on a new urgency. Since her mother's death in 2007 she has protected but not brought herself to sift through the vast archive of clippings, announcements and photographs that make up her mother's diaries. During her residency at RFAOH, Mary will spend six months combing through the last 32 years of her mother's life in search of some kind of new guidance to move forward, figure out what comes next in her own life, and if there is still any reason to continue to make room for art.
I needed a catalyst. Something to make me stop everything and concentrate. Concentrate on reading my Mother's words and looking at the physical memories she saved to remind herself that she had lived. The Hiatus residency was that catalyst. It is not so hard for me to not make art as my own process is labor intensive in both thought and deed, but to succeed in starting a project and seeing it through to its fruition, I need a deadline, even if it is only self imposed. I have never just been able to make something without a reason for doing so and a timeline is the best reason I know for making something I want to make. So the Hiatus residency gave me that timeline to do this task which I procrastinated on for so long.
While I didn't make art, art still remained important to my getting out of bed in the morning these six months. Morning walks had art projects creep into my head and I wrote those down for future reference. A short trip to Europe in April took me to 4 amazing exhibitions:
- Late Rembrandt - Rijksmuseum
- The Oasis of Matisse - Stedelijk Museum
- Chagall - Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (The best collection of his work I have ever seen.)
And I spent an afternoon exploring the Magritte Museum in Brussels which is 2500 square metres of works by Rene Magritte and his motley crew of surrealists. Highly recommend if you ever get the chance.
I connected with artists through books and videos - two that really moved me were Louise Bourgeois and her works in fabrics, and Carl Beam. There were many small excursions too - just looking and contemplating. And this book I bought in Amsterdam is fabulous - The Curator's Handbook by Adrian George.
I participated in a 6 session workshop called An Introduction to Art Therapy which was offered by an artist run space I am a member of. I was curious. Discovered that Art Therapy is not Art as Therapy - simply that it is a non-verbal communication tool that uses visual art making to encourage people deeply affected by trauma to talk it out. This experience made me realize that I practice Art as Therapy and look forward to starting up my practice again.
I went to the Naked Craft - Canada/Scotland Symposium over the last weekend of my hiatus. Very enjoyable with most presentations by Academics and Artists alike peeking my interest.
And I have to mention the major lawn making project in my backyard. I played in the dirt, weather permitting, pulling out each blade of grass, harvesting a hardy crop of weeds, and rototilling down 4 inches with my garden gloved hands. I truly enjoyed murdering the grubs - squishing each and everyone with just two fingers. I hope to have a lovely drought resistant pest repellent, weed free carpet of green by the end of the summer.
I know that my weekly ramblings did not lead to any kind of higher power of enlightenment that defines what it is to make or not make art, but I am so happy I found the Hiatus Residency and was able to participate. It opened a door for me that was keeping me from what I feared was a demon called truth, but demons can be slayed and now that the door is open I have the courage to heal past used and abused feelings and I believe I can face my future emotional challenges using art as my weapon. And I think my work will take on a new edgier look - dumping much of the sentimental kitch I have in the past pursued.
There were also a number of side effects that resulted from the residency mostly coming from the time between readings to do some other kinds of soul searching and evaluate where I have been in my art life and where I want to go. For example:
I have been accepted at the University of Guelph to start working on a degree in Art part-time in the Fall. A dream of mine to go to University one day and now that day has arrived.
I wanted to put my background in Adult Education to good use and have agreed to teach a series of printmaking courses with the Upper Grand District School Board's Continuing Education Department.
Ian and I are putting more energy into finding events that are cheap and cheerful and give us a reason to date again.
And I have come to recognize I need a me day once a week just to be a normal girl.
I did find the answer to my initial question of what to do with all these diaries and scrapbooks with this January 17th, 1984 diary entry:
"Mary gave me this new diary for Christmas. Maybe its silly doing all this writing. Told Mary to dispose of them if I die suddenly. They certainly would hold no interest for anyone - only help to assess my life on a daily basis and move on."
It was totally therapeutic for me to watch them disappear via the blue recycling bin, appropriately on the last day of my Residency. Old memories recycled into new and useful things - maybe beautiful journal pages for others to scribe upon.
And my last attempt to connect to a world outside of my art making - I love reading good stories of fiction and joined a local book club. I end my Hiatus with this quote from a book by Mary Swan called My Ghosts which is my answer to all the emotions I have endured during these 6 months:
"And it occurs to her, quite suddenly, that she can make the story end anyway she wants."
On Jul 1 2015, Mary Kroetsch commented on What I Learned!!!: Just wanted to say thank you to the both of you - Matt and Shinobu. I really needed this Hiatus. M[...]
On Jul 1 2015, Matt commented on What I Learned!!!: Thank you again for such a lovely project, Mary. Its been a beautiful tribute to your mom. Stay in[...]
On Jun 30 2015, Shinobu commented on What I Learned!!!: Mary, thank you for this lovely (to me, the best yet) report on your last day -- I'm sure there was [...]
On Jun 23 2015, Matt commented on 2006: Wow, that's right! Already 6 months past. I've really enjoyed this lovely project - all about marki[...]
My Mom explored her own creativity is so many ways. So far in my readings she has referenced most things she tried that I knew about and some I didn’t. Here’s a fair sampling of all the artsy things she got into:
She also did her best to stay healthy through movement:
Clog Dancing – 3 Perfomances at the Senior’s Jubiliee Variety show at Roy Thomson Hall
Low Impact Exercise Classes
And she loved her card playing:
Bridge – She was a sought after partner for the Ontario Seniors Games
My Mom was the best knitter I knew or will ever know. I am certain the hat and mitts she wears in this photo are her creation. She taught herself at an early age. She had this great story about how she manipulated a glove pattern to provide an Uncle with the best fitted gloves he had ever owned. Apparently he shot off his middle fingers in a hunting accident so Mom made the gloves to fit only the remaining fingers.
This story came to me when I read, “I sorted and repaired my knitting books.”.
I have all those knitting books. Hope to turn them into somekind of art project someday. Illustrations are yummy!
Oh! Also worth mentioning – if anyone was expecting a baby to enter their lives, she was sure to make Booties.
Mom and I shared discussions around religious beliefs. Her up bringing first in the Lutheran Church and than later the Catholic Church was probably more intense than mine. And I had pretty much decided organized religion was a Sin and gave it up for Lent when I was 19 years old.
She once told me that my Dad had to make a choice between becoming a Priest and getting Married. Of course when he met my Mom the choice was easy.
But eventually she too thought the concept of prayer to achieve help in life was probably not worth the secret whispers.
So I get a big kick out of her regularly having a talk with the 3 “Js” when she wants a little extra advice for making decisions. Who are the 3 “Js”?
In March 1989, I received a call from Ian. He had just become the victim of Downsizing after 31 years of loyal service. It was devasting for him because he was an Old School Tie Brit who truly believed you reaped what you sowed and then you retire happy.
He and I react differently to this kind of negative event – he withdraws and I come out fighting.
We had just moved to a new home and were financially sound enough that I was looking forward to making Art for the rest of my life. I had a huge basement to be my studio and I had an electric kiln installed in the garage as pottery and jewellery were my thing then with a smatter of textile thrown in.
We could both always find a job, but I had already been through the Downsizing drama a few times myself and felt that their was little security to count on when employed.
We decided to explore opening a business that would be recession proof and went off to a Franchise Show. Discovered the outrageous cost of such an investment even for a small turn-key kiosk operation. So after much discussion we decided to open a Pub. After all who can’t find money for a beer and burger even when times are tough.
We opened our doors in March 1990 and for the next 10 years, I was exhausted. I had staff, I had a Lawyer to protect my legal interests, an Accountant to advise me financially – but I still worked harder at this Pub than I had ever worked before.
For those who think being your own Boss leads to an easy street, I can tell you that this is a misnomber.
Mom has started to get a little creative writing in black ink one day, blue the next. And as the years progress, she makes notations in red. Just things like Haircuts, Kittens, and Fertilized 7-7-7.
There was a red notation made every time she coloured her hair eventually sharing this kind detail:
Nice and Easy #99
#100 – Nice and Easy – Natural Pale Blonde
Nice and Easy #101 – Natural Pale Ash Blonde
And there was the daily record of her calorie intake, always wanting to reach that perfect weight. I’ve tried for this unreachable goal myself forever and now just want to concentrate on feeling good and healthy in the body I have control over.
We both tried to introduce Ben to many things to help him grow and learn. I was always showing him the the creative world with visits to Museums and Art Galleries, theatre performances and live music. Mom thought sports was important so there was Soccer, Gymnastics, Softball to name a few, but what he really excelled in was competitive Swimming. He had a natural talent for it. Another regular list included Ben’s times like:
200 IM 3:9.08,
100 back 1:25.08
Playing Duplicate Bridge gave her total joy, sometimes playing twice a day in two different locations. Her scores also got listed.
May 1st was the birthday of her best childhood friend. She always remembered her and this is a lovely quote from 1986:
“Remember how as a child it took an eternity for Christmas to come and my birthday and the Eaton’s catalogue. Was only interested in one item in the later – pencil boxes. Saturdays were too long so Blanche and I waited for the Telegram containing the “Children’s Page”. That was over 50 years ago.”
The entries for these two years had me thinking about Ian constantly.
While the sterotype of men is to not remember important romantic dates, I can honestly say that this is not Ian. While he may not get the exact day and time, more importantly he remembers the event and we often reminisce about our courtship years.
We had our first slow dance just after midnight on December 31, 1983. We were at the same party, but not there together and something clicked. We enjoyed many firsts together, during these two years like discovering the local Jazz scene, shopping for art, him dragging me to 5 pin bowling, me dragging him to the Stratford Festival and sooo onnn!
We bought a house and got married in it.
The wedding as we agreed broke all “its bad luck” rules. He helped me pin and alter my wedding dress. We slept together the night before the wedding with my future Mother-in-Law in the guest room. I gave him to me and he gave me to him when we walked down the isle together.
It was a garden wedding. It rained stopping just long enough for the ceremony with a rent-a-rev.
We then just had a really big party as a reception. I made a 3 tier Chocolate Grand Marnier wedding cake and put little porcelain statues of Minnie and Mickey Mouse on top.
It was so much fun and people asked for years to come when we were going to get married again.
Mom was into all kinds of Voodoo! That’s what I called it. Perhaps Freud might have diagnosed her as having a Houdini complex, i.e., searching for the meaning of life by trying to connect with the afterlife’s unreachable cosmos and be guaranteed an excellent future.
She had her tea leaves read. A good friend of hers was a Tarot Card Reader. She had aquaintances with Psychics she claimed really knew their stuff.
She read her horoscope daily from a variety of sources. This from a newspaper was tucked in the pages of November duley underlined and notated in the best spots:
Love: A heady mix of glamor, idealism, and total uncertainty results from Uranus and Nepture in your fifth house of love. After the 18th, romantic Venus adds its influence to that sector – to be joined on the 21st by Mercury and on the 22nd by the Sun! This means there’s a huge emphasis on your love life this month, with loads of glamor and glitz, lots of invitations, and maybe – just maybe – the love of your life ready to walk onstage around the *27th. Remember that you’ll be happiest if you allow things to happen spontaneoulsy and don’t expect all firm plans to develop predicatbly or on schedule.
A cliche, but she always asked people what their sign was.
And she often recorded very vivid dreams she had like this one:
Dreaming I was in Admiting (she headed up this Department at North York General Hospital and had many jobs like this). Took all these psychiatric patients (nursed at Ontario Psychiatic Hopsital when we kids were small – night shift) for a drive in an old car that belonged to Harvey the mortician, and rescued a young child that fell off a rock face down into a lake or ocean. However, when I got closer found she was much older and could swim just fine.
As she said, “Dreams certainly are a strange mish mash of material.”