1978, 1979, 1980
“Memory is like plaster: peel it back and you just might find a completely different picture.”
â€• Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
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
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."
“Memory is like plaster: peel it back and you just might find a completely different picture.”
â€• Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
Surprisingly the read was a page turner, but not for the cintalting story telling of each day.
Most days she started off with the weather conditions, mentioning many times her belief that the rain, sleet, snow or any weather that kept her away from her garden was a direct result of atomic testing at the Pickering Nucelar Plant.
She was always tired, but then most nights during 1977 she was out dancing somewhere. She met my Dad at a dance and I think she was looking to find him again the same way. I remember this really well, but had no recollection of her obsession to go dancing as often as she did. She even managed to stop off somewhere after the funeral for her best friend who was big a part of her life from the age of three.
She started Organ lessons, re-connected with playing Bridge and she furthered her interest and edcuation in Graphoanalysis (handwriting analysis). She eventually became a master of this.
She had a serious boyfriend who I remember not caring for because he gambled and borrowed money from her, but I did not know how much help he was to her around the house, painting it, fixing it etc… Her feelings for him ran hot and cold, but he was a constant influence on her world during this time.
But I don’t remember her spending time in the hospital for a biopsy. These entries talk about how lucky she was to have such good friends around her, but I was not mentioned.
Seems Mom didn’t like me very much during this time. Deciding to come home from Calgary and help with her and Benjamin after his Mother died seemed like a good idea to me. She didn’t tell me not to come. But the times I am mentioned in these pages, she is cross, annoyed, complaining about my irritating voice… I held down two jobs at the time and slept beside a crib full of baby so I was tired too, but she felt I was just being lazy when I needed to crash.
I discovered too, that many of our outings together which I remember foundly and we reminenced in later years over with pleasant compliments – well she really didn’t enjoy herself that much at all.
She couldn’t wait for me to move out.
A daggar poking at my heart.
She mentions having conversations with a couple of widowed friends who are also not liking their children. I think maybe this is part of the grieving process and normal. Still…
It is an interesting discovery though, that I find myself looking for me in these pages.
When I attend an Artist Lecture and the speaker begins with saying “my art is processed base”, I roll my eyes and ask in my own mind, ‘what art doesn’t evolve from a process?’. In fact what anything created doesn’t start from a process?
But at the risk of putting my own foot in mouth, I wanted to spend this first week of my Hiatus figuring out my approach (process) to reading these diaries. I am only going to do this once.
So I have handled, I’ve skimmed, I’ve seperated, I’ve … to get comfortable with moving forward. And while I knew the content was going to be difficult to handle, I had forgotten that my Mother use to break up words, i.e. relationship is written relation ship. So I expect I will have to read sentences a few times to make sure I am getting her point. Some days she used up every inch of a page, writing upside down and all around. There are special headings on some pages like “Physical Crtical Day” which I would like to decipher. And some of her entries look more like a laundry list of ramblings like this one.
And I have noticed there are actual to do lists in some of the entries.
But I am ready to dig in now and find myself less dreading this experience and more looking forward to the memories.
Mom tapped me on the shoulder. Decision made!
She was an obsesive reader. She brought to the marriage an incredible magazine collection dating back to early years as a child. And she continued adding to it. She couldn’t bring herself to throw them out claiming that they all had good articles in them that she wanted to read again.
They were stored in the garage and rotting from the elements so I finally convinced her to go through every one and tear out the articles she wanted to read again. As a result she was never without reading material, tucking something in her purse before going out the door. Her waiting time was always full with words.
So I am following her lead. I will seprate the diaries from their spines and carry pages with me where ever I go over the coming months and have a quiet read.
When I have completed a year, I will scan the pages to a PDF File.
What I will do with the hard copies is still to be determined.
As I try to organize my approach of dealing with handling the diaries I discovered that Mom often wrote her thoughts down on what ever kind of paper was at hand like the back of this North York General Hospital Daily Census form.
My Mother set up the Adminstration Department when it began back in 1967 and continued to head the department for many years. It was a job she loved.
The ink on some of the napkins is badly faded.
From the pages of the first diary falls this 1966 Women’s Day article. My Mother was my main source for information I never had time to dig up myself. Always coming to our outings with an envelope full of clippings and just to be sure I got the point she wanted to bring my attention to, she underlined the bits she really wanted me to read. Underlined in red are the following:
* Nobody, but nobody, sees things from your point of view, except you.
* It can be an invaluable record.
* It sharpens your perceptions.
* It clarifies your thoughts.
* It can ventilate your emotions.
* It can help you know yourself.
* It’s a valuable discipline.
These are my Mother’s Journals. 32 years of her thoughts and memories, handwritten.
I told her I wanted to read them one day and she said I would be bored in doing so because much of what she wrote she claimed to be everyday and mundane information. But I know there will be a lot of memories in these pages – both sad and happy.
We raised my sister’s child together and so I will get to relive the first steps, the first words, the teen angst’s that came with this part of our shared life.
This is my favorite picture of Ben as a little boy.
She was already writing these journals when I met my husband so I will be reliving our wedding day for sure and I know she occasionally was cross with him – particularly when he was being (her words) very British.
This is Ian.
She was a major investor in Ian’s and my fool hardy business venture when we opened an English style pub in 1989.
We managed to keep our heads above the water line with this project for 10 years and when we entered a legal battle with the quintessential evil Landlord, my Mother’s diaries saved the day when a witness was needed.
It always took some convincing, but she and I were great travel buddies. I took here to Paris for her 80th Birthday. What a blast we had. I will enjoy visiting these places with her again.
And I know that I will re-connect with my Father. He was Mom’s true love and she never stopped loving him or being angry at him for leaving her alone for these 32 years.
Dad was handsome!
I am not sure how I will proceed from here. Journaling my thoughts in this public forum will not be easy, but I am determined to make a weekly contribution. Maybe it will just be a really good witty quote from a journal – Mom could really make me laugh sometimes. Or maybe I will just be compelled to comment on a memory coaxed out of me that a diary entry brings to the front of my brain.
But what I really hope for with this project is that somewhere in these diary pages, Mom has left me a message of wisdom that will help me live as richly as she did in the years left to me.
This is going to be a bumpy ride!
This is me!