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."
Mary Kroetsch’s 6 month on-hiatus residency ended on June 30, 2015. We thank Mary for her participation as our 2nd round resident, and for sharing, through her steady reports, a rather personal on-hiatus activity. RFAOH sincerely wishes her the best of luck in her post on-hiatus life, (hooray for going back to art school!) and hopes to hear from her once in a while.
Click “Final Report” to read on her experience at RFAOH.
Entries from the diaries that I will now take time to process:
“Maybe Mary will always be in crisis mode.”
” Ian and Mary need to build a new relationship.”
” Need some sparkle, some magic in my life.”
” Need to develop my passion.”
” The elixer of life at any age is contained in creativity.”
” Mary has real talent in this area. Dispite all the diverse talent her real forte might be as a Curator. Also the combination of writing and her aritstry is also high on the list. The bottom line is she will succeed in whatever she sets her mind to.”
And this copied from an April 1977 article in Chatelaine Magazine:
” Sometimes you have to give up goals that you realize you just aren’t going to attain – to say ‘Okay that wasn’ty possible’, and define another set of goals; to think, ‘What is withinin my capacity?’ What can I do?'”
2006 was the last year of diary writing for Mom. She had a very bad fall the first week of January 2007 and never recovered.
Every year she celebrated dates in her diaries. They were all important to her. She never forgot to say happy birthday to the important people in her life even after they had long passed themselves.
She missed my Dad so much that every year she recognized the date they met and had their first dance, the day they got engaged and all the anniversaries. Dad always bought her a gift on St. Patrick’s Day. And of course she missed him most on the anniversary of his death.
She recognized many deaths every year always adding a memory of the person when she thought of them at these times.
She recorded the day in spring she saw her first Robin every year.
When I turned over the last page of the last diary it was a surreal moment. It got very quiet!
This is new. She started listings words and meanings like these:
Byzanitne – style of architecture between 5th and 6th century – rounded arches – dome.
Facade – front or visible part of anything – especially a building – designed to create a favorable impression
Frieze – 1 decorative hortizanotl strip running between cornice and architrave
2 course woolen cloth with sahggy nap (card table cover)
I remember she did pass the Mensa Tests with flying colours and she enjoyed a good crossword puzzle. And again she was an avid reader. So I am guessing when she came across new words in her vocabluary she liked to ponder them.
This is the perfect picture. When my Mother was young and single, she and a girlfriend took a bus trip through out North America. Look at that string of tickets!
Growing up I combed through her scrapbook on this trip and got the tourist bug.
This was not the only scrapbook she created. In fact I have just spent these past few weeks reviewing them all – dating back to 1966.
Every card, letter, theatre program and ticket, swizzle sticks from special coctail lounges, or menus from a favorite vistited restaurant was in these. And then there were more photographs and tons of postcards.