Monthly Archives: April 2012

Why No Golden Girl?

He’s looking pretty good but he needs a companion! Last week on one of my walks I snapped some photos of the Golden Boy statue which sits atop the Manitoba Legislative Building on Broadway.

I saw the statue up close and personal in 2002. The statue had been taken down because it needed to be repaired and regilded. It was put on display in the foyer of the Manitoba Museum, at that time still called The Museum of Man and Nature. Thousands of people came to look at the statue and have their picture taken with it. I was so close to the Golden Boy I could have touched it. It was definitely in need of a touch up since it had turned a sort of rusty green. It was covered with tags at the spots where repair work needed to take place.

The Golden Boy was created by Georges Gardet at a foundry in Paris. The foundry was destroyed by bombs during World War I, but the Golden Boy somehow emerged from the ruins unscathed. was rushed to a seaport and loaded onto a French vessel carrying wheat. The liner was quickly commandeered to transport military troops. For the next while, the Golden Boy cruised the dangerous war time ocean waters  in the ship’s hold. When the fighting was over in 1919 the statue was taken to Halifax and from there shipped to Winnipeg.

The Golden Boy was purchased along with the two huge bison figures at the base of the legislative building’s main stairway, for a bargain price of $11,000. Now the statue is insured for more than fifteen times that amount, and just over one million dollars was spent restoring it to its former glory in 2002.

The Golden Boy is actually a nickname for the statue who is officially called Eternal Youth. Apparently once placed in his high spot, the sun glinted off his bronze covering, creating a certain golden effect. Thus he earned the title Golden Boy. The torch in his right hand is supposed to represent a call to youth to join the pursuit of a more prosperous future for Manitoba.

It’s a lofty ideal, but I couldn’t help thinking as I viewed the statue, that the female half of our province’s population has been somewhat slighted. Young woman have just as important a contribution to make to Manitoba’s future as  young men do. Perhaps we need a Golden Girl to join the Golden Boy atop the Legislative Buildings. 

       You can read about another statue on the Manitoba Legislative grounds ………

The Famous Five

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La Promise

Is marriage something women are forced into by the pressure of societal norms or do they enter it willingly? Is a wedding a religious, spiritual experience or a civil rite imbued with sexual  tension? This sculpture called La Promise in the St. Boniface Sculpture Garden by Madeleine Vrignon explores those ideas. Vrignon who was born in St. Boniface and graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba, began her career as an illustrator of children’s books. When she was asked to create a sculpture in bronze of a young girl who had died of cancer, her interest in a new art form began. 

The top part of Vrignon’s statue La Promise is dark and quite provocative, with a low-cut top that emphasizes the woman’s bosom and meets in a V that points suggestively to an erogenous zone of the bride’s body. She’s wearing dark long gloves, not the white gloves you might expect a bride to wear. Her hands almost seem to be reaching up in supplication. Her stomach bulges out a bit. Could she be pregnant? This top part of the dress is tight and confining. 

The bottom part of the dress is lighter in color suggesting the more traditional white bridal dress denoting purity. It is more comfortable looking and free-flowing and less confining than the top. However there is a grating or iron grill work embedded in the dress. Is it trapping or guarding something? Vrignon says she wanted people to think about whether marriage was a refuge for women or not. 

In this side view you can see how the bride has been tethered to the ground in the rear by guy wires. They might be giving her roots and security but they also tie her down. This won’t be a runaway bride. 

This is the third sculpture in the jardin de sculptures de la Maison that I have profiled in What Next. Check out What is It? and Between Dog and Wolf to see the other two. There is one more sculpture in the park. I’ll do a post about it soon. 

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Norman Rockwell Exhibit- Winnipeg Art Gallery

Common places never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. – Norman Rockwell

Depicting the beauty, excitement and hope in the ordinary everyday experiences of families and communities was something Norman Rockwell did so well! Yesterday my niece Amanda and I visited the Rockwell exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  This is the first time an exhibit of Rockwell originals has been to Canada and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see it. Rockwell paints scenes that are so familiar, the viewer cannot help but feel a strong personal connection with his art. 

Even when he is promoting a ‘big idea’ with his work he sets it in everyday circumstances. In this painting entitled Freedom of Speech he shows an ordinary citizen standing up to give his opinion at the annual town meeting. 

Although I recognized many of the Rockwell paintings like this one called Saying Grace where a grandma takes time to pray with her grandson before their meal in a busy restaurant, I did learn some interesting new things about Rockwell by listening to the excellent audio tour of the exhibit that came with the price of admission. 

I learned that Rockwell, who completed over 300 cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post was not afraid to make controversial statements about social issues with his work. In this painting called The Problem We All Live With he shows a young black girl being escorted to an all white school by deputy marshalls. Someone has written NIGGER on the wall, as well as the letters KKK, and a tomato has been thrown at the child narrowly missing her pristine white dress.  Rockwell received many irate letters from people who disagreed with racial integration after this painting appeared on the cover of LOOK magazine. This painting hangs just outside President Barack Obama’s office in the White House. 

 In this work entitled The Golden Rule Rockwell movingly portrays the value of diversity and the importance of religious, ethnic and racial tolerance.

Another new thing I learned about Rockwell were his connections to many well-known people. He was good friends with American painter Grandma Moses. In this painting called A Christmas Homecoming he used Grandma Moses as the model for the grandmother in the painting. 

Rockwell counted Walt Disney as a friend and the two exchanged letters with one another. Rockwell dedicated this cover called Girl Reading the Post to Walt Disney and presented it to him as a gift. 

Rockwell also painted portraits of a number of presidents including John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. 

I didn’t know Norman Rockwell was a big fan of Charles Dickens. His father used to read Dickens aloud to him and some of his paintings were clearly inspired by Dickens like this one called Merrie Christmas Dancing Under the Mistletoe. 

Norman Rockwell said “I paint life the way I’d like it to be.” And although that was true Rockwell does subtly remind viewers that life isn’t always like we want it to be. In this painting Freedom From Fear loving parents are tucking their children into bed, but the Dad is holding a newspaper where the front page story is about the Battle of Britain. In England at the time families lived in fear of bombings, and many children in London had been evacuated to live away from their parents. The lives of those British children weren’t idyllic or free from fear.

I didn’t know there is an official word in the English language which originates from Rockwell’s paintings. It is Rockwellian and means harmony in personal relationships or opting for idealism. 

 The Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery runs till May 20th. I just may return to learn even more about one of America’s most well-known artists and illustrators. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…………

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

Joanne Gullachsen, Maud Lewis and Me 

Between Dog and Wolf–Entre chien et loup

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Cleaning Up My Neighborhood

Whiskey bottles, condoms, pill bottles, syringes, blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, socks, underwear and even a snow shovel–are just a few of the interesting things we found on Thursday when seven residents of the Exchange District showed up on a warm, sunny afternoon to help clean up Steve Juba Park and the riverbank beside it.

I was picking up trash with V, a friendly outgoing woman a little older than me, and we chatted about our families, our experiences with condo life in the Exchange and our travels. It was a great chance to get to know one of my neighbors. V says she makes it a regular part of her neighborhood walks to pick up litter. She has a real sense of ownership and responsibility for her Exchange community. “I’m just embarrassed when we get company and they see all this garbage from our condo window!”

V and I picked up hundreds of cigarette butts and when a trio of young people slid onto a park bench in an area we’d just cleaned and lit up their cigarettes, V walked up to them and said kindly, “You know what happens to the poor baby birds when they ingest cigarette butts  don’t you? They die! Birds pick up the butts to use for nest-building and then their hatchlings eat material from the butts and can be poisoned.” Suprisingly the teens listened politely and threw their butts in the garbage when they were done smoking. 

So many people walking by stopped to thank us for what we were doing. It really felt good to have our efforts recognized. Two Asian ladies who didn’t speak English very well, kept repeating with a question in their voices “Volunteer?” They seemed to find it hard to believe we would volunteer for such a task. One enthusiastic walker even gave us God’s blessing and told us we’d go to heaven for our clean up efforts. 

As I worked I thought about the people who had left all that garbage. Why would they just toss their paper bags and styrofoam cups into the bushes when there are lots of garbage cans available in the park? 

Under the pump house porch I found evidence that someone had been living there in the past. There was a foam mattress embedded in the dirt, a muddy blanket, lots of metal sardine cans, dozens of empty juice boxes and even a broken mirror. I wondered what had happened in that person’s life that forced him or her to make a temporary home on the riverbank. It was good for me to realize that people with a very different lifestyle than mine also call my neighborhood home. 

Picking up litter was certainly great exercise–all that bending and lifting and carrying full bags of trash. V and I remarked that we wouldn’t need to visit the gym the next day–we’d had our workout. We speculated as to how many calories we’d burned in our two hours of garbage detail. 

The seven of us filled up 26 bags of litter. Not bad for an afternoon’s work! I felt a real sense of accomplishment as I walked back to my condo. 


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There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction!

He got it wrong! In March I took a course called Winnipeg Fact and Fiction from Roland Penner octogenarian story-teller extraordinaire. One class was about the contributions immigrant families have made to the city.  Penner was right in asserting that immigrants and their children helped put Winnipeg on the map. Just  look at people like ………….

Manitoba Theatre Centre founder John Hirsch who was a war orphan from Hungary

Sculptor Leo Mol who came to Canada from Ukraine in 1948

Politician Stanley Knowles who immigrated to Canada from Los Angeles with his parents in the early 1900s.  Intrepid war hero William Stephenson, Winnipeg’s own James Bond, whose parents were immigrants from Iceland and Scotland. 

and comedian David Steinberg born in Winnipeg to Romanian immigrant parents. 

The purpose of the course Winnipeg Fact and Fiction was to introduce a topic about Winnipeg history and then suggest one or two companion novels that might shed an interesting perspective on that theme.  Our teacher Roland Penner got it wrong when he recommended Fredelle Maynard’s book Raisins and Almonds as his top fiction pick reflecting the Winnipeg immigrant experience.

Raisins and Almonds tells the story of a young girl growing up on the Canadian prairies as the child of Jewish immigrants from Russia. The first problem I have with Roland Penner choosing this book is that it’s not fiction, but Maynard’s memoirs. Secondly, although there are a some pages in the book devoted to life in Winnipeg the majority of the stories are set in the small Canadian prairie towns where Fredelle’s family moved in hopes of finding one where her father’s mercantile business would be successful. 

Someone in the class asked Roland if he could recommend fiction books that would represent the Mennonite immigrant experience in Winnipeg and he said there weren’t any. He claimed since Mennonites settled primarily in the rural areas of Manitoba, if there was any fiction about their immigrant experience it wouldn’t be set in Winnipeg. He was wrong. 

Dora Dueck’s novel This Hidden Thing, winner of last year’s McNally Robinison Book of the Year award, is definitely fiction and is set almost solely in Winnipeg. It tells the story of young Mennonite girls who came to live in Winnipeg to work as maids in the homes of wealthy people in order to help pay the money their families owed to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR had financed loans to make it possible for Mennonites to come to Canada from Ukraine.  Maria, the main character in Dueck’s novel, spends almost her entire life in Winnipeg after immigrating from Ukraine as a teenager.  

Penner is also wrong when he says there weren’t many Mennonite immigrants in Winnipeg. By the 1920’s six Mennonite churches had already been established in the city and by the 1950’s there were 7000 Mennonites living in Winnipeg. 

I’d like to find out if there are any other novels set primarily in Winnipeg that reflect the experience of Mennonite immigrants. 

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