Today, the 18th of August 2017, is not about art. Rather it is written to commemorate a 50th year anniversary, to celebrate roots, and corner stones of my past. In the process of rummaging through various boxes of photographs for my website and blog I came upon six small colour photographs. A couple of days later I clicked upon a Guardian article about the 10 best park experiences in Canada. Near the end of the article there was this image below and its accompanying description. The dye was cast and I had to find these words.
Welcome to robinbell.net. I started this website in 2003 with the help of Dream Weaver 3 and a Danish friend who registered my domain name with One.com. There was a subsequent restyling with another Danish friend in 2010. It produced a very minimalistic site which focused only on my Monumental Sculptures. For both of these versions I did not have “control” of the site. That has changed with this third version. Now, thanks to Samuele Coppede’ and Word Press I am going to keep adding from the deep and recent past and evolving. Please Enjoy.
Robin Bell, Pietrasanta March 8, 2016
The six photographs that I found are of an ‘epic’ canoe trip that I shared with my maternal Grandfather, Thomas Hungerford, his elder brother Henry and my best friend Tim Cook. The trip was a right of passage for both generations.
Tim and I were about to go different directions as he would return to England with his family and I would be starting Grade 9 in the brand new Gloucester High School. Thomas and Henry were revisiting parts of the lake they had experienced many times in their youth. We were in Algonquin Park and we would spend a week paddling around Opeongo Lake. This lake, in the “middle of nowhere” was actually very close to the homes of Tom and Henry. But before discussing this I need to take you back to The Old World, back to Ireland.
My Maternal Great Grandfather, Thomas Henry Hungerford, to the ire and consternation of his parents married the Irish author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. She was quite successful in her time and is attributed with the phrase “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” from her book “Molly Bawn”. She died suddenly of typhoid on the 24th of January 1897.
After her death Thomas Henry Hungerford decided to leave Ireland and find a place to live in Western Canada. During the Atlantic crossing he met Mr. Thomas Salmon, an Englishman returning to his home after a visit in England. Mr. Salmon had settled at Fox Point on the Lake of Bays and suggested that Thomas inspect the area before going West. He liked what he discovered on The Lake of Bays and subsequently bought 3 lots of land (15, 16, 17- Con.6) from William McElwain of Huntsville, Ontario. He named his new property Lumina.
This is a photograph of Thomas, Henry and Vera in front of Chairmore just before leaving Ireland.
In September 1898 he moved his 3 stepdaughters and 3 children, one Irish setter, a cat and some personal effects from Chairmore, Rosscarbery, Cork Ireland to The Lake of Bays in Ontario, Canada.
They tried to farm, but it was a very hard row to hoe. The ground was full of glacier rocks. In 1907, while the children were in various boarding schools (my Grandfather was at TCS in Port Hope, Ontario) Thomas Henry decided to go west. During his voyage he became feverish and died suddenly in Reno, Nevada.
The Lumina homestead was abandoned for many years. The eldest stepdaughter married and moved to India, one moved to Ottawa and the other to an unknown location. An American family the Meloy’s, they had built a house on the Lake of Bays, took the three Hungerford children, Henry, Vera and Thomas to live in Washington D.C.. Henry and Tom (my Grandfather) both graduated from Veterinary College in Washington, D.C. Vera became a librarian in Buffalo, New York.
Henry joined the United States Department of Agriculture and was stationed in The Philippine Islands. It is from here that he enlisted when the First World War broke out. He was discharged as a Sergeant of The Royal Artillery for the British Army in 1919. Thomas was homesteading near Vermillion Alberta when the war broke out and enlisted in Edmonton. He became a Captain in the Royal Canadian Machine Gun Corps, and was discharged after doing additional duty with the British Expeditionary Force in Russia 1919-1920.
Thomas was at several of the War’s most horrendous battles. He was present at the second battle of Ypres, the Battle of Gravenstafeld Ridge on April 22-23rd, 1915. This is the first time a chemical weapon was used in a war. The Germans pushed the French forces back, but the Canadians managed to hold the line and stop their advance. He also fought in the battle of Vimy Ridge from the 9th till the 12 of April 1917. He was also at The Third Battle of Ypres; also known as the Battle of Passchendale from July to November 1917. My paternal Grandfather, Major Charles Austin Bell, was also at this battle. He was a Red Chevron (He was part of the group of the first Canadians who arrived in Britain to fight the war.), was awarded two medals for his bravery, and during the last major battle of the war lost an eye and his legs below the knees. After his wife died he would come to Lumina in July for a week or two. I spent many a day rowing him around the lake in an attempt to catch lake trout. He insisted rainy days were best! There shall eventually a post of his own.
Henry returned to the Philippines after the war, left the military and became involved as Superintendent for a large British Sugar Enterprise. He retired in 1940 a year before the Japanese invaded the islands.
Thomas returned to Lumina and began not only to homestead but to also offer camping facilities and provisions for visitors from America. One of these guests was Elizabeth Burt a librarian from Buffalo; she would become his wife in April 1921. They decided to turn Lumina into a summer resort. At the time they had an old, crumbling farmhouse and two tents. They had two children. First born was a daughter Elizabeth Reine (my Mother) and then a son, Thomas Edward (Ted). By the year of my birth in 1949 Lumina had 20 Cottages and two main houses. My Grandfather organized and built most of these cottages. In 1921 he dammed a creek that ran through his property and then created a water system to supply water to the resort. He would keep a couple of fish (bass or trout) in reservoir. He said they were there as sentinels, like a canary bird in the mines but for water rather than air quality. With shades of “The Lord of The Flies” as youngsters we would catch grasshopper and frogs and then throw them in the middle of the reservoir to witness the spectacle of the fish eating.
I am with my Mother next to the bowling green at Lumina. Her Mother is next to her. The image underneath has me holding onto a crochet mallet held by my Father in front of Grandpa’s house. Summer 1950.
In 1953 Ted and his wife Phyllis Campbell began to help with the daily operations and Lumina Resort continued to develop and grow. It is now run by Ted’s two children Vicki and Tec (Thomas Edward Campbell).
Henry bought land at the other end of the bay, built a home and would stay there during the summer months. His winters would be spent in either Nanaimo British Columbia or in the Caribbean. Apparently he owned boats in all three places. He never had a car or a driving licence. I remember fondly the occasional parcels received from him during his winter sojourns. The ones from the Caribbean were the best. They always had fantastic stamps on the front and inside several types of interesting seashells, petrified sharks teeth with amazing colours and the occasional post card. These letters would also include my most recent thank you note or letter with coloured corrections for spelling, grammar and thought. He insisted that I use as wide an ink nib as possible to hide my horrible calligraphy (a subject that I am told is no longer taught in schools!). My last letter from Henry can be found by clicking this link.
Lumina and the surrounding area was a very important place for me while growing up. Except for the three years we lived in Colorado Springs we would be visiting at least three if not four times a year. The winter visits were classic Canadian. Sitting around the fireplace after dinner to hear a hockey game over the radio. To wake up and find the snow had been blown off the ice and one could skate out towards Fire Island. On the other side of the road near the Ice House and clay tennis courts there were several perfect toboggan hills covered with dry, fluffy snow.
On some of the spring visits the snow would be melting and we would hunt for Easter Eggs outdoors and race our wooden “boats” down the rushing creek. The summer visits were the best, with Thanksgiving visits second best as the fall colours of the maple leafs always provided beauty to the eyes and their reflections in the water, sometimes rippling, were breathtaking. Woods were a joy to walk, with no bugs. When I was 18 or 19 a fall walk in the woods found me suddenly in the presence of a black bear (shiny coat, fattened for winter) and we walked along in parallel for about fifteen minutes. It was incredible just how silent he was, then we came upon a little gully and suddenly he was out of sight and then I got worried.
The drive from Ottawa to the Lake of Bays, especially in the early years long and arduous, it could go beyond six hours of traveling. Currently it takes less than four hours. One of hardest and longest parts of the drive at the time was that of going through Algonquin Park. It was a single lane, gravel road (with grass in the middle) that contained many ups, downs and curves. But I was always so happy to see the gates of the Park and then having to stop and answer question from the Park Ranger, because there was the real possibility of seeing (and feeding) wild animals such as deer and moose. And shortly after leaving the Park Gates at the other end of the road expectations increased as Lumina was now very close. I was almost back to the lake, the forests, my Grandparents and Lumina the Summer Resort.
At first we would be at Lumina during the month of July for a two or three week period staying in one of the cottages. When we returned from our three-year period in Colorado Springs we began to rent the Irving’s homestead house. It was on a property next to Lumina, connected by a short path, sometimes two, or a walk along the beech. We would stay for the whole month. This old homestead was a fantastic place. Nothing in the house was in plane or plumb, the floors had definite slopes (perfect for racing your cars) and the living room walls were covered with birch bark and had a massive stone fireplace. The older children slept out on the terrace in a mosquito fenced in area. It was like sleeping outside and in later years made it easier to slip away to staff parties.
During our stays in the Lumina cottages we would eat all our meals in the Lumina dining room at a table with my Grandparents served by young waitresses. Once we started staying at Irving’s we would only have dinner at Lumina. Lunch and breakfast were at “home”. In the mornings my Mother would start up the wood stove and we would all be down on the rocks at the water’s edge, rain or shine, for a morning cleaning/swim. Then back up to the little kitchen for fried eggs and bacon, French toast, pancakes or possibly freshly caught fish from the lake.
Many times my Grandfather would be at these breakfasts, some times he would bring an old friend like Boyce Cunningham and then my ears would really pick up as they talked the “old days” on the lake. How they would catch lake trout by putting some aluminum foil around a potato with a hook. Talks of their hunting camps in the woods for the yearly deer hunt and other events and aspects of pioneer life.
I remember being in a canoe with my Grandfather from an early age, he taught me how to paddle and to cherish canoes, bonfires and camping. He would take me on walks in the woods to point out flora and fauna or we would have lunchtime picnics on Fire Island, at Henry’s or by “The Hogs Trough” above Marshes’ falls, many times we would make a campfire and cook hamburgers and later marshmallows. Funnily I do not remember ever swimming with him.
Henry Hungerford and Tim Cook.
Henry and Thomas both had big mahogany boats with in board engines. Tom’s was called the “Molly Bawn“, the name of his mother’s most successful novel. It had two spaces. A seat for the driver and two or three others, then a big space in the back with padded benches at the back and both sides that could fit 12 to 15 people. It was used to take guests out for shore dinners, which were fantastic BBQ’s on Bigwin Island and latter near Point Ideal, or for trips to Dorset with its famous country store “Robinsons” or other parts of the lake. Henry’s boat was named the “Nishnabe”. It is an alternative spelling of Anishinabe, which is a name the Ojibway and Algonquin people use for themselves in their own language. It was completely different than the “Molly Bawn” as it was apparently designed for Ocean/Caribbean waters. It was narrow with a big breaking bow, there was a space for the driver and a passenger and in the space behind there were upholstered benches at the back and several big wicker chairs, a comfortable space for about eight people. There will be more about my experience with this boat later.
For a growing child being at Lumina in the summer had the super bonus of it being at a summer resort. Not only was there a lake with a sandy beech, it had all sorts of other entertainment. We were very active in the weekly shuffleboard, lawn bowling, croquet and tennis tournaments. Then there were the nature walks guided by Homer Brooks, the Wednesday movie night (big reels of film whose frames were sometimes burned by the bulb during a malfunction of the projector) and the Friday night dance with a live band in the recreation room. We made friends with the children of the various families that returned year after year. Many of them were from America. With them we played in the water, in the canoes, in the small motorboats and as time progressed we began to water ski like maniacs, especially on the days when the lake was calm as a pane of glass. On the rainy days, or in the evening we were in the recreation room playing cards, Ping-Pong or some board game. And there was also the “Betty shop” with various snacks, chocolate bars, tubs of ice cream, and the possibility of a milkshake- “kids heaven”.
Henry is teaching us something.
The Lumina summer staff was comprised of an experienced cook and a baker (fresh bread and sweets every day) and then a staff of 25 to 27 young women who worked as waitresses or cottage cleaners and three or four young men for kitchen help (pots and pans, dishwashers) and out door maintenance. The young women slept in staff quarters above the kitchen, while the boys had a bunkhouse past the icehouse. This was party central. And when an adjacent bunkhouse was built for the more senior women even more so. The staff, like the guests returned for years in a row. Many friendships were created. When I turned 16 I wanted to work at Lumina for the summer, but my Uncle Ted at the time said he was against nepotism so no deal. He changed his mind as my two younger brothers and three sisters all worked various summers there.
For the summers of 64 (I’m 14 at the time) and 65 I was sent up to the Lake of Bays by bus soon after school had finished to spend two weeks with Henry before moving across the lake to Irving’s. It was all quite an adventure. My Father driving me and a small suitcase to the Ottawa Bus Terminal and reminding me more than once about where I would have to change buses to reach Huntsville. He gave me money for some snacks and a paper back book that I bought at the terminal saying Henry would pay the taxi fare from Huntsville to his place. The trip, especially the first time seemed to go on forever, but we finally made it to Huntsville and I found a taxi and as the evening approached arrived at Henry’s door. He came out to ask the cost of the ride, went in, returned, paid the taxi and then got quite excited because of the “commotion ” caused by my arrival he had managed to burn our dinner of pork tenderloin.
My bedroom was off the kitchen, after the door to the basement stairs. The room had another door that lead to a full bathroom. Although he had another large bedroom in another part of the house Henry slept upstairs in a big room above me. One of its walls, being the end of the house was all windows that looked out towards the lake. In the center of the room there was a big desk with books and papers on it. There was also a full bookshelf near the door. The walls on either side had many large doors. At first one might imagine a series of cupboards, only to discover that on both side there were single beds behind double doors. Henry slept in one of these beds. He said it reminded him of sleeping on a ship and I thought nothing of it.
Please Sirs We Want Some Something To Eat!
I quickly discovered Henry ran his house in a fairly military style, as he gave me an alarm clock and told me to set it for seven. He taught me how to make loose tea and that became my first “job” in the morning. My second was to cut the bread and make the toast. To start with he made the eggs, telling me how to do it, so that by the end of week one I was cooking eggs a few times too! After cleaning the breakfast plates my job was to wash the kitchen and entrance room linoleum floors, giving them wax twice a week. After this was done we would begin a morning project. It could be working on some of the paths on the property, cleaning his big wooden boat, doing some maintenance in the pump house or helping with some project in his very organized workshop. There was a table saw, a band saw and all types of hand tools on the wall and in drawers. He showed me how to use many of then plus some geometric “tricks ” for working with wood. When it was time for lunch we would retire to the kitchen to make sandwiches. This is where I acquired a taste for smoked oysters and cucumber sandwiches. One of my jobs was to cut the crusts off the sandwiches. Some of these he placed in the bird feeder by the front door, the rest he would keep in his hand and call. The Blue Jays usually arrived first, but other birds as well as chipmunks and squirrels also arrived to be fed.
With lunch finished Henry would retire to his upstairs room, he said to read and write, and I had free time until 3:30. In those hours I was either “working” in his workshop on some wood based project, exploring the land or trying to fish using “fancy” lures I had bought with money saved. His land was very interesting as it also included a “swamp” where from the edge of the shore one might see a Great Blue Heron, various types of Ducks and of course Loons. There was a point where wild blueberries always grew. It was next to a beaver den. Henry was always at war with the beavers. He placed, with some success, wire netting around the base of his big birch trees (I helped to do some of this.). With his tippy canoe I would investigate the shoreline with its bluffs and large boulders and then into the swamp. There were dragonflies, water lilies and other aquatic growth and underneath you could see schools of small and large fish. Occasionally you would glimpse the muskrat or the beaver and the bullfrog noise was constant. One also had to be careful of “deadheads” as the lake had been dammed at Baysville causing the natural water level to rise by quite a bit and so there were lots of dead tree trunks just below the level of the water. So I would be roaming around the property, lost in my own world and more than once failing to return on time.
A serious lecture always followed, the essence being that a Gentleman is never late. Between Henry and my Colonel Father I have a time phobia that can drive Stefania crazy, and I’m still trying to get better. After arriving we would usually go somewhere in his boat. It was generally to Lumina for tea and visit with my Grandparents. But we certainly did visit other parts of the lake. Sometime we would take Grandpa and Granma out for “tea” on the lake. There was always a stop at Port Cunningham to get gas for the boat, and more than once we visited Bigwin Inn on Bigwin Island. This place that was totally unbelievable. Though rundown from its hay-days but still amazing. We would have tea there. When I got a little older I would be going back for some amazing dances above the great boathouse. The place has now bounced back almost to its original glory.
Henry is probably giving us some instructions on grill height.
Even as children Henry would let us steer the Nishnabe for short periods of time when he came to take us for a ride on the lake. He decided during my summer of 65 stay with him that I should learn how to dock the Nishnabe! As I mentioned this boat had a very particular shape with its long, sharp bow. It felt much less safe than the “Molly Bawn”, it gave the impression that with a sharp turn it could roll over. The control for speed was attached to the steering wheel. To change from forward to neutral to reverse there was a stick shift on the floor. Added to the mix was the fact that when reversing you had to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of where you intended to go. Brain scrambling pour moi. We practiced more than a few times parking and leaving his dock. Finally the day came when he wanted me to drive Nishnabe from his dock to that of Lumina’s. In the summer there were always people on the Lumina beach, sun bathing on top of the boathouse or swimming from the docks where the canoes and motorboats were docked. The arrival of any big boat always provided interest. All these factors raised the edge of the game, but Henry was a good teacher and the lessons paid off with a successful landing. The next time I arrived at Lumina with the Nishnabe we picked up my Grand parents and then we did some touring of the lake with a stop at Bigwin Inn. In my second year stay a new project was the making of cement, as Henry wanted to improve the area around the back steps, and eventually the steps. Another classic memory from my stay was this: Instead of buying a paperback book in the bus terminal (I was reading Henry’s books) I bought a copy of Time magazine. This time my arrival did not result in a burnt dinner, however at the dinner table we began to talk and I tried to introduce in my words an article I had read about the state of the American Dollar. He listened for a second and then told me to stop talking about things I did not understand. The daily work pattern was the same as the year before.
In the summer of 66 we had just arrived at Lumina. My Mother and Father were having drinks and conversation with my Grandparents. I immediately went down to the docks and the boathouse to see what was new. A paddleboat! A two seated paddleboat that I immediately commandeered with two friends and we set off towards Fire Island. We took turns of two paddling and one in the back crouching and steering with its rudder. We were about half way out when a large motorboat passed near by and gave us a jostle. I was the one who was steering, feeling a slight scratch on the outside of my left leg about 15cm below the knee. I looked down to see my leg bone and two muscle layers and a gap between these layers that was filling up with blood. I had been sliced by one of the two cutter pins that secured the rudder. At some point I went into shock. We made it back to the dock, my Father arrived with towels and the car and we were off to Huntsville. When we arrived at the Doctor’s clinic, I was put on a table and an elderly Doctor began to pull many needles from his drawers. Soon he was stabbing them into my muscles to act as an anaesthetic on my muscles before he began to sew them up. Real pain. While talking to him I learned that the thread for the bottom set of muscles would dissolve by itself, the surface stitches would have to be removed by him two weeks later. He also told me I had to stay away from the water. I was 16 and the only thing I wanted to do that summer was to be in or around water!
This was the second time Grandfather Tom “saved” me. We spent much time in a canoe fishing and paddling around the lake. Then there were the hours that we passed in his house playing cribbage with a little side bet. For each game I lost I had to bring up two pails of water from the lake for the flowers around his house. For each game I won 25 cents. By the end of our summer stay I was winning more than loosing. The flowers and myself were quite happy. This is when my Grandfather also gave me one of his paddles, it is handmade out of wild cherry wood and had been given to him many years before by a native Indian he knew. It is with me here in Italy above a window in the study. My injured leg did not keep me from becoming involved in that month’s many Resort activities and after work staff parties .
As a footnote I want to mention that two days after getting the stitches out I slipped and hit the dock as I was bailing out the fishing boat of a girl friend’s father. The top layer popped open and I was back for a visit to the Doctor. This time he complained about not having enough flesh to grasp and the scar I would have. He also forgot to anaesthetize the very last piece of muscle to be sown, and that gave me a pain surprise. The first time Tom really saved me was in 1951, my Mother was working at Lumina in the kitchen, when he heard crying from my bedroom and upon opening the door discovered I had managed to get my head stuck between the bars of my wooden crib.
Myself and Tim in front of our tent in one of the camping sites. It really rained here for more than a day and a half.
For the camping trip of 63 my Mother brought up Tim Cook and me to Opeongo Lake from Ottawa. When we arrived Tom and Henry were already there. They had rented two canoes and their packs and the tents were already loaded. Tim and I placed our packs into our respective canoes and sat in the front. We were to be the motors. I was in the canoe with my Grandfather. We visited parts of the lake the brothers wanted to see again. We set up camp in a couple of locations and then spent a day or two exploring the area. There were a couple of nasty rain days and nights. One area was the location of a huge building that had been built during the logging of the lake. It was in full decay, it was here I was shown a corduroy road (logs lain together to form a road). We also visited the little backwater spaces. In one Tom and I came upon a sleeping timber wolf. It slowly woke and left, probably cursing us on the way. Tom was totally pro wolf and thought their killing needless. Setting the campfire was Tim and my responsibility for lunch and dinner, then we would help prepare and cook the meals. After dinner around a vigorous fire the brothers would relax and through the stories told one could glimpse a bit of their past. They both talked about events that had happened on the lake and more. Tom told the story of how their raiding party produced the most disgruntled look on a German officers face as they had taken him prisoner in his pyjamas. He also talked about being stuck in ice on a ship near Arkhangelsk in Russia for six months. He said they played endless games of cards (though some considered cards to be the Devil’s fingers.) and organized hunting parties. Occasionally during these hunting expeditions they would have skirmishes with the Bolsheviks. When the ice melted the ship was turned around and sailed back to London. The reds had won. Henry’s tales were more about the Philippines, some quite horrific, and the great size of his horses during the war. On our last day out before we broke camp Henry had a shave. We began to paddle towards the landing wharf. A short distance from this wharf there is a small island were we stopped so Henry could do his habitual complete change into fresh clothes, including a white shirt, before he left the bush.
These are the spaces Tom loved to explore. This is the only photo I have of us together.
The summer of 1967 found me in Montreal working at Expo 67. Another epic event. Rick German was a TCS friend and irreplaceable hooker on our rugger team in 1969. His Father was retired from the Canadian Navy. He started an enterprise to bring Hovercrafts from England to Canada. The idea was to drum up business for them while letting people have rides around the Expo island. Most of the crew and labour were being housed on a huge ship a few kilometers down the Saint Lawrence River. We would get helicopter rides to the site each morning. Our first duty was to clear the cement landing pads of all the dead fish and other garbage that had settled there during the night. I could not believe the size and strength of the river, nor the size and quantity of dead fish and other things we found each morning. Our second job was to clean out the hovercrafts and once the gates were open we took tickets, helped passengers on and off and did the refuelling when necessary.
For myself and I believe for a lot of Canadians Expo 67 was an epical birth of a new nation, a new time with new means of communication. The powerful force of film burst forth with two fantastic pavilions. One, from the National film Board, had two massive screens one vertical and horizontal. You viewed the film from various balconies on the sides and the back of the building. They had a plane flying over parts of Canada, what you saw on the vertical screen was the view from the cockpit, while the horizontal screen projected the view directly below the plane. The other pavilion (Bell?) was circular. Inside this circular building you had huge rectangular screens on the walls. The audience stood in the middle then the lights were dimmed and suddenly you were in the middle of the RCMP’s Musical Ride. It was also here that I tasted my first “foreign” food in the pavilions of countries such as India and Mexico. In afterhours I discovered a bit of Montreal and its bars and managed to see Otis Reading singing at the Montreal Arts Center. I was back in the bleachers in a full house. It was a powerful night.
After finishing my working time at Expo I began to work as a counsellor at the Pat Moss Camp. It was run every year by TCS for two weeks in the Betheny Hills area of Ontario for underprivileged teenaged boys. Another very good TCS friend, David Camp, was also there with me. On the night of the 18th of August there was a full moon and we used its light to walk around the hills with our usual discussions of everything. The next morning the Headmaster, Angus Scott appeared and took me aside and told me he had some sad news. He then told me my Great Uncle Henry had died (punch to the stomach), and then he said my Grandfather had died shortly after. Knock Out. Thomas had had a heart condition and that summer he had been living at Henry’s to get away from the noise and chaos of a summer resort. Henry, who had been outside mixing cement for his back stairs project, came in saying he did not feel well. Tom had him sit at the table and was making tea when Henry collapsed. He phoned his son at Lumina and Ted arrived immediately with help. They carried Henry to his ground floor bedroom, when they returned to the kitchen Tom was dead. After the funeral there was an Irish wake at Tom’s house. I remember a great crowd of people, sadness and joy and stories after stories about the brothers. Somehow during the wake it was decided they died together to save on the price of flowers.
I miss Tom and Henry greatly, I think of them often and I am so thankful to have had the time that I did with them. I would have loved to be able to show them my sculptures, especially the ones involving animals (“Open Sea , “Chunky Cutting“) birds (“Eagle’s Nest“, “Boundaries“, “Goldie“,) and of course “Trophy” my tribute to canoeing.
This is my very first marble carving. “Susan” was created in a piece of fantastic pure white statuary marble. It’s volume is approximately 27 by 8 by 12 cm. It eventually became a gift to my best friend for his wedding.
The first map gives an idea of where I was living in Carrara and working in Avenza. While the second underlines two amazing travel experiences I had on my Lambretta. The first was discovering the ruins of Luni. Especially the amphitheater, which in those times you could almost take your bike to center stage, now it’s underlocks and gates.At the time I envisioned it as an amazing movie location. I have returned many times to this stie and it’s museum. A wonderful place. Folkloare say that it was here Michealango, while examining the ruins of some marble sculptures that he got a sense of scale for his “David”.
The other Lambretta experience that is etched in my memory is the ride from Carrara to Lerici via Montemarcello. I was first knocked out by the first sights of Lerici as you approach by this road. The fortress, the bay and the harbour where Byron swam. He described his stay here as that of “a stranger in paradise”. A though that comes back often, though not as much of late. Then on the way back you are rewarded with another great bonus, the most amazing view of the Apian Mountains and the extensive marble quarries as they rise above theMagra river and it’s flood plain. Look at the map, Luni was a harbour in its time! This is another “local” trip I love repeating.
My first experience with carving marble happen in Carrara, Italy in 1973
The above photograph is an image on myself in the back yard of a marble factory in Avenza Carrara, Italy. In the foreground are some of my first marble sculptures. This photograph was taken late March, or early April 1973 by the Canadian sculptor Bart Uchida. I am twenty-three years old and six or eight weeks later I shall be robbed and my first “expedition” to Italy will be shortly over.
An expedition that in my mind’s eye forty-five years later is mostly fogged fragments. But I clearly remember Bruce Garner telling me in that if I really wanted to learn how to carve stone or marble I had to go to Carrara Italy and hopefully his friend Bart Uchida would still be there. Bruce was a sculptor that lived and worked predominately in the Ottawa River valley. I worked as his assistant for the last three months of 1972 in Ottawa.
My father was a Colonel in the Canadian Air Force. He, and most of my family members, had been recently transferred from Ottawa to Brussels to work as Director for NATO. Being entitled to a family visit for Christmas, myself and my brother Thomas were flown from the Canadian Air Force base in Trenton to Heathrow (?) by jet around the 18th of December 1972. My first view of Europe is English roof tops and geometric plots of land in the early morning grey. The second step of our journey was totally different. We were flown by military transport, four propellers, and we were strapped to a seat that was part of a row along the side of the aircraft. A Jeep and a few other personnel were flying in the plane with us. I am not sure where we arrived from London, possibly Chievres Air Base, Belgium.
As part of the holiday celebrations my parents decided to take the family for a ski vacation at Zermatt in Switzerland. We celebrated the New Years there and then they returned to Brussels by car as I took a train to Carrara. It was the last time that I skied. I did not know if Bart was still there, but I did have his last mailing address. The train arrived at Carrara early in the morning. I found a taxi and produced the written address. This resulted in being brought to a house somewhere in the hills around Carrara. Knock, knock and the door opens. Bart is not here says Janos Stryk, a 40 year old, large and distinguished Hungarian sculptor and owner of the house. He invites me in for breakfast. Slightly bemused with my desire to become a sculptor we and then go searching for Bart.
For more background on Janos http://www.haninafinearts.com/artists/janos_stryk/biography
We find Bart in the back yard of a marble factory in Avenza, a part of Carrara that is below the Aurelia and before Marina di Carrara. He was working on a large marble sculpture for an Art Collector in Milan. He too seems bemused by my intention, and is very helpful in getting me settled, as he helps he find an apartment, convinces the owners of the marble factory to let me “work” in their back yard and even loans me an old Lambretta scooter for transportation.
What I remember most about this period was being caught up in a “puritan” work ethic that found me working for two to three weeks in a row before taking a half-day off. The mantra at the time was to carve the “block” of marble into the sculpture- direct carving. However I still remember vividly tone Sunday scooter ride where I went from Carrara to Lerici by “the back mountain road” and being totally taken by its stunning beauty, and another Sunday visit to Luni.
My wrists were not strong enough to control the pneumatic hammers; so all my carving was done with hand tools and a small disc grinder. At first my hand eye coordination was not as good as I thought, and although the swings were timid the marble hammer was unforgiving. The base of my left thumb was getting hit and skin taken off. I had learned that the marble dust, with all its calcium, helps to coagulate the blood. One day, after another good thumb smashing I found myself witnessing a dialogue between my left and right. The left arm immediately swung up and threw down the chisel and then emphatically informed the right arm had to either get it right or pass the hammer to the left arm. And the left and right became coordinated and confident.
There was a community of foreign sculptors working and living in and around Carrara. I meet some of them mostly through the occasional noon meal in a local trattoria or during dinners at Bart’s apartment or Janos’s house. I couple of the sculptors I meet then still work in the Carrara area.
My budget was student and the Canadian dollar keep dropping so I decided to cash most of my precious travellers cheques and hid the money in my apartment closet. When the landlord next came to pick up the rent money I went to the hiding place and found it empty, and realized a jacket and a couple of ties were missing too. Although my Italian was very primitive the landlord realized that I had been robbed and called the police. My first Italian experience was coming to an abrupt end.
I returned to Ottawa and began to work again with Bruce Garner. I became his assistant to finish his commission of ceremonial bronze doors for the Canadian Government Conference Centre in Ottawa’s former train station. My crate of sculptures eventually arrived. I managed to sell several of them and began plotting how to get back to Italy.
These were taken in a photo booth in Genova on my way, by train, to a Canadian Airforce base near Baden-Baden Germany for the flight home. The blue “artist beret ” I lost in Ottawa, my hair along the way.
Pietrasanta, August 10, 2017
My very first marble sculpture. Entitled “Susan” it was a piece of pure white statuary marble. The dimensions were approxinately 27 cm. by 8 cm. by 12 cm. I gave it to my best friend as a wedding gift.
A couple of days after having posted “Physical to Digital” (part 01) I realized that I had forgotten to include several fragments of my life. One large time gap concerns a series of sculptures made between late 1985 and early 1987.
In September of 1985 “Open Sea” had been installed and my life on several levels was changing. In February we celebrated the birth of our first daughter, Beatrice, and now after the sculpture installation in September I had the luxury of time.
Pietrasanta was still basically a sculptor’s town and a wonderful place to work and to live. There was a strong component of skilled artisans covering any aspect of the art, from marble carving, casting bronze, creating Venetian mosaics, making enlargements of models, moulds of these models, the crates to ship them. Then added to the mix was a great band of artists from different countries and various ages. Strong friendships were created between the artisans and the artists. Though an outsider you felt to be a part of the town.
Then as a bonus the world’s two best producers of sculpting tools at that time were to be found less than two hours from town. One was in a beautiful mountain setting where to reach the factory you walked through this ancient town and then on a narrow path through woods. As you drew near ones ears heard the sound of many hammers at work. They built some very useful tools that i designed for myself.
The next 14 months were dedicated to the creation of a new series of sculptures. The sculptures I wanted to create were too big for my studio in town. Claudio Mariani, the foundries owner, kindly let me develop my ideas in the same foundry studio I had used to create the head and tail of “Open Sea”. The springing point for the sculptures was to be the figurative part of the “Files” sculpture, shown below, that I had created for my solo 1983 exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Center in Rome.
Before “Files” was presented to Pietrasanta’s Plaster Museum I created a plaster piece mould of the figurative part of the sculpture. With this plaster piece mould I began to create a series of works, which I nicked named, for obvious reasons “Buttons”. For me the belly-button/navel is a perfect human symbol. We all have one, it’s our “roots” and by itself is gender neutral. So I created this series of sculptures around the navel, at times mixing the body form with image content.
After having developed these original ideas in plaster we than moved to Toronto for approximately eight months as I went searching for someone to help produce them. Unfortunately this search was of no avail. However I received an offer to create a life-size sculpture, with his owner as rider, of a World Champion cutting horse in action. I accepted this challenge to create my first horse (this story in a subsequent blogs). Hence, the “Buttons” were put on hold and an almost three year journey of work began.
Below, in chronological order of development, are the major sculptures created during this period. Looking at these images thirty plus years late I find it true that good art tis timeless. These are valid sculptural ideas that need to be transformed into their intended materials of cast bronze or carved marbles. They could act as maquettes for really monumental sculptures or be produced in their current size. All interested producers are most welcome!
Pietrasanta, July 28, 2017
This is the original “Files”. I used it to design the shapes I was going to create. The whole series is on view. The image underneath shows you the outline for “Untitled Egyptian”. Below in chronological order are the sculptures.
“Shielding Sepia” (W,D,H) 60cmx10cmx165cm was included in the exhibition “9 Sculpteurs Canadiens en Toscane” at the Centre Culturel Canadien, Paris 1987. The front image was taken by Stefano Sabella (the local “go to photographer of sculpture”) while the second by myself. The seaside is a few kilometers from Pietrasanta. The idea of the shape came from that of a sepia bone, which were found readily on the beach, with that of a shield. On a very windy, dramatic day, I went to Stefano’s store in Tofano (a part of Marina di Pietrasanta), found him and then we walked to the beach to take the shot. Striking difference between our photographs.
“Pancia” (W,D,H) 111cmx43cmx174cm There was to be a relief on the inside. I left the mould lines visible. Sculptors often part of the technique to become part of the form. Auguste Rodin was a master at this.
“Untitled Sun” (W,D,H)
“Untitled Mirror” (W,D,H) 48cmx10x83cm I was planning to have a mirror or highly polished material on the other side.
“Untitled Egyptian” (W,D,H) 118cmx60cmx145cm These photographs do not really “explain” the depth of the sculpture. The one underneath does give a feeling for what the sculpture would be like on a monumental size.
“Untitled Cloud” (W,D,H) 133cmx68cmx118cm In 1987 it was rare that one owned a camera, let alone a cell phone with a camera & cloud. Special effects were pretty well limited to backgrounds and lighting. This image has me trying a live special effect with a bit of shredded wood packing material being light up behind the sculpture. The underneath image you can see part of a bench that Mike Davis, a Canadian sculptor from Toronto taking some sabbatical time off, is standing on to helping me holding up the red curtain. On the right one can see some of the wood material we were burning. We certainly smoke the studio out and the big doors had to be opened. More found images of the event .
“Totem” (W,D,H) 114cmx25cmx195cm There were to be landscapes as reliefs on the other side. I was working off my experience of building most of the inside of the whales mouth in wood and wax. Love how this sculpture, using the tensile characteristics of bronze, stretches it’s self . It has less physical material with a greater volume.
Here is a bit of a group shot which helps give one a better idea of perspective and size. The one with the yellow outline was abandoned and destroyed. The flow was not right.
From Physical to Digital-My life making sculpture and other arts
My name is Robin Bell. I am a sculptor living in Pietrasanta, Italy. I first travelled to Italy in 1973 to learn now to carve marble. I have remained pretty well there since then as my artistic career has evolved to Commissioned Artist, with cast bronze being the requested material.
I am an “old school” type of Artist who creates the scale and full size model, retouches their waxes and does the final finishing of the bronze before the patina. I have been using the services of Fonderia Artistica Mariani of Pietrasanta since 1974.
This Blog is being created to provide images, stories and thoughts on my art. I think “Physical to Digital” is a good title as it truly reflects our times. It express the idea of handcrafted Three Dimensional art works becoming binary expressions, but also by having begun my career before the Digital Divide (in the sense of Era Digital, era Pre Digital) I have to find and physically scan these images for this blog. Another thread to this theme is the fact of how I began to use the computer as a tool, a very helpful tool in the creation of my art. Another physical to digital is this blog is a binary scrapbook and journal.
The blogs will not be chronological, nor precise it its publication date. Some periods will have minimal visual coverage that I hope to slowly eradicate as I continue my intercontinental search for images from the past. Below are images of me at work from 1973 forwards.
My first marble sculptures, Carrara 1973. Underneath is “Susan” my first marble sculpture.
Working on Last 3/3 circa 1977, while the image underneath is of Last 1/3 just before it is put into it’s crate to be shipped to Toronto Canada as part of my second Marianne Friedland show. Below the show’s announcement.
Working on Celtic 1/3. It will be first shown at my third solo exhibition in Toronto. This time at the Bau-xi Gallery in 1978.
My Bau-XI exhibition received some nice reviews and but limited press. At the same time of the exhibition Toronto was involved with a massive conference on Sculpture, A month of various gallery openings and events. More drastically there were few sales and while looking for work I discovered a competition to become Artist in Residence at the Sault Saint Maria Institute of Science and Technology. It had a small art department whose artist in residence position had become vacant. I was selected and spent the next 14 to 16 months in Northern Ontario! In this image, taken in early 1979, I am working on the clay original for Trophy. the sculpture will be eventually cast and included in my exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Center in Rome in 1983.
Here I am working, in early 1981, on the 33% larger than life size clay model for “Running In”. It was comissioned by the Triple Five Corporation as the center piece for Phase One of The West Edmonton Mall, in Edmonton , Alberta, Canada.
This photograph celebrates finishing the life-size clay model for “The Goalie”. It was taken the spring of 1984. The sculpture, commissioned by Cambridge Leaseholds Ltd. for Place Vertu’ in Montreal to celebrate a true Canadian ikon, Mr. Ken Dryden.
Summer 1984 and Open Sea begins. I have found a complete set of Right Whale bones at the University of Pisa. They had been attached to a ceiling, 12 meters in the air for about 150 years. It was then decided to move them to a new Natural History Museum. This happened two weeks before I came looking for them!
They were invaluable as they helped to establish measurements like the distance between the eyes. I made a scale model of the bones and then fleshed them out with plastacine. The intermediate and final model were made in clay.
Because of size I had to make the maquette and then an intermediate model before developing the full size original.
Fall 1987, the beginning of “Chunky Cutting”. I had never made a horse before so I set up a studio at a local stable and made a life size study model.This was an amazing project. It was also my longest. Due to financial reasons it was created in two parts. First phase was creating the horse and rider, second phase the calf. The horse and rider were portraits of Charles “Chunky” Woodward and his 1967 NCHA Champion Cutting Horse Peppy San.
June 1990 and I am nearly finished one of the three 40% larger than life size figures for “Teeming”, a sculpture ordered by Stadium Corp. for Meadowhall in Sheffield, England. Meadowhall was on the grounds of two abandoned steel foundries. Research brought me to the nexus of Sheffield steel: “teeming”, the pouring of crucible steel. This process had a 250-year history that ended in the 1950’s.
The sculpture was created during a 20 month period between 1989-90. It is the first sculpture portraying the art of “teeming”. In the early 2000’s it was voted “favourite sculpture” by the citizens of Sheffield.
Summer 1979 working on the bottom section, plaster (with some carving) and wax. The top section was built with wood and wax. “Wallscape” is my first sculptural project that is a relief rather than free standing. It is also the first project where I combine cast bronze with Venetian mosaic. This four meter by seven meter relief was placed in the business entrance to the building complex at 9 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong. This was the third time that Hongkong Land was building on the same site, also the last as they later sold the site.
“Ninja Wall” 1993-94 Commissioned by Playmates Properties Limited for 100 Canton Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong. In the picture I am working the first of the full size Ninja’s, circa December 93-early February 1994.
Another relief with bronze and mosaic. This time the bronze relief was much higher and marble and stone were included with the Venetian glass. These new materials heightened the underground tonality of NYC sewers. The wall space was curved. The “Boys” are depicted discovering their genesis- The Canister of Ooze.
“Cutter’s Choice” was a life size calf was created to complete my “Chunky Cutting” sculpture. For this project I created a one third life-size study model with a live model. Then I created a one third life-size maquette, before building the original life-size model in clay. This image was taken circa March 1998.
“The Circle of Caring” was commissioned for the Maycourt Hospice in Ottawa. It’s March 2000 and I am working on one of the portraits.
Spring 2000, I am with the nearly finished full size wax for “Casson’s Pine”. The work was too complicated to make moulds so it will be a direct casting of the wax model. This means that there can be no armature and all materials used must be burnable. Hence the external strings that act as an armature.
“R. Crumb” was my first sculpture for Felix Dennis’s “Garden of Heroes & Villains” in Dorsington, England. It’s early summer 2003 and I have nearly completed my finishing of the bronze. Spurred on by the success of “Casson’s Pine” I take mould only of the figures head and hands and the portrait on the desk. The rest, made of wood wax and paper, is directly cast into bronze.
“Arcus” was commissioned by Mr. S. Jolliffe for his private residence in Toronto, Ontario. The commission is the elaboration of an earlier sculpture entitled “Spalla” which was created for my third solo exhibition in Toronto at the Bau-Xi Gallery in 1978. The shoulders have been enlarged to include the back. The sculpture is mounted upon a black granite base. It can rotate and then lock into position. Inside the shoulders one finds a series of mountain ranges and the inscription: Mountains are the shoulders of the world. In the photograph I am working directly in the wax to create the mountain ranges. Image circa February 2005.
“Churchill” was commissioned by Felix Dennis for his “Garden of Heroes & Villains” in Dorsington, England. This 10% larger than life-size sculpture was to depict Winston Churchill the day after the first bombings by the Germans of London. The figure is made of clay. The bricks are made of wax and wood. They will be more defined in the foundries wax room and then cast directly. Photo taken circa May 2006.
March 2007 and I am getting closer to finishing part of the full size model for “Eagles’ Nest”. The sculpture was commissioned by Mr. E.D. Healy for his private residence in Quinta do Lago, Portugal. My first avian sculpture was greatly helped by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The construction of the twice life-size model was again a combination process. This time the eagle’s body and most of the feathers were made in clay, while the primary, secondary and tail feathers are made in wood and wax. This wood and wax technique provided thin feathers with a natural overlap when place in their final position.
May 2014 and I have almost completed my final finishing of the bronze. “Ulysses” was third commissioned sculpture for Felix Dennis’s “Garden of Heroes & Villains” in Dorsington, England. Felix wanted me to portray the moment Ulysses is tied to the mast to hear the songs of the Sirens. I read and listened to several versions of Homer’s classic, and thanks to the curator of Queen Elizabeth’s model ship collection I discovered how a Greek vessel in 900 BC attached its mast and the type of rope used. There was also research into clothing’s, and patterns. Symbols for the Goddess Athena ( Ulysses’ protector) were used for the toga’s broach and the finger ring.
There is a pine tree on the property that I planted as a seedling. I noticed that someone was rubbing against its bark. Thanks to my Acorn Trail Cam I have discovered who!