From The Record, November 17th, 2017
Back in the winter of 2016, Jan Draper, Kyl Chhatwal and I led a series of “writing workshops” as part of the Our Stories project funded through the federal government’s Canada 150 celebrations, under the auspices of Townshippers’ Association. One of the workshops was held in the cozy confines of the North Hatley Library and was attended by local artist Ann Mitchell. The topic at that session was the short memoir, and we were all very impressed with the quality of the participants’ exchanges.
As it turned out, Ann was already a published author, having produced a previous book of paintings and text, Where the Heart Is, in 1996. This book eventually sold upwards of 5000 copies in Canada and the United States. In the intervening twenty years, Ann had accumulated enough paintings to consider putting together another book, and the memoir workshop served as an inspiration for her to buckle down and get to it! As she notes in the acknowledgments at the start of the book, “Kyl Chhatwaal not only suggested I write another book but insisted I do so, and was constantly available with advice and support along the way.”
According to the book jacket of Memories Are Made of This, Ann’s paintings have been exhibited in galleries and museums, and many currently reside in private collections across Canada and the U.S. Her style of art, made popular by the legendary Grandma Moses, is known as “art naïf”, or naïve art, a variant of folk art. What makes Ann’s works so very much fun is the quirkily humorous and whimsical aspects of her paintings. It is very much a “coffee table book”, if that term is still in vogue, but one that the reader will want to peruse carefully, rather than just admire the pictures and then set it aside. Each of the 35 full-colour pictures is accompanied by Ann’s musings on the subject of the picture, typically a country home, including its history and geography, and most importantly, the many miniscule characters who inhabit and enliven the setting. If you are a Where’s Waldo? fan, as I am, each picture presents a tiny, perfect puzzle, with hints from Ann as to what to look for: escaping sheep, galloping horses, swimmers, kayakers, and canoeists, cyclists, tractor mowers, gardening aficionados, pets of all descriptions, and even Ann herself, depicted with her easel and paints. Just to make things interesting, there are often several seasons— and several generations of the same people—represented simultaneously. The artist often breaks the literary third wall by addressing the reader directly: “Her husband Dickie worked non-stop on the farm, especially when Brad visited with the intention of ‘helping’! Note the apple trees. There’s not much evidence of hard work being done, is there?” from the segment entitled Welcome to the Neighbourhood!
Although many of the paintings are of homes in and around the North Hatley area, there are also paintings of dwellings from around the world: St-Moritz, Montreal, Caledon (Ontario), Martha’s Vineyard, Litchfield (Connecticut), Glenbeigh (Ireland), and Aberdeen (Scotland). An especially busy painting can be found in the Tradition Meets Mischief section, showing us Stanstead College in all its hustle and bustle, with students engaging in a spectacular array of activities, from marching to calisthenics to football to chatting, and much, much more. It takes more than a few minutes to scan the painting and see all there is to see!
The pictures are a treat for the eyes, and the accompanying texts are always warm, evocative, and informative, in a friendly and distinctly folksy way. It is clear that Ann has lived a privileged (and as she says, blessed) life in the somewhat rarified atmosphere of the well-to-do, here and elsewhere, but she has a wonderful way of ensuring that the reader is drawn into this world in a gently humorous way. Unlike most artists, she is not averse to making changes to her paintings when requested, to reflect the changes that have occurred over time within the painting: “Molly phoned and asked if I would be willing to add three babies born since I completed her painting. ‘That’s fine with me,” I replied. ‘I can do that’. And so, the twin girls in pink and the baby (near the front steps) took their place on the scene.” She only realized later that the children already in the painting would have to be changed as well, since they had grown beyond their original images.
Very often the properties which are the subjects of her paintings are bequeathed for the public good and, happily, The Massawippi Conservation Trust is often the deserving beneficiary.
Memories Are Made of This was launched, fittingly, to great acclaim a few weeks ago at the North Hatley Library. The book can be had through inter-library loan via the Lennoxville Library, and at 80 pages and providing hours of reading pleasure, it is well worth the purchase price of $35! Copies can be had at Black Cat Books in Lennoxville.
PS Thank you Kyl, for your contribution in bringing this beautiful book to fruition, and thank you, of course, to Ann Mitchell for persevering!
Speaking of local artists, the Lennoxville Art Group’s fall-themed exhibition is still up at the Lennoxville Library, and it can be enjoyed for another two days—Friday and Saturday (17-18 Nov.) The winter and holiday-themed exhibition will open on November 28th!!!