August 11, 2010

Porcupine's Quill supports Canadian visual artists

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the rewards of doing this column is the opportunity to interview writers and artists who have taken on remarkable projects, satisfying their own passions while reaching out to the public. It gives one a touch of envy, a reminder that value lies not in what you intend to do, but in what you actively pursue.

Richard Nevitt lives in Alton, and in 2008 published A Caledon Sketchbook with Porcupine's Quill in Erin. He has retired from 40 years of teaching at the Ontario College of Art, but still works at his home studio and gives workshops at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg.

The book is a journal of 60 pen and ink drawings, based on sketches that capture "chance moments of solitude" and the spiritual power of the Niagara Escarpment landscape. He was signing copies during the recent Doors Open event.

Early in his career, he studied art as applied to anatomy and medicine, which expanded his creative vision, and he went on to work in a variety of media. In 1968 the Canadian Government invited him to document peace-keeping activities with the Canadian Armed Forces in Cyprus.

"I draw every day," he said. "It is important to be observant. I extend my observations of anatomy into landscapes. It's learning how to look at things and bring out their strengths."

McMichael Executive Director Tom Smart said, "In the turn of a line, a scrap of contour, an oblique hint of mass, form and volume, Nevitt lends his subjects a living quality, a breath of life and of vitality."

Nevitt's great grandfather, Richard Barrington Nevitt, was a doctor, artist and journalist who came to Toronto from the Confederate South. He went to Alberta in 1874 as an assistant surgeon with the North-West Mounted Police, and documented the plight of the Blackfoot natives.

Nevitt is appreciative that publishers like Porcupine's Quill and organizations such as Headwaters Arts ( have helped create "a dynamic support system for the arts".

In addition to fiction and poetry, Porcupine's Quill has often published books that support the visual arts, especially serving the niche market for reproductions of wood engravings. Their newest offerings include a collection of engravings called A Calendar of Days by various artists, and Book of Hours, a graphic novel by George Walker which traces, without words, the routines of daily life in the hours before the 9/11 attacks.

"The art books give a voice to the artists that they wouldn't otherwise have," said Tim Inkster, who puts his own artistic flair into the design and production of books, giving them a traditional, textured look and feel. Their equipment is traditional as well, with a Baumfolder folding machine dating back to the '40s and a Smyth book binding sewing machine from 1907.

In 2008, Tim and Elke Inkster were appointed to the Order of Canada for their contributions to Canadian publishing and promotion of new authors.

The other interesting conversation I had at the publishing shop was with Jane Lind, a writer, editor and sculptor who is passionate about the work of Canadian experimental filmmaker and visual artist Joyce Wieland (1931-1998).

"I am mainly interested in stories of women artists who have really developed their creative lives," said Lind, who published a biography in 2001: Joyce Wieland - Artist on Fire. A preview of that book can be seen on the Google Books website.

Wieland made an impact on the art world in Canada and New York, from the '60s to the '80s, with avant garde work that celebrated the surge in feminist sentiment, while making use of traditional female crafts such as quilting. It is an unusual blend of sexuality, politics and patriotism. A highlight of her career was True Patriot Love, an exhibition in 1971 at the National Gallery of Canada – the first such show devoted to a living Canadian female artist.

"She was a pioneer for women's place in the art world," said Lind. "She pokes fun at the weird things people do, and how foolish politicians can be in their obsession with power."

Lind, who lives in Guelph, has now published a follow-up book, with Porcupine's Quill. Joyce Wieland: Writings and Drawings, is an eclectic selection of drawings, journal entries and stream-of-consciousness poetry from 1952 to 1971, drawn from the archives at York University. It reveals the aspirations and struggles of a woman in a male-dominated field.

The introduction to the book provides sufficient background, so that it is is not necessary to read the published biography to appreciate the work. Lind hopes that it will help renew some interest in Wieland with scholars, art historians and the public.