Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing*

* If you've seen the film "White Christmas" you may remember this one

This past Saturday I was invited to accompany my friend Amber (of Jackpot Vintage) to a Great Gatsby-inspired party to celebrate the opening of The Muze, a new addition to London's downtown core.   The mission of The Muze, founded by Dorit Osher and Leah Getchell, is to "create a dance and living arts community in London that provides classes and workshops for all ages, skills and backgrounds... and provide a warm, non-judgemental place for all members of our community to train, create, and experience the social, physical and artistic benefits of dance in a non-competitive atmosphere".

Muze co-founder Dorit Osher channelled her inner flapper for the evening in sparkly red and feathers.  Osher has had a successful career as a professional contemporary dancer with companies in South Africa, Israel, and as an independent artist in Canada and Europe.  She is also an educator, facilitator, and psychotherapist, and her work as a dancer has influenced her social work practice.  Her formal education (a BFA in dance, MA in Theory and Criticism and MSW) and life experience lead her to establish The Muze, "a dance and living arts hub", to have a space where she can combine her training in dance and psychotherapy.

Muze co-founder Leah Getchell (right) poses with a friend outside the studio.  Getchell also has an extensive dance background with 15 years of classical dance training followed by classes in belly dancing, salsa and ballroom.   Getchell completed a bachelor's and a master's degree in sociocultural anthropology, and this, combined with her dance training, and experience of living and travelling through Western Europe and Central and South America, fostered a love of cultural diversity and world music.

 Osher and Getchell pose for a celebratory photo in front of their studio

The Muze differs from other dance studios in London in that the space is located on street level, so pedestrians may catch a glimpse of a ballet or East Indian Classical Dance class in progress.  With the assistance of other local artists, Osher and Getchell are offering an eclectic selection of dance and movement classes for all ages.  You can find details about the classes on their website.

I made my best attempt at "Party Hair" and figured my fringe-covered dress and 1920's Haori were period-appropriate.  Unfortunately, I had no 1920's appropriate footwear.

Amber, wearing vintage silk tunic and tulle hat

Headbands, pearls, and little black dresses were the popular choice for the women; suits and hats for the men, and even the little ones brought their best style game to the party.

The little guy in the above photo wore his tap shoes - he knew dancing was the theme of the evening!

Osher and Getchell gave the guests a Charleston dance lesson which I decided to sit out, as the rubber soles of my shoes were sticking to the floor.

These three flappers-in-training were having fun with their ropes of beads

Guests were treated to a performance by local dancer (and Muze instructor) Niki Carr

Glasses were raised in a toast as guests wished Osher and Getchell great success with their new venture.  If you've always wanted to dance, or are just looking for a more creative way to improve your physical and mental well-being, check out The Muze!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Play of Light and Shadow - The Paintings of Jeremy Price

London-born and Montreal-based artist Jeremy Price currently has a show of his recent paintings at Strand Fine Art.  I had seen some of his work previously in group shows and was very taken with it, so when an artist reception was scheduled for this past Saturday I made a point of getting there so I could meet him.

The tall man on the right is Jeremy Price.  I introduced myself and was surprised (and kind of thrilled) when he said he follows my blog (I had featured a couple of his paintings in posts I had written).  There were quite a few members of Price's family present, and the little girl in the pink dress in the bottom right is his niece, who charmed everyone at the reception.  

The city of Montreal, where Price has lived since 2008, is the main inspiration for his work.  The paintings were divided into three sections: scenes from rural and wilderness settings, scenes of urban life in Montreal and scenes of Montreal streets in winter.   

Clockwise from top left:  To The Footbridge, Wilson Road, and Clear Lake Trail

Price is a master when it comes to the depiction of light and shadow and this was the first thing that drew me to his work.   He paints in oil on canvas, using a palette knife, and works from photographs. One can always tell where the light is coming from in his paintings; his skill at capturing the quality of light, whether filtered through a grove of trees, the blue of twilight, or diffused by a cloudy winter sky, is exceptional.

Some of the titles of his paintings sound like lines from a narrative, as in the one above titled, Keep a Little Fire Burning, However Small, However Hidden.

Price has depicted the interiors of Montreal pubs in previous works, but the more recent ones in this show have a more abstract quality - the paint application is rougher, with fewer details.  They perfectly capture the atmosphere of a darkened drinking establishment during the afternoon with light pouring through the front windows  Part of what I like about his paintings are that they walk the line between abstract and realism, and Price has ability to make your eye believe it is seeing more detail in his work than is actually there.

Price's paintings capture a moment in time - a "snapshot" of the scenes he sees while walking, cycling or driving the streets of Montreal.

The purple of a winter evening and the grey-white of an overcast winter sky as rendered by Price

This is one of my favourite pieces in the show, titled Partly Melted by The Prior Days Sun.  The subject is a common scene to most urban dwellers during the winter, but Price's rendering of the blue light of late afternoon creating shadows of parked cars on a snow-covered sidewalk turns the everyday into an arresting piece of art.

Just before I left the reception, I notice this small painting on the wall behind the drink table.  The title is Wayne Decle, which may be the name of the man who owned the denim jacket.  Rendered in an abstract style, the subject is clearly apparent and Price has given it character and gravitas.

Jeremy Price - Recent Works runs until October 3rd at Strand Fine Art Services

Sunday, September 13, 2015

That Ol' Black ( And Red & Gray) Magic Has Me In Its Spell

There's a nip in the air, the kids are back in school, and when you work at an university this time of year is a killer.  I have been sooooo tired,  which mean this week's post is short and sweet.

As the weather gets cooler, I start reaching for the black, grey and red items in my wardrobe more often.  It's a colour combination that I like and feel good wearing - the red pops against the other two colours and relieves the potential gloom and doom vibe of an all black or gray outfit.  I found this skirt at Silk Road, the thrift store in my neighbourhood that I mentioned in my previous post.  I think it was $4, and I have got more than my money's worth out of it.  

It's made of cotton and has silver sequins sewn onto the pattern.  I love the fullness of a circle skirt, and I wore a crinoline underneath to add extra floof.   I have the Fly London shoes in black and red and they are soooo comfortable, and I love the 1940's style ankle strap and peep toe.

The skirt has a super-high twirlability factor (very important)

It was grey and chilly on Saturday so I dug out some of my cozy stuff, including the marvelous shirt that Melanie made for me last year.  These super comfy pants I got at From Mars are the closest I come to wearing sweatpants.

I may have been trying some sort of Charlie Chaplin-esque move here, and fortunately, Heather snapped the photo before I fell into the wall.

I have been trying to be very, very good and not do any thrift shopping until I finish a serious wardrobe purge, but this little shawl-collared incorporated my three fave fall/winter colours, fit really well and was under $10, so it came home with me from Value Village where I went only to look for a couple of books....really I did.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Community - You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

Those of us who live in Old East Village experienced a huge loss recently when Victor Bax Custom Tailoring closed up shop.        

Recent unfortunate changes in Enrico Bax's life forced him to make the decision to close the doors to the little shop on Adelaide Street where for 30 years, he and his brother Victor created custom clothing.  When Victor (whom his brother referred to as "The Michelangelo of Tailors") retired,  Enrico took over the business and changed the focus to alterations.  I did not discover the shop until after I had been in the neighbourhood for several years - a friend recommended the place for the quality of the work and the reasonable prices.  I was able to get Enrico to alter a few pieces of clothing for me, and his work was top notch, and the price was much less than other tailors in London charged.  Unfortunately, this meant that he always had more work than he could manage, and he often fell behind.  The local police service and members of the military were amongst his clients along with those of us in the 'hood that needed a pair of pants or a dress shortened or taken in a little.  Many of his customers had been with him for more than a quarter century.  

His shop was featured in our local newspaper a few years back for the elaborate Christmas displays that Enrico's now ex-wife set up in the shop using the little houses she had collected for over 20 years.

You couldn't be in a hurry when you dropped something off to be altered because there was often a couple of customers ahead of you, and when it was your turn, Enrico usually had a story or two to tell.   It could be a story about when he lived in Italy, or his thoughts on why it is difficult for young people to find jobs and how the neighbourhood had changed over the years.   He was very "old school" when it came to how men and women dressed, which could be a bit of a challenge for his younger clients.  My friend Heather took a loose tunic top to him in hopes that he could add pockets to it, and we were treated to a very serious argument against it, which ended with Enrico stating, "I could do it, but you won't like it, and then you would throw it out".  He felt that pockets ruined the line of a woman's clothes, which was probably true with the styles of the 40's to the 70's, but not so much with the loose-fitting styles of today.  Heather could have taken the top to someone else, but instead, it became one of our favourite stories about Enrico that we titled "No Pockets for You".

Owner-run small businesses are the heart and soul of any city, and in smaller cities like London, are usually clustered in the downtown core.   London's downtown has lost many independent businesses over the last 30 years but thankfully there are still people brave enough (or foolhardy) to try to stick it out, and in doing so, forge a community of like-minded people by getting to know their customers through friendly chats or social events.    Here's a little tribute to the businesses that make up my downtown community - where I spend my money, time, and consider the owners to be part of my social circle.

Silk Road is the place in my neighbourhood where you can find a used couch or television, kitschy garden ornaments, an inexpensive party dress, dvds, or in my case, a ceramic cat for my porch and a metal toucan for my kitchen.  The owners are very friendly (the wife is a fan of my outfits) and they  have two awesome store cats - Smokey and Miss Kitty.  I assume most of their stock comes from estate and garage sales, and while there's lots of stuff that makes me wonder who would have bought such things in the first place, but there are also the unexpected treasures, which makes a weekly browse a necessity.

At least once a week I stop by UberCool Stuff and Jackpot Vintage to say hello and check out the new stuff.  Ubercool Stuff, owned and operated by Chris McGinnis, carries the latest board games, gadgets, designer toys, and some of the coolest greeting cards in town.  Jackpot Vintage, owned by Amber Smith, offers an ever-changing selection of men's and women's vintage and retro clothing and accessories, with some vintage board games and kitschy collectables thrown into the mix. 

Smith (in the blue dress) and her niece Olivia can be found in Jackpot most days of the week chatting with customers and helping them find the perfect dress, jacket, or Hawaiian shirt.  Shopping there is always fun, and in addition to the entertaining conversation, I've found a number of fun dresses and jackets to add to my wardrobe.   On the right is Chris McGinnis, wearing his costume for the Retro Electro Sideshow that he created for Nuit Blanche last year.   McGinnis hosts regular game nights at his shop, and he and Smith are active promoters of local artists and community events.  Smith and her partner John host a weekly Rockabilly-themed radio show on the local campus radio station and can are avid supporters of local bands.

The stock at The Sentimentalist, owned by Melinda Steffler, draws the young cool kids, and us older vintage-loving folks who appreciate a good 60's dress or Persian lamb jacket.  Her prices are very reasonable (she has a number of customers who come from Toronto) and guys can find that perfect pair of army boots, tie clip, or vest, while the ladies look for a vintage brooch to go with the fab 80's jacket they just found.  I've scored many a great piece from this shop, including a number of coats (my weakness).

I wasn't able to get a new photo of Melinda, owner of The Sentimentalist, for this post (she cut off her hair and it looks amazing!), so I'm re-posting this photo of her from 2012 with Sophie, the shop mascot.

From Mars has been in business for 25 years and I've been shopping there every since owners and friends Diane and Laurie opened their little shop on Richmond Street where they sold the latest Raver styles from brands like Geek Boutique, Swear London (see some of the crazy styles from that era here), and Snug Industries

The location and stock has changed to reflect their older customer base, but Di and Laurie are still the same crazy, music-loving dames they were when I used to party with them in the 80's.  We have all gotten older, but they keep our rock and roll spirit alive with their funky clothing and accessories from small design companies.   From Mars is the only "Retail" store I shop at, and some of the most frequently worn and loved pieces in my closet have come from the store.  The owners have fostered a wonderful community of over-40 women who love to shop, and party at the fun events held at the store.  I attended a Poker night there to benefit Literacy London and the band Catl has played at a couple of in-store parties.   

Christine, owner of Renegade, recently celebrated her first year in business with another great party at her shop.  Her store, which specializes in flattering and fun clothing for plus size women, has been a welcome addition to the downtown core - she has created a very friendly and accepting space for women of all sizes and stripes to chat and shop (guys are welcome too!).  I had written a post about her store when it opened, and since then receive regular invitations to her in-store parties, which are chock-full of vivacious women wearing their favourite Renegade dresses dancing, laughing, and having an all round good time.  So far,  Christine has had a Sexologist, burlesque performer, and a funk band as special guests at her parties, so I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

London's used book and record stores have always drawn customers downtown, but the uncertain economy and passage of time have reduced the number of each.  Two of the best known used bookstores in London have been in business for decades, and each provides a very different type of shopping/browsing experience for book fans.
 I didn't get a photo of the outside of City Lights Bookstore so I borrowed this photo from their website.  It gives you an idea of the number of books on hand at any one time, and the Captain Kirk figure in the Sci-Fi section is a perfect indication of the pop culture sensibility of the owners, Jim Capel and Teresa Tarasewicz.  The shop has been in business for 40 years, with Capel and Tarasewicz as owners for the last 23.  I worked at this shop for a couple of years back in the 90's, and it is an eclectic, sometimes claustrophobic, but always entertaining haven for lovers of the printed word.  The shop also sells used CDs, DVDs, and LPs (that's vinyl records for you youngsters).

Attic Books was opened in 1976 by Marvin Post, and has occupied three different locations before its current home at 240 Dundas Street.  Customers that find City Lights too claustrophobic and cluttered will be at home in this well-organized, brightly lit space featuring three floors of books, maps, prints and paper collectibles and is still owned by Mr. Post.

Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson, partners in life as well as business, both worked at some point at Attic Books, which I think is where they met.  Brave souls that they are, they got married and decided to open their own business in the same year.  Both are writers, experienced book sellers, and dedicated to promoting Canada's national heritage and culture.   Brown and Dickson, which specializes in books and ephemera related to Canada and Canadian culture, is the new kid on the block in London's downtown used book community, but they have already acquired a following of like-minded folks looking for a Lucy Maude Montgomery biography (Vanessa is a local historian and expert on the Anne of Green Gables author), a postcard of Storybook Gardens, or a copy of the hot-selling book Murder City, written by local criminologist Michael Arntfield.  They hosted an end-of-summer book party downtown which drew a crowd of book and art fans (myself included).  They currently operate out of their home, but plan to move the business to a brick-and mortar location downtown very soon.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of the small businesses located in downtown London, but time and space limitations meant restricting myself to the ones where I had recently visited. Readers of my blog know that I will occasionally feature a new business that has taken up residence in my hood (such as the Boombox Bakeshop), but I don't want my blog to become a "Where to Shop in London" website (although I would create one if someone would pay me).  I do want to stress the important role that owner-run small businesses play in the creation, and maintenance, of a thriving urban core.  People are more likely to make the trip in from the suburbs to a downtown business when they feel they have a relationship with the people who are behind the counter.  When I am forced to shop at a big box store like PetSmart, it's because I need the thing they are selling (the smaller pet stores don't stock the kind of bedding I use) - I don't hang around looking for a conversation (although I do get to pet dogs).  When I stop by The Sentimentalist or Jackpot Vintage, it's a given there will be a show and tell of the recent thrift shop finds, a chat about a local art exhibit or other event, or a swap of pet stories.  The owners of these businesses know that the longer you spend in their shop, the more likely you are to find that one thing you can't leave without. 

 In case you were wondering, I did not receive any compensation from any of the businesses mentioned here for writing this.

How engaged are you with the small businesses in your neighbourhood?