Saturday, April 30, 2016


"Sun Propeller" over Ravenseyrie

One day, during deep winter, I was researching on the internet, hoping to find some appropriate music to play while I practice Qigong and Tai Chi.  Most of the year, I practice outside, but in wintertime I am more often obliged to practice in the spacious hallway in the Harbour Centre building (where I lease space for my studio and gallery).  It is when I am practicing inside that I find I desire an accompanying soundtrack...when I am outside, things flow more naturally.  

Online there are many places where one can find music that has been specifically edited for these types meditative body movements.  I listened to a number of these offerings, but to my ear the selections felt contrived and did not provide me with an "essence" I sensed was missing in my practice.  Thanks to the recommendations that Google and YouTube present when one is researching, I was soon introduced to the music of Huun-Huur-Tu.  I was gobsmacked by what I heard!  Their music is exactly what my inner being has felt out on the Ravenseyrie landscape and what I knew would enhance my indoor practice.  I promptly purchased from iTunes their 2010 album, Ancestors Call.

Huun-Huur-Tu translates literally to "sun propeller".  According to the introduction from Huun-Huur-Tu's website:

"The name of this group describes the effect of vertical rays of light which shine down from the clouds at dawn and dusk - a familiar sight that inspires awe whenever it occurs.  No doubt it's given added drama when projected over the stunning landscapes of Tuva.  This landlocked republic at the heart of Asia is the home of the four-piece Huun-Huur-Tu, whose music represents a re-imagining of traditional Tuvan folklore and is strongly evocative of the natural world."

Sorraias and Ravens at Ravenseyrie

In an a 2011 interview with Tuva Online Huun-Huur-Tu member, Radik Tyulyush, says of Tuvan music, "It is so deep and sensual that nobody can remain indifferent to it.  Tuvan melodies preserve all the sources, the beauty of nature since time immoral.  In my opinion, the listeners are attracted by the purity of the melodies."

I believe what Radik Tyulyush has said is true and for me it is not just the "purity of the melodies" but the earnest feeling with which this quartet plays and sings that I find so moving.  This Tuvan music evokes all that I find so enchanting about Ravenseyire.  When I listen to it, I feel the wind in my hair, hear the sounds of the birds, see the grasses dancing, the wild horses galloping.  Many of the songs of Huun-Huur-Tu has recorded also happen to be a perfect fit with the manner in which I practice Tai Chi and Qigong and provides the same resonance of movement to form that practicing outside in the wilderness gives me.  I'm convinced my dragon swims better when Huun Huur Tu is playing. 

Ravenseyrie in 2008

On a deeper level, one song in particular has become for me a bittersweet reminder of that period of time here on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve when foals were first born and all the horses were still here together.  A time I find myself again and again longing for, grieving for...

The Domestics and the Wildies, Ravenseyrie 2008

Kongurei (60 Horses in my Herd)

Kongurei is a song of loss...of one's horses, one's people, one's is also a song of love.

Though it came to be that the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve could not fully approximate a vast, unfettered landscape where wild horses could live according to their own dictates without human interference on the limitation of 360 acres (and I do feel the pang of loss that our decision to separate males from the females has created), I remain ever-grateful for having had the opportunity to experience it for the years that we were able to.  I miss the foals being born and the dynamic of a full family band of equines living freely and I know many long time readers of this journal miss that, too. 

Now, however, there are different experiences that are also filled with enchantment - experiences that this blog will continue to document and share.  The horses remain with us, the Manitoulin Island landscape continues to resonate with their energetic presence and the sun still shines with great promise over all our lives.    

Legado and Sedutor, full brothers at Ravenseyrie

This, too, is perhaps what the music of Huun-Huur-Tu does for its listeners - gives them the emotional remembrance of what was, but also infuses it with hope and love for what is "now"... this is certainly how it speaks to me.

Silver Lining Cloud over Ravenseyrie

Monday, March 28, 2016

Toko Shinoda Puts a Fever in Me

Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
Manitoulin Island - Ontario

Where I dwell, the Sky is high and wide,
the Wind Sings,
Grasses dance
and wild Horses toss their manes.

It is all ONE,
endlessly creative
and I ache to have others feel
this LOVE. 
               --L. Gerard

Flight - Toko Shinoda
Image courtesy of The Tolman Collection Tokyo

World renown Japanese artist, Toko Shinoda celebrates her 103rd birthday today. Her work and astonishingly long, productive life have touched beholders deeply for many years.   

Toko Shinoda's calligraphy and paintings (a recent, delightful discovery for me) and their applied Abstract Expressionism have altered my perception in a meaningful way.

Out of print book on Shinoda's work can be read online here:

Earlier this month, like a sudden illness, or a psychoactive drug, viewing Ms. Shinoda's work gave me an enervating fever.  This peculiar ailment has catalyzed a devoted undertaking of refining my traditional means of creative expression - not a facile pursuit!  (And something I have little  choice in...compelled as I am to follow these urgings.)

As I explore this artistic refinement, hoping to take flight - but, instead, stumbling - I bemoan my ineptitude and question the the efficacy of such an endeavour.  Yet the fever won't let me rest...

Sorraia filly in flight
Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

...for there, behind closed eyelids, enhanced phosphenic images offer themselves as proxies for the sensations (depth-of-feeling, love) which the horses and elementals of the wilderness environment we share provoke in me.

Sorraia stallion, tossing his mane
Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

What a challenge to recount these emotive sensations through painting, poetry and calligraphy!  Yes, it's true I have made my living off those beloved "three perfections" (my own Westernized way) since my early twenties, all along striving to bring forth images that have moved me which, in turn, hopefully move others.  Now, however, I find I am obsessed with recapitulating the sensory resonance of that which moves me more than the static representational form itself.  

Sandhill Cranes over Ravenseyrie

You see, for me, these past few years it comes to be that every element in my world touches me like a poem, synesthetically entwining me with all that is.  It is no longer simply the visual pleasure of seeing a grullo Sorraia stallion tossing his bi-coloured mane that I take within, but a realization that there is also his freeness, the warmth of the sun, the buzzing of winged insects, the shadow of crane wings overhead, the caress of the breeze and the quality of my state of being - all these are contributing factors to the emotive sensation felt.  The fevered mind believes I can encapsulate all of this within a few meaningful strokes...Hah!  Crazy, ague!  What one finds is that the sumi and the paper and the water and the overall biorhythms of the day have their ever-changing say in this endeavour, too!  Can you imagine how many clumsily rendered versions of that "poem" I've painted?  Typically I fail to use my brush lyrically or I fall back into representational painting.   But I do not wallow (too long) in my shortcomings, for the work of Toko Shinoda, demonstrates that it is possible.  This inispires me to keep striving. 

Toko Shinoda (Japanese, b. 1913) Unknown Forms, 1968, Size: 22.25″ x 18″, 57 x 46 cm (irregular sheet); 27.25″ x 23″, 69 x 58 cm (frame).
photo courtesy of Stephen Brockelman

Even now, in advanced age, Ms. Shinoda continues to paint and write with results that are as empowered as they were in the beginning of her career.  What Toko Shinoda can convey with minimal, exquisitely elegant strokes of her brush takes my breath away.  What a gift to the world her works are!  I rarely burn with the desire to paint...writing, yes, but painting has always rather frightened me.  However, Toko Shinoda has put a fever in me, and (to use her words) "all I can do now is to single-mindedly rub down a sumi ink stick"... 

The Ravenseyrie inkstone retrieved
from the North Channel shore line

To thank the Lady Shinoda (and wish her a Happy 103rd Birthday) I prepared a letter from which this journal entry has been developed.  I have enclosed this letter in a card made especially for her, a token of my tremendous respect and gratitude.  Monday is a federal holiday here, but on Tuesday, I will place my offering in the hands of Canada Post and trust one day, soon, Ms. Shinoda will learn what an influence her life and work are having on a woman on an island in northern Ontario.  

handmade card interior for Toko Shinoda
by Lynne Gerard
Ravenseyrie Studio & Art Gallery

Within today's Journal of Ravenseyrie entry, for your enjoyment I include a reprint of an article Time magazine did on Toko Shinoda which I found on the Glen Green Galleries website.  It is an excellently written piece, make some tea or pour some wine and have yourself a read.  After that, why not spend some time viewing Ms. Shinoda's images in the many links provided below?  If you are "not into" abstract art, take a moment or two to set aside figurative realism and let the overall effect of Toko Shinoda's creations show you a different way of seeing/feeling.  It would give me great joy to know you, too, have been moved by this type of expressive beauty - such things make the world a better place.

Works of a Woman's Hand
--by Paul Gray
Time Magazine, August 1, 1983

Toko Shinoda bases new abstractions on ancient calligraphy

Down a winding side street in the Aoyama district, western Tokyo. into a chunky white apartment building, then up in an elevator small enough to make a handful of Western passengers friends or enemies for life. At the end of a hall on the fourth floor, to the right, stands a plain brown door. To be admitted is to go through the looking glass. Sayonara today. Hello (Konichiwa) yesterday and tomorrow.

Toko Shinoda, 70, lives and works here. She can be, when she chooses, on e of Japans foremost calligraphers, master of an intricate manner of writing that traces its lines back some 3,000 years to ancient China. She is also an avant-garde artist of international renown, whose abstract paintings and lithographs rest in museums around the world. These diverse talents do not seem to belong in the same epoch. Yet they have somehow converged in this diminutive woman who appears in her tiny foyer, offering slippers and ritual bows of greeting.
She looks like someone too proper to chip a teacup, never mind revolutionize an old and hallowed art form She wears a blue and white kimono of her own design. Its patterns, she explains, are from Edo, meaning the period of the Tokugawa shoguns, before her city was renamed Tokyo in 1868. Her black hair is pulled back from her face, which is virtually free of lines and wrinkles. except for the gold-rimmed spectacles perched low on her nose (this visionary is apparently nearsighted). Shinoda could have stepped directly from a 19th century Meji print.

Her surroundings convey a similar sense of old aesthetics, a retreat in the midst of a modern, frenetic city. The noise of the heavy traffic on a nearby elevated highway sounds at this height like distant surf. delicate bamboo shades filter the daylight. The color arrangement is restful: low ceilings of exposed wood, off-white walls, pastel rugs of blue, green and gray.
It all feels so quintessentially Japanese that Shinoda’s opening remarks come as a surprise. She points out (through a translator) that she was not born in Japan at all but in Darien, Manchuria. Her father had been posted there to manage a tobacco company under the aegis of the occupying Japanese forces, which seized the region from Russia in 1905. She says,”People born in foreign places are very free in their thinking, not restricted” But since her family went back to Japan in 1915, when she was two, she could hardly remember much about a liberated childhood? She answers,”I think that if my mother had remained in Japan, she would have been an ordinary Japanese housewife. Going to Manchuria, she was able to assert her own personality, and that left its mark on me.”

Evidently so. She wears her obi low on the hips, masculine style. The Porcelain aloofness she displays in photographs shatters in person. Her speech is forceful, her expression animated and her laugh both throaty and infectious. The hand she brings to her mouth to cover her amusement (a traditional female gesture of modesty) does not stand a chance.

Her father also made a strong impression on the fifth of his seven children:”He came from a very old family, and he was quite strict in some ways and quite liberal in others.” He owned one of the first three bicycles ever imported to Japan and tinkered with it constantly He also decided that his little daughter would undergo rigorous training in a procrustean antiquity.

“I was forced to study from age six on to learn calligraphy,” Shinoda says, The young girl dutifully memorized and copied the accepted models. In one sense, her father had pushed her in a promising direction, one of the few professional fields in Japan open to females. Included among the ancient terms that had evolved around calligraphy was onnade, or woman's writing.

Heresy lay ahead. By the time she was 15, she had already been through nine years of intensive discipline, “I got tired of it and decided to try my own style. My father always scolded me for being naughty and departing from the traditional way, but I had to do it.”

She produces a brush and a piece of paper to demonstrate the nature of her rebellion. “This is kawa, the accepted calligraphic character for river,” she says, deftly sketching three short vertical strokes. “But I wanted to use more than three lines to show the force of the river.” Her brush flows across the white page, leaving a recognizable river behind, also flowing.” The simple kawa in the traditional language was not enough for me. I wanted to find a new symbol to express the word river.”

Her conviction grew that ink could convey the ineffable, the feeling, "as she says, of wind blowing softly.” Another demonstration. She goes to the sliding wooden door of an anteroom and disappears in back of it; the only trace of her is a triangular swatch of the right sleeve of her kimono, which she has arranged for that purpose. A realization dawns. The task of this artist is to paint that three sided pattern so that the invisible woman attached to it will be manifest to all viewers.

Gen, painted especially for TIME, shows Shinoda’s theory in practice. She calls the work “my conception of Japan in visual terms.” A dark swath at the left, punctuated by red, stands for history. In the center sits a Chinese character gen, which means in the present or actuality. A blank pattern at the right suggests an unknown future.

Once out of school, Shinoda struck off on a path significantly at odds with her culture. She recognized marriage for what it could mean to her career (“a restriction”) and decided against it. There was a living to be earned by doing traditional calligraphy:she used her free time to paint her variations. In 1940 a Tokyo gallery exhibited her work. (Fourteen years would pass before she got a second show.)War came, and bad times for nearly everyone, including the aspiring artist , who retreated to a rural area near Mount Fuji and traded her kimonos for eggs.

In 1954 Shinoda’s work was included in a group exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Two years later, she overcame bureaucratic obstacles to visit the U.S.. Unmarried Japanese women are allowed visas for only three months, patiently applying for two-month extensions, one at a time, Shinoda managed to travel the country for two years. She pulls out a scrapbook from this period. Leafing through it, she suddenly raises a hand and touches her cheek:”How young I looked!” An inspection is called for. The woman in the grainy, yellowing newspaper photograph could easily be the one sitting in this room. Told this, she nods and smiles. No translation necessary.

Her sojourn in the U.S. proved to be crucial in the recognition and development of Shinoda’s art. Celebrities such as actor Charles Laughton and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet bought her paintings and spread the good word. She also saw the works of the abstract expressionists, then the rage of the New York City art world, and realized that these Western artists, coming out of an utterly different tradition, were struggling toward the same goal that had obsessed her. Once she was back home, her work slowly made her famous.

Although Shinoda has used many materials (fabric, stainless steel, ceramics, cement), brush and ink remain her principal means of expression. She had said, “As long as I am devoted to the creation of new forms, I can draw even with muddy water.” Fortunately, she does not have to. She points with evident pride to her ink stone, a velvety black slab of rock, with an indented basin, that is roughly a foot across and two feet long. It is more than 300 years old. Every working morning, Shinoda pours about a third of a pint of water into it, then selects an ink stick from her extensive collection, some dating back to China’s Ming dynasty. Pressing stick against stone, she begins rubbing. Slowly, the dried ink dissolves in the water and becomes ready for the brush. So two batches of sumi (India ink) are exactly alike; something old, something new. She uses color sparingly. Her clear preference is black and all its gradations. “In some paintings, sumi expresses blue better than blue.”

It is time to go downstairs to the living quarters. A niece, divorced and her daughter,10,stay here with Shinoda; the artist who felt forced to renounce family and domesticity at the outset of her career seems welcome to it now. Sake is offered, poured into small cedar boxes and happily accepted. Hold carefully. Drink from a corner. Ambrosial. And just right for the surroundings and the hostess. A conservative renegade; a liberal traditionalist; a woman steeped in the male-dominated conventions that she consistently opposed. Her trail blazing accomplishments are analogous to Picasso’s.
When she says goodbye, she bows. 

Special thanks to these online sources of information and images related to Toko Shinoda:

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Horse Hair Yarn - Spinning Rudolf

Sorraia stud colts at play on unseasonably mild December day
Ravenseyrie - Manitoulin Island
Ontario - Canada

Last November, I wrote a detailed account in the Journal of Ravenseyrie about learning to crochet and how this stimulated a desire within me to also learn to spin my own yarn so that I could make things with the shed winter coats of our "wild" Sorraia horses.  

Set up to blend Sorraia horse hair and sheep wool
approximately a 50/50 blend

Silvestre, soaking up the February sun at Ravenseyrie,
soon he will be shedding his warm, winter coat and I will spin
more yarn from him and his mates!

I titled that entry Spinning Sorraia!...double click on the title and the magic of the internet will take you to that particular creative odyssey.  

In this month's journal entry, I would like to share with you what I was inspired to create with the horse hair my friend Annemiek sent me from the Netherlands.  

Rudolf, a dark bay Thoroughbred and good friend of my friend,  Annemiek Stuart
photo credit:  Jacolien Frens

Annemiek's horse, Rudolf, and the Furminator brush she used to collect his shed winter hair

Annemiek sent a nicely prepared bagful of Rudolf's dark bay hair, scented with earthy essential oils.  For a horse-loving-gal such as me, the mingling of Miek's essential oil scents with the natural odeur de cheval had me intoxicated with the desire to card and spin a sample of Rudolf straightaway.   

Annemiek's bag filled with horse hair from Rudolf
alongside my first hand-carded rolag
75% horse hair/25% sheep wool

My first spin of Rudolf's hair I did on a homemade spindle

I asked Miek if she wanted me to spin yarn and send her the finished skeins for her to use, or would she like me to crochet something special?  Annemiek opted to have me make something for her.

During the period of several weeks that I was carding and spinning Rudolf's hair, I was all the while thinking about what I might crochet for Miek.  I was surprised that Rudolf's hair was a bit more prickly than the hair of our "wild" Sorraia horses - I would have expected it to be softer than the grullo hair.  I decided to try blending Rudolf's hair a bit differently and went with 60% horse hair to 40% sheep wool and that helped make the yarn spin more even, but I felt it was still to prickly for making a garment like a hat or a neck warmer.  Perhaps a vest might be nice?  Hmmm...

...reaching into the tote bag Miek had sent Rudolf's shed winter hair in gave me the idea that the yarn made with Rudolf's hair would perhaps make a very unique and useful fashion bag.

Being still fairly new to crocheting (since October 2014), I had never before made a tote bag and began to research images and patterns until I felt I could cobble together something of my own design.  It soon became obvious that there was not a sufficient amount of Rudolf's hair to make enough yarn for the size of bag I had designed, so I decided it would be a great time to use yarn that I had made from thistledown gathered off the Ravenseyrie landscape.

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) at Ravenseyrie

I don't have my own photo handy of the cottony down the Bull Thistle yields up when it turns to seed, but you can view a nice image of that at Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflower website.

Handspun yarn made with Thistle Down
50% sheep wool/50% thistle down
I was a very bad girl and did not back up photos taken on my iPad of what carded thistledown looks like and those images have vanished.  (I promise to document more thoroughly how I make yarn from thistledown this autumn!)  Even more appalling - I did not keep track of how I made the tote bag, i.e. what size hook, what combination of stitches, how many, etc.  Definitely Miek's fashion tote is a one of a kind as I doubt I could reproduce it even if I did have more of Rudolf's hair to make yarn from.

Fashion tote bag made from horse hair and
thistledown yarn
I was very happy with how the tote bag turned out.  It was a great educative experience for me to learn to increase and decrease stitches in particular places so that I could get a rather flat, rectangular bottom.  I was very pleased with the addition of the thistledown yarn, as it had lots of rustic nubbiness and subtle brown flecks from bits of chaff from the dried plant matter that complemented nicely with the dark bay colour of Rudolf's shed winter hair.  I used sturdy jute to make the handles.

I decided that this tote bag would be more finished and useful if I made a liner for it - another new aspect of learning for a gal like me who can hardly sew a button back on correctly.  Thankfully, Lynda Noe, an expert quilter/fibre artist has her studio on the lower level of the building where my Ravenseyrie Studio & Art Gallery is located.  Back in 2010, Lynda and I had a joint exhibition at the Gore Bay Museum's art gallery.  You can read about that show by clicking HERE. With Lynda's input, I was able to make a nice liner for the tote bag that would keep things from poking through the spaces between the crocheted stitches.

Horse hair fashion tote, with liner sewed in
Yes, indeed...I felt this was a very nice fashion tote and perhaps the only one made from horsehair yarn!  I packed it up and sent it off to the Netherlands in early November, anxious to see if Miek liked what I made for her with Rudolf's hair.

When Annemiek received her package from Canada, she wrote me that she thought making a tote bag with Rudolf yarn was a great idea and sent me a photo of it as soon as she unwrapped it:

Horsehair fashion tote, safely makes it to its destination in Holland
Later, Miek sent me photos of when she showed Rudolf the tote bag.  She said she thought he liked it but he seemed more curious about the way it smelled than how it looked.  (I wash my finished yarn and completed crochet items in water containing lavender oil to deter bugs from making a meal of the fibres.)

Annemiek Stuart with Rudolf, who is checking
out a fashion tote made from his shed winter hair
Annemiek gives Rudolf a kiss of thanks for his contribution
to her wardrobe 

I had a great time spinning horse hair again and crocheting it into a tote bag along with homespun thistledown yarn and really appreciated getting a feeling for the differences between Rudolf's hair and the hair of our Sorraias.  All the Sorraia yarn that I made from last winter's shed winter coats I am saving and hoping to add more to it this spring when all those lovely wild equines shed once again.  I have an idea for a dressy poncho I'd like to make from those varied shades of grey.

Horsehair yarn from grulla coloured Sorraias
naturally shed winter undercoats

Thank you Annemiek for gathering and sending me Rudolf's hair, and also sending photos to help me document the process here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie.  I hope you get many years of good use out of your Rudolf fashion tote!  And for those of you who wonder what to do with all that hair that comes off your horses in the might consider taking up spinning!  This author thinks horse hair makes wonderfully attractive and useful yarn!