Thursday, December 31, 2015

Blanding's Turtle / She in the Moonlight

"She in the Moonlight"
Original Watercolour by Lynne Gerard

"Why haven't you used your gift certificate in the gallery yet?", I inquired.  "It has been a year or more by now, hasn't it?"

"I'm saving it for just the right thing", she replied.

"What might that be?  Can you give me any hints?", I asked.

After a thoughtful pause, she said, "A Blanding's any medium - whether a rock painting, ink wash sketch, or watercolour.  Whatever happens to inspire you."

And who could not be inspired by a face such as this?:

Blanding's Turtle
photo: Ontley McNauth via Wikimedia Commons

I should not have been surprised at her suggestion - I remember her telling me she has been passionate about herpetology since a very young age.  Knowing, also, of the peculiar plight the Blanding's Turtle has been experiencing these past several years on Manitoulin Island, I might have guessed the image of this endangered turtle was something she was hoping to show up in my work one day.

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)
photo: Andrew C. via Wikimedia Commons

The Blanding's Turtles that inhabit Manitoulin Island, specifically those that dwell in the Misery Bay Provincial Park have suffered unexplained casualties.  Several articles have been written about these strange deaths, for example here and here and here. (clicking on the word "here" will take you to the articles)

I had taken some photos of a female Blanding's Turtle that had been attempting to make herself a place to lay eggs on the shoulder of Scotland Road, just to the east of our driveway.  But, unfortunately I took those on my iPad and they no longer are there.  I thought I had taken others with my regular camera, but after consulting my iPhoto library, all I could find were those of a good looking Snapper Turtle that had been cooling itself in a puddle in our driveway:

What an inspiring profile!

What a penetrating gaze!

What a spectacular turtle!

Well, seeing those images I took of the visiting Snapper, I've definitely got to make a painting of that turtle in the near future!  But, I digress...

Back to this particular tale of the Blanding's Turtle.

Working from a myriad of images in books and online resources, I finally came up with a pose for my Blanding's Turtle, which I envisioned with a simple backdrop of the beach and lake.  I did a charcoal sketch to see if what I had in mind would make a decent enough composition:

Charcoal study of Blanding's Turtle
I did indeed think that would make a nice painting, but as it was the middle of tourist season at that time and the gallery was too busy for me to feel confident getting into a watercolour painting, I put the project aside until just two weeks ago.

Since November I had been thinking I should get on with making a watercolour of the turtle, but found myself painting some other subjects first and cutting mats for some of my prints to restock the print bin in the gallery.

Hand-Calligraphed verse and fine art print by Lynne Gerard

While lettering the mat for one of my fine art prints that has a fabulous moonlight theme to it, I got the idea in my head that our Blanding's Turtle would look equally fabulous in moonglow.  Instantly inspired, I quickly worked up a small watercolour sketch of the Blanding's turtle, and included a moon  (and evocative moonlight) over the water:

Small watercolour study of a Blanding's Turtle

This use of the magical effect of nocturne light was also inspired by one of Mark Seabrook's  paintings (who I wrote about in the Journal of Ravenseyrie earlier this month).  Mark gave me a painting he did of his cat, Percy, because I was captivated by the colours and how it reminded me of our own cat, The Black Pearl.  I have framed it and have it sitting now on an easel in my studio, precisely because of how otherworldly the colours are:

Our feline friend, The Black Pearl, admiring a painting by
Mark Seabrook

I thought some of the chartreuse green colour would make for good contrast and effect in my painting, too, and would work well overall with the other greens and blues.

detail of moonlit greens

detail of the watercolour, "She in the Moonlight"

When I showed my husband the painting, he referred to the turtle as a "she".  I had been thinking of it as a male, but Kevin said he definitely had a good feeling of a female when he viewed it.  Without seeing her underbelly or knowing the length of her shell, we cannot really say if she is really a she or a he, but I'm trusting Kevin's instinct.  And so the title I settled upon became "She in the Moonlight".

Finished watercolour and calligraphy by Lynne Gerard
overall dimensions 22" x 26" 

"In the cool hush of eveningtide, moonglow speaks directly to the heart."  -L. Gerard

And will this painting speak directly to "her" heart, she who requested seeing this particular turtle show up in my work?  I will know soon, as I am sending her a link to this blog entry to notify her I have finally painted a Blanding's Turtle.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sorraia Horses in the Côa Valley

Sorraia mare and foal
Côa River Valley, Portugal
photo: Facebook / Rewilding Western Iberia

Good news for the Sorraia horses in Portugal!  A new conservation initiative is underway in the Côa River Valley in North Eastern Portugal.

Côa Valley region
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Two pregnant mares originally from the Vale de Zebro preserve gave birth to two healthy foals this past October according to a photo announcement posted to the Rewilding Western Iberia Facebook "Timeline Photos" page

Hardy Oelke, a well know conservationist of Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses informed me back in January that an acquaintance of his from northeastern Portugal had purchased a Sorraia colt from one of the past gathers of the Vale de Zebro offspring and was due to acquire two Vale de Zebro mares.  Hardy relayed there has been some funding obtained to establish a small preserve for them.  Overflowing with excitement, I wrote the gentleman who is putting together this new Sorraia preserve and asked for an interview so that I might report the good news here in my blog in greater detail, but my letter did not receive a reply.  

After finding the wonderful (but too brief!) mention on the public Facebook page for Rewilding Western Iberia about those mares giving birth at their new location, I wrote again, using the contact information provided at the Rewilding Western Iberia website.  That query also has received no response.  Hardy has spoken with the gentleman again, however, and has given me the green light for sharing a bit more about the new preserve.

Two Sorraia mares with foals and a Sorraia stallion in the Côa Valley, Portugal
photo:  Facebook / Rewilding Western Iberia

Sorraia mare and foal in the Côa Valley, Portugal
photo:  Facebook / Rewilding Western Europe

This new Portuguese preservation effort for the Sorraia horses is presently set up on approximately 150 acres in the Côa River Valley, with the river running through it, and trees and is near the vicinity where prehistoric rock art has been found.  This sounds lovely and quite fitting!

Another Sorraia mare is destined to join this new group...this mare coming from the Wisentgehege zoological park in Springe, Germany where our own Sorraia stallion, Altamiro came from.

The Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, foundation sire of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

This is a promising opportunity for the Sorraia horses to gain further recognition from those organizations involved with "rewilding" initiatives in Europe and Great Britain - and maybe one day inspire similar projects here in North America.  The efforts of our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve are limited without greater participation from other private landowners or organizations, specifically those with large tracts of suitable wilderness habitats.  When others here in Canada and the United States see fit to open up landscapes for "rewilding" and stocking them with Sorraias and Sorraia Mustangs, these types of horses are sure to remain iconically inspirational for future generations.  It is a dream I hold that I do believe will one day manifest itself.

I will continue to try to learn more about the new preservation efforts for the Sorraias in Portugal and report back as information is gathered.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Meet Mark Seabrook

For some time now I have been wanting to introduce one of our most colourful Manitoulin Island artists, Mark Seabrook, who along with his wife, Michelle Hrynyk, graciously opened up a sector of their ample property in Tehkummah for our Sorraia Mustang mares.

Outside the Ravenseyrie Studio & Art Gallery, Mark Seabrook stands next to
one of his magnificent paintings on display in the hallway of
the Gore Bay Harbour Centre

In my journal entry titled, A New Phase of Conservation for Ravenseyrie, I wrote in detail about our decision to suspend breeding and the need to separate males from females.   Making that decision was difficult but has enabled us to keep all our remaining offspring as part of our continued preservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses, removing the pressure to sell horses into less than ideal situations.  Relocating the mares to a completely different range made it possible for us to leave Ravenseyrie a wide open landscape with fencing only on the parameter of the preserve rather than chopping it up with the type of fences capable of keeping "wild" stallions from accessing "wild" mares when the tempting aromas of estrus raise amorous testosterone to feverish levels.

A priceless photo, from the glory days when Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, first pursued the
affection of Ciente (Kiger Mustang of Sorraia type) in the early years of
the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
photo:  Leslie Town Photography

While looking for suitable range land that could sustain wild-living equines, we were fortunate to be introduced to Mark and Michelle by the project coordinator of Manitoulin Streams.  Having purchased the many-years-fallow farmland along the Manitou River, Mark and Michelle were exploring ways to "use" the acreage that would keep the grasslands from being overtaken by scrub brush and forest - something that had already begun to occur.  It appealed to Mark's love of the untamed wilderness to imagine wild horses living on that land, integrating with it, not subduing it like field crops would, yet keeping it from returning to a tangled forest.  A perfect fit for what we had in mind!  Mark and Michelle are a very "forward thinking" couple and immediately understood that by opening up their land to our mares, they were setting a standard in our part of the world that has already been widely embraced in Europe -- using large herbivores to assure grassland habitats that have become essential to the survival of an amazing number of plants, birds and small mammals are not lost when old family farms are no longer being used for agricultural pursuits.

Ravenseyrie mares living well on the wilderness sector of
Mark Seabrook's property
Tehkumaah, Manitoulin Island

In the nearly two and a half years that our mares have been living on the Twinravens range, it has been wonderful to get to know Mark and Michelle better and share in each others lives.  What a pity, though, that Twinravens is an hour's drive away from Ravenseyrie, or I would be able to interact with the mares and Mark and Michelle more frequently than my weekly Mare Monday visits.

For much of the year, the Twinravens range supports all the needs of the mares and they live self-maintained.  While Kevin and I continue to make sure the range is safe and secure for the mares and sufficiently stocked with extra forage to see them through the long island winters, it is a comfort to know that Mark and Michelle keep a look out for them to alert us should there be some need arising requiring human intervention.  I gave Mark a pair of field glasses and he makes good use of them monitoring the mares from a distance, while Michelle (who feels a bit more comfortable around horses) likes to now and then walk out onto the mares' range and enjoy the wonderful trails their hooves have made through the different sectors.

Sometimes Mark comes to visit with me at my Ravenseyrie Studio and Art Gallery located in the Gore Bay Harbour Centre.  Those visits are always filled with mutual appreciation, discussions of art and music and how poetic life on the island is.  Mark is a very humble man and through our many discussions he never told me that just a few months before we put our mares on his property, a film crew came out to Twinravens to make a documentary of him and his work.  It was by chance that I stumbled upon it during some online research.

A screenshot of the webpage hosting the Mark Seabrook documentary

The documentary is titled, Mark Seabrook / The Spirit Within and while I am not seeing a way to embed that video directly into the blog, you can click on the title and it will take you to the webpage where you can view it.

Three of the Mark Seabrook paintings from this author's personal collection

I am definitely a groupie when it comes to Mark's work and have several of his paintings on display over my checkout counter at work with a sign directing people to the multidimensional Whytes gallery across the hall from mine where some of these captivating paintings can be purchased.

If you watched the documentary, you know that Mark Seabrook is well trained in the "Woodland Style" of First Nations painting and obviously adept at putting his own "essence" into traditional Native American motifs.  As much as I admire those "Woodland Style" paintings, Mark's more exploratory works are the ones I get weak in the knees over.  Mark's love of abstract and modern art, specifically the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko serve as inspirational influences as he explores integrating his overwhelming affection for Nature and occasional appetite for more urban sensations.

As it happened, on one of my Monday visits with our mares, Mark was at home, and working up some of his small canvas board acrylic "sketches".  He had already painted his backgrounds and was now in the process of layering on heavier pigments in a manner adapted from Jackson Pollock's "drip" technique.  I'd been waiting for such an opportunity to photograph Mark "in action" (the technique he uses is quite an athletic workout!) and he was generous enough to let me document some of that day's efforts before I took my picnic lunch out to check in with the mares on the range adjacent to where Mark's "Art Bridge" is.  With Mark's permission, I am able to share some of those "paintings in progress" with you:

The artist, Mark Seabrook

Two "in process" paintings by Mark Seabrook

Once dry, Mark returns to ponder over these small canvas boards and lets the painting itself tell him what to add next.  Here is a finished piece of one Mark did earlier in the summer and which is now in my personal collection:

Untitled acrylic painting by Mark Seabrook, summer 2015

Captivating, don't you think!  A mythic story unfolding before our eyes!

Now that you've had opportunity to experience some of the evocative paintings of Mark Seabrook, perhaps you are, like me, anticipating the day when the forms of those Ravenseyrie mares that Mark so loves to see (and hear) galloping over his beloved Twinravens landscape show up in equally compelling artworks.  Mark is not as familiar with the forms of horses as he is those of birds and bear and fish...but he is observing and practicing and one day we are sure to see something come of this!

The lovely Sorraia Mustang mare, Esperanda (Altamiro x Ciente)
perhaps one day Mark Seabrook will immortalize her in a painting

Before ending this journal entry, I want to also tip readers off to some of the fantastic music Mark was making in the 1990's with the aboriginal band, No Reservations, (which was featured in the documentary on Mark).  Here is a link to one super track that Mark has a good guitar solo on, More Than I Can Say.

And a bit of live video:

This group should have gone places!  They had all the right "stuff" if you ask me.  But as it happens in so many bands, internal conflicts and deleterious use of creative energies facilitated its eventual breaking up.  Their last album, Hollywood Indian  (my favourite song on this one is "Civilized Man") still has some limited copies available which can be purchased through Whytes gallery.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spinning Sorraia!

Young Sorraia stallions in the June rain
Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

Perhaps the title of this journal entry conjures up an image of a mounted Sorraia stallion performing a  Doma Vaquero spin?  It is unlikely that readers would be thinking this author used such a snappy title because she wishes to share with you her exploration of learning how to make yarn from the shed winter undercoats of the "wild" Sorraia horses of Ravenseyrie, but it is so!

While I have been making a living off the arts since I was twenty-four, it wasn't until thirty years later that I showed any interest in the fibre arts.  Both my mother and sister are competent seamstresses and crocheters (in fact my mother hand makes much of the clothing I wear) but I never had an interest in taking up those skills myself.

Me and my mom at our annual autumn reunion with my sister in Mackinaw City, Michigan
Poncho and skirt, made by MOM!

In the autumn of 2014, during a little family reunion, I asked my mother if she would teach me how to crochet...

It was very hard - she being a right-handed adept, and me being a left-handed complete foreigner to this useful art - but I was very determined to learn and she was most patient with my remarkable clumsiness of mind and body.  

Learning something new...first rows of crochet had this author very excited and inspired!

When the two days were over, I had gained control over the first rudimentary stitches and felt like I had achieved the most amazing feat!  

Back home on Manitoulin Island, I found an exciting world of crochet tutorials on YouTube, some of which were filmed for south-paw folks like me. I immersed myself in this new world of learning with as much excitement and anticipation as one feels when falling in love.  In fact I did fall in love, with crochet and with fibre itself.

Young Sorraia stallion, Fidalgo., in full winter coat

Falling in love with fibre had me thinking how splendid it would be to be able to collect the shed winter undercoats of our Sorraia horses and turn them into yarn.  I sure didn't know how to do this, or even if it could be done...

Sorraia body hair in a Canadian winter, medium-grulla shade

The light-grulla winter hair coat worn by Zorita (Sovina x Sulphur's Tia) 

This past winter, there was a knitting class being held on the lower level of the Gore Bay Harbour Centre (the building I lease second floor space in for my Ravensyerie Studio & Art Gallery).  Those nice ladies had invited me down to crochet while they were knitting and during one of these sit-ins, I shared my desire to experiment with making horse hair into yarn.  It was my good fortune that the instructor of this class (Deb Colville) was once a sheep farmer and said she would be happy to teach me how to spin yarn.  While Deb, herself, had never attempted to spin horse hair - nor did she know anyone who had attempted it, she believed it could be done if blended with a longer fibre, like sheep's wool.

Debby Colville (centre) my spinning teacher, in the middle of her kitting class
in the Gore Bay Harbour Centre, winter of 2014-15

And so it came to be that Deb attempted to teach me to spin on a her Louet castle style wheel.  It was recalcitrant and unwilling (too long in storage unused, she thought) and when one of the plastic parts broke and flew across the room I was mortified and believed I might be better off not learning to spin after all.  But Deb was not so easily deterred...she ordered a replacement part and dropped off a "bartered wheel" she also had in storage, this one a broken and "repaired" Nilus Leclerc saxony style wheel which she had never used before.  Deb told me to get it cleaned up and get back to learning the feeling of drafting and treadling.


The 22" E-351 spinning wheel, circa mid 1970's
 made in Quebec, Canada by the Nilus Leclerc company

I had some tremendous difficulties with this Leclerc wheel (Deb called it "The Wheel From Hell") and it soon became apparent despite someone's repair efforts, something remained wonky.  While I continued to tinker with it, hoping to discover the secrets to getting it to spin true, I asked Deb if maybe I should try learning to spin on a hand spindle.  "Those things should be banned!" said my feisty teacher.  Turns out that when Deb was learning to spin, she took more readily to the wheel than to a hand spindle and recounts dreadful tales of being made to stand on a ladder while trying to spin fleece into yarn on a drop spindle.  Left to my own devices, I immersed myself in the study of spinning yarn on spindles, consulting books and YouTube videos.   I made myself several crude drop spindles and learned the "park and draft" technique which finally helped things "click" in my body and mind allowing me to gain feeling for what it takes to create yarn.

Buddy, a mixed breed fibre sheep (with an endearing face!)
Manitoulin Island, Ontario - Canada

As winter progressed, my good teacher would bring me raw fleece from her last remaining sheep (Buddy) and I practiced and practiced and practiced.   Sometimes Deb and those nice ladies from the knitting group would present me with "mystery fibres", and I would spin them, too.  I have experimented with naturally shed fibres from rabbits, dogs, cats, alpacas even Whitetail Deer hair!  I dutifully (and joyfully) spun on both the hand spindle and the Leclerc wheel - which I named "Madame" and found the secret to her lovely French moods - and I crocheted a "sampler" poncho with my "beginners yarn", all the while waiting for winter's end to prompt the shedding of our "wild" horses' undercoats.

"Beginner's yarn" rustic poncho
Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

Interessado, excellently outfitted for our long, frigid winters...
what type of black-grulla yarn might his undercoat make?

While last winter's snow was flying, intrepid shoppers would occasionally come to my Ravensyerie gallery and I earned enough money to order myself a set of hand carders (from Wingham Wool Works) for preparing the fibres.  How much better these work than my single 4" dog brush!  I also ordered some prepared fibre (roving) and a hand spindle from Alice Bernardo at Saber Fazer after being deeply moved by the way the Portuguese spin wool from their sheep.  (Dona Benta, in particular is like a goddess to me the way she spins off a distaff, so much like a classical musician playing an instrument!)  I spent the long winter evenings near the wood stove practicing spinning and crocheting and dreaming of springtime and gobs of shed hair from the Sorraias... 

Finally came spring and the shedding season!

Finally, the air softened and the snow melted and the sun's angle warmed Manitoulin Island, and the horses began to yield up their no-longer-needed winter undercoats.  I was ready with my brushes!  Thank goodness we are friends with these "wild" horses and they enjoy being brushed and itched, because while they are "tame" they are not "trained" in the traditional sense where one puts on a halter and holds them for grooming sessions.  They come to me of their own choosing and are free to leave whenever they feel they need to.  Most times the trouble is not that they don't want to be brushed, but that too many of them want to be brushed all at the same time - your author only has so many hands!

Bella enjoys my brushing out her old winter hair,
and I am thankful for the long-awaited equine fibre to spin!

Light and dark shades of grulla Sorraia hair

Thanks to Carol Kroll's fantastic book, The Whole Craft of Spinning / From the Raw Material to the Finished Yarn, I had my first "official" instructions on how to set about spinning the shed winter hair of horses into yarn.  Carol validated what Deb had been thinking - that the horse hair would spin better if blended with a longer fibre, like sheep wool.  

One single Sorraia hair, from winter undercoat

Sorraia hair, shed winter undercoat, about an inch in length

First I carded up a little bit of sheep wool from Buddy's washed fleece.  Then I placed scant palmfuls of Sorraia horse hair over one of the cards and spread them evenly.  And then I carded the fibres together.

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

Blending with hand carders

The resulting "batt"

Rolling the batt into a cylinder shape called a "rolag"

With my first rolag ready, I began to spin my first Sorraia yarn on my homemade drop spindle.  It worked!

Lynne Gerard spinning yarn from horse hair on the Ravenseyire Sorraia Mustang Preserve

Carol Kroll's book also suggested adding an oil/water emulsion to facilitate a better blend and spinning experience.  I did this and it did help keep the horse hair from flying all over the place.  However, after reading in Alice Bernardo's Saber Fazer blog, I decided to "spin in the grease" like Dona Benta does.  Why wash out all that natural lanolin and then find yourself having to use an oil/water emulsion to put some cohesion back into the fibres?  So I decided to blend and spin the "dirty" fibres and then wash the finished yarn.  This worked much better!

Blending light grulla Sorraia hair with sheep wool
on hand carders

Such a lovely rolag results!

I wanted to see if I could spin horse hair on the Portuguese spindle as well, so gave that a try next.  This was not quite as easy for me as with the drop spindle, but with perseverance, it, too, worked.  How satisfying it was to spin Iberian horse hair into yarn using an Iberian hand spindle!

Spinning Sorraia hair on a Portuguese spindle

Rolag nests of Sorraia and Sheep wool and the Portuguese spindle from
Saber Fazer

Single ply Sorraia yarn washed and drying

Finished Sorraia yarn, ready to use!
Sorraia horse hair yarn, so earthy and lovely!

Testing Sorraia yarn with simple single crochet

I decided to crochet a sampler pillow using some of the Sorraia yarn as well as yarn that I had made from other fibres.  From the top down:  
--the chestnut colour is from our domestic Thoroughbred horse, Zeus
--the black colour is from a Newfoundland dog
--the heather grey is from our medium shade grulla Sorraia horses
--the white is from a White German Shepherd 

Crocheted pillow made with samples of hand spun dog and horse yarns

The back of my sampler pillow, mostly medium and light grulla Sorraia yarn
I began writing this journal entry in late spring of 2015 and am only now finishing it.  It is lengthy and likely has more photos than it really needs (like most of my journal entries!)  It is my weakness always wanting to share the beauty of life with the Sorraia horses here on Manitoulin Island.  But it is  more than this...I also wish the Journal of Ravenseyrie to be a repository of useful information, whether that be for others who might be interested in Sorraia horses, or allowing horses to live as nature intended in wilderness habitats, or even making yarn from horse hair!


Now that we are in late autumn and another winter will soon be upon us, my mind is already thinking about next spring when the Sorraias will shed their hair again and I can do a more refined job of gathering, carding and spinning this special equine fibre and crocheting lovely items from the finished yarn.  In the meantime, I had better also complete some of the projects I have started from the yarn I made from them this year!  This topic will surely be one to revisit in the future.

Gosto and Legado!