“You know, ever since 2011 began, crazy stuff has been happening. Trouble on all levels: here on the farm, in the Middle East … a lot of unrest … must be something to do with the planets.” my friend Anna-Maria said to me recently.From the start of lambing back in February, bad things kept happening on her farm. There were stricken ewes, rejected lambs, surprise pregnancies gone horribly wrong, outbreaks of foot rot and orf: it was a litany of disaster.
“Well,” I said, trying to inject a little levity into the situation, “maybe you’re getting a jump on the whole 2012 thing. Maybe the end of the world really is coming- and it’s starting on your farm!”
Anna-Maria laughed.“Shh, don’t say that!,” she said, “you might bring it on. I mean, it’s not like I’m really worried about the apocalypse, but why toy with it?”
Not being an especially superstitious person, naturally I scoffed at the idea that you could bring on your own bad luck. Besides, nothing was wrong on our farm…
The first thing to go wrong on our farm happened almost immediately. An older ewe, always a little peculiar, began acting really strangely.Although she continued to eat well, I often found her lying alone in dark corners of the barn. When she did move about, she was slow, her gait awkward, her expression blank and staring. I combined these symptoms along with her pre-existing quirks- compulsive lip licking and a crazy sensitivity to having her back scratched – and the search engine result was always the same: SCRAPIE. I phoned the vet.
As luck would have it, my regular vet was on vacation. An eager, new veterinarian, fresh out of school, arrived at our farm. He examined the ewe and agreed that her gait and nibble reflex were odd. She also had pneumonia and he treated her for that. When I asked him if he had ever seen scrapie before he admitted he hadn’t, but was nevertheless fairly sure he would know it if he saw it. He agreed that, based on the ewe’s history and her current symptoms (pneumonia notwithstanding), she was indeed a suspicious case. I was horrified. The vet told me not to worry, that the risk of scrapie transmission to humans was “theoretical” at best.
“Besides,” he added in all seriousness, “the disease has been in circulation for at least four hundred years and if it were transmissible to humans thenthe Scots would all be crazy.”
I felt so much better.
CFIA phoned me straightaway and placed our farm under quarantine. They arrived shortly thereafter to inspect my deranged ewe. Preceded as they were by their sheep beheading reputation, I was fearful at what the future might hold for my sheep.
After observing the ewe and bearing witness to her Exorcist –like reaction to having her back touched, the CFIA vet agreed that the ewe was peculiar (no dissent on that particular question), but as she appeared to be in good condition generally-her pneumonia was clearing- they opted keep her in quarantine until she either turned out to be genotype resistant, or for three months. I welcomed the inconvenience if it meant I got to keep my sheep. Thankfully, the worst was behind me. Or so I thought.
No sooner had our scrapie scare been dealt with than another ewe became sick, this time it was Dumb Dora.After the scrapie episode, I developed a sense of foreboding and began stocking up on supplies that I might need in case of sheep related emergencies. In addition to the extra syringes, gloves and antibiotics, I picked up a gallon of glycol to treat toxaemia- just in case. So it was no surprise really when Dora began exhibiting symptoms of toxaemia two days later. I congratulated myself on the purchase of the glycol.
A day went by and Dora showed no signs of improvement. I knew my regular vet was in the area, so I asked her to stop in and have a look, just to be sure.The vet examined Dora, confirmed the toxaemia diagnosis, and left me with instructions to feed the animal whatever she was willing to eat, and also to increase the dose of glycol- which I did.
I was dismayed to see no improvement in Dora by the following morning. If anything, the ewe looked worse, and in addition to the jaundice, lethargy and anorexia , she now had a new symptom: black urine. Black! That couldn’t be good…
“No, that’s very weird.” the eager, young vet said when I phoned the clinic. Clearly this was not toxaemia.His scientific curiosity piqued, he came out to the farm to have a look at the ewe and phoned me later to tell me that blood samples he had taken revealed that Dora was having a haemolytic crisis.
“A haemo- what -now?”I asked, confused.
“Basically, all her red blood cells have exploded,” he said to me, “that’s why her urine looked black. You haven’t been feeding her onions, have you?”
“Onions?” I asked. What kind of weirdo did this guy think I was!
“Well, it can be caused by excessive consumption of onions. I felt compelled to ask.” he said, clearly assuming I was some sort of weirdo. “So, since we’ve ruled out the onions that leaves us with anautoimmune reaction or copper toxicity. Copper poisoning seems more likely. You haven’t been giving the sheep pig feed, have you?”
“Pig feed? “ I asked, alarmed. “No, we only feed our pigs onions.”
“I said we don’t have any pigs.”
The prognosis for copper poisoning was not good and the source of the copper was a mystery.I wracked my brain trying to remember everything I had fed the sheep, what they could have gotten into. Had they chewed on water pipes? Was my grain somehow contaminated, a mineral block mislabelled? None of the answers seemed especially realistic. Only one possible solution remained.
The previous fall I had raised twenty Guinea fowl for the freezer. They proved to be my most ill conceived and expensive farming idea to date. By the time they had reached a suitable table weight, the Guineas had cost at least $25 in feed per bird, all of this excluding the cost of slaughtering them, plus the time and general aggravation of keeping them-to which I could now add the extra cost of vet visits and copper antidote for sheep.Worst ofall, the Guineas were inedible; stewed boots would have been more appetizing.
The reason for the poor feed conversion ratio of the Guineas only became obvious when I shovelled out the litter from their pen. In addition to the shavings, I also shovelled out at least twenty kilos of feed, maybe more. For the want of a better place to put it, I buried the feed laced litter in the manure pile and I covered it up, thinking to keep it out of reach of my dogs.I guess I should have been more concerned about keeping it out of the reach of my sheep.
Over the weekend Dora’s condition worsened and I fully expected her to die.Unable to find anyone willing to shoot her, I resolved to have my regular vet come out first thing Monday morning and euthanize her. Monday morning came, and Dora was still down…until the vet arrived.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I said to the vet as she got her equipment out of the van, “but that ewe must have heard me on the phone to you. Fifteen minutes ago she got up.”
Sure enough, when we got into the barn, there was Dumb Dora, dopey as ever, but looking quite healthy, happily munching away with her flock mates. She was no longer jaundiced, her urine was a normal colour, and she didn’t appear to have lost much body condition. You would never guess that anything had happened to her.
“She actually looks pretty good,” said the vet, completely puzzled, “ but if you want to confirm the diagnosis of copper poisoning, we would have to do a necropsy and send the liver to P.E.I. for analysis. What do you want to do?”
I sighed and thought for a moment. At this point, if anybody’s liver was going on holiday to Prince Edward Island, it ought to be mine. “Oh, forget it.” I said, “Just leave her.”
Maedi Visna, caseous lymphadenitis, Chlamydia psitacci. The more time I spent researching sheep diseases, the more anxious I became. We hadn’t even started lambing yet; what else was going to go wrong?I was too embarrassed to phone the vet any more, especially since the receptionist had started answering the phone with: “Hi Alyson. What is it this time?”
Eventually and against all odds, Dora did get better. Our scrapie case turned out not to be scrapie at all, but a combination of pneumonia, overgrown feet and excessive Googling. I wish I could say that this was the end of our bad luck, but it was really just the beginning. Out of a flock eight ewes – in addition scrapie scare and copper poisoning-we’ve had two abortions, two retained placentae, one barely averted prolapse, ring womb , breech lambs, one dead lamb, a foot abscess, entropion , inexplicable lameness and now lice. Who knows what plagues summer will bring?
So the moral of this story is…. I guess there really is no moral. I’m still not entirely convinced that you can bring disaster your way by merely taunting it. Sometimes bad luck just happens. You learn what you can from it, and then you move on.Now I have some tough decisions to make. I know farmers always say culling makes the herd, but if I were to cull all the trouble makers from my flock, I would be left raising chickens, which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound like such a bad idea!
If I were a more hip, city dwelling artist, I might have a studio in an old warehouse or abandoned factory. Instead, as I am decidedly un-hip and rural, I have a studio in a converted garage on our farm. My studio has our barn on one side and backs onto the chicken run. It also features a spectacular view of the sheep pasture and our compost bin. No Brooklyn artist’s loft for me! But it has good light (most of the time) and is quiet enough and big enough to make it a pleasant workspace. Believe me, I’m not complaining.
At the moment, my studio is less remarkable for what is on the outside than for what is on the inside. It has become a bicycle storage area and a makeshift plant nursery. I have also taken on some roommates. Now, if I were a Brooklyn hipster and I told you my roommates were turkeys, you would probably think that they were other artists who didn’t clean up after themselves, or who didn’t pay their share of the rent on time. But since I live on a farm, if I were to tell you that I’m sharing my studio space with a bunch of turkeys, you can safely assume that they are actually turkeys, and not just people of the sort who would eat your last ice cream bar and then lie about it.
Turkey poults. Photo by the artist
I’m not sure what to make of these turkeys. They look a lot like chickens and they kind of act like chickens….except for some subtle differences. They are gawky little creatures, curious and uncoordinated, and they have large, grey, ever watchful eyes.
When I decided to raise turkeys this year, many people warned me about the fragility of turkeys and their inherent stupidity:
“They will get into the waterer and drown in it!”
“They will be too stupid to find their food or water and will starve to death or die of dehydration!”
“Don’t let them outside in the rain. They will drown themselves by looking up!”
And so on.
There are plenty of wild turkeys around here and I have yet to find groups of them drowned following a downpour, so how stupid can they be? For these little domestic turkey poults of mine, time will tell, I guess. Until their permanent pen is ready, they will continue to live in a big box in my studio. They have food and water and a heat lamp for warmth, and me for company during the day. I think I’m going to miss my fluffy little roomies when they move out. I certainly won’t miss the plants and bicycles- those are just in my way!
Tomato and cabbage seedlings. Photo by the artist.
What’s on the easel
I have recently completed another Well Dressed Dog collage. The subject of this one is my good
friend Brenda Castonguay’s dog, Sisi. Here she is:
Apart from being Sisi’s mommy, my friend Brenda is a fabulous photographer, who specializes in intimate, creative, family portraits. Check out her work here. And yes, in case you were wondering, many of my friends are photographers…..or turkeys.
Yikes! No posts in over a month! Things tend to get a little crazy on the farm once spring rolls around and whatever time I have when I’m not out in the barn, I have been spending in the studio. Yes, I have been busy creating, but no, not really too busy to blog. The lack of blog updates had more to do with the nature of the work than with a lack of time.
A couple of months back I got an email from an old friend I first met in art class back in high school. My friend, Tracy Martin, and her siblings wanted to commission a collage from me to give to their mother on her birthday. The collage was to be a surprise and Tracy’s mom reads this blog (Hi Tracy’s mom!) so no posting images of the work in progress on the blog. Now the collage is finished and delivered, the birthday surprise has come and gone, and I am free to show what has kept me busy for the past month.
This collage was something of a challenge owing to its size – 20×24 inches- and my increasing predilection for detail . Also, I really wanted to do justice to the reference photo which was supplied by Tracy, a professional photographer of considerable talent. It isn’t everyday that I get to use such beautiful photography as a starting point. If you would like to see the original photo, it can be found on Tracy’s blog, Photo Sage. I hope you’ll spend some time looking through the photo archives. If you do, your effort will be richly rewarded, and you will find a multitude of images which are not only visually gorgeous, but which are also deeply moving. I encourage you to check it out. Tracy also has a more formal website, just click here.
I was a little surprised a few weeks ago when I received a phone call from Anne Gardon. If you are a Quebecker and an enthusiastic cook, chances are you know Anne as a food writer and cookbook author. Anne, who is originally from France, lives a short distance from me, just south of St. Chrysostome. Not only is she a serious foodie, but she is also an excellent photographer and has taken all the pictures for her cookbooks. I encourage you to look up her books and check out the recipes and their very beautiful accompanying photographs.
We had a very pleasant meeting and I look forward to seeing her again when she comes back to interview my furniture maker husband, Andrew Carmichael. (More about that later) The article below is the result of my interview with Anne, and was published originally in the monthly St. Chrysostome newsletter, Info Communautaire, and is reprinted here with her permission. Merci Anne!
GENS DE CHEZ NOUS
ALYSON CHAMP, UNE ARTISTE AUX MULTIPLES TALENTS
Je suis toujours étonnée de découvrir à quel point la vie artistique est vibrante dans notre région. Savez-vous par exemple que notre municipalité abrite une artiste de réputation internationale?
Récipiendaire de plusieurs prix, Alyson Champ a longtemps été connue pour ses peintures de chevaux de course. Elle a immortalisé de nombreux champions de Blue Bonnets, ainsi que des superstars des circuits américains. Ses oeuvres font partie de collections privées et d’entreprises et elle estmembre de l’American Academy of Equine Art qui tient chaque année la plus prestigieuse exposition de peintures équestres en Amérique du Nord.
Mais avec la récession aux États-unis et la disparition des courses hippiques au Québec, sa clientèle traditionnelle a fortement diminué et Alyson Champ a dû trouver d’autres moyens de gagner sa vie en temps qu’artiste.
C’est en travaillant avec des enfants – elle donne des cours d’art à l’école élémentaire de Howick – que lui est venue l’idée de se lancer dans le collage. Alyson utilise des papiers peints dans une variété de texture et de brillance qu’elle découpe puis assemble comme un puzzle et peint. Ses toiles, à la fois stylisées et réalistes, sont vibrantes de couleurs et ont parfois un côté comique, comme cette série de chiens habillés sur laquelle elle travaille actuellement. Elle a entrepris également une série illustrant les races d’animaux de ferme en voie d’extinction.
Malgré son changement de cap, de nombreux clients lui sont restés fidèles. « La réponse à mon nouveau style a été très positive et a même attiré de nouveaux collectionneurs » dit-elle avec satisfaction.
Photo of the artist, courtesy of Anne Gardon
Née à la campagne, tout ce qui touche à la nature est pour elle une source d’inspiration, les fleurs de son jardin, la lumière jouant à travers les branches des arbres, les vaches dans les prés, les moutons… Elle et son mari en élèvent une dizaine, ainsi que des poules, et en été des canards et des pintades.
Où trouve-t-elle le temps? me suis-je d’ailleurs demandé en l’interviewant, car Alyson Champ donne également des cours de violon. Oui, de violon, qu’elle a étudié pendant une dizaine d’années au conservatoire de musique de McGill.
Son parcours académique est d’ailleurs étonnant. En plus d’un diplôme en musique, elle possèdes un baccalauréat en philosophie et a suivi plusieurs cours de dessin et de peinture, notamment à l’école des beaux-arts Saidye Bronfman, dont elle s’est faite expulser car elle suivait trop de cours. Et aujourd’hui, elle se lance dans le filage de la laine (de ses moutons) avec l’idée d’en faire éventuellement des tapisseries.
Je pourrais vous parler longtemps de la beauté de ses collages mais, comme une image vaut mille mots, je vous encourage à visiter son site web – www.alysonchamp.com – où vous pourrez voir quelques-unes de ses œuvres récentes et où vous aurez également accès à son blogue.
Si la peinture vous intéresse, Alyson Champ donne des cours (aux adultes et adolescents) dans son studio.
What’s on the easel?
Spring is technically here, although you wouldn’t necessarily believe it what with the cold winds and intermittent snow. I continue to work on my series of Well Dressed Dogs, and have a fourth collage finished. Hi there, Arnold!
By the time July rolls around it will probably feel weird to be working on collages of dogs wearing sweaters. But for now, because of our cold weather, it remains appropriate. Well, as appropriate as anything I ever do anyway. Next dog up: Sisi!
No, this isn’t a picture of my living room. This is the Bruno Delgrange Saddles sales booth at the WEF in Wellington, Florida. Four of my recently completed collages are on display there. Three are shown below.
Photo courtesy of Line Thibault
This is by no means the strangest place I have shown my art. At various times I have tried restaurants,race tracks, banks, municipal spaces, private businesses, public libraries, and once (and only once) at a prestigious one of a kind craft show which had me showing my work in a barn – next to a pig pen! It’s one thing to have your work come home smelling like food and coffee…
I thought the Bruno Delgrange booth might be a natural fit for my horse themed collages. And as my friend Line had graciously offered to supervise the whole endeavour, I figured it was worth a try. It’s certainly a beautiful place. And no pigs!
Halt – Sandy Spicer and McGill, photo courtesy of Line Thibault
Every now and then a business opportunity arises which is just too good to pass up. No matter how frantically busy I think I already am, I can see I would be a fool to squander such a chance to expand the audience for my art.
I am fortunate to have a collector of my work who is not only a cherished client of long standing, but who, over many years, has also become a good friend. It is through my friend Line Thibault that I have recently been given the opportunity to send some of my collages down to Florida- to the winter horse capital of North America, in fact. Yes, my art is going to Wellington, Palm Beach County!
My friend’s horse trainer partner, Jacques Ferland, is the North American sales representative for French saddle maker Bruno Delgrange and they have a booth at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. The booth needs decorating, so…..
What this means, of course, is that I have to stop what I was doing (Well Dressed Dogs, etc.) and concentrate on collages of horse-related subjects. The collages must be finished, varnished and framed, ready to go to Florida by the second week of March. Enough blogging! I have to get to work. Here is a recently finished horse collage called simply “White Horse”
Daisy and Arnold waiting for a treat. Photo by the artist
Daisy, a miniature Dachshund, and Arnold, a Dachshund cross, are the much loved fur children of Margot and Tommy MacKinnon. The MacKinnons kindly submitted to my weird request to photograph their dogs wearing their doggie sweaters with a view to including Daisy and Arnold in my Well Dressed Dogs collage series.
Daisy and Arnold are something of a study in opposites. Daisy, the smaller of the two, is nevertheless the louder and more assertive- definitely a wild, feisty female.
Daisy standing her ground. Photo by the artist.
Arnold, on the other hand, has more of a laid back vibe going for him. He is lovably goofy (but polite) and will do pretty much anything for food.
Arnold, what are you looking at?Photo by the artist.
We had a good photo shoot on a nice mid-winter day. Outside first, but the space of the yard was a little too distracting for the dogs, so we went inside. In my mind’s eye I had imagined making a collage of the pair of dogs together on a chair. This was a little more difficult to arrange than I had anticipated: two dogs with two very different personalities and two different attention spans where the promise of a cookie is concerned. Arnold might have sat nicely for me all day. And Daisy? Well, forget about that idea.
Eventually I settled on the design for two separate collage portraits (both keeping the chair idea) which I hope revealed a little bit of each dogs personality. The preparatory drawing for Arnold is below:
There have been a couple of eureka moments in the past couple of weeks. One such moment came when I found a reference photo I thought I had lost forever (Filing system? I don’t need no stinking filing system!) and the other moment came to me after watching the work in progress of fellow collage artist Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson.
When I shifted the focus of my art making away from oil painting to painted paper collage, I found myself working in a medium for which I had had no formal training – in fact, I’m not sure if formal training really even exists in the art of collage. Although this was a very liberating experience artistically, it also meant that I no longer had any tried and true method or efficient working system to fall back on. Basically I have been making it up as I go along. My first collages were made on paper, which I found wasn’t really a heavy enough support and maddeningly prone to buckling.
After trying out rigid, acid free mat board and then canvas, which were better than the paper but still posed problems, I tried out medium density fiberboard, or MDF, as a support surface and this I liked: it’s rigid and stable and smooth. Unfortunately, it needs to be completely sealed to make it archival and safe.
I chose to seal the panels with black gesso because my idea at the time was to have a little of the black background show between the pieces of paper to give the collages a stained glass appearance.
Yellow Iris (2009) in progress. Note the “puzzle pieces” of collage on the black background.
The problem with the black gesso was that it was so dark that I had to work blind; I couldn’t transfer my drawings onto the black surface because no pencil, chalk or charcoal was really visible on the black. Nor, as it turned, was the stained glass effect quite as appealing as I had hoped. So, what to do?
For a while I continued working as I had simply for the lack of a better method. And then I happened upon Elizabeth’s work (shown below) and EUREKA! She draws directly on the panel and then preserves the drawing, while also sealing the panel, with a clear, acrylic sealant. Duh! Now why the heck didn’t I think of that?
As you can see, Elizabeth works free hand on her panel. I still prefer to make my preparatory drawing on paper first, work all the kinks out, and then transfer the main elements of the drawing via tracing paper onto the panel. Having a drawing to refer to and a basic drawing of the planned collage on the panel itself certainly is making my life a lot easier! And if you think Elizabeth’s drawing is terrific, I encourage you to check out the finished collage on her website, www.PaperPaintings.com It is fabulous! What’s On the Easel?
Quite a lot, actually! Thanks to some generous friends, I now have many more reference photos for my Well Dressed Dog collage project – yeah, I know I keep changing the name of the series but I swear “Well Dressed Dog” is it!
I’m also continuing to work on my large collage “Mara Under Water”. Check out the drawing and prepped panel below:
It was a funny week here in St. Crazy, both weather-wise and art-wise. The weather was all over the place: we had bitter cold, then above freezing temperatures, sleet, freezing rain, and snow. Now we are back to bitter cold again. Winter in Quebec provides a little something for everyone, I guess.
As for art projects, there was also a little bit of everything. My plan was to continue with my Clothed Dogs series of collages. I was waiting for an opportunity to photograph a friend’s mini-Dachshunds in their sweaters but the weather conditions and my schedule were not co operating. I did get as far as photographing one of my own dogs, though. Here is Toby looking smashing in a royal blue, form fitting, little knit number.
Toby in Blue – photo by the artist
With my dogs- in- sweaters plans thwarted for the time being, I shifted my attentions to making the preparatory drawing for a big collage that I had been planning for several months. I was having a good time working on that one until I realised that I wouldn’t be able to get beyond the drawing stage. The reason? My big garage/studio does not yet have proper heating (not good when it’s -20 degrees C) and my indoor spare bedroom studio lacks adequate workspace to accommodate the large panel. So…what to do?
Happily, mid-week my husband came home with a bag of cast off neckties- a gift from his father (thanks M.) – to add to my Cache of Truly Hideous Neckties, bits and pieces of which regularly appear in my collages. Check out these babies:
Photo by the artist
Now, when you look at these ties, I don’t know what comes to your mind, but to me they said, “Rooster!”. Lucky for me, I had already made drawings for some rooster collages which hadn’t gotten beyond the planning stage, (Hmm…anybody else beginning to notice a pattern here?) which meant that a fair bit of the work was already done. I simply had to get a-gluing. Here is the result:
My first collage of 2011, and the second dog collage in what I hope will be a series of Dogs in Coats, is finished. The subject of this collage is Gus, a pug who belongs to a friend. Here he is below.
Gus- photo by Alison Taylor
Cute little fellow, isn’t he? And also strangely noble. Big dogs often look goofy, but small dogs have a way of exuding self importance: they really don’t seem to understand the whole size-thing. I guess that’s just part of what makes little dogs so endearing.
As you can see, the photo of Gus shows him in a black coat. Black is not an especially easy colour to work with when making art. As colours go, plain black looks flat and dead and really dominates the composition. So, the black was out. I could also see that for design purposes the stumps would be problematic. As much I liked the original picture, clearly some changes would be in order.
Sorting out the background and removing the stumps wasn’t much of an issue. But the colour of the doggy coat? Well, would it be Red Gus?
Photo by the artist
Photo by the artist
After pondering this dilemma for a while, I remembered that I have a collection of silk neckties in the craziest colours and patterns. Finally, a solution presented itself.