The Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius ” . . . is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia. . . “

Quite probably, his most recognizable contribution and gift to us was ‘Finlandia’, the tune from which many of us have come to know as the melody for the well known hymn, ‘Be Still My Soul’:

Arranged & recorded by 3b4joy

Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.
~ Jean Sibelius 

The visual objective in this commissioned project, was to infuse the painting with the mood and the tenor of those 1970s years when I and my dear friend, Doug Todd, were living near The Jean Sibelius Square Park in The Annex of Toronto.

Those were challenging years, when we were actors in the ensemble known as Creation II, living communally in a large Victorian red brick Annex house. The experience permanently altered our lives, as what began as an altruistic experiment in communal living and performing, gradually descended into becoming a cult.

Therefore, this painting is meant to embrace the feelings of those times, and bring back the memory of a one acre oasis in the midst of spiritual confusion and personal ambivalence.

The completed work depicting a drizzly November morning, includes the emblematic red brick Victorian homes which surround the square, and a pair of Toronto’s ever-present pigeons to help bring animation to the solid silence of the memorable and remembered Jean Sibelius:

‘Sibelius Park November’

watercolour on treated art board

commissioned by Douglas Todd

by Lance Weisser June, 2020

[note: the rectangular size of this painting, 7″ x 13″, is preventing it being inserted here without undergoing distortion.]

When one reads about the long life of Jean Sibelius and how he had such a strong affinity for nature, for Autumn and Winter in particular, and was, after all, a Finn, whose country embraces the colder months, it seemed fitting to depict Sibelius Square in November.  His biographer wrote this:


“. . . Even by Nordic standards, Sibelius responded with exceptional intensity to the moods of nature and the changes in the seasons: he scanned the skies with his binoculars for the geese flying over the lake ice, listened to the screech of the cranes, and heard the cries of the curlew echo over the marshy grounds just below Ainola [his home, named after his wife]. He savoured the spring blossoms every bit as much as he did autumnal scents and colours. . . “

The distinctive, late 19th c. Toronto architecture of the area known as The Annex is unabashedly Victorian, boasting ‘some of the largest collection of Victorian houses in North America.’

‘During this period Toronto also developed some unique styles of housing. The bay-and-gable house was a simple and cost effective design that also aped the elegance of Victorian mansions. Built of the abundant red brick, the design was also well suited to the narrow lots of Toronto.’ [wikipedia: The Architecture of Toronto]

In The Annex, however, there was an elegance reserved only for those who could afford it. ‘Built by the city’s wealthy and mostly found in the neighbourhood they are named after, these houses contain diverse and eclectic elements borrowed from dozens of different styles. These houses are built of a mix of brick and sandstone, turrets, domes, and other ornamentation abound.’ [ibid.]

In this painting, some decisions had to be made as to whether it was going to be about the houses surrounding The Jean Sibelius Square Park, or about the monument dedicated to the composer, or about the overall mood of late Autumn and how it informs the architecture, the park and what Sibelius himself loved about November.

This neighbourhood-emersed, one square acre oasis in the middle of Toronto [pop. 6,129,000], was originally known as Kendal Square due to being beside Kendal Avenue…

In 1959, in recognition of the diligence and passion of Toronto’s Finnish community, the little square was officially renamed Jean Sibelius Square and featured a striking monument with the Finish composer’s likeness crowning it.

My encounter with this petite and charming park was during the socially-disruptive 70s, when The Annex was transformed from a neighbourhood of red-brick mansion propriety, to one of red-brick mansion rooming houses populated by hippies and university students.

I lived in the former red brick Victorian home of a Toronto physician with fifteen other actors–including Doug Todd, who has commissioned this painting of Jean Sibelius Square. We were members of the theatre ensemble called Creation 2 (I for seven years, he for two), which was both commune and theatre ensemble:

Life for Doug Todd and I, and others within the group, was a mixture of great bonding, high demands, internal turmoil and personal confusion. What had started out as a dynamic experiment combining the best of ensemble acting with the ideals of a close-knit communal living, began taking on the telling characteristics of a cult.

The Jean Sibelius Square Park, being a block away from our living situation, provided us with a treed, quiet, people-free place of calm and restoration. The watercolour depicting that 1970s’ oasis-like feeling is now finding its expression as it goes from outlined sketch to the initial wash stage:

The Finnish composer (seven symphonies, including ‘Finlandia’) is memorialized in a tidy little one acre park in The Annex area of Toronto, Canada, nestled on four sides by its red brick house neighbourhood.

The Vancouver Sun’s long-serving investigative reporter and author, Douglas Todd, [https://vancouversun.com/author/douglastodd2/page/2], commissioned a watercolour of this familiar setting he and I knew well when living nearby while in a theatre company commune in the mid-1970s.

A striking memorial was donated by Toronto’s Finnish community in 1959 and the park–originally known as Kendal Square–was renamed Jean Sibelius Square Park. In 2010, the park was officially reopened after a major redesign equipped it with an extensive playground and enhanced outdoor skating rink.

Approaching this watercolour commission, it seemed most appropriate to laden it with a 1970s feel–visually allowing Doug and my memories of Sibelius Park to surface and suffuse the painting with an autumnal feel.

A decision has been made to sacrifice accuracy to the bringing up from deep memories a vision of what we both recall and felt about this little space–this oasis from the complicated goings-on within our nearby commune. And we both remembered it being nearly always empty of people, strewn with fallen leaves, lit by street lamps, smelling slightly of wood smoke from the chimneys of the surrounding substantial, Victorian brick homes of the established Annex community.

Therefore, the end result will disappoint anyone currently familiar with Jean Sibelius Square, and its revitalized, playground-dominated landscape, as well as those who may live around it. None of the actual homes will be depicted, rather homes springing from our memory of those homes are being brought to the surface.

where the heart is

March 24, 2018

Our city, Kamloops, B. C., is a native word meaning ‘the joining of rivers’ (where the North and South Thompson meet), and was founded by the Hudson Bay Co. in 1812.  As it grew and developed it became a railroad city (one of two cities in Canada where both CN and CP intersect).  The most gentrified residences are found on St. Paul Street, where many bear historical plaques for passers-by to read and gain knowledge of.

Turn of the Century–c1904–homes are difficult to maintain and keep in tiptop condition, as many reading this can appreciate.  Keeping up any house is expensive and challenging.

I befriended a woman who has outlived her spouse and is just able to keep the basics going while having to block off the upstairs from heat in the Winter.  Budgeting simply to stay put and keep living in her beloved heritage house before facing the inevitable and dreaded ‘downsizing’, her joy is feeding Crows, Ravens and Starlings using cat kibble poured into oversized vintage bird baths.  This certainly doesn’t make her the darling of her neighbours, but has earned her the moniker ‘the crow lady’.

She’s never seen this painting because I fear it may upset her, yet it was painted with affection and as a tribute to her intrepid spirit and unwillingness to let go of that which she dearly and completely loves:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Where the Heart Is’

watercolour on Arches 140 lb Hot Press Paper, 12″ x 16″, collection of J. Weisser

 

 

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