Doris McCarthy, Storyteller – Sharing the Joy

Late Light and Pyramid Mountains, 1982, Doris Jean McCarthy

Iceberg With Icicles, 2000, Doris Jean McCarthy

Trees at Georgian Bay, 1938, Doris Jean McCarthy

In August of 2015, thanks to Doris McCarthy and Ontario Heritage Trust, I got to be the first writer-in-residence for the entire month at Fool’s Paradise, former home of iconic Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy. During that month, living in the space she’d so lovingly crafted over her lifetime, I became fascinated with all things Doris, and set about writing her story for young readers. She was a woman ahead of her time in so many ways, determined to succeed in what was largely a man’s world in the 1930s and 1940s. For Doris, nothing was impossible, and anything was possible. Alongside a 40-year teaching career, she spent her life creating 6,000 works of art, telling Canada’s story, sharing her joy and love for life and the wild.

This past November, I was asked to present at a McCarthy Symposium hosted by the McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto, Scarborough. I worked for weeks putting together a PowerPoint presentation to go along with my lyrical version of Doris’s life story. Along with the other eleven presenters, I was happy to meet some of the significant people in Doris’s life, including her long-time agent, Lynn Wynick, and two daughters of Doris’s dearest friend, Marjorie Beer Woods. At the end of the symposium, the five of us who had been artists-in-residence at Fool’s Paradise had a panel discussion about living in that magical space, which was super interesting; all of us felt Doris’s spirit which is still strongly present in her home.

There are painfully few books for young readers on the subject of Canadian artists, especially female Canadian artists. So far, I haven’t found a publisher willing to take on the project, but, like Doris, I’m determined, and will continue reworking the manuscript, and revisiting her life, until somebody says yes.  Wish me luck!

Toronto – Photo Essay in Under 100 Words…

Fee: $200 (1933) Earlscourt Branch of TPL

Mural fee: $200 (1933) Earlscourt Branch of TPL

Shrewdness (and who I want to be when I'm 100)

Shrewdness (and who I want to be when I’m 100 – the artist (Jean Pederson) told me Doris appreciated that she’d captured her shrewdness in this portrait:)

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

Bluffs from below

Bluffs from below

Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson)

Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson)

Rainbows in the Dark (Alice Priestly)

Rainbows in the Dark (Alice Priestley)

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Heaven?

The Chapter House - Doris wrote her autobiographies here after getting a degree from the University of Toronto at age 79.

The Chapter House – Doris wrote her autobiographies here after getting a degree from the University of Toronto at age 79.

Salvaged art (Guild Gardens - rescued from buildings being demolished for skyscrapers)

Salvaged art (Guild Gardens – rescued from buildings being demolished for skyscrapers)

Random information

Random information

Jasper

Jasper, one of the 6,000 pieces Doris created.

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Frolicking

Frolicking

Final curtain

Final curtain

Warehoused (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)

Warehoused (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)

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Time to reflect…

Fitness (transportation)

Fitness (transportation)

$2.5 million (neighbor)

$2.5 million (neighbor)

Family

Family

Real family

Real family

Free breakfast

Free breakfast

Moments that take our breath away…

944679_10200613095823365_968750882_nI’ve only been on retreat here on the Scarborough Bluffs for five days, but already I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to tear myself away when September rolls around. I find myself occasionally chatting with Doris (McCarthy) because of this extremely life-like portrait of her that hangs beside the living room window overlooking the lake here at Fool’s Paradise.  The neighbors are pretty quiet for the most part, but there’s so much wildlife activity outside the windows of “The Chapter House,” as Doris called her writing rotunda, that I have a hard time keeping my mind on the manuscript by times.  And I keep having to rush outside to take pictures.

Doris McCarthy, artist and creator of this awe-inspiring space.

Doris McCarthy, artist, writer and creator of this awe-inspiring space.

The view from up here on top of the Bluffs

The view from up here on top of the Bluffs

Fool's Paradise - a perfect reflection.

Fool’s Paradise – a perfect reflection.

Coywolf - if I see him going after the deer and her fawn, I may have to dash outside and do some serious hazing...

Coywolf – if I see him going after the deer and her fawn, or even the chubby groundhog, I may have to dash outside and do some serious hazing…

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I am managing to get several writing hours in every day, although so far the story is growing, rather than being pared down… Thank you, Doris, for sharing your home with me (and providing a haven for all these creatures).

 

 

“Gardening” at Fool’s Paradise

You can’t plant a beautiful garden or write a novel that sings without putting in long hours. (Holly Robinson, The Huffington Post)

So next week I’m heading to Fool’s Paradise on the Scarborough Bluffs (near Toronto) for a month-long gardening (aka weeding/revising) expedition. The property is the former home of Canadian artist Doris McCarthy who, upon her death in 2010 at the age of 100,images (4)generously bequeathed her home to the Ontario Heritage Trust to be used for artistic residencies. (thanks also to the Canada Council for the Arts who awarded me a travel grant for this venture.) This is the first year of the DMAIR program, and I’m pretty excited to be one of the first artists in residence at Fool’s Paradise. It looks like a beautiful, inspiring place, as you can see here:

 

 

mccarthyDoris reminds me very much of my Nana Mingo (with Gramps in the header image), who was also born in 1910 and a great gardener herself. Here’s Doris at Fool’s Paradise a few years ago; I suppose it looks more like a snow shovel than a gardening one, but the grounds are lovely, and, from what I’ve read, she was a fascinating woman – independent, determined and feisty. She built a lot of her home herself. I can’t wait to be in her space, possibly soaking up some of her spirit, perhaps enjoying a virtual cup of tea:) Having read three autobiographies, I would love to have met Doris in person.

I’m eager to immerse myself in the great gift of having mental (and physical) peace and quiet for an entire four weeks, alone with a novel I’ve been thinking about and writing for close to three years. I’m connecting two girls at a distance of 260 years, without using any time travel, magic, etc., so it’s been an interesting process, putting together the pieces of the puzzle while incorporating as much of my research as possible.

I’ll be going to Fool’s Paradise with a complete manuscript in hand, and my objective will be to do some weeding – ripping out the invasive bits threatening to choke off the good bits, while hopefully preserving some of the more beautiful wildflowers disguised as weeds. Like weeding, the work of revising is never quite finished, but my plan is to return home in September feeling like I’ve done the best I can with the manuscript – and, with any luck, I’ll have trimmed away a few of the 70,000 words – if there are any I can bear to part with, that is…

So how’s your weeding going? Your revising? Have you ever gone on retreat with just your words and characters for company?