Tag Archives: Vancouver

Sid Dickens and his incredible Memory Blocks

I’m taking a road less travelled today to introduce you to a Vancouver artist whose work is informed by the classics, science, art history, research, curiosity, and poetic vision. Sid Dickens’ Memory Blocks are not made of clay, but of beautifully decorated plaster tiles. They are quite thick and I like that…they have substance. Exquisite designs, soulful execution. Highly unique. Dickens, 48, is originally from Prince Rupert, B.C., according to Beladagio. “Until the age of 28 he worked as a commercial fisherman,” according to what must be an earlier site. “Off-season, he served burgers on the ferries and dedicated his spare time to drawing and painting.” Dickens attended Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and design, now a university, was inspired by works he saw in Europe and later learned bronze-casting in Mexico at the Instituo De Allende in San Miguel. He opened his first studio in 1984, then built a studio retreat on Haida Gwaii. In ’91 he opened a studio in Gastown, the oldest area in Vancouver, along the waterfront. The Beladagio site quotes Dickens, who said, “Originally, I created large panels with many elements.” His ideas evolved and he began to work on a smaller scale. His site says his tiles are “hand crafted plaster, 6″ x 8″ x 1 1/4″, finished to a porcelain-like quality, cracked to create an aged look and feel.” He has a studio in Vancouver, employees a team of about 30 emerging artists, according to the site, Sid Dickens Timeless Collectibles, which features some of the artisans involved. Click here to see some photos of the blocks being made and some information about them. Dickens’ current studio in Vancouver is not open to the public, but the memory blocks can be found in many locations or purchased online. I see that there is a retailer in my town that carries his work, so soon I hope to pop on over and see them in person. The tiles can be mixed and matched to suit your tastes and there is a wide variety of themes. The Memory Blocks have an aged, antique look, and I think they are exquisite. Photos are copyrighted, so I cannot show them to you here, but here is the link to his online catalog of works. I saw an earlier version of his website some time last year, the first time I learned of him. I felt a bit put off by the new site because not all of it is accessible unless you ‘join.’ I like free and easy access to information and while I understand that he and his work are enjoying increasing visibility and popularity, it smacks of exclusiveness. In the end this matters little because the work is what counts. I will leave it to you to explore his site and possibly find a retailer that carries Memory Blocks in your area. One of my new favorites is one from a line out this spring and it is called Winged Sage. It is quite lovely and retails for $92.00 CDN. So many forms of art emerge from Dickens’ work, all of which he designs himself. When you gaze upon one of his tiles it evokes many feelings, senses, and memories. One appreciates the beauty, the artistry, and the subjects portrayed. It is so nice to know such beautiful work is being made so close to home, in Vancouver.


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Color and Artistic Inspiration

As I do research for an article about creative blocks, artistic blocks, I keep coming across the word ‘inspiration.’ One of the many ways to work through a block is to do, see, or be around people or things that are inspiring. So, today, let’s look at one way to jump-start the creative process: inspiration through color. What would we do without color? Vibrant color, color so rich, we cannot help but be affected by it. Last year, I stood amidst great swaths of color and it was exhilarating. I want you to see what I saw and I’ve made a slide show for you. I took the photos at our local tulip festival last year. The bulb farm is on Seabird Island in the Fraser Valley, about two hours east of Vancouver, B.C. We live in an incredibly beautiful area and the setting of this tulip festival is very special, as Mt. Cheam looms in the background. If you want more information about the festival and where it’s located, click on this link, Tulips of the Valley. Come mid-April, I plan to drive out and walk among the tulips and hyacinths, to immerse myself in color and heady scents! What could be more inspiring?

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NY Times: Lead contamination in Chinatown glazes

Chemical symbol for lead

When I saw the porcelain spoons in the photo on the Times site, my eyes grew large. The turquoise, yellow, and red glaze looked very familiar. I cannot tell you if the glazes on the spoons I saw in Vancouver were contaminated with lead, but, according to what I read today, it appears there is a high likelihood. Dr. Gerald O’Malley, who specializes in Medical Toxicology, studied bright glazes used in ceramics in Philadelphia’s Chinatown and found enough lead contamination to cause health problems. The story reporting this study was found in the online edition of yesterday’s New York Times. I saw the photo and thought, “Oh, my!” I have seen many such glazes here in the Vancouver metropolitan area…on porcelain spoons and matching bowls and tea pots. After reading this article, I would not want to take a chance on them without having a stamp of approval from health officials. The ceramic pieces O’Malley’s team studied, which proved to be contaminated, came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Chinatown. In addition, The Times quoted O’Malley as saying, “If it’s happening in Philadelphia, it’s happening in other Chinatowns in other cities.” (I am now wondering about my white porcelain spoons I bought in Chinatown in Vancouver. They have a clear glaze and no decoration.) The Times story made me think not just of the Chinatown in Vancouver’s east side, but also the huge Asian malls in nearby Richmond and smaller ones scattered around the area. In addition, many local mom and pop stores  often have tiny Chinese ceramics sections. There have been many scares pertaining to Chinese goods here, from tainted melamine to heavy metals in pharmaceutical preparations to dangerous chemicals in Chinese wines sold in Chinatown. A widely publicized toy scare hit North America a few years ago. It’s okay to say buyer beware, consumer beware, but there is no way to tell with some of this stuff. So I am grateful for this article. In the story, O’Malley made clear that the stores were not at fault, saying “the vendors should have the assurance that they’re buying from sources who are in compliance.” He continued, saying, “The vendors are getting bad press here, but we want them to be helped by this, not hurt. I’m hoping that the F.D.A. will do a formal investigation and in the end track this to the source.” I wonder if Health Canada will follow suit here. Environmental contamination that we cannot control on an individual basis is such an issue, we need to be vigilant about the areas we can act upon. Countries that import products from China must take an active role in ensuring the safety of these products because such oversight will not or does not take place in China in a manner that inspires confidence. I also feel very badly about the production potters who must work around such toxins in China.  At home, here, it is up to the health, environmental, and import agencies of the countries of the importers to make sure ceramic ware is safe for the public. If glazes in Chinatowns throughout the world are selling wares that may have lead glazes, action needs to take place immediately. Pieces here need to be tested, then the results of the testing need to be made public…as soon as possible. The dangers of lead poisoning need to be reiterated to the public. Chinatown, Chinese mall and small-business vendors need to be made aware of the potential for danger with the ceramic wares they sell. (It is possible the City Desk at the Vancouver Sun is already aware of this Times article, but the matter will be brought to its attention tomorrow during the Sun‘s daily editorial meeting.) There are Mexican import stores here, too, and the ceramic wares sold in these outlets should be checked, too. In addition to lead, all of these wares need to be checked for cadmium, too…. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but this area has a huge Asian population, many traditional wares are imported and sold here and I want to know if they are safe. I am sure citizens in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and elsewhere will do the same. I just googled O’Malley’s name and there are multi-lingual references to him in current news stories on the web, so maybe change is on the horizon. Now let’s see, what is Canada’s equivalent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency….

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Rollo May’s “The Nature of Creativity,” Part 4

Rollo May thought we all have experiences similar to that of the scientist who brainstormed his Nobel prize-winning formula while he slept. While our dreams may not be as dramatic, May said we all experience “processes of forming, making, building…even if we are not consciously aware of them at the time.” Yesterday, my post focused on the physiological effects of intense creative encounters. Continuing where I left off in May’s “The Nature of Creativity,” we now switch our focus to the relationship between will and purpose in regard to creativity. It is clear that creativity “goes on in varying degrees of intensity on levels not directly under the control of conscious willing,” according to May. Yet, heightened awareness does not mean “increased self-consciousness,” he clarified. Instead, it correlates with abandoning ourselves to the creative process, becoming absorbed in it and this “involves a heightening of awareness in the whole personality.” Unconscious answers and insights to our problems that come “in review” are not hit or miss, though. They occur when we’re relaxing, fantasizing, or alternating play with work, he said. I know he’s not talking about creativity in the workplace, but what he said did make me think of it. Setting the mood for such creative breakthroughs is hardly the modus operandi of a typical workplace. However, it is likely that workplaces that do encourage high levels of creativity have playgrounds little different from the one in Tom Hanks’ “Big.” Radical Entertainment, a computer game company in Vancouver, has just such a play area for its employees. Still, it is very clear that intense creative encounters, wrote May, “pertain to those areas in which the person consciously has, worked laboriously and with dedication.” The phenomenon of purpose in human beings is so much more complex than what used to be termed will power. “Purpose involves all levels of experience. We cannot will to have insights. We cannot will creativity. But we can will to give ourselves to the encounter with intensity of dedication and commitment.” There is a relationship here, May said. “The deeper aspects of awareness are activated to the extent that the person is committed to the encounter.” Many years later, Julia Cameron would write about such a relationship in her groundbreaking book, The Artist’s Way, about kick starting creativity. I have followed her program several times when I found myself at a dead-end. We have all needed a push sometime or other. Standing on the edge of the diving board is much different from taking the plunge. I remember a very specific instance in my own life during my late teens. I was in charge of recruiting a model at the art school I attended and I chose my lovely friend, Cynthia. On the day she modeled, she wore a vintage dress and looked beautiful. Our teacher, Ken Spiering, and Cynthia were in the middle of the room, surrounded by a little circle of budding artists. I remember looking at the canvas in front of me, a canvas I’d made and gessoed. A fairly large one. As I stood before it, the whiteness loomed. I don’t know if I felt some type of self-consciousness over painting a friend, but the whiteness of the canvas in front of me kept growing larger and I could not put brush to canvas. My heart started pounding and, finally, I tore myself away, running out of the room, out of the building, and down the block till I got a grip on myself. In retrospect, it sounds like I had a panic attack. Regardless, I had to come back to the canvas. And I did. I could not will creativity, but I willed myself back into that studio.


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