My posts last summer focused on my art collection. Some of the works hadn’t been hung or were hung in the wrong places. In the fall, I planned where to hang everything, and I executed my plan with the help of the Toronto-based art installation firm Artstall. Artstall does excellent work, using professional methods such as surveyors’ instruments, and their price was reasonable. I strongly recommend them.
Inspiration in the Basement
Part of our basement is finished, and I use it as an exercise area. I hung pieces that call to mind three important themes: environment, social justice, and scholarship. Environment is embodied in An Ji’s two Chinese landscapes of rivers flowing through mountains and a poster for a 1984 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum of Audubon’s famous “Birds of America” displaying his painting of a snowy heron. They all evoke the pre-Anthropocene idea of people living harmoniously with nature. Duke Ketye’s painting Riding in the Third-Class Carriage reminds me of Martin Luther King’s maxim that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and of the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, our responsibility to help bend that arc. I also have a poster celebrating the 1977 tercentenary of Wren’s chapel at Emmanuel College Cambridge. (Personal disclosure: my parents purchased it for me because Emmanuel is where John Harvard studied). I connect this image to environmental and social justice because of the essential role of scholarship and research to both pursuits. When I do reps and my mind is unencumbered, the art is there to remind me of my responsibilities.
Recollection and Celebration in my Office
I spend a lot of time in my home office on the second floor, and I decided to use its wall to display images to remind me of things in my past that I appreciate. My desk faces a window, with wall space framing the window, on both sides of the room, and at the back of the room. Prominent in my Zoom backdrop are Bent Reinert’s painting of three lobster boats and a colourful poster from a 1984 performance at the Kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo, the first I witnessed. Also at the back of the room there are two Chinese silk carpets, depicting ornate foliage. I placed a blue and white Chinese urn atop some filing cabinets to hide the receiver for a small sound system. There is a closet that lacks a door, which I cover with a blue cloth. Recently, I rediscovered an obi, or kimono sash, that I purchased in Japan some years ago, and I draped it over the blue cloth. The obi, as you can see in the photo below, depicts elegant pavilions, gardens, and herons woven in fabric that is green, rust, tan, and – especially – gold. That part of my office has become an Asian corner, reflective of several visits and cherished mementos.
Moving clockwise, on the side wall I’ve hung Peter Shostak’s print of a small prairie town, an icon for my efforts as a graduate student and assistant professor studying western Canadian settlement. Beside it is a photo of Schawinsky’s painting Platonic Memory, that stands for my interest in the Bauhaus and the practice of architecture. A commemorative shovel from the groundbreaking for the UTSC Management Building stands in the corner joining the back and side walls. Serving on the design committee was my opportunity to work with and learn from its architects, Bruce Kuwabara and Shirley Blumberg.
Into Thin Air
Still moving clockwise there are small walls on either side of the window and my desk. On one wall I’ve hung Wayne Mondok’s print of Patricia Lake in the Canadian Rockies. On the other is a panoramic photo of the Everest Massif (Everest and its guardians Nuptse and Lhotse) taken from Kalapatthar. Mountain hiking has been a long-time passion. The Mondok print symbolizes my many hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Twenty-five years ago, I did the Everest base camp trek, except our exact destination wasn’t base camp. Because you can’t see the summit from base camp, we went to the ridge at Kalapatthar, on the other side of the Khumbu Valley, where we had a spectacular view.
Moving clockwise to the other side wall, I wanted a collage of mementos, photos, and achievements. Here’s where Artstall’s Mike really showed his expertise in putting fourteen elements in harmonious juxtaposition. I’ve included photos of a happy toddler, a confident teenager, a jubilant Ph.D. graduate, and a mid-fortyish runner sprinting to the tape in a half-marathon. I have diplomas from a small university near Boston and a well-known academic honour society whose members have difficulty figuring out how to display their insignia. And I have an order-in-council appointing me to the board of the Crown corporation that oversaw the construction of 407 ETR, an award for my book about bilingual air traffic control, and another for my teaching. Here is the collage.
In case you’re wondering, the family pictures are in the family room, where I also spend a lot of time.
There is a lot on the walls of my study, too much you might, or indeed my wife does, think. But in the two months since I redecorated the office, I’ve become comfortable with it. In my work, I’m usually looking forward in time and outward from myself. But I can do that in a setting in which I’m looking backward and inward with feelings of satisfaction. No one’s life is perfect, certainly not mine, but there are many things I feel good about, and I’ve used the office as a place to gather them together.
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