Monthly Archives: March 2010
Every year, white and soft pink cherry blossoms are found blooming all over Japan. This annual rite of spring is eagerly celebrated by gathering in parks to picnic under the flowering trees. These trees, known as sakura, carry great cultural significance for the Japanese. With their short blooming season, they remain an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. They are also a popular good luck symbol, and can frequently be found depicted in art, as well as many consumer goods such as clothing and stationary.
Sakura is native to Japan and other Asian countries, but can also be found growing in many other parts of the world, prompting similar kinds of celebrations. This project is a nice way to welcome spring after a long and loathsome winter.
All cultures have some form of good luck charm, like the rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover. In Ancient Egypt, charms were known as amulets and were usually in the form of plants, animals, or sacred objects. They were thought to provide protection against evil or danger, as well as bringing good luck. These ornaments or jewelry were even placed with the deceased to ensure they had a safe afterlife. Some amulets are currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I had children make these clay necklaces, inspired by the exhibition King Tut: The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs.
As I explored the Whitney Biennial’s offerings for 2010, I came across the work of Roland Flexner. He is a French artist living in New York, and creates the most amazing imaginary landscapes using the ancient Japanese art of marbling, or suminagashi. This practice dates back to the 12th century, and involves floating ink on water or gelatin, and blowing on it to achieve a marbled effect.
By the 15th century, other types of marbling appeared in Central Asia and the Islamic World, finally reaching Europe in the 17th century. In Europe, the designs were typically used for book covers and end-papers, as shown in the photograph above. These books, some of which date back to the 1760’s, belonged to my grand-father and originated from France. They provided a more realistic source of inspiration than Flexner’s work; something I could actually hope to replicate. It took some experimenting but the results were extremely rewarding, and if you’ve never cooked moss before, now’s your chance.
The Art of Victorian Photocollage is an amusing exhibition currently on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the mid to late 1800’s as photography became increasingly popular, aristocratic women began creating unusual collages by placing photographs of human heads on, among other things, animal bodies. These were then placed in imaginary landscapes which were typically watercolours they had made. This created humorous, and often bizarre results. I had children use images of their favorite musicians to create collages in the same vein as these Victorian photocollages.
This origami fish was shown earlier in my Japanese Paper Collages post, and here are the instructions on how to make it. This design involves some cutting, which purists consider to be a form of sacrilege. I recommend you embrace your inner rebel, make those incisions, and enjoy the possibilities they bring.
Children seem to be fascinated by creatures like dragons, dinosaurs, and bats. This cave aims to provide the perfect dwelling for them and is a lot of fun to make. You can also consider this project a teenager in training moment. Soon enough, you’ll find your male children in particular aspiring to cave-like decor in their own rooms, favoring a dimly lit environment, piles of debris, and bad smells emanating from all corners; a bit like a Hollister store. Have fun.
…with an emphasis on ‘dum’. There is no snow, in Toronto anyway. My apologies for all the snow-related suggestions in my last post. Clearly, my headspace was clouded by images of last winter. Your options now include dusting off your wellies and doing the swamp thang with the kids. Enjoy the mud puddles.
I’m not going to help you hide, but to cope. Entertaining children during March Break may appear to be a daunting task, but you really can come out of it unscathed. And if you’re not escaping to the sun, you can seek solace in the fact that this will not last forever. As soon as kids hit their teens, they’re quite happy to fend for themselves and would rather you not interfere with their chill time anyway.
First of all, weekends don’t count so you’re really only faced with five days to fill, unless of course your children are in private school, in which case I wish you much luck and plenty of wine. I’m down to one child in need of entertainment, and I can’t stress enough the importance of friends. It’s more fun for your kids, and everything they do lasts a bit longer when they’re together.
Unless you’re going on a big outing like skiing, mornings should be long and lazy; that’s half your day already. Let the kids indulge in some cartoons, or throw them outside to play in the snow. Forget the snowman, challenge them to make a snowwoman which will have them in fits of laughter; give them squirt bottles filled with coloured water for a little Pollock on ice; have them shovel the driveway. There could be incentive in this, if you know what I mean. After all, we are also interested in preserving your sanity. Little stolen moments to read the paper and have a cup of tea are golden.
Lunch. At this point, you better have a plan for the afternoon like a friend coming over. Give them lots of opportunity to fend for themselves. Set them up with an arts and crafts activity, karaoke, a dress up theme like Alice, board games, computer games, a treasure hunt, etc. Maybe you’d like to bake something with them that could end up being their snack, and the beginning of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. You could play ‘beat the clock’ and have them clean up the kitchen before the timer goes off and the muffins are ready. Before you know it, your kitchen’s clean, the kids are proudly enjoying a snack they made, and evening is around the corner.
I’m a firm believer in not having to go out to the same, overpriced, crowded places, year after year. The wonderful thing about Toronto, and many other North American cities is how multicultural they are, giving you an opportunity to play tourist. You can actually go to neighbourhoods like Little India, Little Italy, Greektown, and Chinatown, and feel momentarily immersed in that culture. The people, colours, sounds, smells, food, street signs all help to transport you. Why not propose a day trip to China with your children and their friends? Walk through your local Chinatown, visit the shops, eat some local food for lunch, and don’t forget to buy a little souvenir. Make sure the kids bring a notepad to record their thoughts or make sketches of things they enjoyed seeing. They can also take photographs, and save any receipts and business cards, so when they come home they can create a wonderful collage of their outing.
If you live in Toronto, I do have a few suggestions. First would be the Textile Museum, where they have special activities for the occasion. Since it’s off the beaten path, it’s calmer than the big museums and a beautiful space to visit. The Paper Place is having a collage competition and providing materials free of charge. You just have to pick up the package, take it home, and bring back the collage once finished. It’s an inspiring shop to take your kids to. Another plan is to hang out at a bookshop, followed by a hot chocolate. Indigo/Chapters and Mabel’s Fables are really great about letting you hang out for as long as you want. And while I’m hoping to stay far from the madding crowd most of the time, I might brave one visit to the AGO, or the ROM which has a new bat cave to visit. And this time, make the gift shop your friend; it’s good for at least half an hour. Bonne chance!
Collage means to glue, and comes from the French word coller. It involves the use of just about any material which is assembled on a surface. While the possibilities are endless, in this project, focus is on the use of Japanese paper. A detailed history of these papers can be found here.