Artful Lives is a new article series by artist E. Connie Munson that explores how different artists' personal grown and creative flowering ripples outwards into the community.
Today it starts with that child’s rhyme ...
one-potato, two-potatoes, three-potatoes, four
which then grew into a few sacks of potatoes and finished with a retiree playing a much traveled, loved, and repaired violin with the East York Orchestra. The story spans two generations with a father and his two daughters, the sisters’ growing love of music and art, based in a hamlet on the outskirts of North Bay and finishing in suburban Don Mills, Ontario.
So then, what would a poor Ukrainian immigrant growing root vegetables to support his wife and two daughters know about culture, art, and music? It started with the three-quarter sized violin they had procured for the girls.
Mary, the younger one, was encouraged to play the violin to help strengthen her paralyzed right arm with the movements of the bow. But then as she left her lessons from the priest at the church, her sister would meet her and take the violin on to her own lessons with the nuns. A fine system until the older one outgrew the three quarter sized violin and still wanted to carry on with her lessons.
A taciturn father, unerringly resourceful with his bartering skills, turned to what he knew about music in their small northern town. And it was not to the nuns nor the priest that he turned.
He took his root vegetables to the hardware store proprietor, who played the saxophone and knew other musicians, in the hopes of parlaying them into what his eldest daughter so deeply desired. And in the depths of his backroom of the hardware store there were possibilities worth investigating.
Who knew when that violin, with a label inside of its body showing it was last repaired in 1912, nor even why, it left the hands of its last owner to repose, forgotten and collecting a thick, felted layer of dust, on the shelves in that back storage area.
Its new life started when it was placed in the hands of Mary’s sister, 16 years old in the early 1930’s, after the sacks of potatoes were carefully counted out.
The hardware store proprietor and unlikely jazz enthusiast, continued to ply his trade by day and play his saxophone at night. And the oldest daughter went on with her musical studies while Mary pled and teased her stoic parent for a pair of ice skates.
Several decades later, Mary was left to clear out her sister’s belongings but could not bring herself to throw away the beloved violin. Their father had bartered and built with his sacks of potatoes a bridge to culture and creative expression for his daughters.
How could those sacks of potatoes he had laboured to grow and his precious regard for their musical development through that violin just be thrown aside? Mary turned to her minister’s husband, newly retired, and asked if he had time to find some young person who desired to play the violin and then put her sister’s violin into his hands.
He returned to her several weeks later shyly confessing that he had gotten it repaired and thought he had found somebody who wanted it. Well, it turned out that he had always wanted to take lessons and being retired now had the time. The repairs were a few hundred of dollars he made hoping she would be happy to bequeath it to him.
Today, that twice repaired and much loved violin, is being played by this retiree who progressed from lessons to playing with the East York Orchestra.
I met Mary and other artists on the occasional Wednesday I would sit as a model for the Portraiture Group in Brampton at Visual Arts Brampton. They are an intently focused and quiet group until the lunch break when we all start to chat.
George, another one of the portrait artists, and I talked that day, but not about potatoes and violins. It started with how he tried to explain to his brother that he needed to paint, his open palm slapping his chest for emphasis. And then I said, yes, and then the art needs to be seen by others. We nodded back and forth, laughing and feeling the fullness of that need of creation moving into sharing it.
The need to creatively express oneself, to develop an artistic practice, whether in fine arts, music, drama, dance, photography, writing, or computer programming, is a part of our human condition. It is a multi-faceted drive that can be explored purely on an amateur level as a passion and for personal satisfaction, or for some it becomes their livelihood.
As a community and then at the societal level, those individual and more organized group explorations, are something we come to identify with as our cultural scene, how we regard ‘the arts’. As is that creative spark within each singular person, so is it then reflected out to the community. The gestalt or whole of those creative expressions then become our larger cultural backdrop.
And the humble root vegetables, those few sacks of potatoes, were what put that violin into the hands of two different people, each of whom brought it to life and gave joy to so many others as they played it. The resourcefulness of that farmer and hardware store proprietor, continues to manifest itself in that East York Orchestra.
The personal growth and creative flowering for each person ripples outwards into their community. The societal impact becomes a reflection of our individual artistic pursuits and creative expressions, portraying in their totality our human condition.
That devoted father, so rich in spirit, made sure his daughters could play their part in that greater whole.
By: E. Connie Munson