One of the delights of living on Prince Edward Island is the experience of June. Although associated with summer and one of the hottest months of the year in most countries, June in Prince Edward Island is, to say the least, pleasurable. The temperature in June ranges in the teens with occasional spikes to the low and mid 20s and nights hovering around the low double digits. If you come from a tropical country like I did, that might sound chilly, since the coolest temperatures in the coldest days of January might drop to 18. Here on the Island, that would be the perfect June day sans rain. We do have the occasional sprinkle or thunderstorm, especially at the cusp of May and June, when temperatures might still drop to single digits overnight or in the early morning. The atmosphere does border on muggy when the higher teens climb to the 20s. The best days are when the temperature remains above 16 and below 23 and the sky is the purest blue from one horizon to another, perhaps a dotting of fluff or even a thin blanket of shredded cotton spread across and over the countryside, a whisper of air ruffling the uppermost leaves and branches of the trees. On such a day, you can go anywhere on the Island, be it the beach, a park, a pond, river, or trail—or even just your porch, deck, or balcony—and bask in its luscious glory.
What’s so important about TIMBER?
An Art Installation by Alexis Bulman @ this town is small’s market gallery
Reviewed by Cindy Lapeña
Like many communities in Canada, several homes on PEI still rely on wood for fuel during the winter. Besides being more economical than fossil fuels or electricity, wood burning stoves and fireplaces carry with them a certain charm and coziness you just can’t get from turning on a switch.
I never experienced using firewood and marvel at the stories Alexis Bulman shared about how her grandparents, then her parents, turned the collection of firewood for home heating into what could be called tradition. It speaks of how closely tied families still are to the land, to the trees, the wood that fuels the fires of homes.
In her installation TIMBER at the new Market Gallery at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, Ms. Bulman filled two spaces with two different kinds of timber. The first frame is comprised of evenly cut blocks of six-inch-length by four inches wide and approximately an inch thick. The blocks are arranged methodically like bricks laid in a neat self-contained pile within a frame that stands between the upper and lower dining areas at the Market. You can stare at this part of the two-part installation and notice the light wood colouring, occasional wood burns from a mitre saw, and occasional rough hewing of the rectangular ends. There is a certain blandness that makes you overlook this part of the installation, much like ordinary brick walls you might see everyday in a building frequently visited. You might see this solid section as a wall, or even the ends of wood planks piled up in a lumberyard.
The second part of the installation is a completely different presentation. Ms. Bulman used roughly cut chunks of wood—and I use the term literally, because the wood used is raw wood, cut from gathered firewood in various stages of aging and dryness. The pieces of wood were cut into roughly six-inch lengths to fit the depth of the frame, as with the first part. That would be where the similarity ends between the two frames. The pieces of wood in the second frame are cut from logs that have been chopped, mostly in quarters, but many times, into smaller than 45 degree sections. The raw wood is meticulously fitted within the frame, but reminds you of piles of firewood adorning backyards and side yards throughout the island, especially during winter. The marks of a mitre saw decorate the occasional piece as well, revealing which pieces were harder to cut. Triangular streams of light seep through gaps between the pieces, highlighting the individuality of each wedge. If you are like me and sit long enough in front of the piece, you might eventually see the arced patterns formed by contiguous pieces of wood, and even shapes and figures. In many ways, it reminds me of those mosaic-like outlines that we had to fill with colours depending on which ones were dotted, until a picture revealed itself. It is a veritable mosaic of wedges with various textures and shades—individual pieces as unique as each tree they were taken from.
More than just being a contrast between two types of timber for firewood, I see a dichotomy of lifestyles: traditional vs. modern, old vs. new, rural vs. urban. In the wedges, I see people taking the time to collect the wood and chop it into manageable pieces. I see families sharing this chore and turning it into a tradition and a craft, seen in the meticulous attention given to the chopping and stacking of firewood. I see the celebration the completion of the task by families enjoying the warmth generated by the painstakingly-cut wedges, sitting close together in front of the wood stove or fireplace. In the blocks, I see machines and engines and sawmills churning out utilitarian pieces with the same purpose. It speaks to the dichotomy of PEI as well, which is both traditional and modern, old and new, rural and urban. Unlike the framed installations, the island dichotomies are not as pronounced or contained as Ms. Bulman’s Timber.
More than anything else, the knowledge that the installation will revert to its intended role as firewood makes me reflect on the functionality of art and nature as well as of its impermanence. It is something the Japanese have known and reflected in their culture for centuries—in their traditional architecture, paper art, flower arrangements, and especially their haiku. Ms. Bulman’s Timber is a celebration of that impermanence, calling to us to notice a living entity that we have depended on for so long, and that will continue to be a part of Island lives for a long time to come.
When the sun is hot and the sky is blue in summertime
even the birds hide to escape the heat because it is summertime
and the heat can be unbearable. When it’s summertime
on the Island all the folk head for beaches to enjoy the summertime
and escape the heat by soaking in the cool ocean during summertime
or shed their winter paleness with a tan they get from summertime.
All the kids are out somewhere in the parks or beaches through the summertime
or dodge the heat in Empire 8 where movies run more often ’cause it’s summertime
and their moms spend more time shopping for the cool air conditioning
and their dads brave the heat at the greens or the club since it’s summertime
and Boomer warns of rain or the chances of it coming all through summertime.
When the heat becomes unbearable and the the people get irritable in summertime
they could not wait for summer when it was still the winter but when summertime
arrives they curse the summer 30s and look forward to some rain in summertime.
© Cindy Lapeña, 2013
I was in 5th grade when I first encountered the poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was already one of my favourite poets, because of another popular poem he had written, “The Song of Hiawatha.” Back then, I thought nothing of the significance of the poem, living on the other side of the world where anything about the West was almost a fairy tale. When I learned that the poem had been turned into a musical play, I just knew I had to see it and, in the meantime, refreshed my memory by digging up an old copy of the poem. Ted Dykstra did not disappoint with his well-woven script and amazing songs and music that ranged from spine-tingling spiritual choruses and deeply moving duets for Evangeline and Gabriel, to lively and rousing chorus numbers that had the house tapping and bobbing their heads in accompaniment. Under the masterful direction of Anne Allan, Dykstra’s script was transformed into a powerful performance that deserves Dora Mavor Moore Awards across several categories.
The musical Evangeline closely follows the story of Longfellow’s poem with a few artistic liberties, mainly the addition of the antagonist Captain Hampson, played by Rejean Cournoyer, a re-ordering of Evangeline’s stay with the Quakers, and letting Baptiste Leblanc, played by David Cotton, accompany Evangeline on her search for Gabriel, rather than his father, Basil, played by Tim Koetting, who did not remarry either in the poem. The character of Albert Arsenault’s Rene Leblanc in the musical is a merging of the poem’s notary public and story-teller, and the town fiddler, Michael. Evangeline’s encounter with the Creoles in Atchafalaya was represented by the character of Claiborne, played by the marvelous voiced Marcus Nance. Nonetheless, the changes created the perfect mix for the musical by enhancing the roles of the supporting characters in the poem.
The title role of Evangeline Bellefontaine was beautifully executed with passion and strength by Chilina Kennedy, while Adam Brazier as Gabriel Lajeunesse, complemented her with his character’s devotion and undying love for Evangeline. Sandy Winsby played Evangeline’s devoted father Benedict Bellefontaine, while Olivier Leblanc, played as a boy by Nathaniel Ing and as a young man by Louie Rossetti, is an invented character who plays a foil for Gabriel and does what Gabriel’s more reserved and restrained character cannot do. The full cast and crew have been assembled from all over Canada, with several well-known names from around PEI. The choreography was simple and appropriate, although one of the female dancers lost her stride and danced to a different beat in the opening scene. The audio was extremely well-balanced, except for a few times speaking or singing volumes rose suddenly because of character proximity, but the balance was quickly and masterfully restored.
The meticulous detail with which costumes and sets have been designed by Patrick Clark is highly commendable as was the execution of the remarkably flexible sets. One thing that makes this production still more astounding is Jamie Nesbitt’s cycloramic video backdrop, which executes a panoramic view that translates Longfellow’s descriptions of the landscape and events into graphic depictions that emphasize the milieu of this story of a woman’s undying love and her strength, courage and determination to overcome all odds to be reunited with her husband.
Without doubt, this brand new musical that depicts the resilient spirit of Canadians in general, and Acadians and women in particular, will be welcomed with much applause wherever it is performed in Canada and around the world.
*This review is also available on ONRPEI.ca
**Evangeline formally opened at the Confederation Centre of the Arts Homburg Theatre, Charlottetown, PE on July 6, 2013 as part of the Charlottetown Festival 2013.