Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Classic Design Styles

In an effort to familiarise myself with basic interior design periods, I picked up Henrietta Spencer-Churchill's book, Classic Design Styles. It's a beautifully illustrated volume, filled with lush photographs (I freely confess that I'm all about glossy picture books).

At the beginning of the book, each section examines an historical period in English and American interior design, covering the basics, such as furniture, art, moulding and window design. The latter half focuses on "The House Today" and is considerably weaker, in my view. The author's commentary can also get a bit ponderous at times. Regarding the contemporary tendency to reserve the formal dining room for special occasions, she writes, "[o]ur hectic lifestyles and the lack of inexpensive and easily obtained domestic help have led us to adopt the originally American style of one room living." Ah, for the good old days, when we could rely on indentured servants to do the work for us. Perhaps Ms. Spencer-Churchill can look with fondness on the days of yesteryear, when the supply of desperate domestic workers exceeded the demand; however, since I probably have been stuck working for her, I can't be quite so wistful.

This book would be useful for anyone looking for a basic introduction to period design. But don't read it too carefully...unless you find the author's troglodytic tone amusing (which I did). As the dust jacket proudly proclaims, she is "the daughter of the 11th Duke of Marlborough, whose family home is Blenheim Palace", so one can forgive her for thinking that her readers may have likewise grown up in palaces. I shan't burst her bubble by confessing that I picked up her book in the public library. Oops, too late!

Monday, February 22, 2010

First Trip to the Art Gallery of Alberta with Baby!

Well, it took my husband and I months to decide, but we finally have a stroller! We chose a Bugaboo Bee in hot pink. I just love it. It's small and light, which was essential for me, since I live in the city and love being able to take the LRT without too much hassle. It also handles beautifully and navigates through narrow places with ease, and I love that the seat is reversible. My only complaint so far is that the locks on the swivel wheels are a bit stiff, but otherwise it's perfect!

Last Tuesday, my mom and I took the baby for her first outing in her new stroller. We decided to make the new Art Gallery of Alberta our first destination. After a quick lunch at Da Capo near the University of Alberta (they have really great pizza there, by the way), we took the LRT downtown. We got off the train at Churchill Station, and arrived at the new Art Gallery in minutes.

The newly opened Art Gallery of Alberta was gorgeous. The building was designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout, and forms a beautiful and functional space for the gallery. Mom and I had a wonderful time visiting the exhibits. I was able to take my time to enjoy the Degas sculptures (baby was napping), but I had a bit harder time with the Goya exhibit (baby was awake at that time, and a bit more noisy--perhaps she was debating the significance of Goya's socio-political commentary?).

While Goya and Degas were fabulous, I must say that Karsh's photographs blew me away. It doesn't take long to realize that truly great photography requires every bit as much artistry as the other fine arts. My photos are about as far removed from Karsh's work as my sketches are from Da Vinci's.

Now that we have a family membership to the gallery, I can't wait to return and take in these exhibits in more depth!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Edmonton Opera Presents Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance

Last night my husband and I had the chance to see Edmonton Opera's presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. We had such a fabulous time! It was the first opera of the season that we've been able to attend. We always get season tickets, but we had to give our tickets to Rigoletto to some friends, since the performance was one day after our daughter was born!

This time we were able to make it, thanks to my mom, who stayed home with the baby and entertained her by singing snippets from the production. I discovered this morning that my three month old daughter adores "Modern Major General" -- probably because she's never heard anyone speak that fast before!

I am so glad that the Edmonton Opera chose to stage such a thoroughly entertaining production. I've been a fan of Pirates for years, ever since I first saw the 1983 film version starring Kevin Kline in the 1990s. My sister and I adored the movie and watched it time and again on video. But certain numbers lost their lustre in the film version. Of course, songs like "With Catlike Tread" are impossible not to love, whatever their format, but others, like "Hush, hush, not a word!" simply fell a bit flat on the silver screen. Watching Pirates live was a revelation.

First of all, the cast was fabulous. Curt Olds stole the show as Major General Stanley - his sense of comic timing was impeccable and made the production. I was also impressed with Lawrence Wiliford as Frederic and Nikki Einfeld as Mabel.

Gilbert and Sullivan lend themselves particularly well to revival, and their appeal to modern audiences is strong, with humor that easily crosses age and cultural barriers. My husband, who had never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan production before, absolutely loved Pirates. I am so happy to see the Edmonton Opera choosing to showcase this Operetta, and I hope it means there will be many more Gilbert and Sullivan productions in the opera's future!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Rejection of Cain's Sacrifice

I've been very busy with my little girl over the past few weeks. She's an absolute delight! Even though she's only three months old, I've been having a lot of fun reading with her. Before she was born, my husband and I bought a copy of Tomie dePaola's Book of Bible Stories. It has fantastic pictures that really capture her interest (and the stories are short, so she doesn't have trouble staying focused). At any rate, the other day I read her the story of Cain and Abel. Yikes! It's easy to forget how gory some of these stories were! I was sort of glad that she was too little to have any idea what it was about. Nevertheless, I found myself trying to explain to my infant why people do mean things, though I had a bit tougher time telling her why God was not that impressed with Cain's vegetarian sacrifice. Welcome to motherhood, I suppose! What happens when she can actually ask questions?

Anyway, today I came across this 1842 sketch by John Millais of the Rejection of Cain's Sacrifice. Millais was just 13 years old when he produced this! Even at this early age, you can see the talent Millais possessed. I love how he's drawn Cain's cloak blowing in the wind and the smoke billowing up towards heaven (notice the pious looking Abel in the background). You can see a lot more of the details in the painting if you visit it at the Birmingham Art Gallery's online gallery. Be sure to check it out!