Clawless (II)

It’s done!

The clawless bathtub is resting on its cedar cradles, on its reinforced cement slab, in my back yard, just outside the window of my lower bathroom. There is a laundry tap in the sink with threads to attach a double washing machine hose that feeds through the window to supply hot water.

After I painted it fire-engine red, I started calling it my Ferrari. Vroom vroom.

It took a day of levering and re-carving of the cradles to get the tub in place, and then I had to plumb the nearly 100 year-old cast-iron with the modern version of the clawfoot drain.

Don’t even make me think about that.

I built the support shelves on either side, a larger one near the wall for seating and shampoo, laid some broken patio blocks for the floor, and dug a drain hole for the bucket and made a drain cover with a couple of broiler pans.

I added a pergola, ready for the curtain and purple passionflower, and a cover/roof, so my housemates can have a hot bath in the driving rain: the first two baths have been a success!

The last problem to solve was filling the three holes near the top of the tub, meant for the safety overflow and the taps. There’s no exact plumbing made to just block them off, just the gaskets, so I had to go second-hand hunting for things I didn’t even know existed.

Finally, using a vast collection of junk, including a cover for the end of a stair-rail pipe, the bottom of a brass candlestick, a hockey puck, and a star-spangled blue bouncy ball (the cherry on top), the job was done. Just finding the stuff that would work and the right sized bolts was one of the most difficult, time-consuming tasks, and reminds me of Dr. Seuss: oh the thinks you can think, if only you try.

The knows you can know. The doos you can do.

For example, I now know you only get one chance to screw a rubber bouncy ball to your bathtub. If you have to take it off, it’s already garbage. I bet that’s not something you could Google, and I bet it won’t become a meme.

But I am please that I can now introduce myself an experimental plumber.

People are always asking you to define yourself. I don’t know whether it’s because I grew up on a Saskatchewan farm and was seen as an outsider to even the small-town school I attended, but it still seems strange to me to call myself all the things I have a right to call myself, and it was others who called me ‘artist’ first.

“Experimental plumber” sound just about right, though, and make me smile, and I think my father would like it too.

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Clawless, Clueless… Colour-blind?

In art school, I once threw a birthday party for myself with the theme “Bring something you find in the street.” Right away, we had to tell one guy to go put his thing back before someone had a car accident.

The next party, I wanted the theme to be “Bring something that you don’t know what it is.”

Unfortunately, everybody grew up before I had a next party.

This object reminds me of that party I never had, but I can tell you what it is. It’s a device I made for measuring the curve of the outside bottom of a clawfoot bathtub. First came the 2x4s, then the plywood to skim the slope of the sides, and then I drilled through the bottom 2×4 and inserted dowels that would move to the shape of the tub when I tapped the form into place. I drew the curve from the rough shape the dowels formed to make a template for the curve at the back of the tub, and did it again for the front of the tub near the drain.

You see, I started out clawless–the tub was clawless.

And I was clueless too, I suppose; you know, the way you are when you go to the scrapyard and impulse-buy a clawless clawfoot-bathtub (for global-warming backyard survival) and the guy sticks it in the back of your SUV with a forklift and you drive off… having not a clue how you’re going to get it out of the frickin’ car when you get home.

Anyway, turns out all it took was a half-price hand-truck, a board, and a friend who used to move a lot of heavy objects for Canadian Tire (and the fact he’s 6ft 6 doesn’t hurt) and that solved my first problem.

But the tub was still clawless.

I discovered there’s a lot more bathtubs rolling around out there than there are feet for them, and I was going to have to buy new cast-iron feet, which might not fit, for $600, and have to pay for shipping from California.

Eh… no, I decided–not after buying the tub for $100.

Hence my measuring device: a line version of those thingamabobs that look like they’re miniature beds of nails, that you can leave a hand-print in.

I made it, I know what it’s used for, but I still don’t know what it’s called.

I applied my templates to a halved cedar post, got out my mallet and chisel, and carved two cradles to set the tub on. My intent is to sit the cradles on a small cement pad, then continue to build around the tub to anchor the structure so only earthquakes might shake it from level.


Ah yes, that small cement pad. I only needed about a meter square, and 5 inches deep. I calculated how much cement I’d need:

Almost 300 pounds.

Just the thought of it makes me tired. I’m going to bed.

Good morning. Where was I? Oh yes. I built the form for the cement pad, sited it, laid my gravel, tied the re-bar, but then it rained all spring.

Finally, I got ready; I realized that my wheelbarrow bucket had a big hole in it where it was partially breaking off from the frame beneath, so I had to hot-glue it back together, and duct-tape it a few times.

This sounds like a cross between a situation comedy and a home improvement TV show.

Duct Tape. Oh my God, I’m Red Green.

Make that Scarlett… Scarlett the Executioner, the resurrection of a former identity once upon a time, at a medieval feast costume party at St. Peter’s Abbey, Muenster–only when I execute my projects, I don’t wear a hood.

With the help of a wonderful volunteer who pushed it all into place, bag by 25 kilo bag, I mixed 11 bags of concrete with a garden hoe in my poor failing wheelbarrow and poured the pad, then I asked my friend’s little dog to bless it with his paws.

I’m going on vacation. Stay tuned.

No. Get a life, but check back on the work in progress.

Perhaps this ends up being a a don’t do it yourself essay, but I suppose the whole act itself is an essay: an attempt, a test, or a multitude of tests to see if I can solve each new problem as it comes along.

But is it art?

Who cares?

And to think I used to do photo-realism in oils.

Posted in Hammer and Nails, Just like Dad, Mixed Media, Revisionary Design, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sewing? What Sewing?

I haven’t been concerning myself with wearable art much since the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, I haven’t been concerning myself much with what I wear at all, unless it’s to make sure I’m wearing wrecked clothes that are covered in paint, so it doesn’t matter if I wreck them and cover them with paint. I haven’t been hitting the secondhand stores much, unless it’s the Re-Store, and I’ve been more interested in rocks and beach logs.

Once sawdust season came around I was back outside building things and moving dirt around again, but I’m posting about one of last summer’s projects which I’d been thinking of for about a decade, ever since Helen Onorah’s cast-iron stand from an old Singer sewing machine took a detour from the Hornby Island Recycling Depot to wait in limbo to become my patio table.

I finally got it done, just for the cost of the paint, the bolts, and a visit to the Courtney scrap yard for a $15 dollar sign. I wire-brushed it first, and painted the bolts also, and if I cover it up with one of my mother or grandmother’s crochet cloths, it looks fancy indeed, but I kind of like the steam punk version myself.

And then you can see not to put your kale smoothie on one of the red bolts and upset it on your fancy white linen dress.

Or I can keep from spilling my coffee on my army boots.

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Strange Lemonade

When your house is involved in a motor vehicle accident… make lemonade.

Last spring a truck hit my house: bad truck. The post that got dislodged was rotten—bad post—and needed to go anyway. Fortunately the couple inside the truck were builders, and good people.

It was like the time my good friend Elyse St. George was accepting a big provincial honour on behalf of herself and the dear departed Ann Szumigalski. It was the screaming dead of winter in Saskatchewan—wind and ice and minus 25—and Elyse had taken the wonderful witchy twisted cane that Ann had given her to represent Ann’s physical presence. After the ceremony, Elyse, then in her mid-eighties and on the long waiting list for a hip replacement, took her first step out the building, and wham!

A shattered hip. But also a shattered waiting list.

As if Ann’s naughty spirit was drifting with the snow, and given that cane a swift kick, then picked it up and waved her magic wand.

In two days, Elyse had her new hip.

In two days, I bought a new post for my carport, and the good people put it in.

And then I had the good bit of the old post to mess around with, getting to know my power tools all over again—and it’s a good landing if you come away with all your fingers. I tarred and sank the post where it could hold the patio lights, then attached the former crown antlers of the plum tree that I’d pruned off in the winter.

It’s some pretty strange lemonade when life gives you a lemon… when your house is in a motor vehicle accident.

It’s what got me started expanding on my making. I write books, and do art, revise clothes, etcetera, but my father was a dyslexic farmer-inventor who could turn cars into trucks and build machines from scratch.

In trying to emulate him, I’m having even more fun.

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Other than a picture of my father and I, the only other picture I have of myself on my wall is this cheeky one, taken by the wonderful Gina-Rae Horvath. The inspiration to get it up on the wall came when I found one of the ultimate pieces of art history kitsch, Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy,” in the fanciest metal frame you could want.

Often paired alongside Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkey” in ‘un-art-educated’ houses, these works have become so common as to be cliché, so I searched out another secondhand fancy frame and paired up with the Blue Boy as a feminist comment as well as an art-history joke.

I thought, let’s update poor Pinkey, poor pink-for-girl blue-for-boy, that wispy thing who looks about to be blown away in her delicate frock, and replace her with some grrrrl.

But then, I looked her up.

She was born in 1783 in Jamaica, to a wealthy slave-owning sugar and rum family. Her father abandoned the family when she was six. When she was nine, her mother sailed back to England with her and her three little brothers so she could attend a ‘proper’ school—a proper British boarding school to make her into a proper young lady—which could not happen in the colonies, it was supposed.

And we know so many improper things happened, at least to the slaves, out there.

Allow me to introduce Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, at the age of eleven.

It’s a large name for a little girl who probably missed her hot Jamaican sun, her grandmother, and probably didn’t much like Mrs Fenwick’s School, Flint House, in Greenwich—a cold stone boarding school in damp old England.

A year later she died there, probably of some disease we have all been vaccinated against, in the company other children from Jamaican colonial families, and is buried in the proper English earth in doctor’s vault under the parish church.

The day after that, the painting went on display in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1795.

I don’t know if her grandmother, in Jamaica, ever saw the portrait she asked to be painted of “my dear little Pinkey…as I cannot gratify my self with the Original…’

So much for my educated conceit, art history jokes, kitsch, and cliché.

I confess I knew nothing, know nothing.

It’s dangerous to make a joke about the past, especially during a time of pandemic.

We’ll all be blown away.

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Porfolio Reading Series

I had the honour of giving the keynote reading and interview for Portal Magazine’s Portfolio Reading Series, and it’s now on Youtube, and you can see it anytime you like.

It was such a pleasure to talk with Joe Enns because he ‘got’ the book, which doesn’t always happen, and launching a book during a world-wide pandemic is a pretty silent and lonely thing. No festivals, soirées, retreats by the lake… but I’m alive and so many live in places where it has been harder to stay alive. I’ve had cancer, and that put me on a list to get a vaccine earlier than I might have. My family is untouched by the virus. And I wrote a new book, and it’s out in the world now.

I would write books for only the pleasure and challenge of doing it. It’s what my brain does to keep itself happy and in tune. No complaints here. Stay safe everyone, and do a little writing.

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Me and Barbarella, We Like THAT

Hey everyone, I’m starring alongside Barbarella in the Vancouver Sun’s You secton–Jan. 22 online and Jan 23. hard copy! After being called the Lady Gaga of Saskatoon, I think it’s only right!

Really, it’s not me, but my latest novel, Universal Disorder, being given a great review by Tom Sandborn, and he shows some great writing talents himself.

That photo of me was taken by my good friend, the wonderful photographer Gina-Rae Horvath when she wanted to mess around in another friend’s private junkyard. I keep meaning to get some real headshots taken, but this past covid season, I haven’t felt able to play rockstar enough.

But Barbarella has it all making sense!

I love my kid’s generation. They don’t buy the gender stereotype thing, or even the gender thing. As a farm kid who put on her girlness like a prom dress that didn’t fit and could only play it like a drag queen, it feels miraculous to be told that this is normal.

I can be Barbarella if I want.

Or just a human being.

So here’s some searingly wonderful praise for Universal Disorder from the pen of Tom Sandborn…

a “work of glittering brilliance and heart scalding grief”

“richly complex and moving”

“make no mistake, while Friesen is working with profoundly tragic elements of human experience here — guilt, loss, madness and dread — she always gets the joke.”

“This is a remarkably well crafted and moving novel. Highly recommended.”

… and you can read the whole of Tom Sanborn’s review in the Vancouver Sun here.

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Universal Disorder Launch at Fat Oyster Readying Series

Introduced by Judy Leblanc, November 21st, 2020.

Bernice Friesen reads the first three (or so) chapters of her new novel.

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Universal Disorder rescheduled launch with The Fat Oyster Reading Series at 7pm Pacific Time, Sat. November 21!

We tried on the 14th to no avail, because Zoom had gone zoombie and not even I could join the meeting! Let’s just try it again in a week’s time! E-mail Fat Oyster to register:

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Universal Disorder Book Launch

Yes, you can be a Time Lord, too, by attending my on-line book launch in the past, brought to you by McNally Robinson Booksellers and Freehand Books!

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