December 27, 2012

Sepia Saturday #157 continued: Do I hear $400 for the "velvet Elvis"?

Number 6: Masterpiece

(Once again, this post is excerpted from a previous article on my "Blasts From the Past Blog".  I hope you're enjoying my travels down Christmas Memory Lane.)

Christmas has come and gone, but I have decided to continue my countdown of most wanted gifts from Santa.

Today's lesson is all about ART.

I don't claim to be an expert on art. At all. I know what I like and what I don't like. I like abstracts with vibrant colours and quirky drawings and the odd inviting land or seascape; I like unusual paintings of men and women. I don't like fluffy stuff with gingerbread houses and doll-faced kids or cookie-cutter anything! (Unless it's baking in my oven.)

I grew up in a house where the appreciation of art was not present. That's not to say that my parents didn't like a nice picture - there was that fake oil-painting of the still-life of a bowl of strawberries on the wall in the kitchen. There were the two immense real oil-paintings in the gaudy gold frames that hung in the living room over each love-seat. You know the kind—a stream running through an autumn wood, or a barn in the middle of field, flanked by an autumn wood. There were the framed chocolate box-lids with pictures of Ireland in vivid green, white, brown and blue—their thatch-roofed cottages (always with a red door) and the stone-walled field harking back to a distant memory. In my own room I had 3 little plastic-framed pictures of moppet-girls with enormous eyes, sporting harlequin and other costumes—they were everywhere in the '70s.  I also had a cheap, framed poster of a cat suspended from a tree-branch, with the caption, "Hang in there, Baby".

My father once gathered up a load of "art" (actually it was mainly a goodly number of calendars) we owned and took it to be framed professionally. We ended up with a number of religious pictures, some ancient photographs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and the "Old Country" as well as some treasures - the original artwork of my mother's cousin, Jean Khanbegian.

I remember we had old magazines downstairs in the linen closet that had feature articles on this member of my family. She worked mainly in oils and concentrated on the sea. I have a real love of the sea, not merely as it's in my blood on my mother's side, but also from having looked at these fantastic works of real art. Jean Khanbegian is in her 80s now and still paints, superbly. She focused on the ponies of Sable Island in a series of paintings a few years ago. These are gorgeous, wind-swept, wild pieces that carry you away to an almost mythical world. My mother has two pieces of Jean's and one day, I trust they will come to me and my husband to join the collection of oddities we have accumulated.

You might think that my taste in art would come from these influences and in large part, it does, but more than this, I believe my knowledge and appreciation can be attributed to a pair of brothers: the Parker Brothers.

In 1970, Parker Brothers released the game, Masterpiece and that Christmas, I found one under the tree in the living room on Christmas morning.

What great joy was to be had inside that box! There was a board (similar to Trivial Pursuit) featuring a large picture of Rembrandt in the middle of a circle of playing stations (I made that up - it works though, doesn't it?), coloured marker-pieces for each player and loads of paper money in very large amounts ($100,000, $500,00 - all ornately designed) , There were cards representing the characters (players) participating in the auction and cooked up biographies for each one. Most importantly, there were postcard-sized reproductions of famous artworks with an easel to display them when they went on the block.

Players tried to bluff each other with forgeries while accumulating large sums of money in the auction process. A grand time was had by all, but little did we know the added bonus to this game: we learned about famous paintings, artists and art history.

This game was a delight to me particularly since I could never get enough (and still can't) information packed into my brain. I absorbed all the details about the artists and their work.

In grade 9, it was compulsory to take ART 101 with Sister Colette at my all-girls' school. She was a brilliant artist, but a gruelling teacher and I didn't take to the rigours of water-colour washes or weaving at a loom! (OMG you should have seen what came off my loom!— Think baby-blanket crossed with an old string dishrag.)
I abandoned art after first year (much to Sr. Colette's relief).

This did not completely eradicate my interest, however; I continued to draw at home - mostly pop stars and album covers, but I was not too bad a talent and in later years when I switched to public school and posted my "Cheap Trick" pen and ink drawings inside my locker, the Art teacher noticed them and told me I should be in her Art class. So, I went back to a Grade 9 level art in Grade 13 (carrying my Masterpiece cards with me as a talisman) and had another go. Art was not to be in my repertoire that year as the rigours of Family Studies, History, World Geography and English conspired to distract me. Oh well!

In any case, I still love to draw, fool around in "Paint" on my computer and collect strange original works of art that pop up in my local thrift stores. We currently have two large abstract oil paintings by the same artist, done in 1962. We love them both and although we tried to find out more about the artist, failed miserably, until one day we were in our local gallery and my husband stopped in front of a painting with a stunned expression on his face. He called me over and my mouth joined his in dropping to the floor. It was the same artist as we own. We got the paintings for a song at the thrift store, but honestly, if they were worth a fortune, we'd NEVER give them up because they are a part of us. Turns out, there's a massive mural on our city library wall, done by the same artist! How cool is that?

So, how did Masterpiece affect my adult life? Well, I married an Art History major, I watch art programs in HD on tv, I am surrounded by various pieces of art in my own home and I dabble a bit myself.

By the way, we never owned a "velvet Elvis", a velvet toreador, but never Elvis.

Kat Mortensen©2012Creative Commons Licence

Number 5: Doodle Art (excerpt from a 2010 post on Invisible Keepsakes)

When I was a little girl, my favourite thing to do—apart from reading books—was to colour. I loved cracking open a new box of Crayola Crayons and getting down to business with a brand new colouring book! I had all sorts of them, as I recall: Disney colouring books from, "The Jungle Book", "Bambi", "The Aristocats", and when I was a little older, I had two very special colouring books about birds and wild animals.

I liked nothing better than to sit at the kitchen table with my crayon box and my books laid out. I could spend hours and hours with my head down, working away on my colouring projects. I remember at one point using pastels and even Q-tips dipped in small bottles of paint to fill in those spaces. I did my share of paint-by-numbers too, and I enjoyed using irregular colour combinations.

When I was a teenager, my parents bought me a few of those rolled black and white posters with hundreds of empty spaces just waiting to be filled in with a variety of coloured markers. They were called, "Doodle Art" and they were great fun - a real vehicle for an artistic sensibility.

My colouring books were my prized possessions when I was a small child. I was reluctant to share them because I worried that most kids wouldn't stay inside the lines and would mess up the perfection of my books. I used to meticulously trace all the lines with various colours before I filled in the spaces.

On one occasion, my mother invited a friend of hers named Leah Finklestein over to our apartment for tea. Even though I was only about five years old, I do remember rolling that name around on my tongue for a very long time! Leah, brought her young son (whose name I have blotted out) with her on the visit, and he very quickly appropriated one of my colouring books and made a frenzied attempt with a purple crayon to create a masterpiece.

Perhaps now I might be able to see the "genius" behind this kid's work, but at the time, I was furious! I don't recall what I did, but I'm pretty sure I had a face on like a slapped backside! I'm also certain that I made sure my colouring books were nowhere to be seen ever again when we had company.

One quirk that I developed, was to always trace winter snow-scenes with the turquoise crayon. I thought somehow that it best represented the edge of the snow. I must have been trying to distinguish where the sky met the landscape now that I think about it. To this day, I still see snow in that respect. Which is why, I have created a short film using shots I took from my front doorstep this morning, and I have tinged them with blue.

(I wish I had a colouring book right now!)

Kat Mortensen©2012Creative Commons Licence

If you've been singing your heart out and stuffing yourself with goodies (as I have) for the last few days, and you've not had a chance to visit all the other Sepia Saturday delights from week #157, join me at this web address, where I'll be catching up for some time to come:


  1. I wish I'd been so lucky as to have had a Masterpiece game! It took Sister Wendy to awaken an
    interest in art for me. This was a terrific read - you tell the stories very well.

  2. I would have enjoyed that game. I had some art history classes in college, but never a studio course until a few years ago. I have some of my paintings hanging on my wall now.