Losing Parkdale

When I heard about this Ontario Crafts Council exhibit on CBC’s Here And Now, a variety of thoughts entered my mind about the many changes that have taken place in the neighbourhood where I have lived for over seventeen years. In the words of the OCC:

Losing Parkdale focuses on the neighborhood of Parkdale as a community of woodworking talent. The exhibition showcases a few of many hugely talented artists and craftspeople that have made their living in this part of Toronto…

…Losing Parkdale is a celebration of joining material and mind – with the poignancy of upheaval and resettlement.

The exhibit proposes to juxtapose the creative work of a loose community of independent woodworkers in Parkdale with the urban renewal that has been taking place at a progressively increasing pace during the last twenty or more years. To this end, the work is contrasted with photographs of the demolition of industrial buildings where some of the craftspersons have presumably had their studios. The loss of studio space is described in the brief introduction, but the photographs have no captions.

It is certainly true that as the more raw and honest edges of a community are tamed, smoothed, marginalized or forced out as a result of gentrification there is an inevitable summing-up and dumbing-down of the complexities and contradictions inherent in life. The real story is necessarily messy and complicated, but as time passes a simpler but easier-to-digest version may come to be the one handed down to future generations.

I was hoping that this exhibit would tell a story, but it is much more a story untold. Aside from the introductory text and wall tags for identifying the work, there is no interpretation. A large panel displays eighty-one names including those whose work is exhibited. Two names are bracketed with blue dots. I know that both are guitar makers; Joe Yanuziello because his work is displayed in the exhibition, and Grit Laskin because Hazel and I used to rent a studio loft underneath his workshop. Finely powdered sawdust of Sitka Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood would occasionally filter down through the cracks in the floors of the turn-of-the-century converted warehouse, and Hazel once appeared in mother-of-pearl as a character in one of Mr. Laskin’s intricate guitar neck inlays. As for the reason these names are highlighted, I asked the gallery staff person, but she did not know.

This is a very small exhibit, but the limited number of items on display in the gallery is appropriate for the small space, and it is enjoyable and refreshing to have a short and focused experience of just a few works to contemplate. Drop in if you happen to be in the area, or as part of a Queen Street walkabout. Give some thought to a neighbourhood in continual transition over the past several decades and the many artists and craftspeople who have long occupied underutilized industrial spaces, not only finding needed workspace but substantively contributing to the social fabric and helping to fuel a renewal of the area that has now begun to accelerate rapidly – forcing many to seek new accommodations elsewhere.

It may be that this particular species is losing a niche in this ecosystem, but I hope that in the broader sense we are not Losing Parkdale. Any vibrant living social neighborhood is always in motion, always evolving. An era of post-industrial transition will typically favour artists and craftspersons with an abundance of open, well lit and inexpensive space, but this is by nature a transitory state and part of the process of renewal. As we move forward it is essential that we should strive to be aware of the history, narrative and origins of the places where we live; seek ways to foster and protect traditional activities, and record and share an authentic story of how it all came to be.

Losing Parkdale

January 19 – February 26, 2012

Ontario Crafts Council Gallery

990 Queen Street West, Toronto

Tuesday to Friday 11:00am – 5:00pm

Saturday 11:00am – 6:00pm

Sunday 12:00pm – 5:00pm


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