Portals: Jeanne Lyons’ Show at ArtSpring August 2016

August 11th, 2016

At the entrance to her current show of drawings and sculptures at ArtSpring, Jeanne Lyons greets the visitor with a verbal introduction as dense and suggestive as the visuals lining the gallery’s labyrinthine walls:

… the pieces in this exhibit portray portals, doorways into other realms, of one kind or another. Compassionate curiosity and a willingness to suspend what we think we know can lead us into unknown lands where we discover a much vaster world. Anything that we experience in the moment, whether we consider it “positive” or “negative,” can be a portal when approached in this way.

Following her direction, at the bottom of the stairway leading downward my gaze was drawn by “portal #4,” an image I recognized from the tiny version I’d seen on the Gallery’s website.


Its flat bilateral and concentric symmetry focused on a blank pink central bullseye. But soon the cool geometry of curved and pointed shapes gave way to a thick surface texture of scratches and hand-applied pigment. Then, as another passage of the artist’s statement came to mind, the whole image popped into three dimensions:

I have been a midwife for over 30 years. Currently I am an instructor in the Midwifery Program at the University of British Columbia. Midwifery is an art and a science. In this field, an area of particular interest to me is incorporation of the arts into the teaching of health care.

Whether intended or not, this “doorway into other realms” struck me as the portal between prenatal and postnatal life, regarded from either side.

The adjacent portal, titled “Alchemical Gate,” appeared as another variation of the same visual and conceptual themes.


Both receding from and radiating toward the viewer, its vibrant colors conveyed the fiery energy of transformation pulsing into and out of its center. The representational suggestion here was of a red Tori gate, the portal of a Shinto temple that marks “the boundary between sacred world of the shrine and the profane world outside”–both an invitation and a barrier. http://www.nihonbunka.com/shinto/blog/archives/000051.html

Portal 2, the third in the series on this wall, offered me no entry into “unknown lands.” But its vibrant colors, wildly flittering crayon strokes, and hints of vibrating body shapes expressed a pure explosive energy.


Portal 3, completing the series on this wall, was the most sedate of gateways.


It strengthened the emphasis on vertical and bilateral symmetry of the first two portals, superimposing and melding their circular and perpendicular structures into a kind of mandala: “a diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically…” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala  At the center of this piece’s concentric circles lay a doorway-shaped rectangle within which appeared schematic human figures of diminishing size nested and receding toward the vanishing point. Could this, I wondered, be a representation of the chain of generations–through the gate of birth, as in Portal 4, or through the gate of death depicted as a set of occupied coffins?

This show includes about 25 additional pieces, each of them mysterious, haunting, and highly crafted. All of them open portals: into the artist’s dreams, into the visual languages of native myths, and into the horrors of environmental and humanitarian cruelty around the globe.

Crossing the Inlet

August 4th, 2016

It was only the reduced ferry service leaving two hours to kill before the departure from Earl’s Cove that finally convinced me to pull off the main road and take the driveway marked by the sign: “Iris Griffith Nature Centre.” I had passed it many times on our annual road trip from California to Lund, intrigued by what I imagined was a little old lady’s back yard with labels identifying plants. But that was never enough to get me to delay entering the final stretch of the three-day drive to our home away from home at the end of the road. This time, alone with our nine-year old grandson, Lucas, I decided to satisfy my curiosity.


The gravel track through the forest opened to a large clearing. Through an artfully designed gateway I saw a bunch of kids engaged in some kind of race on a groomed lawn, egged on by college age counselors.


Behind the lawn lay a wetland marsh and a small lake. In the background rose the vertical green wall of Mount Hallowell whose top disappeared in the clouds.

It took me a while to take in the features of a massive log building fronting the lawn: its posts and beams of flared cedar trunks, its large windows filled with displays of books and posters, its roof topped with an array of solar panels.

On the way toward the entrance doors I noticed a white haired woman in a bright pink and white top holding a bucket and pointing out items on a laminated chart to a group of older visitors.


Once inside we were surrounded by a spacious arrangement of displays about the natural history of the BC coastal ecology I had treasured since living here full time in the 1970’s. The displays were illuminated by a skylight in the central atrium supported by bright mortised log beams.



Still stunned by this splendor in the middle of the forest, we were approached by the lady in pink. She introduced herself as Lee Ann and led us to a reconstructed cross-section of the trunk of a tree with the tightest rings I’d ever seen. “How old do you think this is, she asked Lucas, ” and he ventured, “Two hundred?” “No it’s two thousand,” she replied. “This is from a yellow cedar cut at the top of the mountain out back.”


I expressed my wonder at discovering this place after so many years of ignoring it, and she offered to show us around. Passing engaging posters explaining their solar and wind energy and rainwater collectors she took us to the laboratory-classroom downstairs.



There she gave us nets, buckets and charts and led us out to a floating platform at the edge of the wetland, which she told us, had originally been created by beavers, then drained and farmed by earlier settlers, and recently restored as wildlife habitat.


She showed Lucas how to scoop up little critters, identify and study them with the help of the charts, and then add them to the aquariums in the lab. With a couple of passes he found water boatmen, a dragonfly nymph, a water scorpion and a leech. In this surrounding, even a leech was a precious find.


Lee Ann had to leave and welcome other visitors—it turns out she was the place’s Director—but invited us to keep collecting and looking around. We took the specimens back to the lab and then wandered along a trail behind the lake where Lucas discovered a big hole in a tree at eye level. Near the end of the trail a sign portrayed a similar hole and the pileated woodpecker that made it.


Back at the Centre we met Lee Ann again, and I plied her with questions. What’s the history of this place? Is it open all year round? How can it thrive so far from even the small towns of Pender Harbor? How is it financed?

She told me that it’s been in existence since 2005, run by a non-profit organization called the Lagoon Society. They are now well funded by private and government grants, but much of the artwork, the displays, and the design and construction is by local Sunshine Coast resident volunteers. Their mission is to learn and teach about nature and promote sustainable lifestyles and technologies that work with rather than against local natural systems. They run weeklong educational programs for the Sunshine Coast school system all year, and they’ve recently purchased a bus to provide transportation to and from the Centre.


I mentioned that my wife and I had run a summer day camp for children near Lund with similar objectives but on a tiny scale compared to this. I knew that the kind of environmental education they were providing was of great interest to people across Jervis Inlet in Powell River and asked if they had much communication with folks over there. She said no, there had been little connection, but they would be happy to use their bus to pick up people at the ferry and bring them to the Centre for all kinds of programs.

When I mentioned that I now work with a non-profit organization in California promoting sustainable agriculture at small local farms and educational programs for school children, she said their organization’s Executive Director had just arrived and asked if I’d like to meet him. She disappeared for a moment and returned with a jolly curly red-haired man named Michael Jackson.

IMG_2881 In response to my enthusiasm about this facility, he said that they were now engaged in a much larger project. The place-based mission they began with over ten years ago—“To preserve and enhance the natural habitat and wildlife of the Ruby Lake Lagoon, to facilitate local environmental education, and to assist in monitoring the ecological health of the Sunshine Coast”—has expanded to the “Sunshine Coast Biodiversity Strategy”—which “provides a coast-wide assessment of the many challenges we face in preserving and enhancing the biodiversity of our region and shows how we can begin to address the deficiencies.” One element of this strategy is to build a facility in Pender Harbor that will be a local aquarium and major teaching and research facility to be completed by 2020. They are well on their way to raising the $10 million needed to bring it to completion.

As we left I asked myself whether here at Ruby Lake, out on the furthest margin of the Sechelt Peninsula, it’s plausible that such a grand and transformative vision could be realized. Well, who would have believed in 1970 when we came to the Powell River area as back–to-the-land hippies and when the economic, social, and cultural underpinning of the community was the largest pulp and paper mill in the world, that today the area has become a center of artistic, humanitarian, and environmental innovation  as well as of hiking and biking opportunities  that draws people from the ends of the earth.

It seems like a good time for the mental gulf between Saltery Bay and Earl’s Cove to be bridged. People on each side need to know more of what the other has to offer and to join forces in their efforts to make the changes that the great world outside is still slow to adopt. One way is for travelers on their way to the ferry and curious about the sign saying Iris Griffith Nature Centre to turn down that road.

For more information: http://www.lagoonsociety.com/who-we-are/iris-griffith-centre/

A Trip to Cloud Mountain

December 3rd, 2015

An address to the White Heron Sangha, November 29 2015

Four years ago, at a series of workshops conducted at Crow’s End in San Luis Obispo by White Heron Sangha members, June Kramer and Nancy Hilyard, I was introduced to the technique of concentration meditation, as adapted from the teachings of the Burmese monk, Pa Auk Sayadaw by Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder. Concentration, or Samatha meditation is claimed to have been favored by Buddha himself as an approach to elevated states of consciousness known as the Jhanas, which are precursors to true insight and eventually enlightenment. This form of meditation was long considered an esoteric discipline reserved for monks and initiates, but in recent years it has become accepted and popularized for lay practioners by a number of Buddhist teachers. Read the rest of this entry »

Mariotte Hotel Development (sequel 1)

October 7th, 2015

Note: See earlier posting for backstory

Testimony at Architectural Review Commission at hearing October 5 2015

My name is Steven Marx. I live in San Luis Obispo and am a retired Cal Poly Professor. I testify today as the President of the Board of the Non-profit, Central Coast Grown, which holds a 20-year lease with the City of San Luis Obispo for the City Farm Property to implement the General Plan requirement to preserve “the signature agricultural landscape at the southern entrance to the City.” By the terms of that lease we are tasked with assuring that its nineteen acres are used for organic production of locally marketed crops by small local farmers and with creating educational programs about sustainable agriculture for schools and the general public. In our first year and half of operation, we have done that, staffed by one paid employee and volunteers and funded by small produce sales, grants, and contributions.

Unfortunately the matter at hand today has proceeded beyond the preliminary stages without our input, as a result of a failure of notification. It is surprising that nobody at the City who received notification long ago forwarded it to CCG or to its other neighbor, San Luis Ranch, and it’s also surprising that none of the earlier staff reports to the ARC gave adequate consideration to the larger issues stated in your Community Design Guidelines: “Scenic views and natural features around the site, and a site’s location should be considered early in project design.”

We appreciate that our input has now been presented to the Commission and that one of the Commission members took the time to visit the site today.

We feel that the Commission members as well as the City Staff can benefit from our input and by acting sensibly in response to it.

Why? Because the construction of this building as now recommended would be a violation of the General Plan and an embarrassment to all parties who permitted it to go forward. As indicated to you in the renderings provided both by the applicant and by CCG, the building would become an exaggeratedly prominent visual distraction in “the signature agricultural landscape at the southern entrance to the City.” It would overshadow the mountains, the eucalyptus grove and all the distinctive agricultural fields and activities intended to be preserved by the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve Master Plan of 2011 as well by as the recent LUCE update.

I’d like to note that in the minutes of your meeting of July 17 2014, more than a year before we learned of this project, it’s reported that Commissioner Wynn stated: “The community is going to be nervous about a tall, very long building.”

If this project goes forward as recommended in the Staff Report, when people concerned about this landscape ask, “What were they thinking?” they will discover that the passage of the Community Design Guidelines that I quoted earlier continues:

For instance, the placement of buildings against the backdrop of the hills should not obscure views by being oversized, extremely tall, or use materials or colors to draw attention away from the natural environment.

 And residents, visitors and motorists just passing by on the freeway will ask the same thing for the 50 to 100 years of the expected life of the building—“What were they thinking?”

There is a straightforward way for both Staff and ARC to avoid this outcome. Simply require that the building be no taller than two stories. No matter what the details of design turn out to be, even if looks like another motel 6, and even if it is flanked as proposed by car dealerships on either side, as long as it is not “oversized” or “extremely tall,” we as an organization will not be unduly concerned.

Thank you.

Note 2: After this and the testimony of CCG Treasurer, Wendy, and farmers Nicki and Matt, the Commission voted unanimously to send the project back to the developers and City Staff and required them to address all the concerns stated in our previous communication.