Arts and profiles
‘Naked Room’ mystery at GCI solved
By Elsa Cattelan
No school can go through the years without acquiring its own quirks and personality. Students will simply not allow it to happen; as every new generation arrives, the old lore is passed down. Glebe Collegiate Institute is no exception; whether it’s the building’s not-so-secret “secret passageway” on the third floor, or the door that leads to nowhere in the eyewash room, students know what makes Glebe unique. Yet perhaps the most renowned landmark of all is student-made and gives every Grade 9er that sinking feeling – not only do they have to take the ever-awkward “sex ed” course … but in a room where painted naked people look down on them from the ceiling. Yes, Glebe’s most famed trait is found in the one room all students must pass through – the Naked Room.
The room is justly named for its ceiling mural, painted in 1977 by student Peter Ferk, then in his senior year. Featuring naked (and carefully positioned) men and women tumbling toward the centre of the room where a light is emanating, the mural eclipses the entire ceiling overhead.
Peter Ferk, who has gone on to become a professional artist working mainly on animated series and movies, drew his inspiration from the 14th-century poem his class was reading at the time, Dante’s Divine Comedy. More specifically, the ceiling is modelled after Dante’s “Inferno.” Working through the struggle of surviving high school with teenage angst and the added nervousness of being in senior year at the young age of 16, Ferk thought that on a deeper, more instinctual level, [he] felt the story spoke to [him]. The hands and faces of each person in the painting are undefined and, in the case of the latter, hollow. This way, rather than attempting to portray the very specific figures Dante intended the reader to recognize in his work, Ferk left the interpretation of the characters to the viewers. Ferk originally left the hands undefined so as to avoid repeatedly painting a feature he found difficult, though afterwards he–quite accurately–rationalized that a human soul is most defined in one’s hands and face–therefore both should be left blank.
With minimal assistance – and even then, other students were only allowed to help with the border – Ferk devoted the majority of his year to the mural, even missing the prom to paint. He had to find time between the many classes held in the room (not to mention his own) to work for hours on stacked tables. Once finished, “exhausted and emotionally drained,” Ferk found himself needing to spend time outside before heading off to the Ontario College of Art.
Around Ferk and his time-bubble, painting the mural day in and day out, other classes held in that room had to carry on. One class in particular, taught by English teacher Ian McKercher, in whose room Ferk was painting, had particular influence on the completion of the mural, as well as on the school as a whole. Influence … meaning class members provided funds for the paints and supplies. Members of this class called themselves “The Voice of Glebe City” while the rest of the school referred to them as the Journalism class.
The room must have been a magnet for dedicated students because the journalism class – which put out NovaRes (Glebe Collegiate’s school paper) every two weeks – worked well beyond school hours. When the paper began to cost too much to print, the principal organized a night-school course on printing (McKercher has yet to know quite how he did it) and the students attended that too. Then, instead of sending the paper to be printed professionally, the NovaRes crew became publishers themselves.
Says McKercher, the journalism class was “the most dynamic teaching and learning experience of my career.” He began teaching the class as head editor, running the newspaper, but as the semesters progressed, the students gradually voted in co-editors, and by the end of the year, there was a different student as chief editor for every issue. With 16 or 17 issues per year (with a thousand copies of each issue sold), combined with selling tickets from Journalism-organized film nights, McKercher estimates the class raised around $500 to fund Ferk and the mural.
The money certainly did not go to waste, as Ferk’s High-Renaissance–style painting remains in near-perfect condition in one of the only rooms Glebe has left with high, unpanelled ceilings.
Ferk and his wife recently revisited Glebe Collegiate to see the mural. Thinking back to when the mural was originally going to be painted in a tiny adjacent room, he remembers having to transfer his concept sketch onto the enormity that was an entire ceiling. “As my wife and I were leaving Glebe, I thought how fortunate I was to have been at a school during a very creative period in its history, and to have been allowed the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary,” comments Ferk.
It is this extraordinary creation, painted so long ago, that makes Glebe Collegiate not simply a building but a place with personality.
A past contributor to the Glebe Report, Elsa Cattelan is a Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate Institute and an active member of the Art Club.
Denise Chong – a lifestyle informed by a creative life
By David Casey
Denise Chong had the sense, at a very young age, that she wanted to create. The bestselling author, with several books to her name, now realizes that her successful journey began before she had ever picked up a pen or even knew how to read. In early childhood the idea of writing as a career was too abstract, but being both practical and creative certainly helped in the formation of the person she is today.
As with many artistic souls, work on her novels was a lifelong process. In her childhood – dreaming of creating a play, sitting by a cedar chest in the family living room browsing through old family photos – the seeds of her success were germinating. Born in Vancouver and raised in the British Columbia frontier town of Prince George, she earned an undergraduate degree in economics at U.B.C., where she regularly contributed to the Ubyssey, the student newspaper. Her creative impulses were given an outlet and the groundwork for her most applauded work, The Concubine’s Children, began to take root.
In the mid 1970s, she found herself working in Ottawa for Pierre Trudeau on the strength of her economics education and her writing, which was at that time nothing more than an outlet for her curiosity and creativity. By the early 1980s, she was writing freelance for various notable newspapers and living a bit of a nomadic lifestyle as a result of her husband, Roger Smith’s, career as a journalist. Having earned her masters degree in Toronto, and then moving around the world with her husband to London, Beijing and Vancouver, she finally settled back in Ottawa, knowing that the Glebe was the neighbourhood for both of them.
A driving force in her life has been the need to push, to learn and to grow her writing. In 1988 she took what seemed like a small step that ultimately catapulted her writing career into the spotlight. Writing a piece for a magazine was a bit different and something worth pursuing. She sent the editor a one-page letter describing what she intended to explore in her article. Her piece was so well received, it became the feature article and they put it on the cover of the magazine! Book deals ensued and that seminal magazine piece was the first major step towards publishing The Concubine’s Children and her subsequent novels.
Her stories often depict the hardworking immigrants of the early to mid 20th century – their modest accommodations, lifestyles, triumphs and sacrifices, with great respect for their struggle and ability to adapt. The lessons she has learned from plumbing the depths of family archives, photo albums and stories are not lost on her, as this spoken and now written history is imprinted on her being.
Upon moving to Ottawa, she became enamoured of Ontario farmhouse furniture. Shedding the West Coast style in favour of her new surroundings, she has yet remained enraptured by sights, sounds and styles encountered during her time abroad. Through collecting works from all over the world, her tastes have become more cosmopolitan and her home today reflects these experiences. Her sturdy oak farmhouse dining table stands with a nobility bestowed by the hard work and sweat of craftsmen from yesteryear. Like the many histories of toiling families, it is grounded, understated and honourable, complemented by a long Chinese table and desk sitting comfortably on either side. A large gilded French mirror adorns one of the dining room walls, kept company by pastoral paintings, one of which was a gift by a Dutchman to her husband’s father, who was a soldier during the liberation of Holland in the Second World War.
Lying almost in the shadow of Blessed Sacrament Church, their home, built by the prolific Mr. Young in the late 1930s, is a traditional centre-hall plan with elegant oak wainscotting throughout the main floor and stairwell. When Chong and her husband moved in, they were determined to maintain the old-world character of the home. A large bay window that felt too suburban was redesigned using features that blended more effectively with the rest of the house. They also built a second floor studio whose big mullioned windows provide a calming perspective on the weathered branches of an ancient oak that stretches gracefully across her view.
For a writer, there is nothing more calming than watching the setting sun cast its warm glow on the spire of the church through the branches. Chong’s desk usually displays artefacts that help her inhabit her characters. The floors are covered with carpets from all over the world – China, Mongolia, Pakistan – varying in colour, size and style. Her writing displays an appreciation for the hard-working past, and for the old architecture of her home – delicate, refined and eclectic pieces are a welcome contrast to the sturdy ones. With a serene intelligence and poise, she weaves these styles together, forming a tapestry representing her personality, history and stylistic voice.
Born and raised in the Glebe and immersed in the world of real estate, David Casey particularly enjoys writing about living spaces, creative people and their neighbourhoods.
Glebe Art in our Gardens and Studio Tour, 2014 edition
by Martha Bowers
Put on your walking shoes and sun hat and get out your bicycle. The Glebe Art in Our Gardens and Studio Tour is back! Mark the weekend of July 5 and 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on your calendars. Don’t miss this wonderful event, where Glebe artists – painters, photographers, jewellers – display their works in studio and garden settings throughout our neighbourhood. The talent that exists in the Glebe is amazing and artistic creativity continues to blossom along with the gardens. There will be much to discover during this summer celebration.
The objective of the tour has always been to provide an opportunity for established Glebe artists to exhibit and sell their work. However, it is also a chance to discover and promote up-and-coming artists as well as guest artists from outside the Glebe. This year we are pleased to welcome several new artists to the tour. Visitors who come from far and wide to our corner of the city will be treated to a variety of artistic talent.
Glebe Art in Our Gardens was founded in 1998. A few local artists thought the Art in the Park festival had become too big and wanted a smaller, more intimate tour that would showcase Glebe artists. Well-known glass artist and macro-photographer Robert Moeller was the driving force behind the original tour, assisted by others including Ellen Schowalter, former Glebe Report editor, who was one of the main organizers for many years. Schowalter said that she loved the concept of linking gardens with art and that early July was a perfect time for this combination. Mid-summer gardens are blooming, and there are not too many other art tours. The idea of a limited geographic area was also important, allowing people to walk or bicycle from site to site. Over the years, the tour grew in popularity. One summer, it was featured in the Ottawa Citizen, and the crowds were almost too big to accommodate on one weekend! There was a concern about trampled gardens, but it was great to have such publicity and recognition.
In 2009, after 10 years, Schowalter decided to step down, and with no one to take over, the tour went into hiatus. Then in 2011 a group of Glebe residents surfaced who were determined to revive the tour, much to the delight of artists, art lovers and gardeners. Schowalter says, “I am so glad that Art in Our Gardens is ongoing and in good hands, since it is a great showcase for artists who live and work in the Glebe.”
We are looking forward to welcoming old friends and new to our neighbourhood to support our local artists and merchants. We are pleased to have several businesses as sponsors of the tour and hope visitors will patronize them by buying a coffee, having lunch or purchasing garden or art supplies during the weekend.
Brochures listing the artists’ names as well as a map showing the studio and garden locations for this year’s tour will be available in Glebe shops and at the community centre. In addition, on the tour weekend, signs at various street corners will indicate the locations of art sites. Information is also available on the website at www.glebearttour.ca
Rain or shine, the Glebe art tour will go on!
Saturday & Sunday, July 5 & 6
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Martha Bowers is a long-time Glebe resident who is neither an artist nor a gardener, but greatly appreciates those who are.