“Jerusalem Market, 1959,” watercolour and pencil, by artist Pnina Granirer, a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Granirer will have a table of her artwork for sale in the atrium of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., as part of the Chanukah Around the World party marketplace. The works will be unframed, priced from $100 to $500, with all proceeds being donated to Israel, in the hope that the donation will help it in its hour of need. For more on Granirer, go to pninagranirer.com.
The party is a joint event with multiple community partners: King David High School, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, PJ Library, Camp Miriam, Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, and the Kollel. In addition to the marketplace, it will feature games, iSTEAM activities, food, arts & crafts, museum displays, entertainment throughout, a community singalong and a JCC membership sale. Visit jccgv.com/jcc-chanukah-carnival.
This year’s West of Main Art Walk will be event founder Pnina Granirer’s last open studio. (photo from Pnina Granirer)
In European cities such as Paris, art has been blooming for centuries and is an essential component of life and culture. Unfortunately, in the relatively young city of Vancouver, art was barely noticed in the early ’90s.
While living in Paris in 1992, I discovered an amazing number of galleries and museums and spent every free moment gorging myself on a wealth of art. One of the most exciting happenings occurred in the spring, when an unusual event burst onto the city: Le Génie de la Bastille. All around the arrondissement (neighbourhood) of the Bastille, hundreds of artists opened their studios to the public for an entire week. A large exhibition at the City Hall was launched and maps were handed out to the public, showing the location of each studio. Every day, map in hand, I would go up and down the ubiquitous five-floor buildings in the area, soaking in the opportunity of seeing the great variety of works and talking to the artists.
Too soon, I was back in Vancouver, still thinking with much pleasure about that wonderful week in Paris. Getting together with my artist friend, Anne Adams, who passed away in 2007, I described to her the exciting days spent visiting the artists’ studios in the City of Lights, when a sudden thought occurred to me. Anne, I said, what if we tried doing this here? Are any artists living in our neighbourhood, who might be interested?
Anne was as excited at the idea as I was, and we approached the now-defunct local Courier newspaper, which was very supportive and published an article with a call to artists. We did not have to wait long for the telephone to start ringing. To our delight, we discovered a good number of artists living in Point Grey, Kitsilano and Dunbar/Kerrisdale who wanted to participate.
A small group of us got together to plan the event. We needed a venue to have an opening exhibition, followed by a weekend when the artists would open their studios and their homes to the public. This had never been done before in Vancouver!
The West Point Grey Community Centre at Aberthau offered its space and the first exhibition opened in 1993. Word spread like wildfire. We were inundated with calls from artists who wanted to join. This will be too much for one weekend, I thought, let’s keep it small and limit the number of studios to no more than 20, so that everyone’s work could be seen.
I had the idea to hold the Art Walk over three weeks, one week for each neighbourhood. There was a lot of work to do, all of it voluntary. This was a time without the internet, so we used a “telephone tree” and the mail. Anne was an excellent organizer. I was quite idealistic at that time and suggested that we do not ask for any grants or taxpayers’ money, although donations from businesses and private donors were welcome. We would prove that artists had initiative and could do such an event by themselves – and it worked! We proved that artists were capable of contributing and enriching their communities by sharing their art and creativity.
We needed a name that would represent us. After sifting through many names, we decided to call ourselves Artists in our Midst, as we were all artists living in the midst of our community. By two years later, our idea had caught on and spread all over the city and the Lower Mainland, and we are all culturally richer for it.
Over the 30 years since we began, much has changed, including the name, which is now West of Main Art Walk. We are now back to only one weekend, but many new artists have joined us. Everyone is invited to visit us the last weekend in May, enjoy the art and perhaps take some home to live with.
As for myself, all of my works will be offered at 50% discount. And I will repeat last year’s idea of a fundraising sale to benefit Stand Up for Mental Health, founded by my son, David, the recipient of a Governor General Meritorious Service Medal. He teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness, as a way of building confidence and fighting public stigma and has been invited to work all across Canada, the United States and Australia.
This will be my last open studio and sale. Hope to see you!
West of Main Art Walk features more than 50 participating artists, including many Jewish community members, who invite visitors to their studios May 27-28, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For the studio map and more information, visit artistsinourmidst.com.
“Do it! Just do it!” Cherie waves her hands impatiently, puzzled by my hesitation. We are sitting on the white sofa in her bright living room on Point Grey Road. Behind us, through the large picture windows, I see the waters of Burrard Inlet shimmer in the morning sun, framed by the blue mountains of the North Shore.
It is mid-morning and light is streaming into the comfortable open space, where each corner bears Cherie’s personal stamp: the beautiful flower arrangement on the glass-top coffee table, the white sculpture on a stand, the painting above the fireplace and the colorful blanket thrown casually over the back of a cozy armchair. Further in, two low steps up, is the large dining room table with the eight high-back, white leather chairs. Behind it, a cupboard with glass doors displays Cherie’s collections of china, glasses of all sorts and other small trinkets. More artifacts are displayed on the heavy, black wood buffet against the wall. The kitchen is small, but efficient, just off the dining room. From where we are sitting, we can see the entrance door and, on the right, a small corridor leading to the second floor where a large triptych, my own painting, hangs over the stairs. One entire wall of the hallway is covered with books.
Books are Cherie’s world.
I met Cherie at a party, a casual encounter in a room full of people. Despite her friendly manner, I was intimidated by her, knowing that she and her husband were not only affluent, but also people who could be defined as pillars of the community. Little did I know that, in time, we would become close friends; much more, that she would become my mentor, giving me all her support and encouragement in my attempt to publish my first book.
Sylvia Barbara, nicknamed “Cherie” by her father, was born in in the middle of the Great Depression, in the small town of Kamsack, Sask. Her father, a general practitioner, delivered her himself, since the local obstetrician was too drunk to perform. Both parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, now living in this tiny town of 2,000, including many Doukhobors and First Nations. As a child, Cherie became keenly aware of the racism against minorities, and saw her father trying to offer assistance to those in need at every opportunity. Growing up in Kamsack was a very long way from Cherie’s later life in Vancouver. But, as I was to find out when I got to know her better, her modest childhood was the foundation for her generosity of spirit, her lack of prejudice, her warmth and her humanity.
Slim, well-groomed, her brown-reddish hair cut short, her dress casual but of good quality, Cherie was unaffected and friendly, a mover and a shaker. Once she made up her mind about a certain activity, there was nothing that could stop her. Speaking in quick, concise words, waving her hands about, she passionately advocated her ideas.
As I said before, books were Cherie’s world. She and her husband Buddy owned a bookstore for some time and later promoted writers whenever they could. Cherie would invite writers to speak and even subsidized them by paying their expenses. She was the founder of the Jewish Book Festival, which she tirelessly supported and organized, and now bears her name.
But I digress. Let’s return to that particular sunny morning in Cherie’s living room, where she listens to me worrying about the crazy idea of publishing a book.
“How can I do this? I have never done it before, what if it fails?” I am quite anxious. Perhaps the work is not good enough, perhaps I shall lose all the money lent to me so generously by friends, and perhaps I won’t find a publisher, perhaps, perhaps. But Cherie will have none of that. Doubt and fear of failure are not in her vocabulary.
“Do it! Just do it!” she urges me.
We revisit all the risks and all the benefits of this adventure. She tells me again and again that The Trials of Eve, the largest, most daring and risky work I have ever done, has to be published; it has to be launched into the world. She cajoles, encourages and prods me into taking the plunge. She is willing to help edit my poems; she will help with information and with whatever is needed for the publication process. “Just do it!” she says again and again.
And I did do it. The book came out in due time, first as a limited edition that won the Alcuin Citation Award and, later, as an expanded soft-cover version; both a victory of Cherie’s indomitable spirit.
When Cherie became ill with the cancer that would eventually take her life, she took it in her usual commonsensical style, bravely fighting her way through without complaining. While visiting her, she told me about her swimming routine at Kitsilano Pool and about her efforts to publish her own book as a special gift to her grandchildren. We would take long walks on the beach, soaking in the beauty of English Bay. She, as usual, continued asking about my activities rather than talking about herself, her warmth and interest flooding over me like sunshine. Later, when she lost her hair due to the harsh chemotherapy she endured, she bought an elegant wig, always putting on a brave front, always concerned about her appearance, but almost never talking about her illness. Only when it became apparent that she was losing the battle did she begin making remarks about luck and fate. She became obsessed with the urgency of finishing the book that she was working on, and kept writing as much as she was capable of in her condition. The book was published before her death.
My last visit with Cherie in her white, sunny living room, took place shortly before her death. Her illness had taken a huge toll. Her body, devastated by the disease, was like a shadow of itself, transparently thin, her face lined, her voice a whisper. She still wanted to know what was happening in my life, but this time she also talked about her own death. I could barely answer her, my voice choking in my throat, tears welling in my eyes. We said goodbye and I left. It was the last time I saw my friend, Cherie.
After this, she refused all visits other than family. She wanted us to remember her as the vibrant, energetic and lively person she had been. And this is how I remember her. But each time I walk past her house, which has now been sold, a dull ache in my chest reminds me that I have lost a very rare, true and irreplaceable friend.
For information and a full schedule of events for the Cherie Smith JCCGV Jewish Book Festival, which runs Nov. 22-27, visit jewishbookfestival.ca.
Pnina Granirer is a visual artist who has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally and whose work is found in numerous private and public collections. Over the years, she has written short essays and poetry, some of which were published in Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist by Ted Lindberg (Ronsdale Press). The Trials of Eve, a work of 12 mixed-media drawings and 12 poems, received an Alcuin Citation Award. This work is in the special collection of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. The soft-cover edition features a lengthy essay written by the author. Granirer is currently in the process of working on a memoir. This article was originally written in 2009.