Arts community in London, Ontario (1973-1992)
Benner, Ron (1949-, London, Ontario): My mother has been in a lifelong partnership with Ron Benner since before I started public school. The massive renovation of their property on Pall Mall Street has been a labour of love for Ron. Watching 514 Pall Mall blossom like one of his well-known artist's gardens has been an incredible journey. His family was also a big part of my circle growing up. Ron introduced me to the clay cliffs of Lake Erie, Point Pelee, and many other hidden beautiful sites in Southwestern Ontario, nurturing my commitment to the environment at an early stage in my life and a deep sense of respect and appreciation for Indigenous Peoples and cultures in Canada. Ron also gets credit for my love of expresso coffee and Mexican food.
Benner, Tom, (1950- London, Ontario): Tom is an uncle to me, and his children Alice, Leif, and Traven were my friends - Leif and I were born the same year. His sheet-metal Rhino in front of Museum London and his other life-size tributes to the animal world has long captured my imagination. On a recent trip to London, my sons and I signed our names on the inside of his latest creation - a life-size sheet metal polar bear. I still have the large Auk print he did during a grade eight presentation to my class.
Collins, Gerry: Gerry played guitar and composed with Murray Favro and poet/performance artist Bill Bissett in The Luddites and also lived in the second-floor studio at 514 Pall Mall. Gerry later moved to London, England, to be with internationally recognized Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum. Gerry met Mona during one of her visits to my mother in London and did a performance at the Forest City Gallery. Gerry and Mona traveled to Doha, Qatar, in 2014 while my mother and Ron were visiting, which was a great reunion for all of us and a celebration of Mona's solo exhibition held at Doha's Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art at that time.
Curnoe, Greg (1936-1992, London, Ontario): Greg was larger than life figure in London, Ontario. Sheila and Greg's annual Canada Day party was a highlight of my summer when the London cultural community gathered to watch fireworks. His children, Owen, Galen, and Zoe, were a few years older than me and were the cool kids along with Murray Favro's son Mark. Greg was an avid cyclist and others in the cultural community, and bicycles feature prominently in his artworks. It was a poignant tragedy when Greg was killed, struck from behind, while riding with the London Centennial Wheelers on November 14, 1992.
Favro, Murray (1940-Huntsville, Ontario): Murray maintained a studio in the building at 514 Pall Mall, so he was a regular around the kitchen table drinking one of Ron's famous cappuccinos. Salvaged parts from one of his sculptures make up the support structure of the building's exterior stairs. The eclectic sounds of the Nihilist Spasm Band and The Luddites were a regular feature at cultural events in London in the 1980s. Murray received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2007. Visit Murray's son Mark Favro's website for more on London's art and music scene.
ferris, kerry (1949-2016): kerry spent several years working and painting in the Arctic. When she returned to London, she and her son Alyosha moved into the Pall Mall building. Later, kerry bought a house next door on Pall Mall. It was tragic when she passed away shortly after retiring from her day job working at Western's library. I see Alyosha whenever I visit London, and it was great news when I heard that he and his wife Rihanna would be parents soon, as I remember when kerry was pregnant with Alyosha.
Fleming, Marnie: Marnie lived in our building on Pall Mall Street when she was a curator at Museum London. In 1991, she moved to be the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Oakville Galleries, where she worked for many years. She received a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2016 for her contribution to the arts. Her time in London overlapped with the Embassy Cultural House project, and she was a great supporter of Canadian contemporary artists while at Museum London.
Geleynse, Wyn (1947-): Wyn and Lucretia and their daughter Mara were very close to my family, and we would spend many dinners together and summer cottages in Port Stanley. It was with great pleasure that I attended the public ceremony at the National Gallery of Art when Wyn received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2018.
Gurney, Janice: Janice and her partner/artist Andy Patton were frequent visitors to London from Toronto and stayed at Pall Mall after I left to go to university, but we would often cross paths whenever I visited London. One of Janice Gurney's works, Anticipatory Mourning, 1983, was first exhibited at the Embassy Cultural House in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Later Janice donated this work to an art fund-raiser in support of War Child Canada held at the Cube Gallery in Ottawa in 2006 in response to Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon and was acquired by my mother and Ron. This work was donated to Museum London in 2009.
Gordon, Dave (1944-, London, Ontario): My father grew up in London within a family of musicians and later moved to Kingston, Ontario. My childhood summer visits to Kingston with the ritual chess games and fishing trips continue until today, as my sons and I make an annual pilgrimage to the Rideau Lakes in Eastern Ontario. Landscapes and fishing have been an inspiration to my father's art. My sons and I have recently enjoyed a project where we send him images for him to paint. My dad taught at H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School, which was the epicenter of the emerging arts in London.
Hassan, Jamelie (1948-London, Ontario): My mother was born into a large family in London. Her connection to the Arab world has been a massive part of my identity. My childhood was defined by the international trips with my mother, as she took me around the world with her as she studied and did her work. It should be no surprise to anyone that these international trips propelled me into a career in the Canadian Foreign Service. It was not until I started preparing for an assignment in Syria that I seriously studied Arabic. She met my father through the London art community, and they both shared a serious interest in chess and cycling. My mother received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2001.
Helfand, Fern: Fern is a photographer and digital artist associated with the Forest City Gallery and the Embassy Cultural House. She taught for many years in the Visual Arts Department at Western University. After living and working in Asia for several years, she moved to Kelowna, British Columbia, to teach in the Visual Arts Department at the University of British Columbia's Kelowna campus. Her photographic collage of our "Curing Pond" graced my bedroom wall at Pall Mall. I donated one of Fern's large-format photographic-collage works to Museum London.
Inglis, Dorene (1947-, St Catharines, Ontario): While I don't remember Dorene from my childhood, she gifted me a portrait of myself as a baby that she had drawn, so she was definitely present in my life since my birth. But it was only later in life, when Dorene and my father connected, that I can say that I got to know her. She lives with him in Kingston. The tragic early death of Dorene's son and musician Alex 'Bender' Buchanan on March 2, 2018, was a massive loss to all of us.
Moodie, Kim (1951-London, Ontario): Kim was our neighbour when my mother and I lived in a warehouse building on the corner of William and York Street before buying the building on Pall Mall. Kim's work always fascinated me as a child with its detailed pictures. He had a massive collection of metal toys that he used as inspiration for his work. He taught painting and drawing for many years at Western University in London, Ontario, until his recent retirement in 2019.
Pas, Gerard: Gerard was an active member of the Embassy Cultural House board and a frequent visitor to the building at 514 Pall Mall. He has been a longtime instructor in the arts program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.
Patton, Andy (1952-) A large painting of Andy's dominates one of our walls at Pall Mall, which my mom acquired from Andy through an exchange of artworks. He and his partner Janice Gurney would visit London frequently and were artists in residence in 1988 at Pall Mall through a pilot program grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Involved in YYZ Gallery in Toronto, Andy has also written extensively about my mom and Ron's work. Andy and Janice received their Ph.D.'s in Visual Arts from Western University, where they taught for many years.
Ridsdale, Frank: Frank is a musician and composer and worked on the renovations at Pall Mall. He has a broad interest in music, including music from Cuba and South America and labour songs. He continues to collaborate with Ron, performing songs both in English and Spanish at Ron's annual corn roast event at the Museum London at the site of his photographic/garden installation.
Rodger, Judith: Judith worked at Museum London when I was growing up, and I was friends with her son Jonathan as we had attended public and high school together. I remember Judith and her husband Wilson hosting our Central High School graduation brunch reception for all of us after our graduation. More recently, she has been involved in exhibitions of Greg Curnoe’s work at the Museum London and the Art Gallery of Ontario and has written about his life and work for Art Canada Institute.
Smoke, Dan: Dan and his wife, Mary Lou Smoke, are hosts of Smoke Signals, an Aboriginal radio program that first aired in 1990 on Radio Western at Western University in London, Ontario. Dan and Mary Lou have been family friends for many years, and they were an essential inspiration for me as a student and community journalist at Trent University. I first explored my interest in media with a short-lived radio program on Trent Radio before moving over to print as an editor of the student newspaper Arthur.
Spence, Jean: Jean gifted me a painting as a graduation present, and it has followed me around the world. She and archaeologist Mike Spence have been close family friends, and I went to high school with their daughters, Cassandra and Tanya. Mike most recently impressed my sons with a collection of arrowheads he was studying. Mike's extensive work in Mexico on the archaeological site of Teotihuacan has led to numerous publications on this site and working with Indigenous communities on excavations in Ontario. His side gig as a forensic archeologist is full of stories worthy of a crime mystery novel.
Stach, Eric: Eric worked on the renovations at Pall Mall. Attending his jazz performances with his exceptional guest musicians were regular events at the Embassy Hotel & Cultural House. His albums were some of the first albums we owned after buying our first used record player in the early 1980s.
Vincent, Bernice (1934–2016, Woodstock, Ontario): Bernice, her husband/photographer Don, and her kids were part of Greg Curnoe's social circle. I overlapped in Peterborough with her daughter Esther. Bernice was a friend of my mother's and became a member of the Forest City Gallery - as they were the minority female artists along with kerry ferris in a predominately male arts community at that time.
Vincent, Don (1932–1993): A graduate of Beal Art and husband of artist Bernice Vincent, he worked as a graphic designer at London Life but is well-known for his documentary photographs of the art scene in London, Ontario. Don’s photographic archive is in the collection of the McIntosh Gallery, Western University, London, Ontario.