Crafting sculptures and stories with Lucy Anglin
Recently, I had the good fortune to interview Lucy Anglin, one of the writers with Genealogy Ensemble and a talented fabric sculptor, for my podcast Unapologetically Canadian. We spoke about a couple of her family history stories and artworks, which I’ll show in the notes below. If you want to see more, though, refer to her personal website.
Upcoming exhibitions of Lucy’s artwork
Transcript of my conversation with Lucy Anglin
Tracey [00:00:19] today, we’re interviewing Lucy Anglin, who is my good buddy from Genealogy Ensemble. She’s another genealogy family history writer and she’s also a textile artist that I’m so looking forward to introducing you to Lucy. How are you doing?
Lucy [00:00:36] I’m fine, Tracey. Thanks for setting this up.
Tracey [00:00:40] Yeah. I’m so excited, I think it’s really fun talking to local artists.
Tracey [00:00:46] Because a lot of my listeners are creative entrepreneurs. So they like to know how other small business people function. Particularly when they don’t actually consider themselves business people but more artists and writers. So it’s a fascinating world.
Tracey [00:01:04] I guess we should start with how you started your artwork? Because I think that’s something that people don’t know much about. So why don’t we start about you as a textile artist?
Lucy [00:01:16] All right. I was going to answer a lot of your questions with two parts, because I wear two creative hats. I write genealogy stories about my ancestors and I create bronze-like sculptures with recycled fabrics.
Lucy [00:01:32] So I’d like to talk about the sculptures first.
Tracey [00:01:36] Yeah, I think. Well, I think we start with that and then we can. But if you want to, you can compare and contrast to your writing side, because I think it’s kind of interesting how the two feed into each other.
Lucy Anglin’s Favourite Sculpture: Catherine
Tracey [00:01:47] OK. Well, I’ll start with my favorite sculpture is probably my first. Her name is Catherine. Nine years ago, I took a one day workshop with a friend and created Catherine. The armature was already made and waiting for us, which saves some time for the workshop. And then we used tin foil to bulk up the wire armature into a more human-like body shape. And then we took strips of old cotton T-shirts that we dipped into a fabric hardener called Power Tex and drape them around the armature, eventually making what looked like a mummy wrap.
Lucy [00:02:29] So now we had a tall figurine all wrapped up like a mummy. Still not very impressive. Then the fun began as we did all lace and cotton pieces and dressed our sculptures. And I used my daughter’s christening dress in the sculpture so she was bound to have extra sentimental value.
Lucy [00:02:53] It was a very thin, thin old cotton, obviously, because I think it had been her grandmother’s christening dress as well. So now it’s in the sculpture and I get to enjoy it all the time instead of just looking into a tissue covered box in a drawer somewhere.
Tracey [00:03:13] Yeah, exactly. Yeah You’ve created an actual piece of art.
Lucy [00:03:19] Yes. And with something that’s, you know, so special and you can use all kinds of mementos and things.
Lucy [00:03:27] One lady came to me and her mother was a flapper dancer in the thirties and she brought me a piece of her mother’s lace and said, can you make me a sculpture of a flapper dancer? Or actually, I interviewed her and asked what her mother was like. And she told me she was a flapper dancer. So I said, Aha. That gives me a wonderful idea.
Lucy [00:03:46] So I made a lovely little figurine flapper dancer wearing her mother’s lace and and all my…I’d like to put action into my sculptures. So she’s actually in a sort of flapper dancer pose. You can sort of imagine that, I hope. And the lady was just thrilled.
Tracey [00:04:04] Yeah, a little bit. Maybe part of. I’m thinking that maybe I should get you to send me a copy of that, a picture of Catherine and a picture of the flapper one so that people can look at the show notes to see what they actually will do.
Tracey [00:04:21] It’s kind of hard to imagine these. They really do look like they look like miniature Bronze statues except that they’re made of cloth.
Lucy [00:04:29] So at the end of the day, at the end of the workshop, in that one day–and I never done this before–I had Catherine. And she just surprised me so much. I was hooked. She was so elegant and regal, but with a touch of whimsy.
And I sort of continued that was sort of, I guess, me coming out in sculpture because most of my sculptures that follow her are very similar, very whimsical, is the is what most people say. And I find that a biggest compliment they could give me. So now I’ve made like yeah, I’ve made over one hundred and fifty sculptures to date and I have a web page. My name dot.com. If you’d like to see all the sculptures, they’re all there. So that it. I’m hooked. I love it. Every time I sit down at my workbench, with my little wire armature, it’s it’s just a piece of wire. And at some point during the process, it turns into a little personality. It does it sounds funny, but they sort of talk back to me. So sometimes I’ll be putting their arm up in the air or something. And somehow I know they don’t want it up there. They want it down. And I will listen to the best of my ability. And they always, always delight. Always surprise. All the sculpture surprise me. I start with an idea, but they’re always very different at the end and always surprise me. It’s why I usually make them mostly in a day or two. And when they’ve been created and sitting in my studio, I can’t wait in the morning after a night’s sleep to go down and see them because they happened so quickly. And tthey just surprise me.
Adventures with a Squirrel
Tracey [00:06:19] Oh, that’s so fascinating in reading, that’s called Pantser writing when you when you discover the story as you write it. So I guess you’re a pantser artist. The pantser artist. It’s fabulous. Yeah, you’re discovering who your sculptures are as you make them.
Lucy [00:06:39] Well, one of my sculptures I put outside in the garden and her name is Quinn. They all have names. I name them alphabetically to try and keep track of them. And I’m in the sixth alphabet now, so that’s a hundred and fifty in all. Anyway, Quinn is sitting in the garden on a beautiful piece of tall driftwood, and these sculptures are weatherproof.
Lucy [00:07:04] So I put her out there maybe seven years ago and I’m looking at her right now and she’s covered in snow, but she seems quite happy.
Lucy [00:07:13] And the only thing is, well weatherproof is fine, but unfortunately, they’re not squirrel-proof.
Tracey [00:07:23] Oh, no.
Lucy [00:07:24] During her first winter, only the first winter, a squirrel had the audacity to dig out her nose from her face. I must admit, the little noses I make are actually pins. So then the nose does look a little bit like a buried seed. So the squirrel sort of dug it out thinking he was getting a seed.
Lucy [00:07:49] And I guess he didn’t enjoy eating it, but I was so shocked to see her completely disfigured.
Lucy [00:07:57] Poor girl. So in the spring, because she’s permanently fixed outside on this piece of driftwood, I can’t just bring her inside easily.
Lucy [00:08:08] So I took the necessary materials out to the garden to perform a facelift, as well as give Quinn a new hairdo to mask all the squirrel damage. And right now she looks very fine indeed. And the squirrels have left her a new nose alone. So I guess it wasn’t very tasty. And the word spread. Quite an adventure.
Tracey [00:08:35] So how long have how long have you been doing these?
Lucy [00:08:39] It’s nine years now. I can’t believe it. Nine years part time, so I guess it’s turning out to be sort of between 12 and 15 a year. I don’t really sit down and say, oh, I have to make a sculpture once a month. It’s just when it when I have the time and when I enjoy making them, I do.
Lucy [00:09:10] I’m a member at two art associations, Beaconsfield Artist Association and Lakeshore Artist Association. I exhibit with them several times a year at Centennial Hall here in the West Ireland and Fritz Farm, which is a lovely location to have an exhibition. And every September out outside by the lake, we have Art by the Lake, which really is a nice way to display my sculptures because they really are indoor outdoor art.
Tracey [00:09:44] Oh, how wonderful you are if you send me the dates for 2020, if you have them. Then I can put them in the show notes as well. I think it would be really interesting. Now let’s let’s ask the same question for your family history writing, because I know you from that side. What’s your favorite story?
Miss Marguerite Lindsay
Lucy [00:10:21] My favorite story is actually my latest. It’s a three-part story about Miss Margaret Lindsay. And she was my grandfather’s baby sister who died tragically when she was only twenty five years old almost 100 years ago. My cousin, also a writer in our group, is fond of saying that our ancestors want their stories told. Well, Marguerite’s story almost wrote itself. I only had photos of her as a girl in my dusty old boxes of family memorabilia.
And then all of a sudden, a research student at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, read a story that I wrote about her father, where I mentioned her name. This student must have Googled Margaret Lindsay’s name and came up with the story I wrote about her father and she just wrote me a one line email saying, Where’s Marguerite buried?
And I thought, oh, that’s a very strange question indeed. So I answered her. She’s buried here in Montreal at the Mount Royal Cemetery in the family plot. But why do you want to know?
So she writes back saying, oh, she’s a university student at Memorial and she’s just doing some research on Margaret Lindsay and sort of fell down a rabbit hole and wants to learn more about her. And she has all these newspaper clippings about Margaret’s tragedy from all the way back to 1922. Well, that was very exciting.
Lucy [00:11:59] I said, you have research on my great aunt. That’s the part I don’t like about story writing is the research. So here it was all done for me. Falling into my lap. She sent it on to me and I had all these lovely clippings to go on. So I did a little research on my own. And I looked up in Cartwright Labrador, where all this took place, the local elementary school there is called Henry Gordon Academy after Henry Gordon, who was with the Grenville Mission. Marguerite Lindsey went as a summer volunteer with the Grenfell Mission and worked under Henry Gordon. So there’s the local school named after him.
[00:12:47] So I looked them up and they have a website like everybody does. I wrote an email to the assistant principal or secretary, and it was forwarded to someone else. Then this this lady, a lovely lady Ola Anderson, got back to me by e-mail and answered a few questions initially. She asked me if it would be alright if she called me to talk more about Marguerite and all the things that have taken place in Cartwright after her demise many years ago? And I said, sure.
So Ola calls me up and I said, Oh, this is so wonderful. Tell me, tell me, tell me more about what’s happening in Cartwright. And she said, well, Margaret’s very fondly remembered. The students are taught about her every year. There is a place where Miss Lindsay actually died and it’s now called Miss Lindsay’s Marsh to this day. There’s a plaque at the church. The local church has a plaque remembering her. Again, all this from 100 years ago. Students are taught about her. Some students even wrote a poem. Her students wrote a poem about her.
And then she said, oh, do you know a song was written about her? Would you like me to play it for you over the phone? I couldn’t believe it. Oh, so she put the song on, and it was sort of a Gordon Lightfoot sounding voice telling a story and was all about Marguerite. Anyway, it’s a lovely, lovely tribute to her.
Lucy [00:14:39] And then at the end, she says to me, I can’t believe I’m talking to a descendant of Marguerite Lindsay. And I thought, wow, thank you. I just I felt so special that this woman was so well-remembered. In her short little 25-year life she’s left such a legacy in this small community of Cartwright, Labrador.
Lucy [00:15:03] And I was just in awe of what she told me had happened. And she was an awe of talking to a descendant. So we’ve kept in touch. Needless to say and it was also very special all around. I had very little to do except write the story. So I made the story into three parts. Yeah, all three stories, and you’ll know why. Because all three stories have been published on the Genealogy Ensemble website. Which I don’t know if I should reiterate, but the Genealogy Ensemble is a group of nine women who meet monthly to write stories about their ancestors and a little while ago, we even published a book of our stories a couple years ago called Beads in a Necklace. And you can get more information on all that on our Web site.
Becoming a Writer
Tracey [00:16:01] I’ll put a link to all of that in the show notes as well, because although I think my listeners know about Genealogy Ensemble, but I do like to remind them every now and then. I think it’s a really amazing group.
Tracey [00:16:13] Can you talk a little bit about becoming a writer through the genealogy writer’s group? I think it’s been a long time we’ve been together now.
Lucy [00:16:23] My cousin Janice Hamilton is one of the writers. And she’s been doing this a long time and is actually a professional writer and was a journalist. And so she and I were in touch, but not not very closely. She’s a distant cousin. Somehow I think it was through a genealogy organization. They started a writing group. I’m the very lucky recipient of this beautiful, wonderful boxes and boxes of dusty old boxes, I call them, of family memorabilia. And I knew I had to do something with them someday. This was the perfect little push I needed. So I think she’s right our ancestors do want their stories told, so I joined this group. And I was one of… I guess we’re nine now. But at the time, there were a few more and all levels of writing. And I wrote a story and away we went. And it’s been wonderful ever since. They are a wonderful bunch of women. We’re still all part of the group, still writing our stories. And I’m making my way through the dusty old boxes. Happily. And I think the next generations will be pleased that somebody did something with them.
Tracey [00:17:50] Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’m sure they will. I mean. And especially when it’s such a joy to read. And the thing about Margarite’s story is that it’s so hard to find any documents or any anything really about women from an earlier time.
Tracey [00:18:05] It’s almost as if they were hidden by all the official people. They were often called Mrs-whatever-their-husband’s-name-was. Not very many people have that much information about what they were about. So I definitely encourage listeners to listen to to to read those three parts of that story.
Tracey [00:18:27] Now, can we talk a little bit about some of the struggles that you’ve had as an artist? I mean, in terms of on both sides, you can start with whichever one you want. It’s not all easy to survive as an artist these days. So talk about maybe a story you struggled with.
Lucy [00:18:48] Well, let me see. The one I remember most struggling with with was Marguerite’s father, Robert Lindsay. He was a stockbroker in Montreal, but I didn’t have much more in the way of information. I knew where he lived; I knew his family; and I knew his descendants and his parents, because that’s all part of my family tree.
Lucy [00:19:13] But it was kind of dry. Writing about a stockbroker isn’t very interesting. So actually, with help from the writers group, which we always help each other, one of the writers suggested looking up to see what was happening in Montreal during the time he was a broker and in the world, but mostly Montreal, because these are Montreal-based stories. So I did a bit of that and and found a little more information to put in the story. But it was kind of just missing…we always like to try and find something exciting about our ancestors and start the story like that with a little oomph to get a reader excited to read the rest. But there is not much to my great great grandfather. So I, uh, I decided just to fill in the last paragraph with his children and named them all. And what they did. He had a son who was a doctor, one who was my grandfather. He was a priest. These are all stories that are on Genealogy Ensemble too. That would be the Anglican priest story. He had another son who was also a broker. So and then I went on to name the women, like you say, they’re not always first and foremost in family history. But Marguerite’s name got mentioned in that story. And lo and behold, it unravelled into this wonderful adventure. So everything happens for a reason.
Struggles as a sculptor
Lucy [00:21:38] Recently, actually. He’s still down in my studio. I have a sculpture I made this summer. And I don’t often do men or boys. I like to do women because it’s much more fun making frilly dresses and sweeping scarves and hairdos and things. So I don’t often do males, but every now and then I will and I made his name was J for Jacob. And Jacob did not really pull any heartstrings.
Lucy [00:22:10] I can’t believe he actually left the studio ever.
Lucy [00:22:13] And I displayed him the last show outside with the art by the lake, and I was not pleased to have to look at him. So I thought, all right, I have to do something to you. Jacob.
Lucy [00:22:26] I brought him down to the studio and these sculptures are quite interesting, as they look like bronze. They certainly aren’t bronze. They’re not heavy like bronze. And they’re not nearly the work involved with bronze sculpturing. So if you warm the material up with a hairdryer, even when it’s been wrapped around the wire armature, the material will soften. And, you know, underneath is a wire. So you can move the sculpture somewhat. Not not 180 degrees or anything, but you can lift arms and change positions and do a little of this and a little of that.
Lucy [00:23:03] So down went Jacob onto the workbench. And I was not sure when the idea came. Their personalities sort of jump out at you eventually. So I didn’t like him. And I kept thinking what he could be instead of what he was. He was just sitting there holding something. Kind of boring. Anyway, I’m not sure of the process, but all of a sudden Jacob has turned into the Joker, another J because I had to stand J for you.
Lucy [00:23:35] So Jacob is now the Joker.
Lucy [00:23:38] Now he was delightful. He is. He’s wonderful. He’s sitting on this stage. That’s where Jacob was. I can’t change too much of that. But he’s holding a scepter and he’s wearing a jester hat and he’s got pointy shoes on his feet. And he’s very whimsical, which is, I guess, my signature. So, Jake, the Joker, Jacob Joker. Joker Jacob is almost ready to leave the studio again and be shown in the next art exhibition in April. So that’s that. It doesn’t happen very often, but he is he special now, whimsical. And he’s one of my few males that I have done so I can go back to my females. Now I’ve done the token male.
Tracey [00:24:42] So do you have some tips for other crafts, people like yourself? You mean now that you’ve sort of created a life of dual crud, two different very, extremely different crafts?
Linking Two Crafts
Lucy [00:24:58] Believe it or not, my next letter in the alphabet is M and I made this lovely female sculpture and I didn’t really have Marguerite Lindsay in mind. But it’s not really someone particular. She doesn’t look like someone back from the 1920s who worked as a teacher in a missionary mission up in Cartwright Labrador. She looks way more elegant and floaty and but I think I’ll name her Marguerite. So that’s linking the two together, sort of. I don’t think I could really make a sculpture of Margarite the way she might have been as a missionary schoolteacher. I don’t think it would have much whimsy. But I will use her name in this latest sculpture. That will be a good linking of the two worlds.
Tracey [00:26:05] In terms of in terms of craft, like, do you find that doing one craft helps you put effort into the other one or they like them anyway?
Lucy [00:26:17] Actually, I think it’s nice to have to go to and just give yourself a little break or a little change of scene. And they don’t really overlap. I might keep them in mind. They don’t really overlap. But there’s so many different ways to create, especially artistically. My goodness. In my past before I found this medium which I just adore, I painted, I stencilled, I quilted and much more. I did all kinds of things in the past. I was always doing something artistic and at the time I threw myself into it and made many of them. And I would go to shows and sell them. Then all of a sudden I would just say almost like I was saturated and thought, okay, enough. And I would just pull the plug and not really go back to them. Although quilting I do from time to time, but not not like I did when I was pursuing it as a real, real priority. But anybody there with all these lovely, lovely workshops available to us, you can learn how to do anything and ideally just find something you’re passionate about and it will show in your work. So I think that’s what I finally did with this medium and this Power Tex fabric textile sculptures. It did pull all my other experiences, artistic experiences into it. So I thought it was all meant to be. I guess my sculpture is alive.
Lucy [00:28:01] Like I said, people people like to say they’re whimsical, which which I love as a kind of a wonderful comment. And other comments have been, oh, they look so happy and they look like siblings.
Lucy [00:28:13] They look related to each other. Well, that must be the little part of me coming through and each of them, because like any artist you can use the same mediums. But your your results will always be different because it’s you creating. So I kind of like that all these sculptures all sort of look related, lived in like my family and I’m their creator, but me and them. So it’s it is definitely my art. This artistic passion of mine has taken over the house decor. So they are everywhere. And so as an artist of any kind, you have to find an outlet to share it with the world. So again, I have my two art associations with their semiannual exhibitions. But there are art shows all over the island of Montreal, especially at Christmas time but the jury ones are the best. So your art is being shown with other quality art so that you’re not competing with maybe Christmas decorations made by the church ladies or something. But they’re beautiful too. And recently, two of my artist friends have suggested that we exhibit outside the Montreal area because it’s gets somewhat saturated with all these art associations. So we have a few exciting possibilities in Quebec and Ontario area. So stay tuned.
Tracey [00:30:30] So you’ll be doing a bit of travelling this year. That’s that’s very cool.
Tracey [00:30:39] So my last question.
Do you consider yourself a Canadian?
Lucy [00:30:45] Yes, Most definitely. I can trace several branches of my family tree on both sides of the family back to the 17th century. My ancestors came from England, Ireland and Scotland and settled in Montreal, as well as Kingston, Ontario and Shediac New Brunswick areas. So a few years ago, my sister and I went on two trips, what we call sister pilgrimages. One was to Shediac New Brunswick and one was to Kingston, Ontario, to look up a historical family connections and travel down memory lane. And it was wonderful. We met new cousins. We found family names and great grave sites. Also, we saw a few ancestral homes still standing and even attended a church service in the church built by my three times great grandfather, William Hanington. That’s in Shediac, New Brunswick.
[00:31:40] And we were there on a Sunday. So around 10 o’clock, we went to the church for early morning service and we walked in and the lovely lady greeted us and we asked her, are there any Hanington’s here? We are Hanington descendants and we’d like to know if there are any other Haningtons here. So she just said, oh, just a minute.
[00:32:03] And then she looked down the church aisle and beckoned to this gentleman who came forward.
[00:32:10] And she said, these ladies would like to meet Hanington descendants. He put out his hand and said. Allan Hanington, nice to meet you. And so he is my, I forget the exact connection, but he is a distant cousin.
[00:32:26] And I think we threw our arms around him and gave him a big hug, which must have surprised him why these two, I think, we’re pretty girls, just threw themselves at him.
Lucy [00:32:40] It was a lovely service. Afterwards he invited us to come back to their place for ice tea on the porch, and they introduced us to his sister, who is the family genealogist. She had she was excited to meet us, too. It was just very special all around. And I wrote that into a story called Sister Pilgrimage, and that’s on Genealogy Ensemble as well.
Lucy [00:33:08] But all the maritime provinces are very close to my heart. The scenery is so impressive and the people are so friendly and their music is great. I could easily live in the Maritimes. So that’s the that’s the eastern part of Canada.
Lucy [00:33:23] My husband and I travelled to Winnipeg a couple of years ago where where his ancestors settled and where he grew up, and so he showed me around. And that was something I’d never seen before, Winnipeg and Manitoba. So that was very special. And they were his roots. So, again, I guess travel produces stories because I wrote a story like Father, like Son, which is also on Genealogy Ensemble. And I believe Tracey helped me with that one. So thank you, Tracey. But that was just lovely to see him. It was lovely to see him explore his childhood homes, and this is where I met this girl and this is where he he hung out with his little buddies and and got into trouble. And it was just it was a wonderful to experience genealogy from his side of the family. So that was lovely. And I’m just I guess I’m going east to western Canada.
Lucy [00:34:23] So I’m just telling you why am I think of myself as a Canadian and why I’m so proud to be a Canadian. So when we were in New Zealand a few years ago, all we could do, we were just so impressed by the scenery there was just spectacular. The mountain ranges and the greenery.
Lucy [00:34:42] And it just kept reminding us of Alberta, especially Jasper and Banff. And so there we were in this beautiful New Zealand thinking of home. Canada. And that was kind of interesting.
Lucy [00:34:59] So that’s Alberta and continuing west.
Lucy [00:35:04] We used to visit my elderly aunt and beautiful Victoria, B.C., before she moved to Ottawa ten years ago.
Lucy [00:35:12] And Victoria’s just really, really special and a little while royal because you’ve got the Empress Hotel in the afternoon teas and it does seem quite British compared to the rest of Canada.
Lucy [00:35:31] But this wonderful Aunt is now ninety nine years old and living in Ottawa, where we can visit her more often and I wrote a story about her and you can read that on Genealogy Ensemble and that’s called Ma Formidable Tante Marie.
Tracey [00:35:50] So my.
Lucy [00:35:56] We just we just had lunch with some them are we’re going to Ottawa and my sister brought red wine in a little flask, because she really enjoys her red wine but it’s not served where she lives. So she brought a little flask for her ninety-ninth birthday and offered it to her and said, Would you like a little bit? And she just looked at her and said “pourquoi pas?” Now I say this because she is not French, but she has always enjoyed it. She was in theatre. If you read the story, she was theatrical and she still is to this day. So that was the perfect answer to would you like a little nip of red wine Tante Marie? .
Lucy [00:36:49] So Canadians are so well received wherever they travel and everyone loves us, it really makes me feel special. The experience of just having that acceptance. That’s been my experience anyway. And being Canadian means for different seasons, which encourages a healthy, active lifestyle. Especially winter sports, which not many places have the winter that we do. So skiing, both kinds of skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, skating, that’s pretty special in our winter season. And nothing can beat the fall leaves and their colourful canopy in the fall. But also to me be. Yeah.
Lucy [00:37:38] Being a Canadian also means maple syrup, which is kind of corny, but it works wherever you go.
Lucy [00:37:45] When people say, Oh, you’re the lovely maple syrup and I guess northern Vermont does as well, but being Canadian means maple sirup to me and a whole array of international cuisines that we have now made our own, which is lovely.
Lucy [00:37:58] And being a Canadian means endless opportunities and the freedom to choose what you want to do with your life. And being Canadian is special and it makes me proud to be a sixth or seventh generation Canadian. And I want to give a very special thank you to my ancestors for their courage to set out on their life changing adventure to the new land so many years ago.
Tracey [00:38:36] Oh, thank you so much. That’s perfect. I really appreciate your time.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.