“Live in the layers not on the litter”

Joop sm jpeg

This is Joop.  He died on July 2 from an aggressive form of cancer.  He was only five.  The week that Joop was diagnosed I read a poem by Stanley Kunitz (1905 – 2006) called “The Layers“. For some reason the line from this poem, “Live in the layers not on the litter” has been in my head and heart all summer.

The Layers

                                              I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 after the death of several of his friends including the suicide of painter Mark Rothko. The famous line came to Kunitz in a dream and while even he says he is unable to decipher it,to me  there is something consoling about it.  It seems to offer a guideline if not an explanation.  How do we weather life’s great losses? How is it that we are not consumed by grief at the many tragedies we endure as we get older?

I don’t really have any answers to these questions.  Neither did Kunitz.  The closest I can come is this.  We know that we are drowning in litter both literally and figuratively.  Every day my trash bin is full of deleted e-mails and my recycling container is stuffed with wasted pieces of paper.  Inside my brain there is a non stop conversation going on, most of it irrelevant.  We are all drowning in litter.

When I looked in the beautiful eyes of my Joop, when I leaned down to kiss him and we shared a moment, I felt a part of the complexity and the beauty of being alive.  My heart broke when he died. Yet that is still preferable to living in the litter. We can live in the layers if we chose to, as heartbreaking as it is.  If we must drown let us drown in the layers.

Stanley Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 out of despair at so many losses. Yet he continued to write for nearly thirty more years and lived until he was 100.  Maybe the consolation in poems and in paintings like this one by Rothko is how we survive.

Rothko 1

We’re Open

photoToday we are open.  What does it mean?  Although we sell product we are not a store.  Our studio is in our home and our product is mostly displayed in our back yard.  Sometimes it feels odd to have people, potential customers, in a space that is so intimately ours.  Last weekend this yard was the site of our annual Summer Solstice party. It was full of all our friends wearing wreaths and making toasts.

5-730-3429.flowerwreath.mThis week the same space is where we chose to showcase our products and talk to people about our work.  Although sometimes it is hard to invite strangers into your space, there is a definite upside to this. Most of the work we do is custom and the process we enter into with people must be based on mutual trust.  What better way to start this process than to meet in our studio space surrounded by examples of past work.

photo of store

Air Plant artLast week we sold this insect house to a customer who decided it was the perfect frame for an air plant.  We love this look!

Seriously Good Sangiovese

Di-Majo-Norante-Sangiovese........._thumbThis is my favourite Sangiovese right now.  It is produced by Di Majo Norante which is a winery in Molise in the Center South of Italy.  Those of you who have read this blog before know that I have mentioned several of their other wines.  Wines from this region are of high quality and fairly inexpensive in the British Columbia market. So no wonder I love them.

Sangiovese is the most commonly planted red grape varietal in Italy.  There is great variation in climate from North to South Italy so most grapes only do well in certain regions.  Sangiovese is a more adaptable variety and so can thrive in different climates.  It is most commonly known as the grape of Tuscany being predominant in Chianti and many Super Tuscans.

Molise is quite a bit farther south and here the wine takes on a lushness not typical in an entry level wine from Tuscany.  On Tuesday at Zambris where I work as a Sommelier we are featuring this and four other wines from Molise and the neighboring region of Abruzzo.  Our guest for this evening will be Carmen d’ Onofrio Jr. who owns Stile wine company that imports this and many other fantastic Italian Wines.


Carmen’s father came from Molise and his mother came from Abruzzo.  They immigrated to Canada as many other southern Italians did to find a better life.  Stile wines was one of the first wine agencies in British Columbia to recognize the quality and value of wines from the south of Italy.  In fact the two wineries represented at our dinner, Di Majo Norante and Cantina Tollo from Abruzzo were the first two wineries represented by Stile.  And they are still represented twenty four years later!

You can buy this Sangiovese at many of the Government Liquor Stores in Victoria.  I buy mine at Fort and Foul Bay.  It sells for $13,99 before tax.

Dutch Born West Coast Built

The red cedarThis is a painting called The Red Cedar by Emily Carr, (1871-1945).  A print of it hangs on the wall of our home/studio/workshop in Victoria B.C. I love this painting for its immense energy.  You can feel the life force not just flowing but rushing through the forest.  Carr was a painter who lived in Victoria most of her life and was very influenced by the landscape and indigenous people of Vancouver Island.

My wife Dita was born in Amsterdam but moved to Vancouver when she was six.  When we travel to the Netherlands I really see the Dutch side of her aesthetic.  At home, when she is working on her creations, I realize how influenced she is by the West Coast.  The heart of her work is Red Cedar and that is no accident. As an artist/woodworker she could choose to work with any wood but she loves cedar.  This is fortunate as Vancouver Island is home to the most beautiful cedar in the world.


I love our business for many reasons but one of the main ones is I love the smell of cedar.  When she is working on a project it permeates my whole house.  She buys rough clear cedar from the mill and her first step is to run it through the planer so that it can be transformed into one of her elegant creations.  Sometimes it is hard to imagine that the furniture she creates actually comes from a tree.  It is anything but rustic!

Patio Set 2 SmallOur environmental philosophy is simple.  Material such as cedar should be ideally used in quality projects.  It should never be wasted on cheap furniture or products that will find their way to the landfill in a short period of time.  The mill we buy from is FSC certified meaning the wood is harvested in a very ecologically sensitive way. We create products that are meant to last, built with joinery and stained for the out of doors.  Yet wood is an organic product and will naturally age.

Dita went for a motorcycle ride to Port Alberni last week and came blown away by a trip to The Whaling Sculpture on display in a building at Victoria Quay.  We had seen it before passing through on our way to Tofino but that this trip she really took the time to appreciate it.


It is made with both red and yellow cedar and is actually a replica of a historical structure showing whalers pursuing a grey whale which is considered a gift from the creator by the Nootka People.  This sculpture is a historical replica of another one which was likely made to honor or give thanks for the creators gifts.

There is an aliveness in this that I also see in Emily Carr’s work, an acknowledgement of the energy in everything from trees to whales to human beings.  And a desire to use these materials for some greater good.  Next time you are driving to Tofino, spend some time at the Whale Sculpture in Port Alberni.

The Best Pinot Grigio in Victoria

Pinot GrigioWell it is true that I PROBABLY have not tasted every Pinot Grigio available in Victoria.  But I am sure I have tasted every Italian Pinot Grigio around as in my job as Sommelier at Zambris restaurant this is a wine I am frequently asked to taste. This Pinot Grigio from di Lenardo vineyards is a wine I have had on my list for over five years and there is only one reason for this.  It is the best.  Not just the best at the price, which is pretty reasonable at around $20.00 but the best I have tasted at any price.

This wine is made in Friuli which is a small region in the north east of Italy known for the quality of their white wines. In fact, I often tell my customers to buy any wine they see from Friuli as they really don’t make bad or even mediocre wines.

FriuliAs you can see it is a land of rolling hills, which premium conditions for the making of good quality white wines.  They do make some very nice reds but it is the white wines they are famous for.  The head of this winery is Massimo di Lenardo and the family have been in the business of making quality wine for over 100 years.

di Lenardo MaximillianWhile it is true that we do make very good Pinot Grigio (or Gris as it is often referred to) here in B.C., I have a strong preference for the Italian style which is a little leaner and more acidic.  But what I love about the di Lenardo wine is it’s weightiness which you don’t always find in other Italian Pinot Grigios.  I had it with a lemon thyme chicken sitting in my garden on a sunny day.  Perfection!

photo of my yard 1This wine is available at many of the government liquor stores.  I usually buy mine at Fort and Foul Bay.

Art Architecture and Nature – My Visit to the Kroller Muller Museum

Trip to the Netherlands 224I don’t ride a bike in Victoria but when in Holland I do as the Dutch do and bike everywhere.  Note the flat terrain and the big comfortable seat on my Dutch bike.  Note, too the long pathway with no cars in sight.  Holland is the safest place in the world for cyclists and the only place you can persuade me to participate in this dangerous sport.

The Dutch love bikes and they love art.  Nowhere is this more in evidence than at the Kroller Muller Museum which is located in the middle of the Hoge Veluwe Park a six thousand hectare park located in Ottherio, Netherlands. We drove to the park but left our car at the entrance and biked in using the free “white bikes” provided.

Hoge Veluwe

In 1936 Helene Muller Kroller, an avid art collector left her entire collection to the state of Netherlands.  She was one of the first to recognize the genius of Vincent Van Gogh and this museum houses one of the second largest collections of Van Gogh in the world.  The Museum was designed by Belgian architect Henry van de Velde and opened in 1938. Its modernist design somehow seems to fit in its natural surroundings.

1280px-Entrance_Kröller-Müller_MuseumThis museum is home to an amazing sculpture garden on its grounds.  This is completely free and open to the public year round. My favourite was a structure by Gerrit Rietveld which is a pavilion that crossed the boundary into sculpture.

Trip to the Netherlands 426The other sculptures range from very modern to more transitional but they all reflect the Dutch eye for beauty and are placed in the garden in ways that both please and surprise.

Trip to the Netherlands 444Trip to the Netherlands 447

Yet what is most amazing is how I felt here.  After a vigorous bike ride through the park and then encountering such interesting sculptures on the walk up to the museum itself, I was much more relaxed and open than I usually am in a trip to a museum.  Art, architecture and nature, what a fantastic combination.

All the Little Creatures

OwlMy wife Dita oves animals.  In our yard she has created a sanctuary for dogs, fish and fowl.  Although I can bond with our dog Joopy and appreciate the beauty of birds and fish, she takes it to a deeper level.  Her latest design is an Owl House.  I always know something is in the works when a certain word such as “Owl” and certain images pop up all around our house. The design process began, I suppose, with a series of bird houses that she designed and built as products for our company, Victoria Wood Studio.

Birdhouse Stacked 2

In this photo you can just barely see one of our birdhouses installed in our back yard.  Inside we have baby chickadees!.  The camouflage around this house was created from the bones of a Eucalyptus that had died.  Rather than cut it down Dita planted vines to grow on it creating a natural sculpture and the perfect safe hiding place for baby birds.

birdhouse garden 1


How did we get from this to Owl houses you might ask?  Well, I know she has a passion for beauty and majesty and Owls are both. I think the idea of bringing more of these amazing creatures into an urban setting was what first intrigued her. Also,we both share a dislike of the poisons that are deemed to be necessary to control the rat population in our neighborhood. The prey/predator relationship means more Owls would reduce the rat population naturally. Finally, Dita loves the place where urban and rural connect, where the rusticity of nature meets the sophistication of the city and both are transformed in the process.

owl houseOur Owl house bears no real resemblance to other owls houses out there. To start with these boxes are made with joinery and designed in a modern style stained with an environmental product to increase it longevity.   The bark is added to contrast with the sleek urban look.  It also gives the baby owls something to grip as they climb in and out of the box.  And what other owl house has its own deck? Of course this functions as a perch but it is also part of the look.

We recently visited the Raptor Sanctuary in Duncan B.C. where we received the stamp of approval from the experts there for her design.  So, not only is it beautiful but it should actually attract owls.

Stay tuned on this page for the installation of this Owl house.  Of course this in itself will be challenging as Owls in an urban setting should be up as high as possible.  Right now we are talking about a twenty five foot pole! Did I mention Dita also loves challenges and complicated projects?

Click on the link below to see the beautiful baby owls we hope to have in our owl nest box one day.


The Art of Doing Laundry

Drying Rack 2 Small

I love my laundry rack.  It makes me want to do laundry.  It is so beautiful to look at and yet holds an entire large load so it saves me money every time I use it. For years I wanted to hang my laundry outside but I really hated the ugly laundry racks that were available.  When my wife Dita and I went to the Netherlands in 2011 we visited the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. This museum is a recreation of an old seaside village.  There, among other artifacts, I spotted this beautiful old laundry rack.

Trip to the Netherlands 239

When we got home Dita began to design and she built me a laundry rack drawing on some of the same design details but with a very west coast look. Dita is a designer/builder who was born in Amsterdam but moved to Vancouver when she was six.

Trip to the Netherlands 240

Drying rack Closeup MediumOur laundry rack is made of cedar, not a wood commonly found in Europe. But she uses oak dowels for strength and contrast. It is unfinished while the Dutch rack is painted.  And it is taller and narrower, an elegant look favored by Dita.  But it is very Dutch!

Drying Rack 1 Medium

I love the combination of form and function in Dutch art. The Zuiderzee Museum exists on one hand, to represent or recreate a way of life now gone.  But throughout the village they display modern art and commentary to take you into the realm of abstraction.  When we were there in 2011 they had a show called From craftsmanship to abstraction design route. Throughout the museum they would juxtapose modern art interpretations of traditional materials next to artifacts.  Or they would present artifacts in such a way to be seen as art.  A fascinating way to view history and a way of making Abstract Art feel more accessible.

Trip to the Netherlands 238

Trip to the Netherlands 236

Just recently they installed a very interesting permanent exhibition called Monument by the British artist Clare Twomey. This piece is made up of hundreds of shards of household crockery and antique ceramic tiles cascading in a monumental way.  Broken crockery seems to contradict the purpose of a museum which is to preserve artifacts for future generations.  This work plays with the idea that everyday items can be elevated to museum status.  But it is also a comment on our over consumption of consumer goods. The tiles come from the sizable tile collection of the Zuiderzee museum, the “D” collection rejected and yet now put to good use as Art!

monument zuiderzee

Ruminations on Rothko and the Meaning of Art

Rothko 1I have only every seen photographs of Mark Rothko’s paintings but I would love to see them in person.  A dream of mine would be to visit the Rothko room at the Tate Modern.  This is kind of unusual for me because I am usually not attracted to modern art.  But reading about Rothko and his philosophy of art has intrigued me. Alain de Botton who has written a book called Art as Therapy talks about sitting in the Rothko room as a teenager and being overwhelmed by a feeling that he did not really understand at the time.  Later in life he made the connection when reading the following answer that Rothko made when he was asked what was the meaning of his art. Rothko replied;

Life is difficult for you and for me.  My canvases are places where the sadness in you and the sadness in me can meet.  That way, we have a little less grief to deal with“.

To this end, Rothko donated nine of his paintings to the Tate Museum to be permanently displayed in such a way to allow this emotional connection between artist, art and viewer.

rothko_room_tate_modernThis fact is made more interesting by the history of these paintings which were originally commissioned by the Seagram Company to be displayed in the Four Seasons Restaurant in their newly built modernist building in Manhattan. In a famous move Rothko rejected the commission, (worth about two million in today’s currency), because he felt that the true meaning and value of his work would be lost in that world.  To Rothko, finishing a painting was just the beginning of the artistic process.  What happened after, how the painting was viewed, was crucial.

maquette for installation of seagram murals

As such Rothko was extremely fussy and controlling about how his paintings were hung.  Low to the floor, close together and in a space that was dimly lit was his preference. The Seagram Paintings are large, (he called them murals), and he wanted to bring the viewer into the interior of the painting in order to connect with its subject which, to Rothko, was the elemental emotions of the human experience.

Caravaggio is one of my favorite artists.  I have seen his paintings in books and in Art Galleries.  His work is so powerful I always find it striking, even in photographs. Nothing can compare, however, to the experience of seeing his work in the French church, San Luigi des Francesi in Rome.

The calling of St. Mathew -coin box

The Church is dimly lit and the paintings are in the very back.  They are clothed in darkness until you put a euro in the coin box and then a light comes on illuminating the trio.  They are all about the life of St. Matthew but The Calling of St. Matthew is my favorite. The church never seems to be crowded and I always feel I can stand there forever. Some argue that the lighting in the Church is too dim to truly appreciate the brushstrokes and details of these paintings but I love the feeling of the place.

The-Calling-of-Saint-Matthew_CaravaggioThe story is of Levi the tax collector who is summoned by Christ and leaves everything behind to follow him. The story takes place in a Custom house and Caravaggio skillfully illuminates the hand of Christ and the surprise on the face of St. Matthew.  Yet what is going on in the shadows, is equally illuminating. Jesus himself is hard to see, only his hand is illuminated.  Most of the people surrounding St. Matthew are in darkness simply going about their business oblivious to the drama going on in front of them. Caravaggio was known for his use of chiaroscuro, (light and shadow), for dramatic affect.

Whether you are a religious person or not, this painting tells a universal story.  Of those moments, really seconds in time, when we feel truly touched by something outside ourselves calling us to change.  We often are not even truly aware of what this is and those around us are usually completely unaware of what is happening.  These moments are astonishing but essentially private and inexplicable. Yet, if you let them, they can change your life.