|The Portland House: Before Sweeping|
|The Portland House: After Sweeping|
In September 2008, two and a half months before his death, a special collection of Ivaan's metal art was exhibited at KUMF Gallery (The Canadian Ukrainian Art Foundation). Entitled "Sweepings: Treasures from the Atelier Floor", this was an exhibition of the metal art that Ivaan made for no purpose other than the joy of creation. The title of the exhibition was pure Ivaan, and pure tongue in cheek. On the one hand, it referred to the fact that the pieces on display were made in between commissioned works, and were literally swept aside when the need to commence a commissioned work became pressing. At the same time, it was his affectionate tribute to the understated role I played in his artistic life since he suffered his second stroke in 2002. People often asked us how much I participated in his metal art. I'd always answer, truthfully, "Not at all". Ivaan's more humorous (but equally true) response was invariably: "She's really, really good at sweeping." What we both meant was that, although he borrowed my hands from time to time, we only ever used his brain. He had no instinct for order and neatness; I have no creative impulse. He created; I swept.
As I've previously mentioned, Ivaan was totally oblivious to the domestic aspects of married life. Ivaan never mowed the lawn, never shovelled the snow, never took out the garbage, cooked, vacuumed, loaded the dishwasher, or did laundry. He didn't even recognize that these tasks existed, thus never expected that anyone would do them. So it's fortunate that I enjoy running a household.
Our house on Portland Street was built in 1855. It was a fabulous house, shaped like a shoebox tipped up on end: three tall storeys, with the kitchen on the third floor. As much as I have ever experienced the joy of creation, it has been through renovating the Portland house. Fortunately, there was no shortage of potential for renovation; a lot can go wrong with a house in 140 years.
Early one Saturday morning, I awoke with an idea: I decided to remove the wall that separated the narrow front hall from the living room. I knew it wasn't a load-bearing wall, as all the supporting walls ran north to south. I knew that removing a lath-and-plaster wall would be a surefire way to ruin a perfectly good weekend....unless I could find someone to help me.
Ivaan had an Achilles heel, and it was in the form of a genuine phobia for clumsy people, or for someone using the wrong tool for the job. It drove him crazy.
You may wonder why a vegetarian even had a steak knife in the drawer, but it was with a steak knife that I made the first cut into that lath-and-plaster wall. Having removed the first segment of plaster, I kept diligently sawing with the steak knife, dropping the small pieces of severed plaster into a wastepaper basket until I'd excised about a square foot of plaster. By this time, Ivaan was awake, and his curiosity had gotten the better of him. He came part way down the stairs, peered around the corner and asked, "What on earth are you doing?" All innocent, I replied, "I'm taking down this wall" and held up what was left of the steak knife. At that moment, several million years of evolution began to evanesce before my eyes. Ivaan headed for the back porch and returned carrying a crowbar and a sledgehammer. "Stand aside", said Homo Sapiens.
Ten minutes later, the entire wall lay in ruins on the floor. Homo Sapiens put down The Correct Tools For The Job, and with an imperious wave of his hand in the general direction of the debris, uttered the one terse syllable that came to represent our life together in metal arts: "Sweep."