"Love & Kisses, George" exhibition, January 7 - February 28, 2017.
Artist Talk February 4, beginning at 5pm
First Saturday Art Walk, February 4, 6-8pm
Some years ago I found a shoebox full of love letters dated 1929-32 from George Daniels, a bank official for the Royal Bank of Canada in New York City, to Edna Josephine MacInnis, a nursing student at Columbus Hospital.
The letters, all from George, trace the story of two young people introduced by mutual friends. They begin seeing each other for walks, they go bowling, they have dinner with friends. They fall in love. They have doubts. They write each other at least once every day. Before he goes on vacation she asks him to destroy her letters so his roommates won’t read them (he does). She keeps all his letters, which talk of his love for her, his inexperience and uncertainty in terms
of “technique” (kissing), their deepening love for each other and his desire to marry her despite feeling he is too poor, telling her that “I continually doubt that I can make you happy.”
On the October day after the stock market crashes, he apologizes for not seeing her—“between this stock market slump and boom and locking up the vault, I’ve been here every evening this week.” Two months later, after “the thrill of a kiss on Terrace Hill,” and a letter he signed, “xoxoxo
with every expression of love ever thought of,” they elope.
In this series I use photos of my imagined Ednas to respond to excerpts from the letters that I believe she might have singled out. She was a modern woman. She smoked and wore make-up (which George worries about telling his mother), she loved to dance, she voiced her romantic expectations, she wanted a career. There is nothing momentous about their story—one of the reasons I found it so compelling.
Later, when I’d finished the photo series, I wondered what to do with the seventythree letters, most of them written by hand on beautifully aged letterhead from the Bank of Canada, where George worked. I decided to use them in mixed media pieces, thematically connecting them to the platinum palladium photographs.
Seeing the actual letters used as material in an art work leads to an unsettling
question: what would the writer of the letter think, could he see it on display in
such a way?
I hope he would be pleased to see his narratives of daily life, his dreams and aspirations, his occasional lapses into uncertainty and frustration, given a new life in art.