Happy Maman’s Day from Chamberfest and the National Gallery

Chamberfest and the National Gallery of Canada are celebrating Mother’s Day with the Après Maman Mother’s Day Art Project, in honour of the landmark sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. 

Twenty years ago, the giant bronze spider with her sac of marble eggs, was cast. And some 15 years ago, the piece was acquired and then put in place outside the gallery. Today it is one of the most recognizable pieces of public art in the city and in Canada.

Bourgeois lost her mother when she was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris. Her mother’s death affected Bourgeois for her entire life and she dedicated the spider to her mother. 

“My best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid,’ inquisitive, embarrassing, personal questions,” Bourgeois said in one interview when she was asked about her sculpture Maman.

Travis Croken with some of the art work submitted by children from Grades 2 to 4. Photo: Philippa Wolff.

Maman is also the subject of a piece of music that is being written by the American composer, conductor and musicologist Rob Kapilow. That piece will debut at Chamberfest this summer. But beforehand, art work prepared by Ottawa area students in Grades 2, 3 and 4, will be shown in the gallery for a week starting Friday.

This project is part of Chamberfest’s community outreach commitment and was led by Travis Croken, the community engagement and education officer. Croken has a background of working in the community. Six years ago he was hit by a car while cycling and was left disabled and with post-concussion syndrome. That has made him an advocate on accessibility concerns.

“We have partnered with the gallery and reached out to several schools in the city to children to create art for Mother’s Day as a representation of their relationships with their mothers.”

The project produced about 500 works by the young students that were put in front of a jury.

Croken and the organizers were careful to include the idea of a mother or an important female in the child’s life. The project did produce a range of drawings.

“Going through the art works I have seen some amazingly sweet pieces and some poignant ones and there was one which showed a drawing of a mother walking on a thick black line and underneath there was a smaller stick figure and a phrase that read ‘The mother’s shadow is her son because she misses him and wants to see him on Mother’s Day’.” Croken said he expected the project to be uplifting but he said he realizes that it is also eye-opening about the relationships with mothers. “It’s not all positive comment.”

Some 500 pieces were submitted by the children. The jury selected 15. Photo: Philippa Wolff

The gallery will be doing public talks on Maman and explaining how the sculpture came to Ottawa in a full slate of Mother’s Day activities. Croken and Chamberfest’s Artistic Administrator Jenna Richards will be discussing the projects Chamberfest is doing, including on July 25 when Rob Kapilow will be at the Gallery’s regular Creative Thursday event to talk about his composition. On Aug. 4, there will be a Chamber Chat at the gallery as well.

The six-person panel picked 15 works that will be put on display. The jury consisted of three artists — Claudia Salguero, Ashley-Rose Machendagoos and Margit Hideg — and three from Chamberfest — Jennifer Ellis, Chrissy Steinbock and Croken.

The schools that participated were: 

St. Martin de Porres, St. Isidore, St. Bernard, St. John Paul II, St. Thomas More, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Theresa, Centennial Public School and St. Jerome. 

Chamberfest has developed an active and diverse community outreach program that injects music into old age homes, schools and community centres across the city. It also delivers the popular Xenia Concerts for individuals on the autism spectrum.

The idea, he said, is to engage people in the arts as a way of community building.

“This is what we want to do with the Après Maman project,” he said. “It involves music, spoken word and visual arts across the whole scale.”

He says he sees music and art work its magic through these events.

“We just had a Xenia Concert and parents were coming up to me afterwards and thanking me for the fact that we have these performances. One family said they had never done a family outing because they didn’t now how it would work with the whole family. They wanted to know when the next concert was.

“Another mother had tears in her eyes and said how amazing it was to be able to attend something and not be judged.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.