A Sad Tone To A Pleasant RoutineThursday, May 21, 2009
One of my singular pleasures these days is a routine that began a few weeks ago on Thursdays. I teach at Focal Point (10th Avenue at Sasamat) from 2 to 5 and from 7 to 10. Initially I did not know what I was going to do with those two hours. But then Abraham Rogatnick lives a block away. I suggested we meet for coffee or tea. He suggested a tea house on 10th owned by a Taiwanese woman who lived many years in Brazil. They have a cute waiter, from Lyon, with black rimmed glasses who looks like Elvis Costello. We call him Elvis. He serves me a strong Kenya Kemba tea and a grilled eggplant sandwich. Abraham has an English Breakfast tea with palmiers (he orders extra dark ones). We chat for an hour and then we walk slowly to his house, we chat some more and soon I walk to school and I get there at 6:55.
Today was almost as pleasant as other Thursdays as the routine sets in. A pleasant routine can be ever more so by the fact that it is one. But our routine had a sad tone. Arthur Erickson died yesterday.
The first person Abraham Rogatnick met when he came to Canada from Boston in 1955 was Arthur Erickson who at the time was living in Chilco Street. Abraham knew him well. They were good friends and just about the same age. Arthur was 84 and Abraham is six months older and 85. Abraham told me many stories about Erickson. The one salient fact was that Abraham saw his friend lose his cool only once in all those years. It seems that the Erickson the architect (Rogatnick is also an architect) was mostly a kind person who rarely spoke ill of others.
We discussed the idea that in Canada we had Pierre and Arthur and that they were perhaps the only two people (at least in BC) that one could discuss by their first name and most would know who one was talking about. Abraham further suggested another Pierre (Berton) but I am not that sure.
My relation with Erickson consisted of multiple studio sessions where he faced my camera. I had in most cases lots of time for conversation. I like to question him on his opinion on the Spanish architect Felix Candela. I asked him once if Candela had influenced him and he answered me with a silent smile.
I told Rogatnick that the first time I photographed Erickson it was at the Museum of Anthropology in the early 80s. I had showed up early and taken several Polaroids of different locations. When Erickson arrived I placed the Polaroids on the floor and asked them to choose the ones he liked. His favourite was one by Bill Read’s Raven. He liked my low angle. When I photographed Erickson with that low angle the sculpture did not show. Behind Erickson there was pure architecture with no artifacts. Rogatnick, excitedly told me that the Raven sits on a covered gun emplacement. Erickson did not want to remove any of the gun emplacements built to defend Vancouver from a possible WWII attack by the Japanese. He left most of them intact and built around them. Only in one did he build over.
My two fun stories involving the architect also involve my granddaughter Rebecca. She may have been around 7 when we were invited to a garden party at Erickson’s West Side house. Snacks were served in a long table between the kitchen and the living room. Rebecca went to the living room and sat on a prominent wing chair. A woman came up to me and said, “Don’t let her do that. That’s Arthur’s chair.” Erickson heard, he smiled and said nothing. I then brought Rebecca and introduced her, “Rebecca this is Arthur.” Rebecca answered, “He cannot be Arthur. King Arthur had hair.” Erickson was sometimes a tad deaf. He was this time, “What did she say?”
The second story happened at the Museum of Anthropology at a July 2007 opening of the works of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. After the show, food was served outside that included hamburgers made on the spot. There was also homemade root beer, potato salad and cookies. I was sitting with Erickson on a rock enjoying my hamburger when Rebecca showed up. By then she was 10. Erickson looked familiar but she could not place him. I told Rebecca, “Ask this man what his involvement with this place is.” She did. Erickson answered, “I built this place. I am the architect."
Whenever Erickson would appear at some conference or lecture, I always went to them. It was always a treat to listen to a man with intelligence and humour. He liked to shock and challenge with some of his ideas. I was never disappointed.
Even though he was a handsome and elegant man and many of my photographs captured that, I will always remember, more than anything, that voice. He had a voice. When Erickson talked you had to listen.