Archive mensuelle de mai 2008

Like Mother

Ever since I can remember my mother has been making things. When we lived in Saint-Jean, Quebec, she painted my canopy bed and tallboy with Pennsylvania Dutch motifs. Perhaps sleeping under a canopy of red and turquoise hand-painted flowers had something to do with my becoming an artist.

In the basement she painted a paneled pine door that led to a rarely used guest room. The door was green with big red hearts, painted with glossy enamel paint. Inside were two twin beds, a small table in-between, and a linoleum floor with an engraved bubble motif that looked a lot like a print I made in art class several years later. That little table was where my mother piled her finished wall hangings. She made these decorative pieces by gluing felt animals onto burlap backgrounds with LePage’s white glue. I liked spreading a thin layer of glue on my palm and peeling it off when it dried, all my lifelines clearly imprinted on the film. I was also intrigued by the glass evil eye beads that my mother used for the animals’ eyes.


Eventually Mom would haul the wall hangings to the big city, Montreal, to leave them on consignment in stores. I always looked forward to her next batch so that I could escape to that hushed chamber behind the door of hearts, to inspect her handicrafts that still smelled of LePage’s glue.

In the unfinished section in our basement, lay an ominous rust colored oil tank that gave me the creeps. The other end featured a ceiling-high mountain of household clutter that included an electric floor polisher that I never saw put to use. It was a beige and olive contraption that had a detailed drawing of a Viking ship on it. My neighbor Lori-Ann’s mother put her polisher to work daily. Their kitchen floor looked like a freshly Zambonied skating rink. Whenever Lori-Ann and I pranced across it on the way to the playroom, usually toting Barbie and mini suitcases full of her clothes (items which my parents refused to buy for me) her mother, in her perpetual beehive hairdo, would warn us girls not to slip and fall. My favorite item in our heap of stuff was a leather suitcase, plastered with stickers from Niagara Falls, Lake George, and Coney Island. Next to the mound of domesticity, my mother had a table where she painted wooden decoy ducks.


I liked looking at her paint cans and brushes and the haphazard formation of unpainted ducks on the cement floor, waiting for their beautifying ritual. Mom would scavenge antique stores that dotted the country roads of the Richelieu valley and buy ducks, flocks of them. Today my bedroom door is held open by one of her ducks. Under it’s tail it is written MIMI.

Mimi’s creative energy motivated me to embark on similar creative enterprises. When I was attending CEGEP, I borrowed my stepmother, Brigitte’s lime-green Renault 5 and hit the dairy zone of Saint-Hyacyinthe, Quebec. I’d spot farmhouses, scan for ferocious unleashed dogs, and if the coast was clear, knock on screen doors, asking people if they could sell me metal milk cans. When I explained that I painted the cans with decorative designs, these folk were sympathetic to my cause and often sold me a can or two for anywhere from five to eight dollars a piece.


Driving home down the dirt road that late afternoon, with the car crammed with milk cans that clanged with each bump, I felt happy. That day I discovered how elated one could feel in the early stages of a creative project. I also learned the how to say, “bidon de lait.”

The following year I made a series of crib patchwork quilts with my mother’s Singer sewing machine that whined whenever the thread got tangled. I used scraps from Mom’s sewing projects.


I’d leave the quilts on consignment at the Canadian Guild of Handicrafts on Peel Street, my mother showing me the ropes, and threads, every step of the way. When my son was born twenty years later he slept in one of these quilts. Now he’s almost as tall as I am but he still uses his yellow and orange quilt, not to sleep in, but to line a basket in the living room for Shira, the neighbor’s cat that visits us daily.

When I was in high school my mother organized a craft show at Victoria Hall in Westmount, Montreal. At the time I was making candles and figurines out of salt dough. My mother offered me a table at the show. Next to her elaborate display of hand-sewn belts and purses I sold my little candles and little people on a big table that made me feel very artsy. There I was with jewelers, ceramists, hat-makers, wood-carvers, weavers… They had long hair, wore funky clothes and easy smiles. I felt connected with this crowd and their creative energy.

I remember what my mother said to me after the show was over, “Now I know what you like, you like people.” Not just people, Mom, artists. Not that artists aren’t people but they are, as I discovered years later when I joined a community printmaking studio, a breed apart, a band where I belonged.

Today, after a successful career as a fashion designer, my mother makes one-of-a-kind beaded jewelry and sells her work at craft shows around Montreal. I recently took her jewelry for a jury selection for one of these shows. A jeweler complimented me lavishly on the unique quality of the necklaces and bracelets that I had carefully set up for the jury to inspect the following day. I was proud to admit that I was not the artisan and to give full credit where it was due, to my mother.

Talleen Hacikyan

Etch a Sketch of Childhood

Sherbrooke, Quebec, 1963. I’m four-years old. My father and I are coloring a little girl playing hopscotch in my coloring book. Bedtime is creeping up but the clock stands still when you’re breaking in new crayons — a box of 48 Crayola wax crayons with a built-in sharpener that makes curly shavings. Crayola has not yet invented crayons that glow in the dark, sparkle with glitter, change colors, smell like watermelon, or wash off walls, windows, and bathtubs. But I’m thrilled with my gold, silver and copper crayons. My father colors the sole of the girl’s shoe gold to make it look dirty. Since he doesn’t press hard there is no iridescent effect. It doesn’t look as if this happy-go-lucky girl has 24-karat gold leaf underneath her Mary Janes. The sole of her uplifted shoe simply looks a tad worn, a testament to her playful endeavors. I’m impressed. Now I try out as many colors as I can, including Peach and Midnight Blue.

Had I been coloring before 1958 I would be have been using Prussian Blue instead of Midnight Blue, which in fact is the same color with a different name. Crayola changed the name because teachers felt that children were not familiar enough with Prussian history to recognize that this crayon color referred to the deep-blue uniforms of Prussian soldiers. When I used my Peach crayon I was oblivious to the fact that a year earlier this color used to be called Flesh. In 1962, partly in response to the civil rights movement, the Flesh color was renamed Peach, in recognition of the fact that skin comes in various shades. I never colored faces, preferring the natural tint of newsprint to any of the politically correct shades available in my box of crayons.

That coloring book episode is my earliest memory of making art. Coloring books have gotten their share of slack for inhibiting children’s creativity. I grew up with them and became a professional artist. I know what you’re thinking: She sounds like the ninety-year old pack-a-day smoker who boasts of excellent health.

Let’s consider the merits of a coloring book from a child’s point of view. There’s the obvious virtue of making you look like a master artist just because you’ve carefully colored within the boundaries of the lines. When it comes to choosing what to color the decision-making process simply involves flipping through pages, almost as easy as clicking on a mouse. And the coloring book is easy to tote along when you go to visit boring relatives.

For some reason I don’t have memories of coloring freehand. There must be something comforting about the pre-drawn designs in coloring books that imprinted in my mind: The Mickey Mouses, the Santa Clauses, the Tweedy Birds, the baskets of Easter eggs, the farm animals, the jungle animals… Luckily my father kept some of my freehand drawings from when I was a child, all carefully tucked away in a filing cabinet. A note to parents: save your kids’ artwork, and date it. Thanks to my Dad’s judicious filing techniques (he even kept a copy the “Feeding Schedule” from when I was one month old, before the days of feeding-on-demand) you can view three works of Talleen Hacikyan, exhibited here for the first time, all made somewhere between 1964 and 1969.stilllife.jpg
Still Life
Wax crayon and banana stickers on paper


Happy Landing
Wax crayon, pencil crayon and gold sticker on paper


Woman With Fork Jewelry
Wax crayon and ballpoint pen on paper

When I think of making art as a child I remember certain toys.

Growing up in the sixties, I made my share of Etch A Sketch drawings. Etch a Sketch, in case you don’t know, is a plastic screen with knobs that control a stylus behind the screen. As the stylus moves it displaces Aluminum powder on the back of the screen, leaving a dark grey line in its path. This toy was introduced near the peak of the baby boom. I liked writing my name with it, creating odd geometric letters, drawing houses with stairs, and then shaking the Etch A Sketch to erase my masterpieces. It was also fun covering the entire screen with lines aligned one next to the other, so that the screen turned dark grey, revealing the stylus and the rods attached to it. I’ve come a long way from my classic red and white Etch A Sketch to my silver, streamlined Apple PowerBook. But as I discovered there are some people out there who churn out incredible drawings on their Etch A Sketch. To view an Etch A Sketch artist at work check out

spirograph.jpgSpirograph was one of my all time favorite toys. I must have made hundreds of circular designs with it. It works by rolling a plastic gear inside or outside of a plastic ring. A few years ago I bought a cheap imitation from a street vendor in Istanbul for my son. The plastic is too thin and slips constantly. I was more disappointed than he was with this impulsive purchase. One small consolation is that I discovered that the web is full of sites that sell items with Spirograph patterns on them, everything from desk mugs to diaper bags. For my birthday I want a set of Spirograph sheets. If I can’t make Spirograph designs let me sleep in them.

One Christmas I unwrapped a huge box –Rings ‘n Things, the first item on my wish list that I had personally mailed to the North Pole. The kit came with “gobbledy goop” that I poured into metal molds to make rings and pendants of butterflies and flowers. I remember lots of pink and the thrill of observing imprinted details when I pulled out the hardened goop from the mold.

The following Christmas a family friend got me a pyrography kit, which I had never asked for because I did not know what pyrography is. I discovered that it is the art of burning designs into wood. The kit came with thin wood plates, printed with designs of horses, chipmunks, roosters, etc. With an electrically heated needle that had adaptable tips I would burn the patterns. I loved the smell of the burning wood and the way I could modulate the intensity of browns according to how long I let the wood burn.

The only photo of me making art as a child is this Polaroid snapshot taken when I was twelve years old. I am painting by numbers with oils on a black velvet board, wearing my red velvet dress. I still have
the easel but there is no trace of my velvety chef d’oeuvre.
Making art makes me feel good. Not all the time, but when I’m totally immersed in what I am creating, when my piece dictates how to continue working and when this silent dialogue between myself and my art becomes so engaging that the outside world evaporates, I feel good.

When I create a collagraph plate designed for printing onto paper, I work (and play) on cardboard. As I make textures with plaster and glue bits of eggshells, coffee ground, leaves, and sand, I connect to the little girl who colored a monkey eating a banana, who made pink plastic rings, and who etched a marvelous childhood, if only to have it shaken by the passing of time until it vanished into the realm of memory.

Talleen Hacikyan

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