Winston interviews Barbara Klunder

Barbara Klunder with TINARS mascot, Winston

Veteran artist, designer and author Barbara Klunder is one of the headliners at ‘totstock 09’ on June 21. She and Winston spent last Sunday dancing on Ward’s Island, to celebrate The Animal’s Day.

W: Much of your recent work has been in textiles. What prompted you to shift over to books, first for Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes For Our Fragile Times and now for The Animals’ Day: An Island Alphabet?

B: I've always made my own books...four-inch square ones, some printed in the letterpress method, no matter what else I'm working on...Other Goose was first made in 1995 to showcase my new font, B.Klunder Script with Dingbats, from FontShop, Berlin. I finally took them to a publisher... Groundwood Books....very late in the game, and was delighted they said yes! One of my museum art shows has a small catalogue, '27 Downsized Purses' which Coach House press printed. I have one new elegant idea that's going forward, and two other kid's books ready to go.

W: You have a long history with Toronto’s Islands. What do they mean to you?

B: This is my tribe I finally found...the artists and musicians here are a fine group of highly sophisticated artists: poets, writers, dancers, painters, photographers, gourmet cooks, knitters, etc.. Draft dodgers populated the Islands during the Vietnam War, and a lot of them are still here, having raised their kids with all this music and theatre as well as granola, and now passing this magic on to their grandchildren. These families are the keepers of the community...from preventing the houses being torn down, to watching out for the wildlife, as well as gathering the Island's own history. The wards of Wards Island. The anti-condo tribe.

The beauty among these streets is the testament to their success. Although the city likes to portray us as a complaining group, we are the group that fight for a certain quality of life, which is now, thirty years later, called Green.

W: The Animals’ Day presents us with a variety of critters, from Ants to Woodpeckers. How long did it take you to interview all of the animals?

B: Unbeknownst to them, I caught them partying on the beach two summers ago, and being somewhat observant, took it from there.

W: Which animal do you identify with the most?

B: Hmmm....I think the Crow on the cover, or the Cardinal inside...the letter C. When you are in a canoe on a summer afternoon on the lagoon, with a friend, a cool drink and a picnic...it doesn't get any better than that.

W: Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, or scissors?

B: Well... I like to do papercut art so... scissors to paper...done to rock music! My gallery shows my large insect papercuts, with music cut into their wings.

W: Can you give us a glimpse of how you approach the twin tasks of writing and illustrating? Do you start the process with a sketch and then write a poem? Or, the other way around? Or is it ultimately a mixture of both?

B: For this book...I made a list of all the animals I had seen here, and a list of all the alphabet letters, and matched them up. The original title was the 'WILDLIFE Alphabet of Toronto Island' which let me tell of a few human events that are wild.....like the Lantern festival, or stiltwalking. Of course there were a few letters where I had many creatures to choose from. S has many: snakes, sparrows, swans, and some letters that have no animals, like X. Then I drew them. I try to get across the feelings: the fun of riding a bike on a bridge, the shock of being caught naked...so I guess I started with the words and made the best little watercolour paintings I could, to show those things, keeping E. P. Shepherd's The Wind in the Willows as my inspiration.

W: What books are currently on your bedside table?

B: I have a very large bedside table..a dining room table cut down, so I can get quite a few of my books and magazines on it! Creation by Kathryn Govier about Audubon, the man who painted the birds of America. That made me have all of my Audubon books nearby too, to look up the paintings that go with the story. A new papercut-art book by Rob Ryan, This is For You. And, since John Updike died recently, I am trying to read all of the ones I missed. He can describe feelings and misgivings so accurately with so few words, it astounds me. And I am very excited about Anne Michael's new one, but haven't started it.

W: If you could have any super-power, which one would you chose?

B: Super Eyesight...so I could see the extremely small. My favourite art books these days are micro-photography ones, where the architecture of tiny, cellular, natural forms constantly amaze me.

W: Who is your favourite Sesame Street character? Why?

B: Ernie...he is a bit of a rascal. Grover is kinda sweet too.

W: What five songs would you put on a mix-tape soundtrack for the Island animals' annual party?

B: 'Hey Good Looking', 'Girl from Ipanema' and 3 upbeat dance music tunes from Trinidad, South Africa, and Cuba.