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Local artist’s passion dates back to childhood

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Bistro 7 ¼ located at 725 Osborne, has a packed house last June 8. The restaurant and lounge had an art opening that featured two local artists, Erin Josephson-Laidlaw and Natalie Baird plus musician Claire Morrison.

Natalie Baird does intricate print work pencil drawings and vibrant ink on paper cutout with faces. Josephson-Laidlaw, who grew up in Riverview, makes intriguing print-based water colours and intaglio prints.

The event was organized by SYNONYM Art Consultation, a company headed by Chloe Chafe and Andrew Eastman that presents curated art shows in everyday places like restaurants, boutiques and hair salons.

A few days after the opening and Bistro 7 ¼  I spoke with Josephson-Laidlaw.  She studied art at the Ontario College of Art, now known as the Ontario College of Art and Design University located near the Art Gallery of Ontario in downtown Toronto. With an enrolment of 5,000 the university is filled with creative activity.

One year of Josephson-Laidlaw’s studies was more intimate. She lived and studied in Florence, Italy with about 30 students. The Florence stay stimulated Josephson-Laidlaw’s interest in museum specimens. She visited La Specola, a Museum of Natural History that opened in 1771 in Florence and is home to animals that have been preserved with taxidermy techniques, fossils, minerals and exotic plants collected by several generations of the Medici family.

Despite taking some Italian classes Josephson-Laidlaw found people often responded in English. This has happened to me when I speak French in Quebec however the visitor has to keep trying. Indeed, the artist would like to keep up and even improve her Italian.

"Florence is a beautiful city and full of wonderful art," said Josephson-Laidlaw who admitted the city is also full of tourists.

The art classes were taught in English and included art history field trips to Rome, Venice, Ravenna and Bologna. In Bologna students were treated to an international art fair with exhibits from galleries worldwide.

 Upon her return to Winnipeg, Josephson-Laidlaw visited the Manitoba Museum which houses a huge collection of artifacts and specimens including a little deer mouse lying preserved in a cabinet drawer. This creature is depicted in one of Josephson-Laidlaw’s six print-based watercolours on display at Bistro 7 ¼.

Making one of these prints is quite a process. Josephson-Laidlaw begins by preparing a copper plate. She files the plate’s edges and applies a protective layer of Calcium Carbonate, also known as Whiting Powder plus a non-toxic ground to the back of the plate. Then she is off to the Manitoba Museum where children on a school tour have sometimes flocked around her to watch her scratch an image onto the copper plate with a sharp tool.

Josephson-Laidlaw next goes to the Martha Street Studio, a community-based printmaking facility in the Exchange District, to make prints. The etched plate sits in Ferric Chloride for at least 30 minutes. Next a thin coat of ink is applied to the plate and then removed with tarlatan, a starched open-weave fabric much like cheesecloth, and fine paper, - the Winnipeg phone book’s thin pages works well for this purpose. After this it is time for a test print. A piece of damp paper goes on top of the plate and then rolled through the printing press, which must be cleaned after every printing.

Josephson-Laidlaw received funding from the Manitoba Arts Council for this printing project.

Bistro 7 ¼ will display Baird and Josephson-Laidlaw’s work for about four months. At the end of June, Josephson-Laidlaw is participating in an art show at Parlour Café on Main Street. She is currently working on a project that includes an installation component and some smaller pieces to be ready at the end of July for viewing at the artist-run venue Atomic Centre at Martha and Logan.

I asked Josephson-Laidlaw what inspired her artistic passion. "As a kid I was interested in it. My mom had lots of art supplies and she’d let us make a big mess," said Erin.

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