closing time

It took the better part of two days to install.

Just over an hour to take down.

The weeks in between were a sheer loveliness of spending time with my own couches in a public space and meeting people and having conversations start out of the thin air of upholstery.

The woman who told me her grandparents were happy as clams all their livelong lives together and maybe not in small part because of the mickeys of hootch they kept down the sides of their respective armchairs.

Another who said her first couch was an old door on top of bricks (for legs) and a slab of foam with fabric wrapped around it and several pillows propped against the wall.

The couch someone had forgotten but suddenly remembered hauling from a curb in Whistler and how much they loved it for the year they lived there.

The people who left me postcards.

And the strangers who sat down and talked as though we were old pals.

The kid who told me that sleeping on a pullout feels like a vacation.

And the kids who came on the last day to play the lava game and the scavenger game and ran around looking for things in the photos… a fire hydrant, geese, a porch, leaves, a rock, curtains, stairs, a dog wearing sunglasses. I loved their names— Violet, Autumn, Pandora, Audrey, Lucas, Madeleine, Maxine, Susie… I’ve forgotten some, but not the boy with the glasses and the girl who was so painfully shy.

The friends who brought me greenteacoconutmilkmachalatte, and those who were there when wine was on offer. Friends who travelled a distance to see this show and those who couldn’t come but were there in spirit. (I felt that spirit!) To friends who gave up part of a Sunday afternoon to hear me talk about how underwear affected furniture design. And to friends I missed seeing… sorry I missed you! Thank you all for coming and making this experience exactly what I hoped it would be… a stirring of memory and invitation to story.

Above all, thanks to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and the amazing gift that is Gallery A, for allowing me and my orphaned furniture this time and space.

Putting rubbish to some good purpose is my whole thing, after all.

That, and writing mystery thrillers set in art galleries…


if i ever write a mystery thriller it will be set in an art gallery and called ‘The Hidden Plywood’ and here’s why:


Installing the couch photos I learned four things.

1–   I’m no Meg Ruffman with a power drill.

2–  It’s an exhibit  in a museum, an exhibition  in a gallery.

3–  I thought you only needed a bag of nails and a hammer to properly hang photos. Apparently, a magic formula is also handy, which has something to do with math and therefore will constantly be just out of my reach.

4–  Gallery walls only look like ordinary walls. They’re actually lined floor to ceiling, side to side, with plywood, which means you can hang anything you want anywhere you want anytime you want and as often as you want without the whole thing falling down.


Which brings me to the idea of a possible mystery thriller, which I may as well write since I’ve been making notes about the comings and goings of people that visit the upholSTORIES show… and I have all those spare minutes between people (i.e. future characters) wandering in.

So here’s the outline, the who, what, when, where, why and how of my soft furnishings potboiler in progress… (SFPIP)


Who—  The guy on a downtown heritage walk who takes a wrong turn and accidentally finds himself in a gallery surrounded by couch photos and couch memories and when asked if he has a couch memory of his own he chuckles like Errol Flynn and says oh, yes, he has, but it’s not something he can tell me. Har har. He does tell me he’s 86 and that his wife has Alzheimers and it’s hard for him, he doesn’t know how long he can continue taking care of her. I sit on the edge of a coffee table as he talks. He sits back comfortably against the cushions on a striped couch.

—The two women who hold glasses of white wine as they tour the exhibition and say what a great place it would be to have a dinner party.

—Three grey-haired women with walkers who, by the time I get there, have been sitting on the couches a while. They eventually totter off, having established it’s already 3 o’clock.  They leave the cushions alarmingly askew.

—A man who tells me that after he left the chaos of the former Yugoslavia and moved here, the first thing he did was buy a couch from Leon’s.

—And the woman with the long white blonde hair, visiting from Manchester, who doesn’t say or do anything particularly memorable… she’s just so lovely.

What— A dinner party during which it’s suspected that the soup course has been tampered with. There is what looks suspiciously like a trace of gesso, a dollop of resin and a practically-impossible-to-see splash of Castilian brown in the otherwise scrumptious vichyssoise. The party is held on the eve of an 86 year old heritage walker’s birthday, in his honour. But will he make it to midnight? (Therein lies the mystery.) And I don’t mean will he stay awake that long… (therein lies the thriller).

When— The dinner party takes place in June. The weather is unseasonably warm, torrid even. The night is young. There is a full moon. Love is in the air. Or not. There is soup. There is definitely soup.

Where— A swanky gallery in a swanky town.

Why— Why a mystery thriller? (Because the world can never have enough mystery thrillers. Obviously.) Or why did someone tamper with the vichyssoise… in which case I’m hardly likely to tell you now am I…

How— Who knows. But based on the title you can guess it will have something to do with those genius gallery walls.

Look for it at better book stores everywhere.


day two, three and four — dog stories (otherwise known as puppy tales)

If this is your first time at Matilda, hello and a thousand welcomes
and may I refer you to this by way of explaining any potato references.

For others, for those who know about the couch thing  and are here anyway, noble troopers all of you…. cheers!  We’re obviously kindred spuds.

All of which to say… the potato couch  files continue… aka things that happen in an empty room filled with couches of various dimensions.


For example, the other day someone I know drops by and we sit chatting on the couches in the centre of the gallery, which are, indeed, part of the exhibit… and then we notice a few people looking at us as if maybe they’re wondering if we’re  actually part  of the exhibit.

And I think in a way we are…


Then on Saturday someone tells me about a beloved airedale terrier, who had a favourite spot on the couch and how the oil from its fur just ever so slightly marked the upholstery and although the dog is no longer with them and the stain isn’t something anyone else would even see, they see it still. That this  is the story that comes to their mind when surrounded by the couch pics… makes me just so glad I took them.

And then someone else leaves a note about how when they were thirteen their dog jumped onto the couch beside them and landed in their bowl of ice cream.

Two dog stories. Coincidence? Or are dogs and couches a thing?


On a different day entirely when, on the wall in front of me, is a collection of black couches I suddenly remember something I’d long forgotten… how, in my twenties, I’d moved from Toronto to Edmonton by train with only a suitcase and how my parents arranged for a truck of ‘stuff for me’ to arrive a few days after I did.

I didn’t know what they were sending.

Turned out to be a trunk, some boxes and a few pieces of furniture. One of the pieces being a black couch my father made and on it was a stuffed black poodle named Bandit I’d slept with as a child. It was strange to see it loose, not boxed. It had obviously been tossed in at the last minute, an afterthought.

I’d forgotten about all that.

Forgotten how that totally out of character for my parents  gesture surprised me in a way that made being alone and so far from home feel so much less lonely, an unexpected hug… and the best part was that I never knew which of them decided to send the poodle, which of them yelled Wait a minute!!  to the driver of the truck as they ran back to the house to get it…

Dogs and couches.

I think it’s a thing.






the couch potato files

Deep breath.

My upholSTORIES exhibition is up.

Up !!!

Installed with the help of Leslie and her impressive mathematical know-how, general gallery magician abilities and good advice. Hooray! and a thousand thanks to her, and to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery for accepting the premise that there is much to be found in the things we are prepared to lose…

So until the middle of May I’m going to be a regular couch potato… making the gallery space my office for a couple of hours each day as I work on a writing project while also taking in the fact that my pictures of street furniture surround me on four walls. And people are looking at them.

And the people are marvellous! This is my favourite part, the chatting.

Which is the whole point. It’s not about the pictures, it’s about what happens when people see the pictures and are reminded of their own stories of couches in their past. The photos are merely a way in.

Today a young man stands in front of one of my favourites… pink velvet with elaborately carved wood trim and legs… and tells me it’s exactly like his grandmother’s and that he was just sitting on it yesterday. The way he smiles when he says it makes me think he’s often at his gran’s… that tiny comment is just so filled with good vibes about their relationship. And then I wonder if he’ll tell her about the photo next time he’s there. And I wonder if she’ll tell him about her couch, things that would never have crossed either of their minds… maybe about the day she got it, or the party where someone spilled sherry or iced tea or how, maybe, someone else was proposed to while sitting right there where he sits now… and if so, I wonder where that conversation will take them that they may not have otherwise gone.

Because that’s what it’s all about…

The exhibition runs until May 14th in Gallery A
of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Reception, Friday, May 5th, 7-9 p.m.
Artist Talk — Sunday, May 7th, 1-3 p.m.