Thursday, August 21, 2008

I love my studio

This is the first time in my life that I feel like I have a real studio. I have been enamelling for 24 years - but I have always been in a basement or a back porch - usually with no heat in the winter! For someone who lives in such a cold climate this is scary - even when you spend most of your day in front of a 1500 degree kiln ;-)
I moved here in May 2008 after a year and a half in a friend's basement. I was grateful for the space and the privacy, but it had become increasingly difficult to go down into what was becoming more and more (in my mind) like a dungeon...
But I have now officially been a tenant of "Honest Ed" for 4 months. For those of you who have never been to Toronto – the name "Honest Ed" may not be familiar – but to Torontonians his giant bargain store on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor is a landmark. When people come to visit me in Toronto – I always take them there as part of the "alternative Toronto tour". Not only is it just about the cheesiest store in existence (with slogans like "Welcome, don't faint at our low prices, there's no place to lie down") it is huge and filled with bizarre and kitschy wonders like 3D pictures of the Last Supper.

Ed Mirvish opened the store in 1948 – he claims it was the first bargain store in the world. It's hard to describe Honest Eds to someone who's never been there. The store is crammed with everything you can imagine from hardware to housewares to food, clothing and even a pharmacy and immigration services. The walls are packed with pictures of the stars (from Dean Martin and Elvis to Celine Dion) signed with a special note to Ed. Since he closed his famous restaurants he has moved the antiques that used to fill them to his store as well – so occasionally you run across a giant Buddha or beautifully carved Thai thrones. When he was alive (he just passed away at the age of 93 in 2007) he used to have special promotions on Saturdays where he would sell fresh whole chickens for 25 cents, or watches for 10 cents. Ever Christmas he gave away hundreds of turkeys.
He was famous for crazy publicity stunts – like hiring people to picket his restaurants protesting the dress code (Ed used to require that men wear a jacket and tie – AND he provided them.)
But the important thing for me about Ed was that he was a man of the community. Though everything he touched seemed to turn to gold – he also gave back to the community.
 From his obituary by "It seemed as though everyone in the city claimed Ed Mirvish as a friend. He was known for his warm smile, his quick wit and his open-hearted generosity to individuals and charitable causes. His smile was a tonic, his laughter a vacation, his handshake a benediction."( Read the full obit here)
After all this you will be surprised to learn that he saved several old Theatres – not just in Toronto – but also the Old Vic in London, England. Under his management, The Old Vic won more awards for its productions than any other single theatre in Britain. His investment in Toronto theatres changed the shape of Toronto, and made theatre respectable again.
 My studio is in "Mirvish Village" an area next to Honest Ed's (the store) above The Spence Gallery (formerly Ballenford Books on Architecture)  and across from a great Cajun food restaurant: Southern Accent. The street is lined with bookstores, art galleries, music venues, and is a legacy to Ed's patronage of the arts.
I am enjoying having a window that lets in actual sunlight, and working in a vibrant and supportive neighborhood.

But best of all is the story of how Mirvish Village came to be. When Ed was a young millionaire - he was wooing a woman who was an artist and singer from Hamilton. At the time, there was no real arts neighbourhood in Toronto, so Ed bought all the old Victorian buildings on Markham street, behind his flagship store and rented them to artists for below market rates. All this to woo her. He thought he would have a better chance of convincing her to come live in Toronto if there was a welcoming arts neighbourhood to attract her. It worked! She married him in 1941, and still has a studio here - though she is well into her 90's. 

Thanks Ed!

If you'd like to know more about Ed – check out this thoughtful article by Robert Fulford


Roxanne O'Connell said...

Hi there...the blog is great and I'm truly happy for you in your new digs. Unfortunately, I have to let you know that Ed was not the first to set up a discount giganta store... Spags was the first, established in 1934, in Shrewsbury, MA. One of my grandmother's favorite places to shop :)
Love, Rox

imagocorvi said...

Yes but Ed was the first CANADIAN ...