Visiting my parents in the historic fishing village of Port Medway, Nova Scotia (population: about 250) can feel as exotic as anywhere I’ve been. Mainly because my mother, Susan Feindel, lives and breathes art.
Every nook and cranny of their 19th-century home overflows with paintings and sculptures, treasures from my hippie childhood, and mementos from my mother’s family, whose Nova Scotian roots date back to the 1750s.
But my mom keeps some of her most prized possessions packed in newspaper, squirreled away.
Last month, I asked if she would unwrap the clay flutes she made in the Mayan pottery village of Amatenango del Valle, Mexico, more than 40 years ago.
Cute ocarinas, these are not.
Her "Moses flute" has arms outstretched, Gandolf-style, and a chain for wearing the prophet around one’s neck (see below). When I asked about the inspiration for this piece, my mother pointed out that Moses always had something to say. (But her interest in Moses at the peak of her bohemian period remains a mystery to me, since we were hardly religious.)
Another of her flutes looks like a pair of breasts, and has a little hole in which to pour water. She designed it for two people to play at once while shifting the flute up and down in a wavy motion, altering the sound with every slosh. My mom and I tried playing it together, and burst out laughing. It was as fun and awkward as it sounds.
I had better luck with the platter-sized terra-cotta flute that looks like a flying saucer (scroll up for the group photo). Though heavy and tricky to play, it had a deep, soft, earthy sound. My mom calls this one, "Speaking to my father."
Her series of erotic instruments includes a demure "lady flute" with a rounded tummy and splayed breasts. Another has a bulbous female rump with orifices that double as mouthpieces (not shown here).
When it comes to her art, my mother has always been no-holds-barred.
These days she focuses mainly on painting, but in the past she has created major pieces in carved wood, mosaic tile, fresco, and occasionally, sound. (For a timeline of her work, click here.)
My mom began experimenting with clay flutes during a phase of musical discovery in her mid-20s. Back in the early 1970s, she and a caravan of nomadic idealists held "spontaneous music workshops" throughout North America for children with special needs, including austism and Down syndrome.
I joined in these workshops as a toddler (more on this later).
But right now, I wish I had spent more time with my mom and her flutes (magical, to my ears) during my brief stop in Nova Scotia en route to Aix-en-Provence, France.
Hearing and touching these clay things from childhood took me back to a time when my mother was always with me, and I basked in the colours and sounds of her creations.
I cried buckets when we said goodbye.