In April 2017 I was artist in residence at the Caetani Cultural Centre in Vernon, British Columbia. The Centre is named after Sveva Caetani (1917-1994), who was born in Italy but lived all but ten years of her life in Vernon after moving to Canada with her parents in 1921. My project, The edge of her garden, is a series of ten paintings that respond to the site of the Caetani Cultural Centre today: a 1.5 acre property on Pleasant Valley Road, its 6000 square-foot house, six outbuildings, and garden.
I was compelled by Sveva Caetani’s life story, which revolves around this particular house and garden. This space was for many years a place where Sveva Caetani had the misfortune to be imprisoned. But – later – it was also the space where Caetani chose to develop her practice and identity as an artist. At 57 years old, she moved back into the Pleasant Valley road house, where she embarked upon her major opus for the next 15 years. In its current purpose as an art centre, the space continues to support artists’ creativity. My series of paintings addressed the edges of Sveva Caetani’s garden in two senses then, as limit and constraint, but also as threshold and horizon.
My own engagement with Sveva Caetani’s legacy was focused on the space of her Pleasant Valley property in Vernon. Living in the house, painting each morning in a studio in the garden, and researching the Caetani fonds in the afternoons, I was fully immersed in a space of becoming that carries all the reminders of sadder days, as well as the great determination required to become an artist, and the joy of embracing the latter. Towards the end of my residency these reflections prompted me to include a self-portrait as part of the series.
I am grateful to the staff, residents, and artists-in-residence of the Caetani Cultural Centre who shared their knowledge and reflections with me, including Susan Brandoli, Gail and Cam Setter, Mary Kelly, Sandra DeVries, Gabrielle Strong, Angelika Jaeger. I am also grateful to Barbara Bell and Liz Ellison at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives for their assistance with my project, and to Heidi Thompson for speaking with me about her ongoing work on the Sveva Caetani story.
In 2018 I published an essay about this research-creation project, titled “The edge of her garden: Sveva Caetani and the frontier of potential,” in Cahiers de recherche LEAP: Entre hétéronomie et autonomie : Penser l’architecture entre discipline et profession/LEAP Research Notebooks: Between heteronomy and autonomy: Thinking architecture in between discipline and profession. Ed. Louis Martin & Jonathan Lachance. Montréal: LEAP, 2018. 2786 words.