Art & Science Paris Lectures with Deborah Briggs

In Paris Lectures

Our final Paris Lectures event of the year left us buzzing. Amidst a packed Dominion Telegraph Centre we were inspired by ideas from the talented virologist and master weaver – born and raised in Paris – Deborah Briggs, humbled by generous donations from the community to the local food shelter and the Brant County SPCA, and energized by a spirited, competitive raffle for one of Debbie’s donated scarves and a ticket to one of our winter workshops. We couldn’t have asked for a better send off for 2016.


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We often don’t get to say hello to everyone who attends the lectures, but for this event we managed to station ourselves at the front, check-in list in hand and sleepy baby in her carrier. Not only did it make us appreciate our regular check-in volunteers, Jennifer and Stuart Budd, it was so humbling to see people streaming through the door, eager to attend this event we made from nothing, seeing people engage with each other. With this our 14th event, 46th speaker, and over 600 tickets registered, it’s rewarding to see the growth of our ideas and impact personified in real, human, smiling, excited faces.

Mark began the evening with one of his characteristic rabbit-hole ‘Heritage Minutes’ welcomes. It seems to us that often the spectator sees more of the game and we love sharing all of the new discoveries we make as newcomers that connect our town to the larger tapestry of history. This time Mark shared his wanderings into the life of Alexander Graham Bell. Bell, who invented the telephone, had myriad connections with our event; first, the venue we hold our events in – the Dominion Telegraph Centre in Paris – is the site of the first long-distance telephone call in the world. Brantford was the site of Canada’s first telephone factory which unbelievably city officials accidentally approved for demolition in 1992. The embarrassing oversight came to light too late to stop wrecking crews, who were already tearing down the building to make way for a parking lot.

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Before the telephone Bell was working at a school for the deaf when he fell in love with one of his students, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard who also happened to be the school’s founder’s daughter. Not financially secure enough to win Mabel’s father’s approval, Bell went on to invent the telephone. As a wedding gift Bell gave Mabel 1,487 of his 1,497 shares in the newly formed Bell Telephone Company. Bell kept a photograph of his beloved Mabel on his desk; written on the back, in his own hand, reads the note: “the girl for whom the telephone was invented.”

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Mabel’s father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, was not only the founder of the school for the deaf but a wealthy lawyer, financier and the first president of the National Geographic Society. Hubbard eventually asked Bell to serve as his predecessor at the Society and he became its second president. During his tenure he began emphasizing the use of photography alongside the articles which became an instant (if somewhat controversial) success that defined the magazine and the future landscape of travel journalism.

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The bold, intentional pairing of words and images is not unlike what we are attempting to accomplish with Jane & Jury, which is to tell real life stories of our family’s experiences getting to know our new home. In that vein we were recently commissioned by the County of Brant to create a video promoting the county in partnership with Silverdrop Media. We couldn’t have asked for a better reception from the Paris Lectures crowd.

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Deborah then confidently took over at the mic to share stories about her life and career, a polymath journey just as varied and interesting as the life of Alexander Graham Bell.

“If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.” – Oscar Wilde

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Deborah began as a rabies specialist and professor at Kansas State University before founding an international non-profit, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, focused on eradicating the disease. Rabies kills more readily and indiscriminately than few other diseases, including Ebola, and 60% of cases are children. The death rate for rabies is 99.9% – so as Deborah pointed out, there are so few survivors who live to tell their story – yet it is entirely preventable. It seemed from Debbie’s talk that many of the barriers against eradicating rabies were not technical or scientific but rather interpersonal and business challenges. Debbie served at the organization as executive director and finally stepped down so that someone from outside North America could lead the cause from the inside.

Debbie’s transition into weaving, while a departure from her other life’s work, seemed quite natural. Inspired by objects and forms in nature the scientific side of Debbie’s brain found satisfaction in the mechanical adjustments of weaving on a loom. Her obsessions with feathers, patterns and color, and her willingness to adopt new technologies has led to collaborations with artists Holly O., Karen Wetlaufer of Found Studio, and Marguerite Larmand of Six Directions Studio, a talented sculpture artist.

We would like to thank a few people for making this series sustainable: Big big thank you to Millard’s Chartered Accountants for helping us sustain the series with a corporate sponsorship. We truly appreciate it! As tax season looms you should definitely give them a call (and tell ’em we sent ya), we definitely will be.

Thank you so much to The Arlington and to our servers for the evening for generously allowing us to use the event space. Thank you Studio50 and McCormick Florist for the speaker’s gift, Marc Laferriere for lending us his PA system, and to all our individual donors who donated when they registered for a ticket. Thank you to everyone for bringing food for our food drive – we had dozens of bags of food – so much more than we anticipated. Everyone who bought a raffle ticket, thank you – we are making a $75.50 donation to the Brant SPCA in honour of Debbie’s work on the relationship between humans and animals.

And of course, a tremendous thank you to Deborah Briggs for putting her heart and soul into her work and for sharing it with us. Follow Debbie’s work on Facebook.

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Our season culminated with a feeling of anything being possible. We won’t be hosting an event in December but we will be busy planning our Winter Workshops on photography and design (sign up for our mailing list or follow us on Facebook to hear when those dates are announced). We are scheming many other ways to grow Paris Lectures as well, and hopefully the new year will graciously allow us to pursue them.

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See you at the next Paris Lectures in 2017!

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