Jeanette Obbink Paris Lectures #17 with plein air artist

In Paris, Paris Lectures

Last week we hosted our seventeenth Paris Lectures event with our speaker, plein air artist, Jeanette Obbink. Jeanette is a painter, a teacher, a neighbour of ours, a Dutch transplant, and an active member of our community, and we were intrigued to catch a glimpse of the way she sees the world.

Jeanette’s work is, as she describes it, quiet. She told the audience a story of how when she was younger and in art school in the Netherlands, her teachers insisted she adopt a bolder approach to her work. But her quietness persisted until one day she got so sick of her teachers’ harping feedback that she decided to give them exactly what they wanted: She painted a larger piece than was typical for her, with quite different strokes and colours, and even used her left hand to do it.

Not surprisingly, her teachers loved it, and Jeanette thought she had proven a point – that by giving them exactly what they wanted she showed that they were not really seeing her unique artistic vision. In reality, she was the one learning a lesson; they loved it because she had had to work for every single stroke on the canvas. What they ultimately wanted was to challenge her and for her to challenge herself. They were pleased to finally see hard work and perseverance made visible in her final work.

Jeanette’s take on the shops and apartments that back on to the Grand River in Paris, Ontario

This approach to art was a lasting lesson for Jeanette and has informed an industriousness still visible in her work today. As grueling as it is to paint outdoors in the Canadian wilderness, Jeanette makes it a discipline to be outside painting several times a week, and she has a full studio of canvases to show for it.

Recently Jeanette applied to C3, Canada’s Coast to Coast program inviting Canadians to join them on a 150 day journey across their home country. While her application ultimately didn’t succeed, we were honoured to play a role in helping her put together a video about her painting, specifically highlighting her work on local indigenous landscapes.

The recent news and scandal around the Canadian media’s treatment of indigenous writers and the appalling #appropriationprize puts Jeanette’s work in stark relief. Jeanette is certainly an outsider looking in, but her intention is to quietly listen to the stories, beliefs, pains and celebrations of our neighbouring First Nations community. She brought up the Haldimand Tract, the stretch of land that runs six miles on either side of the Grand River in southwest Ontario, originally 950,000 acres “gifted” to the First Nations people in recognition of their loyalty to the British Crown during the American Revolution. Paris sits smack dab in the middle of the Haldimand Track, so Jeanette verbalized an important question, “Where do we stand as people who currently live on land promised to First Nations?”

She noted that less than 5% of the original Haldimand Tract is currently occupied by indigenous peoples, which over the years has dwindled to 48,000 acres. Some of the land has been sold off, some has been appropriated (to put it mildly), and some is occupied by, well, us. While the goal of Jeanette’s question was not to suggest that anyone be displaced from their homes, the thoughtful approach to considering another perspective – one that has significantly less privilege than white perspective  – is so crucial to the advancement and inclusion of the First Nations people. Jeanette herself was first introduced to the topics after attending a pow-wow and being moved by what she believed painting and art could bring to the reconciliation conversation. She believes it is important for everyone to consider the facts, to be involved, and that like it or not – it’s a part of modern history and we all have a role to play.

We’re glad we could help facilitate this conversation and story sharing, and super grateful to Jeanette for bringing it to our audience’s attention. (Side note: We’ve been actively seeking a First Nations speaker for Paris Lectures for many months. If you have any contacts for us or are willing to make an introduction, please get in touch.)

Our visit in 2015 to the Woodland Cultural Centre museum in Brantford, one of the largest facilities in Canada managed and administered by First Nations

Paris Lectures news & updates

Our latest event coincided with the launch of the new Paris Lectures website (check it out – very snazzy, if we say so ourselves!, and after a boatload of late nights working on it, it was fantastic to gather with new and old friends.

As we usually do, we asked the crowd who was there for the first time and who was from outside of Paris, and it surprised us both times the high percentage of newcomers and outsiders.

“I absolutely loved it, I’ve been telling everyone about it, that we need to go again.” –Rachael Srigley, came to Paris Lectures for the first time

As newcomers and outsiders ourselves when we first arrived in Paris, we can relate and so of course this pleases us to no end. One of the things we are most proud of and work the hardest at is to be inclusive, so we like that the series is providing a bit of a time and space to get to know new people. As evidenced by the many people we’ve met since we moved here who have confessed that they barely know anyone in town, it can be difficult to find a new network of friends. And more than friends, we believe that good networks of people stimulate the local economy by encouraging folks to work together, share resources, and introduce new opportunities.

Jeanette is no stranger to working with others. She is on the committee that is organizing Brant Colours, a four day plein air art festival coming to the area in September. During this event we will also be hosting a Paris Lectures in collaboration with Glenhyrst Art Gallery, a “Crit Night” where artists and creatives can bring their work for feedback from peers and professionals. We’re really pumped about setting this up and will keep you posted about our plans!

Historical factoid

At our most recent events, Mark has made a habit of poring through local history resources and bringing the most interesting stories to Paris Lectures. This time he shared never-seen-before images of the DT Centre during its 2014 renovation along with its most recent use as a concert venue for Joel and Bill Plaskett at the DT Concert Series. How far it has come!

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Mark also shared the story of the statue in Brantford of Alexander Graham Bell that is frequently mistaken in photos as the Lincoln Memorial. It was sculpted by artist Arthur Edward Horne, apprentice to one of Canada’s most prominent sculptors and coin designers, Emanuel Hahn who was the protégé of Walter Seymour Allward, architect of the famous Canadian War Memorial in Vimy. Both Hahn and Allward have pieces lining University Avenue in Toronto, monuments across Canada, as well other significant works in Brantford including their collaborative Bell Memorial.

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Somehow Mark brought us to the fact that King George VI and The Queen Mother had made a stop in our little old Paris, Ontario, way back when there were seven bridges over the Grand, Nith and raceways and four train stations. The main message: There is so much fascinating heritage and history to discover and to celebrate when you look closely enough.

The stoke

At each Paris Lectures we ask the crowd to courageously participate in a creative warm-up exercise, or “stoke”, that varies for each event. The ask is low bar and whimsical and helps everyone relax, including us. While it’s always a choice whether or not to participate, we enjoy looking back at the pictures and seeing most people having a good time with it! At this event we chose to play “Sound Ball”; in small groups we threw around an imaginary ball. The thrower would make a noise, the receiver would replicate that noise upon ‘catching’ the ball, and then when they threw the ball to someone else they would make a new noise. And so the cycle continued until everyone was making goofy noises and laughing, or at the very least, mildly embarrassed. Then we knew it was time to begin the talk.


Jeanette so generously donated not one but two pieces of original art and sets of gift cards and calendars. We also put up a pair of tickets to the next Paris Lectures event. After super quick trivia questions from the evening’s presentations, we happily gave them away. Congrats Susan Stulen, Jennifer Budd, and Marilyn Sewell!

Jeanette Plein Air Painting

What’s next?

Our next event will be a Raconteurs event on Monday, July 10th. We are going to invite the public to submit story ideas and curate a final list of speakers. If you have a story to tell – any story at all so long as it’s good! – we do hope you will consider entertaining us for the evening. Sign up to our mailing list (be sure to add to your contacts so we don’t end up in your spam folder) and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to hear about when the event is posted and tickets are released.

See you all in July!

Thank you to our sponsors

Hugest of thanks to our sponsors, Shopify, Creative Vision Optical, Studio50, and Mailchimp. We couldn’t do this without you! Also an enormous than you to Tim Srigley for the event photos featured in this post. ♥

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