All about Eve

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Mabel k.
handwritten letter, notebook, red ink, narrative, women, class, history, memory, red-flocked border, quarrel, difference of opinion, letter, angry letter, private quarrel, relationships, feminist art practice, fragments of history, femininity, memory, social and cultural norms, domestic life, scanned notebook, family histories, family history, letter, conflict,

With Mabel k., from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Gisele Amantea presents us with, not hundreds of notebook pages, as in her  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  A Daily Record (see the About the Artist section on Gisele Amantea for more information), but one page of a handwritten letter.

The letter, written in red ink, with a red-flocked border, is about a quarrel between two women. The writer of the letter, Mabel, is not articulate, and the precise cause of the quarrel is difficult to figure out. “I hear that you was angry on me and I didn’t do nothing …” it begins. The quarrel is apparently a difference of opinion over someone named Alfred, although what this difference of opinion is is difficult to tell.

start quoteThe beauty of the hand-written page, including the crossing out of duties and events, is moving and strongly connotes labour conducive to a woman of her age, social class and cultural circum stances in Canada.end quote -- Giselle Amantea

In Mabel k. Amantea has given us a glimpse into a very private matter. She uses red flocking and reproduces the letter in red ink, denoting that the letter deals with anger. By framing this decades-old letter she also raises a private quarrel between two people in Delisle, Saskatchewan, into a commentary about how anger can be found in all places, and in all eras of history.

What is written in the letter, however, leaves us hanging. We are left to imagine our own scenario for the meeting of the two women on Saturday night, and what might result from that encounter. Amantea also leaves it up to us to fill in the details of the relationships involving the letter writer, the woman the letter is addressed to, and Alfred.

Red pen Red pen

additional resources Things to Think About
  • In titling this work, Amantea left the first letter of Mabel’s surname in lower case. We capitalize the first letters of names to indicate that names are important and unique. By using lower case letters, do you think Amantea was suggesting Mabel’s situation is more universal?
  • One of the ways we judge any creative work is by how and whether we “connect” with the work; that we care about what the work is about and take the time to explore its meanings. What does your reaction to Mabel k. tell you about your estimation of the work?
Advanced Activity

Social Studies link

Everyone has a story to tell. Many people have led fascinating lives and older people often have interesting stories they never find an opportunity to tell. Eventually these stories, which are part of human history, are lost forever. 

  • Ask an older family member or friend to tell you about their childhood memories, or about an interesting or unusual experience or even about an everyday experience. You might consider inviting an older person as a guest to your classroom or your home to tell their story.
  • Ask if you can record their stories, write or draw about what they tell you. How could their stories inspire you to create a history or memory project? If you make a recording or a visual project, make sure you give the storyteller acknowledgement and a special copy of the outcome of your work together.
  • Many people have interesting picture albums they love to share. Some examples of topics to have conversations about might be:

    • life in the country or on the farm, life in the city
    • traditional foods and how they were prepared
    • celebrations
    • fashions that were popular when they were younger
    • experiences they may have had as an immigrant
    • games they played as children and adults
    • sports and movie heroes they recall
    • school
    • their first real job (when they got paid!!)
    • toys they remember playing with
    • daily routines
    • special memories
    • friendships
Advanced Activity Online Activity
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Decorative inset caps

colourful pictureGraceful, beautiful handwriting is becoming rare today because most of us use mechanical means to communicate words. But some artists practice  calligraphyCareful hand-lettering, handwriting, or the decorative art of lettering in an ornamental style using brushes or pens. Or the lettering that is produced in this way. There are many kinds of calligraphy. In some cultures, calligraphy is more important as an art form than in others. Its importance is particularly great in China, Japan, and in Arabia (see Islamic art). (  as an art and study how to produce writing similar to ancient elaborately decorated scripts.  CalligraphyCareful hand-lettering, handwriting, or the decorative art of lettering in an ornamental style using brushes or pens. Or the lettering that is produced in this way. There are many kinds of calligraphy. In some cultures, calligraphy is more important as an art form than in others. Its importance is particularly great in China, Japan, and in Arabia (see Islamic art). (  artists use special papers such as vellum, coloured inks, egg  temperaA paint and process involving an emulsion of oil and water. It was in use before the invention of oil paints. Traditionally it involves an egg emulsion; thus the term egg tempera. The pigments or colours are mixed with an emulsion of egg yolks (removed from their sacs) or of size, rather than oil, and can be thinned and solved with water. Also known as egg tempera and temper. A varnish for tempera paints, called glair may be prepared by mixing egg whites with a little water, then beating them, and applying once the bubbles are gone. Because some of its ingredients are organic, tempera may spoil, and get very smelly. Claims have been made that when any one of the following substances are added, it reverses the growth of bacteria in tempera: benzoate of soda, bath salts, table salt, soap or cleanser such as 409, alcohol or bleach (one capful per gallon of tempera). (  paint and gold leaf. Often in calligraphy, the initial capital letters of the writing are especially decorative, some with animal or floral motifs entwined around them.

The following link provides some historical background and basic instruction for making an illuminated capital letter on paper.

calligraphy letters

For this activity, choose a letter using the shapes icon in the centre box underneath the drawing window (a window will open containing the letter shapes you can use) and decorate it as an illuminated capital letter.

NOTE:  You will need to close the shapes window before you can decorate your letter.

Studio Activity

Interpretation: Going beyond the artwork

woman thinkingMabel k features a letter which looks as if the writer did not know how to read and write very well. Do you think this artwork features an authentic letter, or was this person and the correspondence invented by the artist? Whether it is real or not, where would Amantea gather this information and why would she make this a feature for an artwork?

Consider the following to help you to understand the significance of this work:

  • Read the letter in Mabel k. and discuss or write your interpretation of the story or situation surrounding the letter.
  • Think about who the Mabel k. of the letter is and where she might live.
  • Think about how many years Mabel k went to school, or if English was her first language.

The following words have been used to describe Amantea’s work: narrative, women, class, history, memory. How do these words apply to Mabel k? Does this artwork tell us something about the state of women’s education in 1940s (the date of the letter)?

Studio Activity

In many cultures, women were often forbidden to read and write, as well as restricted from participating in higher forms of education (such as university). This still occurs in some parts of the world.

In China women invented a secret language to communicate to each other. The language called Nushu stayed secret between women  for thousands of years. Women hid messages and poems as part of embroideries on clothing, fans and special bridal cloth books.  To read more about this secret language, explore the following websites:

Today we have many ways to communicate including emails, blogging and texting. Try the following inventive ways to communicate, and think about how these ideas might inspire you to create an artwork about communication and language.

  • Write an elegant letter.

Write secret messages with invisible “ink”.

  • Try other ingredients such as apple juice or vinegar, or baking soda mixed with a little water. If you wipe grape juice over the baking soda words, it will react and reveal the message.

Make up your own language. Texting is already changing language, as are other forms of  popular cultureLow (as opposed to high) culture, parts of which are known as kitsch and camp. With the increasing economic power of the middle- and lower-income populace since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, artists created various new diversions to answer the needs of these groups. These have included pulp novels and comic books, film, television, advertising, "collectibles," and tract housing. These have taken the place among the bourgeois once taken among the aristocracy by literature, opera, theater, academic painting, sculpture, and architecture. But modernist artists rarely cultivated the popular success of these new cultural forms. Modernist works were little appreciated outside of a small elite. Life magazine's 1950s articles on the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), and the silkscreened paintings by Andy Warhol (American, 1928?-1987) of soup cans and celebrities signaled unprecedented fusions between high and low art and the transition to the postmodern age. (  such as graffiti. In Paris, France, for example, the street culture pronounces words backwards. See BBC Learn French’s web page Facts about French language.

The following site is a guide to help you try this out. Even inventing new alphabet forms might lead to an interesting way to make a drawing.


Gisele Amantea - Crumple

Amantea, Gisele. Artist statement for A Daily Record: installations by Gisele Amantea.   Seagull Arts and  MediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  Resource Centre, 2006.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 15, 2008 from:

Author unknown.  Gisele Amantea.  Centre for  ContemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (  Canadian Art, 2008.

Author unknown.  Gisele Amantea explores Alberta history at the Walter Philips Gallery MediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  release.  The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberts, July 30, 2003.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 15, 2008 from:

Greatheart, Marcus.  ‘Site Unseen: A Critical Review of the Exhibition at the Salvation Army Recycling Centre in Montreal.’  Concordia Undergraduate Journal of Art History, June, 2005.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 15, 2008 from:

Hassan, Jamelie.  Gisele Amantea.  Exhibition catalogue. Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1988.

Herland, Karen.  ‘Gisele Amantea draws on the past.’  Concordia Journal, May 3, 2007.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 15, 2008 from:

Tousley, Nancy.  Gisele Amantea: Antidotes for madness.  Exhibition catalogue.  Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1988.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning