A Royal Encounter : Sarah, Duchess of York, at Onsite Gallery

The month long Contact Photography Festival is on in Toronto, and I noticed that one of their primary exhibitions was going to be at Onsite Gallery. (That’s the professional gallery operated by the Ontario College of Art and Design University, shortened to OCADU, which I previously wrote about it in this post.)

I saw that there was to be a free public reception for the opening of a solo show called “The Audible Language of Flowers” by lens-based artist T.M. Glass, whose work was described as a “recent series of images featuring blooms and vessels from unique gardens across the globe whose artworks“.

I asked my friend Andrea if she wanted to join me, and we made plans to combine the gallery reception with a casual early dinner. It was a Wednesday evening so we were expecting a relatively quiet night out.

After dinner of ramen on Queen Street West, we walked down to the gallery on Richmond Street, where we were greeted at the door and told to go right in. We entered the busy but not overly crowded space. We got a glass of wine and I asked the server if the artist was there. She said that she was but didn’t know where or what she looked like. The use of the pronoun “she” was when I first learned the artist was female as there was no indication of that in her name or what I’d seen online.

I mention all this to emphasize the fact that we had no idea what the evening would bring, beyond a nice meal out and a look at some interesting art.

We began looking around at the artworks.

T.M. Glass is a contemporary digital photographer from Toronto, who, inspired by 17th century European flower paintings, has taken detailed photographs of blooms in various vessels, which she then has worked on manually with her computer, to make them look less like photographs and more like paintings. They were so beautiful.

We were working our way around the gallery when we got to an area that was more crowded than the rest. Through the throng of people I glimpsed a confident nicely dressed woman posing for photographs, who, given the context of the situation, I assumed to be the artist and said so.

Andrea took a quick look and responded that she thought it was Sarah Ferguson. I laughed, imaging the Duchess of York, there, a mere twenty feet away, in a small gallery in Toronto, on a Wednesday evening. Sure, she really resembled Sarah F, but what was going through my head was “Wow, the artist really looks like Fergie”.

Well, I guess you know where this is going — I should have trusted my friend’s excellent skills at people recognition, because she was absolutely right; Sarah Ferguson was indeed there! She had come to the city specifically to open the show, as it included photographs of subjects that were near and dear to her own heart.

T.M. Glass had met Sarah at a tea with business associates and, impressed by her work, the Duchess offered the artist the opportunity to photograph flowers and vessels at The Royal Lodge at Windsor, where she lives with Prince Andrew.

The flowers were from a “spring garden” that had been planted by the late Queen Mother, which contains plants which only bloom for two weeks a year, remaining green the rest of the year. The flowers were arranged in various vessels from the Royal Lodge Collection by the former butler to the Queen Mother, and then T.M. Glass photographed the bouquets in a studio that she’d set up in the Victorian conservatory. The resultant photos form “The Royal Lodge Series, 2018”.

As the realization that we were in the midst of royalty was setting in, guests were called to gather around a podium for brief speeches and introductions.

Sarah told us about the first anniversary trip that she and Andrew had taken to Canada. Here she is describing how they were meant to go white water rafting up north, but that summer the river had dried up, so they’d had to carry the raft on their heads. This, all while wearing mosquito-net hats! She imitated her long-ago-self crying out, “Aaaannnddrewwww“.

In spite of raft carrying and mosquito-net wearing, she said that she loved Canada and would have been happy to live here if Prince Andrew had taken a possible role that was being discussed soon after they were married. (She would have meant the job of “Governor General, the Queen’s representative” described in this CBC story.)

She was entertaining, charming and friendly, and we were thrilled to have been there with her.

I ran into a former colleague who now works at OCADU. She told us that the fact that Sarah Ferguson was going to be at the opening had to, understandably, be kept top secret, as they needed to avoid a mob and security problems. So, The Duchess being there was a complete surprise to most of the people there.

↑ Sarah, Duchess of York, introducing the artist T.M. Glass and the curator and Executive Director of OCAD U galleries , Francisco Alvarez. ↑

↑ Her shoes said “Never Complain” on one and “Never Explain” on the other! ↑

Since we were in the area where “The Royal Lodge Series” was displayed, I’ll begin with photos of that section …

↑ I don’t often dress to a theme but could not resist wearing the 70s flower print shirt that I found at the awesome Jack Lux Vintage pop-up shop in Toronto several years ago. They’re located in Montreal and sell mostly vintage housewares, but had set up a temporary shop on Queen Street West in Toronto for three months, the summer of 2014, where they offered a huge collection of clothing that had belonged to the Quebec government. The garments had been used by filmmakers and production houses that were shooting in the province. It was a great sale which got the vintage lovers of Toronto quite excited. I wrote about it and included detailed shots of this shirt, in this post. ↑

In addition to “The Royal Lodge Series”, there were pieces from “The Artist’s Garden Series, 2017”, “The India Series, 2018”, “Les Jardins de Métis Series, 2018” and “The Museum Series, 2017”.

↑ There were a few pieces created with a digital printer. ↑

↑ Spot the Duchess ↑

↑ This is one from “The Museum Series” — The artist was given permission to photograph some ancient vessels from the permanent collections of The Royal Ontario Museum and The Gardiner Museum (both in Toronto). Since these were too fragile to put flowers into, she digitally inserted the bouquets. ↑

↑ There was a showcase displaying some of the ancient vessels in the gallery, too. ↑

↑ … and some food. ↑

↑ Last but certainly not least, Andrea with Sarah! ↑

T.M. Glass’ “The Audible Language of Flowers” will be at Onsite Gallery, 199 Richmond Street West (at Duncan) until August 18th. Admission is free.

As mentioned, Andrea and I had a dinner of ramen before going to the gallery. It was really delicious and I can’t wait to go back! I took a few photos so will do a mini post on the restaurant later in the week. [Update: that post is here.]

Thank you for reading, loulou xo