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By Constance Scrafield
Darlene Hassall described her painting as her “language of Abstract.” By and large they are whimsical but some are clearly telling a story and their titles offer hints for interpretation. All the time, they are interesting, strange – wonderful.
Ms. Hassall had her studio at Dragonfly Arts on Broadway but before the Citizen visited the store and studios, her husband, Peter Hassall gave us time to talk about their life together. At the time of meeting, they were both living in Montreal.
“We met at a YMCA summer camp. She was 15,” he said, and they never parted.
Later he was working at Monsanto and she was employed at Birks. When Peter Hassall was transferred to an office in Toronto, the two contended with the distance until, as he told us, “We decided that a long distance relationship wasn't for us, so she moved to Toronto and Birks very graciously transferred her to Toronto, to an administrative job.”
He history followed in her working life by telling us that she was ambitious, moving on to a degree in Fine Arts. That led to work in commercial art but “she didn't like the job.”
A further stint in Human Resources finally shifted her to a position with an international moving company that entailed some travelling and where she stayed “for the rest of her working days.”
With that job, she was always on the road until he was “semi-retired.” They had moved to Caledon by then and that was when Darlene Hassall went back to painting, even though she was still working and travelling for her company. Mr. Hassall's very long employment with the international chemical company that transported oil, gas, etc., “bought [him] out” to a comfortable retirement, at which time, the couple realized, he was at liberty to do whatever he liked.
“Darlene was prolific,” he began telling us about her painting. “While she was still working, she did not paint a great deal but once she retired, she was painting a lot. Her brother used to curate her shows in Toronto. Sometimes, she would offer a painting to charities for free.”
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of her paintings on the walls of their home and Mr. Hassall really enjoyed his artist wife's collection she called, “Masters through my eyes,” when she took on the paintings of the masters as she saw them through her own eyes.
He told us about her foray into multi-media paintings, once using sea shells to look like a river bed and her paintings are in homes and offices all over Canada.
“I like it all,” he declared, “from her early painting in university and on. Her father had a painting of hers in his office.”
Their Caledon home was a rural property with no near neighbours and far enough from a town to be sometimes inconvenient. In due course, they bought a house in Shelburne, in a charming little development with good neighbours and a yard surrounded by maple trees.
Joan Hope, owner of Dragonfly, where Darlene had her studio for a few years, talked to the Citizen about the artist, “She was very energetic; quite good at talking with a customer. She was always interested in critique and had a really nice way of having someone understand what she was doing. She could make you think.”
Ms. Hope talked about how Darlene Hassall's artistic journey was very interesting. She would go ahead with something she was exploring. Then, she often moved on to something that was informed by what she had been doing. She continued to take classes, even online and she was a member of several other artists groups as well.
“She was very lively in that,” Ms. Hope commented. “The other thing I admired, she continued to pursue her artist career. Her work was in Arabella Magazine and she did three or four shows a year. They're lots of work.”
Daily Expressions was the latest work she was doing on. Her process was to sit down in the morning with a few colours and do five or six paintings a day. At the end, she could look at how with different colours combined.
“That's a great exercise,” Ms. Hope explained. “When you do that, it gives an idea of how colours work and she was using oil paint and cold wax.”
She was experimenting with old masters when she was there, asking herself, how can I make it look; take from that master and make it look like Darlene?
It was interesting to watch her go through this.
When she first came to Dragonfly Arts, Darlene Hassall was painting wonky buildings and was invited to teach classes at Maggiolly on those unusual takes on buildings.
Said Joan Hope about her, “She got serious and stayed serious. She was very direct and if you asked her for her opinion, you got an honest answer.”
Mr. Hassall's stories about their life together included the lives of their several dogs, which often play a large role in the history of many relationships. Most tenderly perhaps, is the tale of going to a poodle rescue where they were being offered a puppy, a mixed breed by mistake. They took their old dog with them to choose which puppy they would have. There was no mistaking the choice when the pup and the dog attached themselves so clearly.
Peter Hassall had Darlene cremated. When the ashes were brought home in the urn, he set it on the coffee table. That puppy, now long since grown, rushed to greet him and Darlene but when he saw she was not there, the dog began to search for her. After a few moments, he stopped at the coffee table and mourned.
“Even now,” said Mr. Hassall, “I've placed the ashes on a shelf in a book case and the dog still stops sometimes to look up and give a whine.”
Dragonfly Arts On Broadway is hosting a drop-in celebration of Darlene's artistic life at the store at 189 Broadway on this Sunday, October 30 from 11:00am to 4:00pm.
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