Ruth Dickson still going strong

Her creative spirit helps her produce art and literature

STILL GOING STRONG nearing her 95th birthday

STILL GOING STRONG nearing her 95th birthday

 

A new book and nearly a painting a week are impressive accomplishments for 12 months of work. Especially when you’re almost 95.

But, although age has slowed her physically, Ruth Dickson’s creative spirit is still strong.

Dickson will exhibit paintings at the Pearl Ellis Gallery from Aug. 13 to 25. And launch Strangers to the Land with a reception and reading at the gallery on Aug. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Strangers to the Land is Dickson’s sixth book and a prequel to her autobiographical trilogy.

“When I turned 90 I decided I’d lived long enough to have something to say about my past,” she says.

That’s when she took her walker and a manuscript to a week-long workshop at the Victoria School of Writing. “I was the oldest student they’d ever had,” she recalls. “But they thought my work was funny and interesting and were excited about it.”

Then a story Dickson wrote for young adults made the short list in the Surrey International Writing Contest. “That confirmed my belief that old people can still think young,” she says. “That gave me a big lift.”

Dickson writes the first draft of her books in longhand as it “helps her think.” She taught herself to type and transcribed the first two, poetry collections titled Voice of the Salmon River and Scraps from My Basket, on an old Remington typewriter.

For her more recent works, The Lighthouse Kids, a fictional story about two children growing up on a lighthouse, and Pebbles in the Stream: River Rocks and Among the Blue Mountains, part of her trilogy, Dickson joined the technological age.

“Computers make it very easy to move text around and change things,” she admits, “but I hate it when I have to learn a new word-processing program!”

Her newest book, Strangers to the Land, tells the story of Dickson’s early childhood on Scottish lighthouses and her family’s move to the Canadian Prairies in the late 1920s.

Dickson grew up in the days before parents knew where their children were every minute of the day. Her book portrays a feisty little girl who explored islands and scrambled over lighthouse rocks just like her pet goat, yet was also responsible for looking after her two younger siblings.

She experienced the same freedom in Canada but also the sting of being “different” and the challenges new immigrants encounter while adapting and fitting into their new surroundings. The book ends when Dickson marries and the next book in the trilogy begins. Strangers to the Land, featuring two of Dickson’s paintings on the cover, is available at the Pearl Ellis Gallery, Blue Heron Books and Laughing Oyster Bookstore.

“We often lived in isolated areas,” Dickson says. “That gave me a love of the outdoors and remote places and also a rich fantasy life. I wanted a good education like my mother had but the Depression meant that didn’t happen. So after I married I decided to learn something new every year. I discovered you can learn your whole life — and to never be afraid to try something new.”

While living in Sayward, Dickson played around with her with her young children’s paints and pastels. Later, when the family moved to Cowichan, she took her portfolio to the University of Victoria and was accepted into the second year of the art program and eventually taught oil painting, silkscreen and batik at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University).

Sea & Shore, Dickson’s exhibit at the Pearl Ellis Gallery includes 65 paintings, most created within the last year.

“I drew sketches on half a dozen or so canvases and then swung from one to another,” she explains. “The subject matters are varied; I prefer to work that way rather than crank out cookie-cutter images.”

Dickson’s normal routine is to paint one week and write the next. One wall of her spare bedroom contains a table and painting supplies while the other is set up for her literary endeavours.

The environment plays a lively role in her written work and is also her favourite subject to paint, especially with watercolours. But she’s also adept at nudes and still-lifes. In fact, her paintings are so diverse many people think they are the work of several painters.

Since she moved to Comox 11 years ago, Dickson has participated in every Brushworks painting group and Pearl Ellis Gallery members’ show. Last summer she even worked on a painting on the plaza outside the gallery.

And, although she says she’s slowing down, a new book is in the works. A Road Renamed is a collection of short stories set in a mill town on central Vancouver Island. “The theme is a writer collecting stories at a beauty parlour,” Dickson says. “It’s based on my observations and life experiences but all imaginary.”

The Pearl Ellis Gallery is located at 1729 Comox Ave. across from the Comox Mall and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A fawn stands in a field. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
MARS hoping to build fawn complex for rehab

Their goal is to raise $20,000 in a relatively short period of time.

Aspen Park in Comox is the latest school reporting a COVID-19 exposure. Screenshot, Google Maps
Fifth Comox Valley school reports COVID-19 exposure

Exposure at Aspen Park in Comox was reported for Feb. 22

Cumberland Brewery is looking to expand its patio space temporarily for the summer. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland Brewery looks for temporary patio expansion

Move would allow business to spread customers outside in summer months

School District 71’s final budget for this school year showed more revenue from distance learning students but less from traditional classroom registration. Record file photo
Comox Valley Schools’ budget grant almost $5.5 million higher than planned

Increase came from a boost in distributed learning rather traditional registration

A&W on Ryan Road confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 at their restaurant and temporarily shut its doors. Google Maps photo
Courtenay restaurant temporarily closed due to COVID-19 exposure

It’s the latest business in the Valley to be affected by the virus

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

Most Read