Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ursula Franklin for Ada Lovelace Day #ALD16

Ursula Franklin, linocut, 11" x 14" by Ele Willoughby, 2016
This year, to celebrate the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math, Ada Lovelace Day (ALD16), I am returning again to my first subject: Ursula Franklin (16 September 1921 – 22 July 2016). Every year since 2009, people have devoted the 2nd Tuesday in October to blogging about (and otherwise celebrating) the under-recognized and under-appreciated women who have made pivotal contributions to STEM throughout history, in the name of Countess Ada Lovelace. (I hope you'll all recall, Ada, brilliant proto-software engineer, daughter of absentee father, the mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Lord Byron, she was able to describe and conceptualize software for Charles Babbage's computing engine, before the concepts of software, hardware, or even Babbage's own machine existed! She foresaw that computers would be useful for more than mere number-crunching. For this she is rightly recognized as visionary - at least by those of us who know who she was. She figured out how to compute Bernouilli numbers with a Babbage analytical engine. Tragically, she died at only 36.)

A preliminary mock-up of one of the Phylo cards
in this new Women in Science and Engineering set
featuring my portrait of today's namesake: Ada Lovelace
I began participating in Ada Lovelace Day in 2010, and I knew immediately I should write about Ursula Franklin. For me she really personifies the goals of ALD; not only did she represent excellence in science and engineering, but she was a great, perhaps even visionary, thinker on the very role of technology in our society, as well as a fearless and tireless advocate for women in STEM, peace and social justice. Her research interests and achievements were clearly guided by her principles, including gathering evidence of the harmful health effects of radiation from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons to or her work on the political and societal impacts of support of the technologies and their use. When she died earlier this year, I wrote about her life, work and how she has been one of my heroes since I was too young to fully appreciate the importance of role models in my scientific career. Her influence as a roll model of women in physics and engineering here cannot be overstated. She was one of the most impressive people I have ever met. I got some encouragement from friends to do something I had long contemplated: add her portrait to my growing collection of scientists. When I finally sat down to do so this September, I was really tickled to open my email and receive a commission to do precisely that! I'm really pleased to say I'm going to be contributing some artwork to latest edition of the Phylo Project from Dave Ng and the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (the science education facility within the Michael Smith Laboratories, UBC): a trading card game about Women in Science and Engineering! Sometimes you get several hints of what work you should do next; this portrait's time clearly had arrived.

Franklin was born in Munich in 1921 and survived being interned by the Nazis. She received her PhD in physics from the Technical University of Berlin in 1948 and immigrated to Canada, where after a post-doc at U of T, she joined the faculty. She pioneered archeometry - the use of modern materials analysis in archeology, dating prehistoric artifacts made of metals and ceramics. In my portrait I include an image of an ancient Chinese ding vessel to represent both her metallurgical research and archeometry and her writing about "prescriptive" versus "holistic" technologies used in mass production versus technologies used by craft workers and artisans. Her science was always engaged with societal concerns. During the 60s she advocated for the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty, citing her studies of strontium-90 radioactive fallout found in children's teeth. Strontium-90 (90Sr) is called a "bone-seeker" because biochemically it behaves like calcium and when absorb it in our bodies what isn't excreted finds its way to our bones. Thus, this radioactive product of nuclear fission (for instance, in atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons) is particularly dangerous and can cause cancers. It decays by beta decay, giving off electrons, as shown by the child's tooth in my portrait. During the 70s she was part of the Science Council of Canada investigation of how we could better conserve resources and protect nature. She began to develop her ideas about complexities of modern technological society.

She consistently has stood up for her beliefs in peace and social justice. As a member of the Voice of Women (now called Canadian Voice of Women for Peace), she tried to persuade Parliament to disengage Canada from supplying any weapons to the US during the Vietnam war, to shift funding from weapons research to preventative medicine, to withdraw from NATO and disarm. She later fought to allow conscientious objectors to redirect part of their income taxes from military uses to peaceful purposes (though the Supreme Court declined to hear the associated case). She joined other retired female faculty in a class action law suit against the University of Toronto for claiming it had been unjustly enriched by paying women faculty less than comparably qualified men. The University settled in 2002 and acknowledged that there had been gender barriers and pay discrimination.

As an applied scientist, her writings on technology benefit from the insight of an insider, but her priorities are justice and peace and she critiques and analyses technology in this light. She does not view technology as neutral; it is a comprehensive system that includes methods, procedures, organization, "and most of all, a mindset". It can be work-related or control-related, holistic and prescriptive. Franklin argues that the dominance of prescriptive technologies in modern society discourages critical thinking and promotes "a culture of compliance". She investigated the relationship between technology and power. She investigated how we interact with communication technologies and advocated for the right to silence - long before our contemporary concern with these issues.

Many of her articles and speeches on pacifism, feminism, technology and teaching are collected in The Ursula Franklin Reader (2006). A nod to her pacifism and feminism is built into the structure of her portrait which encompasses the symbols for peach and women in the negative space. Franklin is one of many respected scholars and thinkers to have delivered a series of Massey Lectures, in 1989. Hers were gathered and published as The Real World of Technology. She has been recognized for her work in many ways, including receiving the Order of Canada, Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for promoting the equality of girls and women in Canada and the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in advancing human rights. She was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012. Locals may know the Ursula Franklin Academy, a Toronto high school, named in her honour. I think this University, city, country and in fact, society at large were made a better place because Ursula Franklin was a part of it. So, though she has received this recognition, I think she should be a household name, so that's why I am happy to add her to my portrait pantheon of scientists and write about her again this Ada Lovelace Day 2016. I also think that it is very apt to combine making her portrait using holistic technologies of the artisan and sharing it through more prescriptive digital technologies with the world.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Etsy: Made in Canada Toronto III

It's me at the minouette table (photo: Peter Power)
Central atrium with suspended
critters by LoveLetteringToronto (photo: Peter Power)

So we made it through our third year of Etsy: Made in Canada Toronto at MaRS! We had a great turn-out, and despite some signage snafus and unplanned early morning musical tables (like musical chairs, but with craft show locations and no music), it went really well and together with my fellow organizers we pulled this feat off once again! This takes months of work and planning to make an event like this happen and really I just want to sleep for a week. You can read my post about the show here - but let me reiterate my thanks especially to my team of organizers, our volunteers, staff, workshop teachers and everyone who came out to see the show!

I put my marine geophysicist's skills of "how to lower things on ropes" and tie proper knots to work suspending our decor with fishing line from catwalks on the second and third floor of the soaring MaRS atrium (pro tip: don't look down or get yourself locked in an elevator) on the Thursaday evening prior to Etsy's Press Preview on Friday. Etsy wanted me to meet their new COO, who visited the show on Saturday and bought a 'Raccoon Greetings' print for her office, which was pretty nifty.

My parliament of 150 owl linocuts I made for swag bags!
Preparing for this show is why I've been pretty quiet here; in recent months it's really taken all of my time not spent caring for Gabriel. Our team had some bad luck this year, with members and their loved ones having a variety of health problems, which meant that we had fewer people doing more work. It's really imperative that people do put their own health first, and I'm glad that those who needed to do so stepped back. But, that's left me with the unenviable role of finding and picking up the slack and taking on a bit too much. I need a better approach in the future. I got off easy with one minor trip to Emerg, having cut right through a fingernail chopping onions (because I was over tired). They glued me back together, gave me a tetanus shot and sent me home. Others had far more serious issues to contend with... but all of the above are the signal that things will need to change as we go forward.

Being interviewed by What She Said about Etsy: Made in Canada
In the lead-up to the show I did get some exciting press. I was interviewed on What She Said (which has a large listenership here in Ontario) about Etsy: Made in Canada (and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube at the link). I was also on CBC radio's Here and Now. They did a great little feature not just about the show, but since their Arts reporter was intrigued by the idea of a geophysicist/printmaker, about me and what I do!

In less MIC-related press, I was interviewed by the CBC for the local newscast earlier this summer about the impending (and mercifully avoided) postal strike and its potential impact on small businesses like mine. They also took a clip of that - and to our surprise - played it on the national radio news the next morning. I've been so busy, I didn't even mention that here.

Also, early this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Gloria and Caroline of RogueStories, a series about people who have made unexpected bends in their career path, especially women entrepreneurs. Check out the great article they published about me.

Now... I'm going to go take it easy for a while! Happy autumn all!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ursual Franklin: physicist, thinker, feminist, pacifist, technology theorist, educator, role model

Ursula Franklin at work (via the Fisher Library, U of T)

Saddened to learn of Ursula Franklin's death. She was a hero of mine - a role model from before I was old enough to know I needed role models. As an undergrad in physics at U of T (one of a grand total of 2 female specialists in my year), I had zero female physics profs and she was the first female physicist I ever met. She has been a faculty member in Materials Science & Engineering (the first female engineering professor at the University). She was a fearless advocate for women in STEM and astonishingly incisive and astute. When I was a grad student, she joined a class action lawsuit against the University for paying women faculty less than comparably qualified men; they settled and acknowledged there had been gender barriers and pay discrimination.

She was perhaps best known for discovering radioactivity in the teeth of Canadian children and her subsequent advocacy for the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty. She was such a strong voice telling us that both that technology isn't neutral, but also for what we now like to call 'evidence-based decision-making'. She reminded us that in advocacy it isn't enough to say no; why is a much stronger argument. She could have said I'm a pacifist, stop testing nuclear arms, but instead she showed unequivacally that such tests were impacting our children and needed to stop.

She also pioneered archeometry (the use of modern materials analysis in archeology, dating prehistoric artifacts made of metals and ceramics). She always put technology into human context in her science and her writing. She was a great thinker on the social implications of technology.

She was likewise fearless in standing up for peace and social justice; this was a formidable woman who survived being interned by the Nazis. I wrote more about her for Ada Lovelace Day in 2010 here. She was a great scientist, thinker, Canadian, human, and I was lucky to have met her.

When I was expecting Ursula was on my list of girl names because of her.

She's long been on my 'to do' list of portraits of scientists.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


This is my cat Minouette (1996-2006) with her tiny likeness. She was my first real pet and was with me for almost two decades, which is a good, long, life for a cat. She moved from Toronto to BC and back with me and made friends along the way. RJH says he knew he had to pass muster with her if he had any hope with me, and his lap became her favourite place to sit. I was amazed at her patience with Gabriel (as babies are sometimes not as gentle as they intend, or think cat tails are for pulling), but she loved him too. Saturday was a hard day; she let us know it was her time and we had to say goodbye. She was tiny, and fearsome, and clever. I loved her very much. If you've ever wondered, I named everything I do online after her. We miss her already.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Moss Piglets and Cameras - Some Etsy News

Voting ends tomorrow! If you haven't yet had a chance, please take a moment to vote for my mighty Tardigrade for the #EtsyAwards!

Shoot: Canon Ftb Classic Camera linocut by minouette
Right now, Canon is partnering with Etsy! As part of their #EtsyXCanon promotion, Canadian Team Captains can share a promo code which adds a special quarterly promotional discount to your overall sale price on purchases in the Canon eStore! So if you are in the market for any Canon cameras or other products, be sure to take advantage by applying my promotional code at the checkout: ETSYXCANON1689

NB: promo code only works on the Canadian Canon website

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tardigrade for Etsy Awards!

I hope you're having a fabulous Victoria Day! I had a wonderful surprise this morning. I've been selected as one of the @EtsyCA #EtsyAwards finalists! My linocut Tardigrade stuffie is in the running in the Kids & Baby category!


 I hope you'll vote for me! You only get one vote, but you'll want to support the nearly indestructible, microscopic water bear (or if that isn't cute enough, the moss piglet). Ever finalist is in the running for the Community Choice award, worth $10,000!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bees & Stars: Opening, Book Launch and Album Cover

The 'Bees of Toronto' and the page featuring my bee art
It's been a busy week! Yesterday I had the unusual experience of a book launch in the afternoon followed by an art opening in the evening. Quite coincidentally, it was a bee-themed day. The City of Toronto hosted their official launch of their the latest titles in the biodiversity series, including the 'Bees of Toronto' at City Hall. In the evening, 'Bees (& the Birds)' opened at Graven Feather gallery. I've also been busy with meetings with Etsy and our Etsy: Made in Canada venue as well as copious behind-the-scenes planning. And, much to my surprise, I licensed my Taurus constellation linocut image as the album art to a Hungarian indie band!

I might not have gone to City Hall, but I was tickled by the idea of having a day where I could swan around from book launch to art opening, and was intrigued to meet some of the others involved in this great series of books. I think the City does have reason to be proud that they have manage to bring together a this collaboration with natural historians at the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as local academic scientists (particularly from York University for the bee book), the Toronto Public Library and the TDSB, as well as artists, writers and other contributors. I got a chance to meet some of the researchers involved, as well as artist Charmaine Lurch. When we got to talking, I figured out that I have seen her bee sculptures at Nuit Blanche. Because the world is very small, we also figured out that we have a couple of friends in common in Sarah Peebles (who got me involved in this book in the first place) and Christine Pensa (who curated the bee show as well as being part of our TEST & Made in Canada team). Charmaine ended up walking with me from City Hall to Graven Feather and we talked about balancing family life with working in the arts, whether my experience avoiding corrosion at the bottom of the ocean could help her make more weather-proof wire sculptures and some of the great projects she's working on including an illustrated historical novel set in Toronto, and bring STEAM teaching into the schools using both her bee works and knowledge and also talking about Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells.

Some of the biologists who were at City Hall also came to the art show and I heard that Prof. Packer (who leads the bee lab at York) approved of the message of my piece. It was very crowded so while I managed to speak with his wife (a bird researcher) he actually gave a friendly thumbs up from across the room.

Some of the 'Bee (& the Birds)' show including Japneet Kaur (or Story of a Seed)'s ceramic plates and my mixed media 'Solitary bees don't dance'. If you aren't following Japneet's instagram you are missing out - and I don't say that lightly! Her drawings and ceramics are magic and her feed is filled with whimsical stop-motion animations.

Some more favourites: at the bottom left is my friend Michelle Reaney's recognizable bold, graphic style and the four tiny paintings on the right look like trails made by bees by bookbinder Carolyn of Sprout's Press Designs. Oh... and the one which looks like a black and white photo is in fact drawn in ballpoint! I must find the artist's name because it's the most amazing thing. There were many others I didn't get a chance to photograph well. Don't miss Christine's own work, all the fabulous prints (relief prints, serigraph and etchings), and clever textile works by Michelle and Katie Sorrel.  

My Taurus constellation linocut in the album art for 'Lay Low Butterfly' by Anton Vezuv
Last week I was contacted by singer Gyulai István of the Hungarian indie band Anton Vezuv. They wanted to use my Taurus constellation for their cover art for the new album Lay Low Butterfly. We had quite a lot of conversation back and forth, because they were working on a very short time line and sometimes international wire transfers can be more complicated than you would imagine. Anyway, I checked out their music (some of which is in English and is perhaps what you would imagine) and liked what he had to say about my art, including
yes, well, bull is usually visualized with head down. like your artwork. because bulls are fightin like this. BUT, with heads down they look kinda sad and vulnerable also. so for me this figure show strength and sensitivity. that's why I wanted a bull figure, and our producer found your artwork somehow, and it has a cool style, kinda handmade-vintage-illustration stuff which fits to the art concept.
so I'm pleased to be involved, and I love the idea of my art making its way out into the world and into unexpected places, like schools in Toronto, or albums in Budapest.