A year or so ago Blue Mouse Monkey launched a web project for collector and philanthropist Leslie Durst. During the meetings we got to see (and sometimes touch) some of the many 17th – 19th C needlework samplers in her huge collection. Elaborate and precise, beautiful, innocent, celebratory, and sometimes downright scary in their choice of bible verses, these pieces were made almost exclusively by young girls. I’d never given antique needlework a second thought till I got to work with it up close. But the cool thing about it is that they are artistic historical artifacts from a demographic that is almost entirely absent from art history, or any history at all. These girls (many as young as six), lived in a world where children didn’t have voices or choices. Born into classes other than the aristocracy (and some were even in orphanages), these girls grew up, lived out their lives in towns and villages, then passed on. Their childhood needlework survived them, and is now being collected, researched, and shared by Leslie. The project now engages over a thousand members of the global needlework community.
All that is a lead-up to talking about Leslie’s 60th birthday party last night, and wow, what a party! It was held at Leftbank. We began with a champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception for the exhibit The Butterfly Effect: A Visionary Gesture by Leslie B. Durst. Over the last ten years Leslie has secretly commissioned ten artists to make twelve works each – which leslie then gave as gifts to others. Wow!
Then we were seated upstairs at large tables with opportunities to meet new people and eat course after delicious course of dinner. Before dessert, a Brazilian-style street band and four dancers made a dramatic entrance into the hall, and drummed and danced so crazy loud it was hard to stay seated. Then the band led us all down and out into the street. We followed them into another space at Leftbank, this one empty but for childhood photos of Leslie projected on one wall, and tables piled high with cupcakes. And I mean high. Mountains of cupcakes on tiered platters. Plus more champagne.
After the band left my ears were ringing, but in a good way. There were speeches from her brother, PICA people, her needlework friends, and others. And Leslie spoke of her mentoring work with Vancouver kids. A video about the artists she’d commissioned played. There were toasts. Cupcakes were consumed. Needlework friends produced their surprise gifts of a set of samplers they’d sewn, in antique styles, for Leslie, and hung them one by one on the wall. And all of us who know Leslie from one facet of her life or another got to see her extended community and what great things she has done in the world. Wow!
Then we went back to the dining space, which had been transformed into a theater, for the debut of the multimedia performance Under Polaris by Cloud Eye Control, – commissioned by Leslie. Wow! Then we said goodbye to Leslie, and on our way out were given a DVD catalogue of the Butterfly Effect exhibition.
A memorable evening to celebrate an extraordinary life. Leslie Durst, I’m proud to know you.