by Robyn Gillam

When Sandra Crisante’s family emigrated to Canada from Italy, they settled on Niagara Street, near Burlington and Wentworth.  When she was not watching the world from the front porch with her family, Sandra was exploring an intriguing landscape extending all the way from the giant, inscrutable structures of the industrial lands to the grasslands and reeds that bordered the marina and shoreline of the West Harbour and teemed with wildlife. During the Summer, Sandra and her friends would enjoy making figure eights with their bikes at the foot of Wentworth, discovering the natural world of West Harbour and biking to the nearest library on Barton Street.  Such days would often end with a treat from Nino’s variety on Wentworth at Burlingto

Sandra remembers collecting unusual coloured rocks along the CN railway line, but most especially the series of mysterious, elevated towers that used to line Burlington Street and dot the neighbourhood.  Now existing only in old photographs, these structures consisted of an elevated silo, suspended on a jumble of iron stilts and ladders. She wondered what they contained (water or something else?) and dreamed of climbing them one day. Her childhood reflects the experiences of many North Enders, but it also forms an important part of her work an artist creating drawings, paintings and sculptures, some of which were recently exhibited at the You Me Gallery on James St. North.

Sandra creates her work using direct experience, memory and imagination. The process always begins with writing, which acts as a stimulus to the imagination, drawing on objects and experiences to create works like the multimedia sculptures in the current exhibition. Entitled ‘Earth and Sky,’ these pieces use objects collected from the natural and manufactured environments that tie memory together with the real and imaginary world. Although an important part of this work explores the artist’s Italian heritage, we can also see impressions of a North End childhood showing through.

Birds and flight are an important theme, indicated especially by feathers. They are as prominent in these works as they are on the shoreline of the West Harbour. The industrial North End is more directly reflected in the sculpture Burlington St. No.5, which uses pieces of found metal and Meccano to create an object inspired by the towers Crisante saw growing up in neighbourhood.  Like the other sculptures, it relates to the theme of rootedness and aspiration, symbolized by flight. Roots are the central subject of Becoming No 4 and in Diverging No 6, the figure of an acrobat with rootlike hair sprouts wings as she soars high on a swing. In Perched No 2, a humanlike bird spreads its wings, ready to leave the nest. The feathered face on top of Burlington St. No.5, shows that the artist did indeed climb the tower to wider prospects. The sculpture captures perfectly how an apparently inhospitable environment can be a catalyst for imagination, creativity and aspiration if only we can approach it with an open minded, playful spirit.

Sandra Crisante developed as an artist by drawing on her experience of the North End. We can all do this by nurturing both its human inhabitants and its natural spaces. Just as this artist has drawn deep inspiration from her life her, so this should inspire us to appreciate it and cultivate it the more.  As Crisante puts it: “A community grows and evolves when we become actively involved it. There is no limit to the richness of the North End…” 

The author would like to thank Sandra Crisante for her generosity in sharing her art and personal experience.