Read All Over book reviews, Oct. 30

By Kane Faucher
October 30, 2014

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World of Fantasy: The Life and Art of Anna P. Baker
By Beryl Hutchinson and Roz Hermant

The names of Paul Peel and Greg Kurnoe are well-established London-based artists, but so little has been said about child prodigy Anna P. Baker, born as Patricia Ethel Valentine in 1928, and adopted by Roberta and Alfred Baker. (Alfred was the orderly at the hospital.)

Baker was a strong sports and recreation enthusiast, a member of Western’s basketball team, the Mustangettes, known for her ‘freak shots.’ She was also instrumental among the synchronized swimmers prior to Western having its own pool. While at Western, Baker distinguished herself as a cartoonist, drawing caricatures – but her real passion was abstract art.

A self-styled ‘normal’ artist (i.e. not among the cadre of drug-using experimentalists cropping up in the 1940s), she enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to further develop her talents. Her art career took off shortly thereafter, and she earned the honour of several solo exhibitions in the United States.

Rather than focusing on the conceptually abstract, Baker focused on details and patterns with such a compulsively creative assiduousness. Her passion for the whimsical, the nostalgic and prosaic was underlined by a fantastical re-imagining of the past. Her artistic range was widely eclectic, and her production highly prolific.

Although she was distinguished in Barton, her roots were plainly evident in London.

Hutchinson and Hermant treat the reader to a chronology of Baker’s life and work, punctuated with exceptional documentary evidence of both. Luridly illustrated with many of Baker’s key works and some that are less known by Baker enthusiasts, the presentation of this chronicle demonstrates the inextricable dynamism of life and work of one of our illustrious and possibly unsung artistic heroes of Western’s alumni.

It is to the credit of Hutchinson and Hermant that their assiduous focus on Baker serves as a reminder of an exuberant artist and personality.

30 Letters That Changed the World
By Steve Thomas

One could be excused for an initial skepticism in picking up a book which is, in effect, the history of a direct mail fundraising firm written by said firm. A slick and glossy 228-page retrospective advertisement? Not quite, as this tells the interesting back-story of a media craft that seems possibly imperiled by being edged out by email fundraising initiatives and the countless appeals to sign online petitions associated with a variety of causes.

Thomas opens with how, in the 1980s, fundraising initiatives through the mail had not been on the radar for several charity organizations, many of which during tough economic times needed new ways of increasing donor populations and improving donor cultivation strategies. Thomas and his small-but-mighty firm took on a wide variety of social cause clients such as Amnesty International, CNIB, Oxfam, Red Cross and Unicef (among several others), and provided services for the New Democratic Party in two provinces, and federally.

They also provided services to attract new donors for TVO and Scouts Canada.

Thomas lays out the intricacies – and many unanticipated twists and turns – associated with the mechanics and realities of using direct mail to build awareness for non-profits and attract stronger donations. Rather than a dull, technical manual on the subject, Thomas applies the same strategy so essential in any fundraising campaign: He tells a good, compelling and easy to understand story that spells out what is at stake.

Although physical mail volume continues to decline, and the nature of online media can permit just about anyone to create their own fundraising campaign, what these DIY campaigns may lack is both a history of what works and what does not. Firms like Thomas’ were doing social enterprise long before that term came into its own, making this book a worthwhile study for those who are thinking of improving their skills in marketing and fundraising for non-profit organizations.























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