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McGill Reporter
May 27, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 17
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In focus

Max Stiebel: Portrait of the artist

On Tuesday, May 4, Max Stiebel should have been found atop an Art Deco building, 30 storeys above McGill College Avenue, directing an aerial photo shoot of McGill's campus. Instead, the 61-year-old Stiebel found himself checking into the Montreal General Hospital after experiencing a mild heart attack. "I fooled everyone, including myself," says Stiebel, who looks fit and tan. "People would ask me if I just got back from Florida since I looked so good. My response was that it was just a combination of my olive skin and high blood pressure!"

Max Stiebel
Owen Egan

After 29 years of creative service to McGill, the coordinator of communications design for Admissions, Recruitment and Registrar (ARR) is bittersweet about his upcoming retirement. "It's very hard to realize I am leaving this home," says Stiebel. "I'm trying to get everything in order for others to carry on, but at some point you just have to let it go. I'm not surprised that the heart attack came on the cusp of this transition."

With a background in commercial art, Stiebel spent 22 years at McGill with the Instructional Communications Centre (ICC). While PowerPoint and Flash presentations might be de rigueur at the moment, such was not always the case. "I was initially hired to create cartoons illustrating course material for the Center for Teaching and Learning," says Stiebel. Given the breadth of projects Stiebel eventually tackled with his cartoon work, it is a wonder Disney Studios did not come knocking. "I did bug drawings for the Department of Entomology and tree drawings for the Department of Renewable Resources. I even did a full-colour cartoon slide show to help teach English to McGill's largely foreign-speaking janitorial service. It explained the different parts of the university they would be working in."

In 1996, Stiebel left ICC to go to ARR. The move was ultimately "the best thing that ever happened," he said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my last seven years here."

At ARR he broadened his artistic palette. From being asked to help design a small brochure, his job evolved into art directing once the department formed a communications unit. No solitary artist, Stiebel discovers his muse best through the collaborative process. "When working with writers, photographers and other visual artists, I work so much better," he says. "I was really part of an artistic team here, from the initial concept to the final product."

Elizabeth Hollingsworth, ARR communications and publications manager who formed the team with Max, said it's been a pleasure to work with him. "It has been a privilege to work with an artist. I'll definitely miss both his experience and his creativity."

The fruits of all this artistic activity are exemplified in the University Guide. Explains Stiebel, "It is basically a view book, a representative sample of McGill that gets sent all over the world to entice the brightest students to come to Montreal and to attend McGill." While putting the brochure together, attention to detail as well as capturing the right spirit were paramount in the minds of Stiebel's artistic team. "The challenge with McGill is to show the incredible tradition that McGill has, and yet still remain hip. If you throw away the tradition, it's not McGill. If you don't have some kind of inherited legacy, which is McGill, you've lost it. But at the same time, if you start doing something resembling MuchMusic, what are you really pushing?"

For the past 25 years, Stiebel has also been honing his craft in oils and pastels. He says, "I have been painting and teaching painting for most of my adult life. My specialty is portraiture."

While leading a workshop in Charlevoix, Stiebel made an impression on a participant, Dr. Phil Gold, then the current, yet soon to be retired, executive director of the Montreal General Hospital (MGH).

As part of an ongoing tradition, the MGH Foundation commissions a portrait of every outgoing executive director. Gold insisted that his portrait be painted by Stiebel. "He had a clown collection in his office from around the world," says Stiebel, "so I included one in the background of the painting. People always said he's a 'smiler'. But the essence of a tragedy/comedy mask is also portrayed in a clown's face. Working in a hospital, Dr. Gold really experienced the potential for joy as well as sadness in the human condition, and I wanted to show that." Spoken like a true artist.

We don't want them to think of scientists as these crazy people. We want them to understand what we're doing. Maybe, they'll grow up to be scientists like us.

Karen Lee, Doctoral candidate and coordinator of the Let's Talk Science Chapter at McGill, talks to The Gazette about talking to kids in schools.

Audubon stamps take wing from Redpath

Thanks to the persistence of David Lank, Canada has its own series of stamps commemorating the artwork of John James Audubon, the second of which was unveiled recently in a ceremony at the Redpath Museum.

Bird stamp

Given that Audubon was not a Canadian, it might seem odd for Canada Post to honour the great American naturalist and artist, but Lank, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the McGill Faculty of Management, was adamant that Canada take its place among the nations that had already issued stamps on Audubon.

In 1985, the 200th anniversary of Audubon's birth, 60 countries issued stamps, the exception being "the five countries with whom he was most associated," laughs Lank, author of Audubon's Wilderness Palette, renowned Audubon expert and scholar of the history of animals in art. Those countries were Haiti, where Audubon was born; France, where he spent his youth; the United States, which was his home from 1820 until his death in 1851; Canada, where he painted some of the birds for his famous oeuvre, Birds of America; and, finally, Britain, where his masterpiece was published between 1826 and 1838.

Bird stamp

In Canada, 33 of Audubon's watercolours of North American birds were painted during two trips, one in 1831 along the east coast of Newfoundland, and the other in 1833, when he returned to paint the birds of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, the Bay of Fundy, Labrador and Quebec's Lower North Shore.

Not only does McGill have Lank to connect the university to this second in a three-part, annual series of Audubon stamps, the university's Blacker-Wood Library also has one complete set of the four-volume Birds of America. There are only five such sets in Canada, and likely only 50 of the orginal 200 are still intact, notes Lank, adding that the books, now valued at $13 million (USD), were given to McGill by Montreal's 100 leading citizens and merchants in 1861.

Those who buy stamps will be treated to viewing such avian beauties as the ruby-crowned kinglet, the white-winged crossbill, the Bohemian waxwing, the boreal chickadee and Lincoln's sparrow.

Everybody loves Google. People just have a warm fuzzy respect for the company.

Sean Michaels, Recent McGill graduate speaks to Canadian Press on receiving an invitation to use Google's web-based email service. A few lucky folks are getting first dibs to create funky monikers for their gmail account.

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