(Note to this blog: to my dismay, I heard that Ruby Dog’s closed their doors in September 2011. It’s a familiar story: the artists and art stores came, the restaurants, coffee shops and galleries followed…the place got funky and popular. Then the rents went up, and the owner of Ruby Dog’s Art House could no longer afford the shop space. You can still view the website and get on the mailing list for updates at: http://www.rubydogonline.com)
One of my greatest discoveries on a recent trip to Vancouver was a quaint little shop on a funky street: RubyDog’s Art House on Kingsway. It’s not your traditional art store, but if you are a creative type (like me) who suffers from the notion that everything can be made into something else, this is definitely a place that will tickle your fancy.
The recipe is simple: take lots of quirky things, a creative vision, one dog … and shake. From the moment you walk into this shop, you know you’ve stumbled into something special (and yes, the lovely dog comes to work, and she is indeed called Ruby). There are shelves upon shelves of old letters, stamp bundles, ancient maps, old books for altering, stamps, stickers, mini clothespins, jewels, vintage letterpress letters, mahjong tiles, dominoes, old playing cards and so, so much more.
Do yourself a favour and go to their website (if you can’t visit the store): http://www.rubydogonline.com and poke through their “photo” section. They cater to mixed media artists who love to alter books, produce creative journals and create collages. But, they also appeal to somewhat more traditional artists like me who love to collect and create with just about anything.
My most amazing find was their collection of wooden letterpress alphabet letters. These are the letters made from wood, and backwards, so that when they are printed the type appears the correct way around. They were commonly used for books, pamphlets and newspapers from the mid-1500s to the mid-twentieth century.
I have found them hard to locate, although they are available online sometimes. But, I wanted to find them in person because I like to feel them, to see their size and style, and to make sure it’s something I can integrate into my own printmaking. When I walked into RubyDog’s and asked for them, I was expecting a “no, sorry” like I had heard numerous times this trip. But, instead I got a cheerful, “Oh yes, we do! Over here in these drawers, all organized by letter.” Wow. I couldn’t believe my luck.
After a few moments, another person came in and asked the same question as me. Drat, I thought, not very charitably. Followed by the thought: “step away from the letter drawers”. I must say, I softened and realized how ridiculous I was being trying to protect something that wasn’t mine. Like I was two years old. But, then again, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I did.
Turned out, she was indeed after letters, too, but wanted the gothics rather than the block-style I like, so there was enough to go around. When it came time to pay, we got chatting and joking about what we would ever do with all these things we were gathering, and I remembered a time dragging pieces of my tree to use in my sculptures from my Calgary home to Canmore when I moved. Because, of course, Canmore wouldn’t possibly have that type of tree.
Sometimes my artist-collector brain makes me laugh. But, I already have several sketches in my notebook on how I am going to use those block letters and cancelled Canadian stamps I picked up at RubyDog’s. They will be integrated into my art like the trees that found new uses as part of my wood sculptures.
And, for a few moments it was an honor to share space with the store owner and two customers who felt just the same as me. A community made from instant connections and shared passions. It’s also nice to know that if I ever get more – well – stuff than I can use in my art, I can always open a store that may provide inspiration for others, like this one did for me.