Having decided to expand my travel parameters beyond the U.S. but wishing to remain unhampered by my sad lack of foreign language skills, I found myself in Canada on Vancouver Island. Having taken in a music and arts festival in Tofino and dutifully dipped myself in a few hot springs in the Provincial Park, I was ready for a bit of exploring. Of course, I got lost. Or at least I thought so until I rolled my sad little rental into Coombs, B.C. (Est. 1910, Pop. 1327). I asked a desperately bored-looking teenager by the side of the road where I could find something to eat and she mumbled “Country Market. Can’t miss it,” without looking up before returning to her rapid-fire texting. Well, that was an understatement, I thought, as I gazed up at the sod roof on a charmingly weathered old building and found myself face to face with one of several goats laconically munching the grass that grew there. This was something you just don’t see in San Diego. Fortified with pastry and a cup of tea, I decided to venture into a lonely antique shop down the street where I found the picture you see right here. It seemed unlikely that the proprietress would know anything about the odd family, but I asked anyway.
She drew hard on her carved mahogany pipe, exhaling a plume of lavender smoke, and explained that Coombs was originally settled by immigrants sent there by the Salvation Army. Most were Welsh and English, but Tarpaulin Chapeau and his quiet wife Cathexis were French. Monsieur Chapeau was a (big surprise) very talented hat maker, but sadly there was little demand for fancy hats in the desolate province where they settled, so he set about logging like everybody else as he quietly pined for his old workshop with its luxurious velvets, slippery satins and delicate laces. It turns out Tarpaulin didn’t stop making hats, he just stopped selling them. He made hats every waking moment he wasn’t working, out of whatever happened to be handy: gramophone parts, old parasols, tubes, pipes, random bits of machinery, forest-found fungus, a mummified squid – even a plate of elderberry aspic – and set them upon the heads of his ever-growing sad-eyed brood. Myrtle favored tentacles, Tungsten took a shine to the mushrooms (they coordinated nicely with what grew out of his ears) – even little Dolorous sported a light bulb number that flickered softly whenever she had a particularly bright idea. As for Madame Chapeau, she collected animals – an owl, lizards, a badger, goats – even an odd little wingless bird she named Talence after the small village from whence she came.
When Monsieur Chapeau eventually expired, helped along no doubt by his mystifying habit of adding a few drops of nitric acid to his daily nightcap, Mme. tried her hand at chopping trees for a day or two before deciding to convert the family’s sod-roofed home into a store. Her initial attempts to sell the barn-full of creations that her husband left behind failed miserably because, really, who besides their son Civet would want to wear a jello mold on his head? Lots of villagers wanted flour, though, and sugar and goat’s milk as well, not to mention the captivating little pastries that Mme. Chapeau crafted out of them, and so the Country Market was born. Because she had collected a male and female goat, soon there were many more, and they seemed to enjoy trimming the roof.
It had started to rain softly as the antique shop owner finished up her story. I bought the picture and thanked her and was just about to leave and dash to my car when she cried “Wait!” and disappeared into the back of the shop. She returned with a contraption apparently fashioned out of a small umbrella and a tiny boat propeller and set it on my head. “Keeps off the rain,” she said with quiet smile, and went back to her crossword puzzle.
This 6” x 8” x 3/4” original collage depicts the Chapeau family and their fantastic hats and is constructed on a handpainted stretched gallery canvas with hand cut vintage images aged with walnut ink.
This original artwork and story are copyright Ramona Szczerba 2011. Copyright to this material is in no way transferable with the sale of this item. The buyer is not entitled to any reproduction rights – neither image nor story can be reproduced without my express written permission. Thanks!