Ronnie Rollo: Folk Artist

February 13, 2019 on 8:05 pm by Michael Grey | In Photographs, Random Thoughts, Stories | Comments Off on Ronnie Rollo: Folk Artist

In a recent mid-winter clear-out of my house I found myself with a little extra wall-space. I also found a few things I’d forgotten. Anyone who knows me knows that walls were made for one thing: to hang stuff. When I was younger I used to move a lot. And here’s a Top Tip for the itinerant: I found that the fastest way to make a place feel like home is to nail to the wall a favourite photo, picture or poster (even before all boxes are unpacked). I say “nail”, I mean hang, as in hung. A well-hung picture makes any strange new place instantly more familiar.

One of the “things” I found in my cleaning and culling was a piece given to me by the late Ronnie Rollo. He was a good friend. Sadly, he died in December 2011 (I used to say things like “passed away” instead of “died” but I’ve committed myself to, at least, try and drop euphemisms when it comes to talking about death. But that’s another subject).

In April of 2011 Ronnie, me and a boatload of judges from the Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario attended a seminar in Milton, Ontario. After the session Ronnie said to me, “Come to the car, I have something for you”. We toddled off to his car, he opened the trunk/boot and presented me with a 60 by 60 centimetre framed board. “I’ve been working on this for years. It’s been in the workshop and I finally just finished it.” And he handed me this fantastic piece of folk art. I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

Ronnie’s work was covered in corks – no doubt from fine bottles enjoyed with his wife, June, and who knows how many good friends and family. The corks were all carefully positioned in a thoughtful way. I mean, how could they not, for there, clear to see was the word, in uppercase, “MIKE”. It was just great (you knew I’d say that). I – almost – didn’t know what to say. Ronnie was the first person I knew who used the phrase, “that would bring a tear to a glass eye”. And, well, that sentiment was true to the moment.

Ronnie’s “MIKE” piece of art is now hung in pride of place. Arty types and pinterest lovers everywhere will know extracted wine corks have a long history as a medium, or resource, to be used for the creation of many an artistic vision. Wine corks are attractive in their own natural, corky way. Most come from warm and winey places like Portugal and once readied for wine bottling feature an attractive vinter’s graphic.

It seems to me that what sets the wine cork apart as a material for art creation is the indescribable connection each has with its supporting element: the wine bottle – and the wine it contains. With very few exceptions, I’d wager, each cork is extracted from the bottle in an atmosphere of good cheer – if not celebration.

The trend to the twist-top wine bottle caps surely has merit: less spoilage and easier re-sealing, maybe, stand as two benefits. But give me the natural wine cork and all its characteristic fickleness. The cork is a sort of mirror – or metaphor – to people, maybe: firm, resilient yet unpredicatable and seldom far from efforts to spend good time with others.

And when I think of Ronnie Rollo and our time as friends, good times were most always at hand. Thanks to Ronnie and the many good bottles that gave their best to provide his artistic vision: “the MIKE board”.

Here’s to Ronnie.

Feeling blessed.


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