A witness to a creative spark

The teen angst lyrics to Canadian musician Kim Mitchell’s 1986 hit song Patio Lanterns resonate with the awkward 14 year-old in everyone.

But for Birch Cliff painter, furniture maker, and interior designer Michael Hulme, the song has special meaning, as he recalls a long-ago high school party he attended with his friend Paul Woods, the lyricist who would later change his name to Pye Dubois and team up with Mitchell to write Patio Lanterns.

Michael Hume
Michael Hume

“We were all so shy, shy and nervous”
– Patio Lanterns

The year was 1963 and Hulme and Woods, who lived in the same Sarnia, Ontario subdivision, had become friends.

The party, Hulme remembers, was held at classmate Susan’s house. There were about 15 or 20 Grade 9 kids there, and Hulme, a tall, skinny, self-described geek with a shock of bright red hair, had a huge crush on one of them, a girl named Jennifer.

“I didn’t know how to have a conversation with a girl,” he said. “I was totally shy, freaking out, perspiring, and I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask her to dance.”

As the party goers gradually paired off, Hulme sat frozen with fear across from Jennifer. To his relief, the party wound up around 11 o’clock.

“It was one of the most miserable evenings of my life,” he said.

Hulme and Woods didn’t keep in touch but 25 years later, when Hulme went back home to his high school reunion, he heard a familiar voice.

“A woman came up behind me and put her hands over my eyes and said ‘Guess who?’ and I knew right away it was Jennifer.”

The two fondly reminisced about that Grade 9 party from so long ago and its similarity to the recently released Patio Lanterns.

“I listen to the song and I recognize what’s going on,” said Hulme. “He nailed it, that sort of nervous anticipation.”

Woods went on to a career in songwriting and Hulme left Sarnia in 1967 to study painting and sculpture – “both improbable career moves” he laughs – at Ontario College of Art.

“Art college was an extension of Yorkville,” he said, referring to the neighbourhood’s hippy vibe in the late 1960s.

He married his first wife, the daughter of CBC TV personality Peter ‘Mr. Fix It’ Whittall, had a daughter, and starting working in the interior design field.

“I must have designed about 20 discos but never went to a disco in my life,” he said.

When he wasn’t sitting at the drafting table, Hulme was creating in other ways. He began making wooden toys for his young daughter and her friends. The kids loved them and the parents even more so. Requests for tables and chairs were now coming in. Hulme, whose father and father-in-law were both amateur woodworkers, decided to teach himself woodworking.

“So I moved into a coach house at Spadina and College, quit my job, and started making furniture,” he said.

Along the way he partnered with another artisan and they opened a store together in a rented house on Parliament Street in Cabbagetown, where Hulme enjoyed making high-end custom furniture. But after a few years, Hulme found he wasn’t making enough money to support his young family, and he returned to the more lucrative field of interior design, painting in his down time.

One particular painting that holds special meaning for him is one he made for his wife Colleen when they first met 20 years ago.

“We spent a week in the middle of winter at our cottage, snowed in, and I did a painting. It’s still hanging in our living room.”

Hulme took up the paintbrush in earnest again about seven years ago, urged on by his daughter and son-in-law after he gave them a painting as a wedding gift.

A couple weeks later, his son-in-law, a photographer, said to him, as a joke, “You’re going to have a show. You’re booked for November.”

Hulme replied “Okay, but it has to be at your studio.”

He took to his easel and completed 25 paintings in time for a show that turned out to be no joke.

“It was a one-night show and I sold two thirds of them,” he said.

“I’m a project manager by day, but the muse had always been in my background and when it came out it became a furious event. For a year I just painted like a maniac. We had 30 paintings hanging up in our house, stacked up against walls. The house reeked of oil paint and every night I would go downstairs after supper and paint until about 1 o’clock in the morning.”

Hulme is in the early planning stages for a show this fall with friend and local artist Amber Smith.

His love of woodworking has been reinvigorated lately, too. Over the last year and a half, he’s been making furniture from salvaged wood and selling it at the Leslieville Flea.

“I would like to have a pop-up store or something along that line in the near future, but I have one kid in university and two at home, so it’s not going to happen right away,” says Hulme. “That’s my retirement plan.”

To see Hulme’s paintings and furniture pieces, visit michael-hulme.com.


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