A Note and Thank You to my Followers

July 21, 2014

To my Followers,

This concludes the 2014 version of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. I want to thank everyone who has followed, or more importantly, believed and joined in on my adventure.

If all goes to plan I return in real time on November 28th, 2014 (98 years on from 1916). During the interim I will be tweeting or adding journal entries intermittently. There exist numerous sad and angry letters exchanged during the summer and fall of 1917. I hope to post these letters. I will also tweet sketches or anything that is interest to Tom, including anything that you bring to my attention . I remind you that there  are still lost clues and sketches out there to be found. The mystery continues and I welcome the continuing conversation.

If you’ve enjoyed Tom Thomson’s Last Spring, I’d love to know. Tweet to me, mention me or send me an email at ttlastspring@gmail.com .

I can’t predict what will happen next year. Something, to be sure.

Affectionately

‘Tom’

TOM THOMSON 1877-1917

TOM THOMSON
Landscape Painter Drowned in Canoe Lake
July 8, 1917 Aged 39 Years 11 Months 3 days

~~~

When I disappeared on July 8, 1917 I didn’t leave a lot behind. My room was nearly empty and the few items I left at the dock were of little value. My earthly possessions dwindled even further when Shannon Fraser sold what little I had for his own personal gain. And when they did find my canoe with its few provisions stashed under a rubber sheet in the bow, it too was sold off to settle my financial accounts. Despite months of searching the shorelines of Canoe Lake my paddle never reappeared. It met its fate either as firewood kindling or abandoned at the Highland Inn on Cache Lake.

My disappearance (or death as most would believe) was a mystery to all but a very few. I was an enigma, preferring to sit in the corner by the fireplace reading alone. I would disappear for days on end. ‘Tom’s gone fishing.’ was the standard answer to my spells of disappearance. No suspicions were ever raised at my sometimes erratic comings and goings. I liked it that way. It was freedom. Or it looked like freedom to others.

Many thought I couldn’t write. It may be a surprise that I kept a journal. I was known as an artist, not as a writer. As my few letters would attest,  never had much to say to others, in words that is.

My journal was unlike my letters. My journal wasn’t meant to be read by others. It was a record of sort. My mind was full of words but my outward expression was in images of sketches, canvases and drawings. No one knew I was keeping a journal. I was private, recording my thoughts, intending these thoughts to help me with my work. I never intended my journal to tell another story, until now. My sketches and paintings expressed what I felt, but my journal captured what I thought.

This is my daily journal from December 1916, the winter and spring of 1917 through to my disappearance in the summer of 1917. I never say ‘death’ because despite the overwhelming odds and evidence my ultimate fate was never truly known to anyone who knew me before July 8 1917.

In retrospect, it’s easier to look at your life once you’ve passed on. When you’re alive, time has a tendency only to march forward, much like those fresh-faced boys marching off to the Front for the first time. But when you are freed from the constraints of time, money and self-doubt about the future you can step back (or float back) to see your life in the larger picture. But when you are living your life en plein air that is not the case. Your thoughts and feelings are expressed from a very narrow view of self but the words put down and read nearly a hundred years later take on additional significance. I hope that you as a reader will see through the immediacy of the words, much like seeing through the crude strokes of my paintings as my critics would say.

A good story, they say, should have a beginning, middle and end. But the best stories, I say, are the ones that have no end. A good painting should be finished. But I knew that my better paintings were the ones left undone. I would let the wood show through. I let the canvas be exposed. When the right mood is captured, why bother to continue?

Sometimes I was compelled to completion despite my mood. But I soon discovered that the act of completion could be an act of destruction. If I tried too hard to complete something that shouldn’t have been, I destroyed it in the end and was back at the beginning. I lost count of the sketches I broke and left in the bush. And the meals I made with the fuel of my failed paintings could have fed a platoon.

People didn’t understand my art, but more deeply, I believe they were afraid to see something new. What they thought was hideous (a dead tree), I saw beauty. You see, in 1916 the world was falling apart before our very eyes. Like a gas attack or a shell killing all the boys and brothers of an Ontario village in some godforsaken trench in France, our world was being blown to bits and art was no exception. Canada being defined as a nation was the last thing on our minds as our men were piling up in the trenches and our women were being left alone on the farms during the long cold winters.

West Wind was never finished. Nor was the Jack Pine. I left them behind in the spring of 1917 and I’m glad I did. If I stayed any longer in the shack for the sake of completion, I would be preparing meals for yet another platoon. During the summer of my death, they remained in the shack, still on the easel and stacked against the wall. It’s good that Jim MacDonald and Dr. MacCallum took care of them. Because I would have taken care of them, in my own way.

I started my journal in late November 1916. Leading up to that I was too busy sketching in the spring, working as a fire ranger in the summer and sketching again in the fall. I returned to Toronto in late October and it took a few weeks to sort myself out.

So what you have here is my story, a good story I believe. This story is like an unfinished sketch and the wood shows through in places. I may cover these pieces of wood over time and then again I might not. Don’t expect a story of mythology. There is no myth here. Just a story about an Ontario farm boy who disappeared one summer day and a girl he got in trouble with. And the story doesn’t end there.

I’ve tried to create my daily journal as best I can. But I found that on its own, it is rather dry reading, so I added some colour and texture in places where needed. Think of my journal as a sketch, and this book as the canvas. Then you’ll know what I mean.

July 20, 1917 Mark Robinson Note re: Tom Thompson

July 20

Note re Tom Thompson artist

found in Boat floating in Lake by Martin and Bessie Bletcher

1 Gal Can Maple Syrup 1.5 lb tin of Jam
1 Rubber sheet
Brought up from Dock three old tin Pails
1 Pair Bucksin Moccasins
1 axe
3 trolling spoons lines etc

Statement by Charlie Scrimm

took with him small tin Pain 3 Pints
1 lb of rice
1 Can of Sugar about 1lb
Ham 2lbs 1/2 Dozen Potatoes
Small frying pan Split Bamboo fishing Rod
Reel line etc Landing net

Dress worn by Mr Tom Thompson
Lumbermans Grey Woolen Shirts Heavy
Kahake Trousers
Canvas Shoes. white no Hat or [..]
left Frasers Dock after 1230pm to go to Tea Lake
There or went later. Canoe found floating
By Miss Blecher and Bro at 305pm Sunday

July 20, 1917 Tom Thomson’s Body Found, Was Missing More Than A Week

The Owen Sound Sun, July 20, 1917

Still a Mystery as to How the Drowning took Place – Canoe Was Found in the Lake a Few Hours After the Artist Was Last Seen

A telegram was received on Tuesday evening stating that the body of Mr. Tom Thomson, the celebrated artist, had been recovered in Canoe Lake the evening before. It will be remembered that on Sunday, July 8th, his canoe was found several hours after he had been last seen and a telegram to that effect was sent to his parents here. The fact that two paddles were found strapped into the canoe gave the impression that it might have drifted from shore and that possibly Mr. Thomson was marooned on one of the islands. Another alternative was that he might have gone into the woods sketching, but the finding of the body clears up all the uncertainties.

The artist was drowned in Algonquin Park, the scene of so much inspiration to the painter and where he has spent many summers in depicting the beauties of nature. He possessed a rare charm and promised to become famous amongst art lovers of the Continent for the excellence of his work. He not only painted nature, but lived and felt and understood the great beauty of the wilds. His work possessed a truth and fidelity that could only come from direct and sympathetic touch with his subject and that he had died on the threshold of fame makes his demise the more to be regretted. He was one of the fine type of young manhood that the country has every reason to be proud of.

[…]

Referring to the work of the late Mr. Thomson, Eric Brown, in a recent article in the London “Studio” says: “Critics look to him to carry forward the Canadian landscape painting far beyond anything at present realized. Wandering alone the best part of the year in Algonquin Park, inured to hardship and reputed the best guide, fisherman and canoeman in the district, he lives with these wonderful seasons and they live through him. Here, again is the decorative sense ly developed and visible in every composition. There is no loss of chararcter; the northland lies before you, whether it is a winding river fringed with spring flowers seen through a screen of gaunt black pines, or whether the green blocks of melting ice float on blue liberated waters of the lake.”

The sympathy of everyone will go out to the bereaved relatives in their sad loss.

July 20, 1917 TOM THOMSON DROWNS

Owen Sound Times, July 20, 1917

TOM THOMSON DROWNS WHILE CANOEING ON CANOE LAKE

Tom Thomson, who was drowned in Canoe lake, Algonquin park, July 8th, 1917, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Thomson, 428 Fourth avenue east, Owen Sound. He was born in the village of Claremont, Ontario county, and spent twenty years of the early part of his life at Leith. He afterwards attended college and then lived for five years in Seattle, Washington. After returning from Seattle, he lived the remainder of his time in Toronto, and for some years worked at artistic designing for some of the engraving companies of Toronto.

While engaged in this line of work, he endeavored to develop his artistic tastes along a high line and commenced the study of landscape painting. His love for nature, which was developed through his early associations with nature, caused him to choose this line of art. After a time he devoted his whole time to the pursuit of this wonderful and uplifting study.

Every year he went to Algonquin park for six months. Here he went far into the wilds, traveling at times by way of canoe and at other times on foot, and often entirely alone, so that he could study nature in its different aspects. He was with nature so much that he became a part of it, and this enabled him to paint just what he felt.

In the winter months he enlarged his sketches and he had a wonderful collection in his studio in Rosedale, Toronto. His work was steadily growing in esteem and he had a very bright future before him. His pictures were steadily sought for, for the collections of the Ontario and Dominion governments. He had a bright and cheerful disposition and was filled with kindness for all. He was loved by all who knew him.

The body, accompanied by Mr. George Thomson, is expected in Owen Sound at noon on Friday, and in this case, the funeral, which is to be private, will leave his father’s residence Friday afternoon. The remains will be interred in Leith cemetery.