Jimmy MacDonald’s Not Too Well.

March 19th, 1917

Jimmy MacDonald’s not doing too well right now. Healthwise, that is.

Earlier in the fall, Jim was having trouble climbing the steps in the Studio Building. He had the top floor studio but he traded it with Bill Beatty and now he’s back in Studio One on the main floor. Studio One is the studio that Alex Jackson and I shared in early 1914.

I can understand why he’s ill. It’s the pressure and the commute. He moved to Thornhill in early 1913 from where he was living on Glenlake near Bloor and Keele. I like his place up in Thornhill, but I think the daily commute on the York and Radial is taking his toll. The mortgage is steep, he is living hand to mouth on the painting commissions he’s getting from Dr. MacCallum. It’s painfully close to being beholden charity rather than pursuing a profession. But we were all in that situation, and if it weren’t for Dr. MacCallum and Lawren Harris we wouldn’t be together as artists.

Jim first came to Algonquin in March of 1914. Alex and I were already there. We had been there for the better part of the month, at Mowat Lodge under the care and feeding of Annie Fraser. Bill Beatty came with Jim and I can see he was out of sorts in his sketching. I think the cold got to him and his sketches were a bit fudgy and muddy. If I had been him at the time, I would have burned them right away.

In addition to being ill, Jim is preoccupied with the OSA Exhibition. He never recovered his temperament after the 1916 exhibition and the critics’ attack on his canvas ‘The Tangled Garden’. He was especially livid at Carl Ahrens, the dentist-turned-art-critic. It was Ahrens who suggested that the artists be better off fighting the Hun. Jim showed me his letter that he sent to the Star. Fortunately, it was never printed, so Jim was spared the pain of falling below the level of honour of critic. I told Jim the reason I decided not to show anything at this year’s OSA Exhibition was due to Ahrens. I didn’t want to hear the words “hermaphrodite” or “white feather” directed at me, especially in print.

Only a few more days here. I’ll miss Jimmy. I doubt he’ll make it up North this summer either to Algonquin or Georgian Bay.

I doubt I’ll make it back to Toronto.