March 20, 1917
“These are pictures worth seeing!”
By the time he said those words, I had warmed up to him. I accepted the compliment but didn’t say anything to him. It was from the Sun reporter that came down from Owen Sound (he said his name, but I forgot it because I was busy getting my stuff ready. I never bothered to ask).
He came by around 10:30 this morning. He said he came down the day before see the Spring Exhibition and was surprised that I didn’t have any of my paintings on display. He saw my address in the back of the program and decided to pay an unannounced visit. Bill Beatty brought him here from his hotel, but didn’t come in. Bill had other things to do.
“The paper wanted me to write an article on you. Imagine my shock when I learned you had nothing in the Exhibition. I was worried about having nothing for the paper.” He looked around the Shack and saw the piles of sketches and canvas. “Well, it looks like I hit a gold mine here!”
I humoured him, asked if he wanted to some tea, and set the kettle on the stove.
“I talked to your father last week. He said there was no point to talking to him and that I should come down to the show.”
I never told my father about this year’s show. But it’s an annual affair so he must have seen the dates must have been in the paper. The reporter was looking at my piles of sketches, “Go ahead, root through them, if you like.”
He obliged. There’s roughly four piles of sketches, and what falls in between counts for a fifth. I built a work table with a low shelf underneath. They’re all stacked on the table or on the shelf underneath. As I suggested he started rooting through them.
“Look at the colour!” He was looking at one of my wild flower sketches. The one I did in 1915. He then started to go through my sketches from last fall, the ones I did when I canoed with Ned Godin near Grand Lake and Achray. I noticed he was looking at a fall birches sketch. He went through the other piles then came back to look at that same one several times. I pretended not to notice but I was watching him out of the corner of my eye.
“You can have that one.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Thomson?”
“The birches one, with the red and yellow. Take it. I’ve got more like it. Take it, before I decide to throw it in the stove.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thomson! I’ll be sure to write a fine article about you and your work.”
“I’ll be finer, if you write nothing.” He smiled and said nothing. I got the sense he knew something of my character. I’m sure my father told him how to deal with me. That’s good, I get tired of people adjusting to my sometime unpredictable demeanour.
The kettle boiled and we had tea. I offered some (stale) biscuits) and we spent the rest of the morning talking and going through my sketches. I showed him my canvases. Most were stacked against the wall inside, but I had some out in the shed. I brought them in. I told him about the troubles of trying to make a sketch into a canvas; how a difference and scale and proportion can complicate what you thought to a be completely perfect proportion. I showed him the difference in the sky from the sketch and the canvas. I try to paint what is true to what I’ve seen, but I’ve learned that the truth comes at different times and is found in different places. The hardest part, is to keep out the lies in your painting. I showed him how I tried to incorporate a sense of decoration into canvas. Much easier to do in a panel, even a large panel, that is intended to be decorative but much harder to incorporate in a work of art. A wrong sense can turn a canvas into a comic.
He left around noon. He carefully wrapped the sketch using an old issue of the Toronto World I gave him. I joked that he would not have to dishonour an issue of the O.S. Sun, that is better left to wrap fish. As he bid goodbye, he said, “Mr. Thomson, these are pictures worth seeing. You make our city proud!”
“Please give my regards to my father and mother, if you do see them. I won’t be able to make it up this spring. I’m going to the Park this Friday.”
“I’ll make a special visit to pay my regards, Mr. Thomson. They must be proud to have such a fine artist-son as you.”
I could tell that my art changed this man in a slight but very fundamental way. I’m doing something right.