December 15, 1916 Loneliness

December 15, 1916

Inside the shack I don’t get bothered being alone. I prefer it. But sometimes I feel alone. Very alone. The weather turned and the clear night of last night turned into a heavy snow this morning. By the time it was done around noon, over a foot of snow fell and everything in the City had ground to a halt. The tracks and the main roads were mostly passable by late afternoon. Trains aren’t a problem, the wedges were usually in early November. The trains can get through most everything, only the biggest drifts would pose a problem. The biggest danger to trains was not the snow, but meeting other trains stranded or thrown off schedule.

The side streets are a mess. They’ll be that way for a few days. I stepped outside for a few moments this afternoon to assess the aftermath. Rosedale Valley Road is a sea of stranded motor cars and several have skidded off into the ravine off to the side. The horse-buggies and their masters are pulling out the motor car casualties. In winter, the buggies keep a chain or rope handy because more often than not in this weather, they’d be called upon for rescue. As for my contribution to restoring the general order, it was clearing the path to the privy, pulling snow of the roof and clearing out the icicles, some as long as six feet. I don’t like icicles. When I was in school in Leith, one of the village kids, got an icicle in his eye. About a month later, when he got back to school, his pupil was no longer the normal round, but a ragged black diamond and he became a curiosity and a freak to all of us other kids. Now whenever, I see icicles, I get this strange feeling in my eye and an urge to clear them out immediately.

As soon as I got back into the Shack, I felt alone. There’s a feeling of sad vacancy here. My former Studio and Shack-mates are gone: Lismer is in Halifax, Jackson still overseas and Harris just called up to training this summer in Barrie. I miss their camaraderie. We went on trips up North and were together in the winters. I learned a lot by listening, watching, and arguing. Not really arguing – if Jackson made a pointed comment about what I was doing, I’d make it look like I was sulking (in some cases I was) – he’d come over and put his hand on my shoulder and say, “Now there, Tom. You’ve got the raw talent, we just need to work on some of those rough edges you have.” In contrast, Lismer would make a silly drawing of the incident and get me to laugh at myself.

I’ve been back about a month now and you’d think by now, I’d have settled on a style of painting things. But with every canvas, I seem to be back to starting point of uncertainty. I prefer sketching out-of-doors than in a studio. With sketching, uncertainty takes a back seat to the immediacy of the moment. Painting in the Studio was fine when I first shared it with Jackson. It was novel and I was too busy learning from Jackson. But to have that space to myself, it would have felt too pretentious. I know that Bill Beatty is in his element in the Studio. Bill and I are different on that part. He thinks he’s an artist-rebel, but deep down I know he has worked too hard to become part of the establishment. I don’t want to be part of the establishment. I’m not an ‘artist-rebel’, I just don’t like going along with the pack and I don’t like making a lot of noise about it.  Maybe the cost of not being part of the establishment is to be lonely – but free. A fair price for now, I’d say.

 

 

December 12, 1916 The Ward and the Hospital

December 12, 1916

I was getting low on paint supplies so I went to to the art shop on King Street. It’s a couple miles walk and I went south along Church Street. After picking up my paints and supplies I decided to walk through St John’s Ward then over to Spadina passing by the Military Hospital. I must confess that what drew me on this return route was the spectre of curiosity and intrigue. The Ward is teeming with new immigrants: Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, and Chinese.  Unlike the other neighbourhoods in Toronto, there is no semblance of silence, reserve and order. Nothing like that exists here and the streets are abuzz with chaos activity.

Before the War, I would come down here with Lawren Harris. He was seized with the conditions of Ward. I can see why. It’s positively decrepit here. Broken steps, newspapers flying about, half-cocked doors not shut, and gaping window panes bereft of glass. The buildings, if I could call them that,  are little more than broken bits of beaverboard hammered together with bent and rusty nails. Lawren couldn’t understand why there had to be such poor conditions. He wanted to change that.

Even more unsettling than the decrepit buildings were the abandoned children wandering about. I’m sure they weren’t abandoned by their parents, but they had to work all hours, and leave them to their own to gather up into ragtag gangs. It’s these gangs of children, staring at us, as if we were aliens that made me uncomfortable. We were aliens.

But being an alien didn’t bother Lawren. He would just get out his gear and sketch. It did make a queer site for the kids, and a crowd would gather. Lawren was quite happy to the amuse the kids at his expense. He said condition didn’t have to be that way, it could be better.  The hardships of the War  were being compounded by the profiteering. He had come down often times to sketch, I came with him once, but I didn’t like it. Not only did I not like the subject to sketch, I didn’t like being stared at. I understood what Lawren was feeling and what he wanted to do right, but I didn’t have the same feeling. I just wanted to get out of there, back to the Studio, or into the woods where human injustice was something beyond the horizon.

I continued to walk through St John’s Ward (I didn’t stop) and over to the Military Hospital on Spadina. After Somme, the veterans were coming back at a high rate. Upon return, they had to be checked out first at the hospital, before they were discharged. You could see the crowds of uniformed men milling about in a daze. The injured ones (with missing limbs or blinded) were whisked inside the hospital or whisked away in cars and carriages, but it was the able-bodied ones that were left milling about in the front grounds. No one was quite sure what to do with these men after their discharge except to point them to the employment office that opened for the munitions factories.

It was an unsettling sight, and I kept my pace to get back to the Shack. Each day, I felt, the world, especially in the City, was becoming a more desperate place. This War has defied everyone’s predictions but the cruelty and injustice left in its wake is now something can be predicted.

“Keep your mind off it, just focus on your canvases”, that’s what Dr. MacCallum keeps saying to me. Jim MacDonald is saying the same thing to me too. I know this is good advice, but I can’t help but think there is another reason, that is not to my benefit. I don’t like these thoughts, but I can’t help it.

 

 

December 9, 1916 A Visit by Florence McGillivary

December 9, 1916 Florence McGillivray Visits

 It should  be a full moon tonight but with the heavy clouds and fog I can see no moon or starlight. The quality of evening light is such that it is hard to tell whether it is being lit from above or from below. Most houses have electrical lights and the better neighbourhoods have street lamps so the light has crept into every corner of the city making it hard to see the night sky.

Florence McGillivray visited me in the Shack today. I had spoken to Florence briefly at the Heliconian Club, last Friday, but nothing beyond the social chatter. We both had much more to talk about than the occasion would allow.

Florence had to drop off a letter of application to Jim MacDonald so she decided to stop by. She knew I’d be here, because I avoided the crowds on Saturdays. I avoided the crowds especially now, ever since the “Give Us His Name” advert in the papers. I felt like a marked man walking on the streets.

“Tom, you don’t know how dreadful it is to be with those society woman!”

I smiled. In many ways Florence was like me, a bit of a free spirit eschewing the norms and demands of the day. She’s fair a bit older than me, over fifty years of age. But she was so unlike other the women consigned to marriage or to spinsterhood, playing a subservient role in the marriage of sister or brother. A third wheel, just like my aunt Henrietta, my mother’s sister, who ended up as part of the marriage deal for my father and moved with the family in Leith. Florence, despite her many years of being an artist and teacher, was only now being nominated as a member the O.S.A.  She and the  ‘Two Franks” as I call them Frank Carmichael, and Frank Johnston, were being nominate for membership.  The latter Frank has now decided to himself ‘Franz’. The elections will be in March, so once elected, we’ll have to have another celebration for his re-christening.

“Florence, I do. I don’t like going to those events. I dislike talking for the sake of it.”

“I know, Tom. Let’s not dwell on it. Can I see what you’ve done?”

She came closer to me and  I noticed her dress was muddy and damp on the bottom. The unpaved side-streets are treacherous for a women. Severn Street is a muddy mess, and there’s no boardwalk on the sides.

“Do you want me to get a rag to take that off?” I pointed to the lower hem of her dress. I saw that her laced boots were muddy too. I offered to take them off and polish them.

“No that’s quite fine, Tom,” she giggled,  “I have another dress, and I can take care of this mud business when I get back. We have more important things to attend to.” She moved across the room. “What’s this?” She spied the canvas I had finished a few days ago, propped against the northerly wall.

No, not exactly. Parts of the scene are from the Park – the hill in the background. But the scene is on the Petawawa, just outside the eastern boundary of the Park. Close to the Ottawa.”

“It’s a beauty, Tom! The light is different out there You’ve really captured it!”

She was right. The further east you go, the light changes. I don’t know what it is, but I can sense when I’m getting close to the Ottawa River, the countryside is different and how it reflects the light is different. I knew she wasn’t saying empty words, because she has made the same observation when visiting relatives in Ottawa. The way I had chosen to paint this canvas was a rejoinder to the critics who called into question my methods of painting. So I decided not to use any method –  I jabbed on the paint as  willed, making dots and blotches in no regular pattern. Much to my surprise, it worked.  During the job of painting, I focused on what I wanted to looked like and put on canvas whatever each spot asked for. Like automatic writing, but with painting. I let the supernatural and the unconscious do its work; I was the mere instrument.  When Dr. MacCallum saw the finished product he was enthralled by its effect. “Damn the critics,” I said to him. Now with Florence’s reaction, I knew I had a pretty good piece.

We had tea, and spent more time going through my sketches. We talked about decorative composition and I may experiment with what I have done with decorative panels combined with a natural background. I’m not sure what kind of effect that will achieve, but I remember ‘After Glow’, her painting which was quite a success and purchased by the Gallery in Ottawa. When she left, Florence said doesn’t know how long she’ll stay in Toronto and Whitby. She may decided stay with relatives and make a go of it in Ottawa. I told her that if she goes in the spring time and I am already up North, she could come through the Park to visit me.

 

December 8,1916 Things to Worry About

December 8, 1916 

I had another good day of painting. I started a new canvas of a sketch I did in October just after a wet and heavy snow. The snow sticking to the upper branches of birch saplings made quite a nice pattern. This canvas is a bit smaller – about 32 inches square.  Since I’m not venturing out much, I’ll get this one done in a few days.

Jim MacDonald came by just before he went home. He invited me for dinner this Sunday. Jim lives up in Thornhill, it’s easy to get there with the TYRR (Toronto York and Radial Railway). I said I’d come up. I hadn’t seen Thoreau in a while and it would be nice to see him. Jim moved up to Thornhill with his family, but still kept space in the Studio here.  But work is getting pretty meagre, and Dr. MacCallum convinced him to stay in the Studio (at a reduced rent). There’s not much appetite for art during the War so he’s having a tough time making ends meet. He got board money from the Lismers but they’ve moved to Halifax. He tried raising some crops in the summer, but that didn’t bring in much money either.

The last art job Jim got was painting a Mother Goose mural for the toy department at Simpsons. He finished it before the Christmas Parade on Saturday.  For no charge, he’s doing the artwork for the Arts and Letters Club. That’s the deal he made with Dr. MacCallum – free artwork for reduced studio rent.

“Dr MacCallum or Dr Faustus?” We both laughed when the words popped out but we knew this was a joke not to be played with, so we kept on talking about other things. Mrs. MacDonald wants to move back downtown, she doesn’t like it up in Thornhill. Thoreau thinks it’s an adventure, he’s off exploring each day, worrying the Mrs., when he doesn’t come home right away.

Jim look through my canvases, and said they were good pieces, and I should start considering what to put in the Spring Exhibition. The exhibition is in early March and the hanging committee needs to finalize the list of art by the middle of February. I told him, I wasn’t sure I’d submit after the brouhaha  last year, but I’d see how my canvases go before I make a decision.

I sent Jim off around 6.  pm. I was thinking about going to an evening show at the Hippodrome (‘The Scoop’ was playing) but I decided to stay in and read instead. It’s risky going out, because if you’re alone people with start calling after you for your name to sign up. I saw the comic in the paper today – ‘Things to Worry About’ – I don’t need that worry tonight.

I haven’t yet checked for my mail.  I may go up the Studio later tonight.  I’ll have a drink with Bill and Curtis, if they’re still there. They’re always good for a few drinks and stories. I haven’t made my acquaintances with the new women tenants, so this evening may be the occasion to do so.

Tomorrow, I’ll make Thoreau a small gift. I’ll carve a minnow lure from wood. I have my fishing and carving gear with me. They’re always with me.

 

December 6, 1916 The Truth to Painting

Wednesday, December 6, 1916

The truth to painting is that it can be thankless, frustrating and downright degrading. On the other hand, it can be illuminating, exuberant and uplifting. But it is never anywhere in between. If it was, painting would be no more meaningful than painting the side of a wall, only to hide the stains of smoke and wood fire.

I have not been well the past two days. I felt miserable and spent most of the day in bed. I had a headache, a toothache, some fever and chills. I wanted to keep painting but I felt so ill that all I could do way lay down. It took all my strength to climb into my bunk that I took a bucket with me so I didn’t have to make the trip to the privy to relieve myself.  Laying there, my mind started wandering to things to worry money. Money – I had enough to get myself by, but not enough if I had to go to the doctor or dentist. My clothes – they are chiefly old things now. Many of my finer clothes I left behind and all I have are shabby clothes that have brought through the bush and back. And dabbing in the paint, it is difficult to keep them decent. My overcoat is still fine, but my daily clothes are wearing themselves to shreds. My boots, it’s the same, they are wearing to shreds. The soles are nearly worn through and I have put newspaper inside to keep the in warmth.

If I could only keep working hard to keep my mind off things. That was not to be for the days I was sick and the thoughts in my mind were like unbroken wild horses. Today, I was feeling better, not well, but better.  During the day I was feeling both sides of the end, but went hard at it and finished my painting of the pointer boats.  At the beginning of the day, I was like an invalid, I dragged myself to the easel, but by day’s end,  I was exuberant, I could feel the red blood flowing again. It  has turned out to be a fine canvas.

My appetite came back. I had bread, baloney and tea to reinvigorate me, but  I needed some fresh brisk air. So after dusk, I walked down Rosedale Ravine to get another view of the Viaduct. Every time I see it, it’s different. The Viaduct is all lit up during the night looking like two mechanical behemoths reaching across the darkness to touch each other.  The men work up there non-stop –  the day crew, the night crew, and the Sunday crew.  It’s a sight to behold, a march of progress. Soon the Danforth will be joined to Bloor making new neighbours. I overheard the other day that the folks in Rosedale are worried about rats coming across the bridge to infest the neighbourhood. Rats are already in Rosedale, I wanted to say. But I decided to say nothing. Rats are everywhere in the city, but the rats in Rosedale have more places to hide.

 

December 3, 1916 Day of Rest

December 3, 1916 Sunday

I wrote a letter to Winnie earlier this evening. I had promised to write her as soon as I came back but I got to it just now.

I went to the service at Rosedale Presbyterian Church. Rev. Strachan was preaching, a decent sermon. I stayed in the back pew, and studied the stained glass windows during the service. I do like the worship and music but dislike the war proselytizing.  Joan, Jim MacDonald’s wife, is trying to convince me to become a Christian Scientist. They invited me for Sunday dinner up in Thornhill, but I said next week would be better.

I spent the afternoon reading, made dinner of potatoes and stewed beef. I didn’t work on the easel today but plan to get back at it full force tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about Walden and Solitude. The shack is my solitude.

December 3, 1916 Letter to Winnie Trainor

Sunday December 3, 1916

c/o Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Dear Winnie,

I meant to write you sooner but things got in the way and I couldn’t write until now. I made it down from Huntsville okay. The train ride was good, there weren’t many other passengers going into the city and I had the car mostly to myself. It was a sight when I arrived at Union Station.

The Shack was in a mess. I hadn’t  cleaned up in the spring when I left, so it took a bit to get things back in order. The folks in the Studio Building used the Shack for storage so I had to clear out the junk and bring it to the dump by the tracks in North Rosedale.

Dr MacCallum has visited me a couple times. You know him, he has a cottage on Go Home Bay. I’m spending the winter here painting canvases and will be back up in early spring. Things are pretty rotten here with the Temperance and Recruiting so I avoid the streets when they are busy. They have the good sense to leave you alone in the library but they’ve been stopping theatre shows in the middle to hand out feathers.

When I go up, I’ll stop by for a day or two. Remember me to your folks.

Yours truly,

Tom

 

December 2, 1916 Heliconian Club

December 2, 1916

I worked all day and into the early evening.  At noon I went out to the lunch counter on Yonge St. I sat at the counter, it was busy, so nobody had time to bother me. I kept to myself. Before I left I had another coffee  and read the paper that someone had left behind. I came right back and worked through until it was dark outside.

About 6pm I went over to the Studio Building to pick up my mail and any newspapers that were left out. Bill Beatty was in the foyer. He had just returned from the College.

“Tom, my boy!” Bill was always gruff, jovial and effusive in his greetings. “Good to see you! Come on over for a drink!” That was an invitation  I couldn’t refuse, and before another moment could pass, I was in his studio quarter, sitting in his comfortable chair, with a whisky in hand.

“Tom, this war is going to get us all, you know. I’m too old to fight but we all bear the burden of battle in our own way . I hope you aren’t planning to make a run over the parapet into glory.”

I nodded. I didn’t want to talk about the war. Even for the price of a whisky.

“Tom, it’s the women. Where the men have left, the women are invading without recourse.” I knew what he was talking about – ever since the war, his art classes at the College, mostly men, were now mostly women. Bill couldn’t grasp the reality that the munitions workers were now women, with a few excpetions of men.

“I need you come with me tonight, I need a buffer. The women like you.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “The Heliconian Women’s Club is having their exhibition at Royal Academy on King Street.”

Now I knew what he was talking about. The Arts and Letters Club was men only, so the women decided to start their own club – the Heliconian Club.  As Bill explained, the Heliconian Club was opening their Art Exhibition tonight and he was invited.

Bill continued, he had a gleam in his eye. “Florence MacGillivray will be there. Marion Long told me.”  My head swivelled. I didn’t know that Florence was back in the City. I knew she had returned from Europe, and thought she was with family in Whitby or with relatives in Ottawa.

“Ok, I’ll go.” I didn’t let on that I was excited to see Florence once again. She has been a mentor to me. Like Jackson and Harris, she had gone to the art schools in France. We spent many hours talking about painting. When my painting was bought by the National Gallery in 1914, her painting was bought too. “Afterglow”, it was called.

So I went with Bill to the opening. To make time, we took a streetcar down Yonge. We debarked at King and made the short walk to the Royal Academy. It was a busy affair. At these types of events, it seems the women tighten up their corsets even further. It might make for a finer figure but at the cost of a having a relaxed demeanour. Many times, I’d gaze at these women in corsets and wonder how much lace, wire and fabric I’d have to get through to find the real woman inside.

Florence was there. I spoke to her briefly. She was happy to see me but was transfixed by the social demands of the evening. I quietly told her to enjoy her moment and that we’d get together alone soon.

As could be predicted, Bill made a complete buffoon of himself in front of the women. The way he acts toward women you’d swear they were from another world. Later in the evening, we took the streetcar home and we had another whisky in his studio before going back to my own in the Shack.

 

December 1, 1916 All Dots No Strokes

December 1, 1916

 Today was a different day. A different month too. Low in the sky this morning, the sun was unexpectedly bright. The gray overcast last night gave way to a clear and crisp night with bright stars (what you could see in the city) and the temperature fell into the low teens. I didn’t have much wood in the stove last night and the fire went out. The water froze over in the pitcher I keep by the window.

I stepped out for a short walk in the morning. The mud in the side streets had frozen into solid ruts. I took a walk down Rosedale Valley Road to the shores of the Don River. Several motorists were struggling to get up the incline – not because it was slippery, but the wheels would get caught in the ruts, making the vehicles list to either side, and pulling the steering wheel away from those who had less fortitude to hold on. One motorist had his axle break, I helped push his automobile to the side. Another decided he’d have better luck backing up the hill, but his steering acumen directed toward a rearward ascent afforded him a destination into the ditch.  Judging by his demeanour, he was beyond the help of mortals, so I moved on.

At the shore of the Don, I could see the heat coming from the slaughterhouse. The echoing bawls of cattle and shouts of the prodding men carried across the stillness of the morning air. Looking northward, I could see the progression Bloor St. Viaduct constructing itself across the Don Valley, the men on its structure and dangling off its sides were mere ants. I pulled out my pipe and smoked gazing across the current. The sweetness of smoke covered the smells of the slaughter. The only things penetrating my thoughts were the distant clink-clinks of construction and train whistles.  No longer did I hear the slaughterhouse. I returned, walking up the hill, ignoring the stranded motorists, it was a busy road in the morning, and someone better equipped than me would surely arrive. When I returned, it was still early. I stoked up the stove, had some baloney and tea, and set about to work.

Dr. MacCallum decided to visited me once again this afternoon. He finished up early with his patient appointments and came by the Studio to pick up the rents. I had left mine in an envelope in the foyer before the end of the month so I assumed he had it by the time he came to see me. He knows I don’t like talking about money affairs so I didn’t ask if he had gotten mine or the others. After our greetings, our conversation started on something far more important.

“I wanted to see how that painting of yours is coming Tom.” He was referring to the pointer boat painting. We had talked about it yesterday.

“The canvas is big, over forty inches each way.”  I motioned to it on the easel. I had just set it up this morning. I lit my pipe and flicked my burned out match at it. “Don’t get too close to it. It might ruin your lunch.”

Dr. MacCallum smiled. He knew what I was referring to. I had an exhibit at the Arts & Letters Club last December. I had twenty-five sketches set around the club. They could be viewed while the members had lunch. I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to exhibit, but quickly became appalled at the reaction of certain club members.

Hector Charlesworth led the revolt. He said it was an abomination to have such art in the club, he likened it to a barbarian invasion.”I have always kept my goodwill to with club in its novel pursuits.  I exercised my with magnanimity when it was moved by the executive to have two Harris paintings hanging above the hearth. But this pestilence of these sketches is unbearable!”

But at the urging of the more progressive members (numbering at exactly one – Jim MacDonald) a compromise was reached. My sketches were moved away from Charlesworth’s regular luncheon spot (so his appetite would not be affected) and the exhibition was permitted to continue until the New Year.

“Make sure they are gone by the time I return from holidays,” was the request from Charlesworth at the Christmas Eve luncheon.  When I got back by train from Owen Sound after the holidays, I stopped by the club to bring back my sketches.

Dr MacCallum moved in close to look what I had started. “Tom, there’s nary a brush stroke in the painting. It’s all dots!”

“I know, no strokes”

“What will the critics think? ”

“Damn the critics.” I replied.

After the severe criticism that Jim MacDonald got on the Tangled Garden earlier in the year, I was determined to show the critics wrong. In response to the “incoherent mass of colour” I decided to focus on dots of colour, that when observed, would produce a whole. A lesson I learned in nature, is that you can’t subjugate it: you have to bring the right pieces together so you can survive. Rocks for a fire pit, wood for fuel and shelter, and the right bait to catch your food for the day. You need to participate in nature, just like you do when you see a painting. But the critics with the old point of view think that a painting should subjugate and reflect their view of the Dominion. I’ve got a few solid days left on this painting.

Dr. MacCallum stayed for another while, but I don’t remember what we talked about for the rest of his visit. I do appreciate his attention and care for me, and because of that, I don’t feel compelled to force myself out regularly into those stuffy luncheon discussions. I do go occasionally, but I sit and listen rather than talk. Last month I went to Joyce Kilmer’s poetry reading. I didn’t say a word but listened intently. His poetry reminded me of Wilfred Campbell’s poetry. Formulaic, but I liked his poems. He’s American, and the discussion after his reading, he said he was ready to fight if America went to War. I could only think of how many soldiers could have been poets and painters instead.