The 45th Spring Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists is all set to open this upcoming Friday, March 9th.
I sent nothing this year. I’ll tell you the reasons why.
I had exhibited in OSA exhibitions previous years: 1913, 1914, 1915, and 1916. I had also exhibited at the Toronto C.N.E Exhibition, and most recently in Montreal. At first I was very enthusiastic to participate. To become member of the OSA was an honour. It was a validation of sort, but the honour started to wear off when I attended the socials. I felt like an uneducated fraud.
Despite the encouragement , if not outright pressure from Jim and Dr. MaCallum, I refused to budge. I had enough of the critics, especially the fierce attack by Carl Ahrens. Despite being quite satisfied by my works, I don’t feel up to the barrage, There are two things worse than having your name spelled wrong in the newspaper (“Thompson”) it’s being called a hermaphrodite or being served with a white feather.
Talk of conscription is louder than ever. Borden is in England and it’s a surety that when he returns, he’ll make the call up mandatory. Despite the white feather treatment, no one is volunteering anymore. I did have some enthusiasm at the beginning of the war, but after reading Jackon’s letter and seeing the endless reels at the Regent. I’ve determined it’s all a rotten waste.
With all that going about, sending something to the Exhibition is like fiddling while Rome is burning. I am going on to being four months in Tornto, after seven months away – my longest absence ever.
I need to leave soon and I might never return
Jack Pine. That’s the tree I painted.
I finally set it aside after considerable effort and am quite pleased with the outcome.
Despite it being a large canvas, I wanted to retain the feeling of a sketch painted on a board. I liked how the wood would show through and I wanted to do the same with this picture. I made the canvas like a large board. I painted it with a thin coat of dark orange. I tried to replicate as well as I could the colour of the boards I got from South River at the Standard Chemical Company.
Continue reading “Jack Pine”
This is Mark Robinson’s calendar from 1917.
Mowat P.O. Algonquin Park
May 27, 1917
I am sorry I did not give you a proper goodbye on Friday morning. Your train had left before I was up. I know that you were angry for all of the time I was spending with Dr MacCallum. I am sorry. We had planned a canoe trip and camping but with weather being so miserable he decided to stay at Mowat Lodge instead. The Dr and his son Arthur only stayed for four days instead of the two weeks so you can see why I spent all of my time with them.
You are back in Huntsville now. I don’t know when you’ll be back at the Manse. Your father will be down here for work but I don’t reckon I’ll speak to him, or give him letters to bring back. I hope this letter gets to you through the post. I left my sketches on the porch of your cottage late Thursday night. No one was up, so I left them on the porch in a potato sack that Shannon gave me. Did you take some back with you? I don’t remember how many I gave away but there should be forty at least. I think my exhibition went well, but many of the guests were too dazed with the war news in the papers from Toronto. I’ll check if they are still there and put them inside with my other gear. Shannon wants to charge me for storing extra stuff at the Lodge. Says he needs the room for his guests. I’ll keep my canoe off to the one side and out of the way.
Shannon does still owe me money. But he will be good for it. He says he needs to account some for room and board and I don’t have much choice but to stay at Mowat Lodge. The weather is poor and I need to stay close in case I get guiding work. A fair deal in some ways because business is bad all around for everyone. Shannon and Annie need some help putting in the garden and can be of some use being the gardener. I suppose you heard that Charlie Scrim isn’t doing well. Some days are better than others. I promised to spend time with him to help lift his spirits.
I doubt I’ll be doing any more sketching in the next while. Summer doesn’t have the colours I’m looking for and there’s little mood for art when the war is going so badly. The word around is that a conscription bill might go through. Up to 45 years in age. They need more artists fighting the Hun. Jackson’s still in England. I may see him there after all.
Well I’d better get this finished. It’s still early and I might have a guiding job today. Give my regards to your mother and sister. I may see your father here on occasion.
Arthur Lismer first visited me in Algonquin Park in May of 1914. I met Arthur at the Canoe Lake Station. It was about ten o’clock in the evening when the train rolled into the station. After nine stuffy hours in the train, Arthur revelled in the fresh and cold air, invigorating his body and forgetting about the city left behind.
It was a cold spring night, the frogs were piping as we drove through the bush to the Fraser’s at Mowat Lodge. The glorious moon was coming over the spruce tops shedding a yellow and mysterious light on everything. The air was tang and I could see that Arthur was anticipating every bump – he did not know what to expect – this was an alien land to him. Continue reading “Me and Arthur Lismer 1914”
If I was asked to describe Mowat Lodge in a word or less, I’d diplomatically describe it as ‘rustic’. Less diplomatically, I’d describe it as ‘run down’ but that’s two words, so I’ll refrain from the less diplomatic description and say nothing.
Humour aside, what made Mowat Lodge so endearing was Annie Fraser. That is to say, not Shannon Fraser. Annie could make the most wonderful meal from the most forlorn root vegetable and she knew how to make the rooms just right.
Mowat Lodge was a former hospital turned resort and some days I did feel like a patient there. The Fraser’s desperately needed the business and it was a fortuitous event when Mark Robinson pointed me in the direction of Mowat Lodge in 1912.
‘Rooms are cheap there”, Mark said, suspicious of me being a poacher. His motive was to keep me away from the more reputable establishments in the hope I would leave. Over the years Mark and I became good friends, and I still managed to stay away from the more reputable establishments, as I would joke with him, unless there were girls there.
Shannon Fraser was a piece of work, mind you. He originally came to disassemble amble the lumberworks but saw the opportunity to create a resort. With the Highland Inn and its high falutin’ guests, it was only a sure thing that guests of equal or lesser pedigree would stay at his establishment. He was right. It was me and my artist friends who made Mowat Lodge into a summer artists colony of sorts over the next few years.
But it was Annie who kept the place together. Bless her heart.
Toronto was a different place when I returned. Prohibition had just been passed which prompted a wave of law-breaking and unrest. Everyday there was yet another tenement on fire. The last thing we needed was another Great Fire of Toronto. The local business industrialists were accused of profiteering as food prices were spiralling out of control. Tea went up by 10 cents a pound. Biscuits and jam went up by 25 per cent. Fortunes were being made on bacon. We all tightened our belts and squeezed the extra cups as we best could from the tea we could afford.
Many were suspicious of German sympathizers and the witch-hunt had begun to eliminate people of German origin from positions of authority and influence. The University of Toronto bore the brunt of this sentiment which resulted in many of the faculty being let go. It was wrong, many claimed, to pay German subjects in time of war. Those accused of being German spies were thrown out into the street. ‘Go back to Berlin!’ Many did go to Berlin. But it was now called Kitchener after the referendum last May.
Others were accused of being spies sending valuable information to the enemy via New York. I’m not sure what valuable information we had here in Canada, other than the fact that we had the sweetest blueberries in the New World. To be honest, I too had my suspicions, of Germans. Due to the unpleasant exchanges I had with Martin Blecher in the Park, I couldn’t help believe there may be enemies in our midst.
The Massey-Harris company, owned by Lawren Harris’s family was hit hard by the War. Their branches in Germany were taken over. They shut down their Toronto works only to reopen shortly thereafter as a munitions factory. There was plenty of work for the ‘slackers’ as they were called – men who would rather work for $2.50 a day instead of fighting for their country at $1.10. Increasingly, I became uncomfortable in stating my vocation of artist. I could see the reaction in their eyes – ‘Artist? You should be fighting overseas instead of painting pretty pictures’’
And finally, strange as it might be, the piano makers were hiring. A sudden demand for pianos from New Zealand. The collapse of the German piano makers hadn’t dampened the Kiwis penchant for a piano ditty. You never knew how the War was going to upset the balance of things. Strange.