December 16, 1916 Moonlight and School of Athens

December 16, 1916

Dr. MacCallum dropped by again today. He brought with him a copy of The Canadian Magazine. There was my painting, on page 177, alone on its own page. It was strange and exhilarating to see my canvas on the magazine page and my name among the other writers and artists in the Table of Contents.

Earlier in the fall, while I was up North,  Dr. MacCallum entered ‘Moonlight’ into the Canadian National Exhibition. I also heard that Dr MacCallum convinced Newton McTavish, the editor of The Canadian Magazine, to get someone to come down to take a picture so they could publish it. The Dr. has always been keen to showcase my work wherever the opportunity and I didn’t think any further of it, until today, when he brought me the December issue.

“At least they spelled my name right.” Dr. MacCallum smiled. He knew I was constantly annoyed by the insistence of people spelling my name with a silent “p”.

“Unlike the English, we Scots don’t need to have a silent ‘p’ in our name.”

The Dr. laughed.

After flipping through the other pages, I set the magazine aside and moved over to my easel to show the Dr. what I was working on. A decorative canvas of autumn.  By quickly changing the topic, I didn’t want to let on that I was pleased by the magazine.

“Top notch, Tom. Keep it up!” His attention wasn’t fully on this particular canvas, he was looking at the other ones leaning against the wall. “Mind your stove at night, I don’t want to see these treasures go up in flames.” A reminder of the nightly occurrence of house fires in Toronto. The fires were mostly in shanties similar to the Shack. Unregulated housing was cropping up everywhere throughout the City and burning down just as fast. The City Board of Control, not wanting another Great Fire, was considering a crackdown and serving eviction notices to the shanty-tenants. I’m not sure where they would go, other than a boarding house with jacked-up prices. Either way, the landlords win with the rent.

“I can’t stay long, I’ve got to go to my portrait sitting.” The members’ portrait for the Arts & Letters Club – that’s what the Dr. was referring to. Joseph-Ernest Sampson, a fine portraitist, had been hard at work, making the club painting.  “Sampson’s got us scheduled in like doctor’s patients. He’s doing individual sittings in his Studio on King Street and he wants to get the thing done in time for the members’ dinner in January.”

I had heard the portrait was turning into a veritable School of Athens. At last count twenty-eight members would be in the painting. I can’t even being to comprehend the jockeying for position. Dr. MacCallum, being the current president, would be the most prominent in the painting, but the concession he made for this prominence was that his portrait would be in profile. The others would be suitably placed standing around the fireplace or sitting at the table.

As the Dr. was leaving, he handed me an invitation, “January 17th, Tom. That’s the unveiling. Members only, but I got you an invitation as a friend of the club. Mark that in your calendar. It’ll be quite the time.”

Later in the evening, before going to bed, I studied the picture while having a good draw on my pipe. I secretly relished the fact that people across the Dominion, the Commonwealth and the USA would be looking at my canvas, Moonlight. But I knew they were missing the real spirit of the canvas. It doesn’t come through in the picture. To me, paintings looked dead in books and magazines, and I wondered how many dead Van Goghs, Monets, and Renoirs I studied in the books and magazines at the library. I never made it to Europe to see the real things, to see if they were alive. Maybe these paintings were really dead. Jackson said to me once, “It’s good to have knowledge of the masters, but don’t let them influence you too much. Put your own life into your paintings. Do your own thing. Don’t worry about the Masters.”

November 27, 1917 New Book, New Journal Entry

November 27, 1916

New book, first journal entry.

I picked up the book up at the art shop where I get supplies. I like the cover. I was going to use it for sketching, but when I opened it and saw it had lined paper, I got the idea of writing a journal. I bought the book anyway.

I’m not much for writing so I can’t promise that I’ll be making this a regular item. I’ll try my best. I enjoying writing letters, but I never write about what I truly think because I don’t know who’s going to read them.  My letters have been read by others, especially at Mowat Lodge, where it’s a recreational pastime for the nosey women.  I’m sure Annie Fraser has read all of my letters. But I am going to take care that this journal is private so I can record my thoughts. Sketches and paintings are good for expression, but there are secrets and hidden feelings within that will never be revealed unless I write about them. That’s the reason for the journal.

I’m settled in the shack now. I’ve been back the better part of two weeks.  After my time was done in Achray and Basin Depot, I went to Canoe Lake, South River (Tom Wattie) and back to Canoe Lake. Coming to Toronto, I stopped over in Huntsville at the Trainors. The connection to Owen Sound is poor so I didn’t visit my mother and father. I came straight back to Toronto. I’ll see them at Christmas.

I brought with me over a hundred sketches. I sent about sixty, early in the summer, before I went fire-ranging. I still had a few at Mowat Lodge – that’s why I went back. Though I sent a shipment down earlier I still had a good two dozen at the Lodge. When I returned, I set the sketches out to dry a bit more. They might seem dry but they stick together if they’re bundled for a long time. I had to tie them together for the train and I took them apart as soon as I got here. Only two were badly wrecked. I can probably fix them but I doubt I will be selling them so it’s not worth the trouble.

I have to start working on canvases. Dr MacCallum came by and had a look at what I had done over the season. He suggested a couple for canvases. I haven’t decided which ones to paint yet, but I am pleased with the sketches I made near Grand Lake and on the Petawawa. Dr MacCallum said he sold seven of my sketches over the summer and put the money in my account. I should have enough to tide me over the winter.

Gloomy here in Toronto. I’ll be glad to leave again in the spring, early in the spring, I hope. I plan to keep to myself as I don’t like what’s going on in the City for the War effort. There’s a new folks in the Studio Building. Jim MacDonald and Bill Beatty are still there. So is Curtis Williamson. There’s some ladies too, Dr. MacCallum told me, but I haven’t met them yet.  As my mail is addressed to the Studio Building, I’ll be dropping by most days, so I’m sure to bump into them.

I can’t promise how much and when I will write. I can paint like a storm but writing’s another thing. I can take inspiration from the boys at the Front who are writing endless streams of letters back home.  I’ve seen how the girls and wives hang onto these letters, slipping them into their purses and pockets for safekeeping, I’ve seen letters where there are sketches and pictures, but it’s the pencil-written words of  “I love you, Mum or Sweetheart” that have the most power. Maybe this journal will have that power too, but I’m not sure to whom. Maybe it’s just for me and I will just keep it that way.

First major snowstorm. Almost a foot of heavy snow. A tree came down took the electrical and telephone lines out for all of Rosedale. Winter’s justice for the rich. I only have the one bulb, so it didn’t make much difference to me. I’ve kept my lantern

Tomorrow is stretching canvas.