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chasing the essence
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Tom Thomson, Landscape Painter
Celebrating The Man and the Myth
2017 is a hat trick of sorts for the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario. It marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic death of painter Tom Thomson, the 50th year for the gallery and the 150th birthday of Canada.
The TOM is a smallish, modern space dedicated to Thomson as one of Canada’s celebrated landscape painters. The Algonquin region of Ontario was his most paletteable (so to speak) region to paint. He paddled and hiked through this wilderness almost year round, and that's not easy.
His works were as rough-hewn and irregular as the nature he depicted. Being poor, he painted on paper, canvas and even wood from crates, sometimes cannibalized or painted on both sides.
Trees might be elegant or awkward, skies brilliant or somber, the landscape distant or enveloping. I’d describe Tom’s work as bold yet refined, a celebration of natural Canadian beauty from a man who lived it.
Thomson expert David Huff, Curator of Collections at the gallery took a couple of us on a guided tour. Some visitors spend a day, but we rushed through in 2 hours. For Tom's admirers, there’s much more than meets the eye.
Gallery exterior showing Tom as an excellent canoeist.
As David pointed out, Tom grew up in and around Owen Sound when it was a rowdy industrial Great Lakes port. With the long decline of manufacturing, it's become more of a retirement community.
Most of the gallery collection is memorabilia and paintings donated by Thomson family members. That's Tom second from left.
After a few false starts such as trying to enlist in the Boer War and attending the Acme Business College in Seattle, USA, Tom's graphics career began in the art department of an engraving company in Toronto. These are some of his designs produced in Owen Sound for the Children's Aid Society.
Introduced to painting trips outside Toronto by a few of the fellow artists who went on to form the fabled Group of Seven painters, Tom quickly became a self-taught woodsman, often camping and painting alone while living on fish, potatoes and tea.
Bust of Thomson by
Brenda Wainman Goulet
Tom's shaving mug.
Yep, that's paint.
Music and art ran through the family. Tom's brother George was a very good painter who lived briefly in a New Hampshire art colony, and Tom was a surprisingly accomplished mandolin player.
Woods in Winter, 1917 by Tom Thomson. Oil on wood. Tom's fame rests entirely on a body of work created within the 5-year period 1912-17. "Part of the Thomson story is how fast he matured as a painter," David said. In later years “Tom moves from what the place looked like to what the place felt like... a shift that happens in a very short time.”
A large haunting photo of Tom on the gallery wall shows the painter surveying the domain he so loved.
We broke for lunch at Nathaniel's, good dining with prices that put Toronto to shame, but we stopped in that short block to note the names of other famous people who came from this remarkable little town. Hats off to all those who strive and achieve!