When I was a little kid, as most Canadian schoolchildren, I was taught about the great works of the Group of Seven. They showed us pictures in books of all their best work, and was told how great those painting were. I memorized all the artist’s names for a test – I may have even passed it, I don’t remember – and moved on to more important issues in my young life. Years later I traveled to Killarney Provincial Park, home of many of the Group’s works, and fell in love with the unique beauty of the place. I started to do some research for further trips in the area, and what seems to go hand in hand with the area is those paintings. You can’t read much about the park without hearing about the Group of Seven, and vice versa.
It was because of this that I was intrigued to hear about a news article about Jim and Sue Waddington, a couple from Hamilton that has spent more than three decades researching the Group of Seven. Their goal was to find the locations where many of the Group’s works were painted, then recreating them in pictures. It was an amazing story. The McMicheal Gallery, where a large number of the Group of Seven paintings are on display, must have thought the same because they decided to create a special exhibition to display the paintings right along side Jim and Sue’s photographs.
When I visited the McMicheal Gallery I was more than a little impressed. As you can imagine, I started to relate to the paintings the more I visited and researched Killarney. You can really feel the area to see the paintings, and you can feel the inspiration to be in the park. I started looking for more and more paintings on-line. It took a few decades, but I finally understood what all the fuss was about. Of course they’re very good, but to finally stand in front of them, up close with my own eyes, and see them past the veneer of a reprinted photo copy was, well, awesome.
Of course, what makes this particular experience even more worthwhile was the personalization of Jim and Sue’s adventure. For example, my first reaction to the idea was that it would be impossible to know from where – exactly – these paintings could have been inspired. I doubted that any of the paintings final products would be using one specific spot, and even if that wasn’t the case, I didn’t believe that just because you matched up what appears to be the same landscape, did not mean it wasn’t just a coincidence. Plus, the landscape had to have changed over a half century. I was sold watching the McMichael Gallery’s online interactive presentation where along with photos and information about the paintings and pictures, you can hear Jim and Sue talk about their project. They even mention how some of the recreations are obvious to some, while others there can be some doubt. Funny though, it’s not always the same for everyone. What was particularly interesting was the story of Franklin Carmichael’s “Crooked Pine” (my opinion before reading about this was that was just the way they grow).
However, the photos are just part of the story. One of their recreations was that of an iconic photo from 1935 of Franklin Carmichael painting at Grace Lake. They found the spot right down to the distinct rock where the painter is seated. (The village of Willisville has a great set of photos dedicated to the area). Jim says that everyone that they take up there sits on the rock and quite naturally gazes in the same direction as Carmichael. Then one trip, the rock was gone. Jim and Sue thought that it may have been rolled down the hill somehow – most likely by someone – and figured that it may be recoverable. So they got a group together to find that 200 lb rock and haul it back up to its original location. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been, but Jim, Sue and friends were up to the task, restoring the spot as Carmichael would have seen it.
In a few days I’ll be travelling through the area, and I am going to do my best at locating the spot for myself, and maybe even try my hand at the Carmicheal Gaze. I read periodically on forum posts reporting that the rock is still there, so I’m hopeful that will still be the case. I’ll of course let you know how it goes. Shortly after I get back I’m going to revisit the McMichael Gallery because I’m sure I’ll have an even greater appreciation of the Group of Seven paintings. I strongly urge you to check out the exhibit, but also to visit the landscape that started it all by spending some time in Killarney Provincial Park. It will become very clear how the area inspired the Group of Seven, their great works of art, and of course Jim and Sue Waddington’s story.
UPDATE: I went to visit the site of Carmichael’s Rock. You can read about that here.
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