Euro Interest In Group of Seven Spur Canadians To Leave Love Letters To Famed Dead Artists In Kleinburg Cemetery
|Lawren and Bess Harris headstone. Flowers and note from a fan!|
There are signs that the Group of Seven is finally hip with the Canadian people, even those who don't go to art galleries.
I was out at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection with a video crew last week. The McMichael has a hot show called Painting In Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. It is a show that blew off the doors at galleries in the UK and Europe over the past year. It has the best Group paintings from private collectors, the National Gallery in Ottawa, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael. This is the final (and only Canadian) stop for the touring show.
The show is experiencing record attendance in the public gallery located in Kleinburg, Ontario - even though many of the paintings have hung in the log cabin gallery for decades. The art-gallery-going public is rediscovering what has been in front of them all the time. It took a London, England art gallery, the Dulwich, and its curator Ian Desjardin, to bring the Group and Tom Thomson across the pond for an almost year-long tour. This blockbuster exhibition has managed to rekindle interest in early 20th century Canadian landscape paintings.
At the end of last week's gallery taping I took the TV crew to see the Group of Seven cemetery. It is a quiet thoughtful park that is not often seen by visitors even though you have to drive past it to get into the gallery's parking lot. But, now with visitors wanting to see everything Group related, people are taking the time to stroll out onto the wooded grounds and see the graves. Some have attempted to interact with the dead.
We got there and I found that someone had taken the time to write fan letters to the long dead artists and placed them in front of their rough-rock headstones (the stones were cut from the Canadian Shield when the Trans Canada highway was being blasted through Northern Ontario). Bouquets of wild flowers and even a small stuffed bear pin have been left as well.
|Frederick Varley's gravestone.|
In all there were 10 members of the Group of Seven. All but one of the artists were married. Lawren Harris was married twice. Of the ten artists who were members of the Group of Seven, six – Arthur Lismer http://www.stephenweir.com/gallery1/index.php/lismer-note-and-flowers, Frederick Varley http://www.stephenweir.com/gallery1/index.php/fred-varley-and-letter-798534596, Lawren Harris http://www.stephenweir.com/gallery1/index.php/IMG_0157, Frank Johnston, A.J. Casson and A.Y. Jackson – are buried in a small cemetery on the McMichael grounds, along with Robert and Signe. Esther Lismer, Florence Johnston and Margaret Casson are buried there with their husbands. Harris is buried with his second wife Bess. Jackson never married and Varley's wife is buried elsewhere. I only attended two of the funerals (I am not that old!).
In fact I have been at the McMike on a part-time basis, on and off for the past 15-years. I have spent hours over the years sitting in the cemetery - best place for cell phone reception. I have never seen flowers, badges or letters left at the grave sites before. I was really curious, but no I didn't open the envelopes. I do know that so far the artists have not responded to their first mail call since their burials back in the 20th century.
More information: Last month my associate, art videographer George Socka interviewed Dulwich curator, Ian Desjardin and asked him why the Group of Seven has suddenly been embraced by art lovers in England, Europe and yes back here in Canada. This video, unique to Huffington Post is at:http://youtu.be/F-uCu98wOik
McMaster University professor James King just released a long overdue biography about Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. Socka has also filed a YouTube video story about James King lecturing about Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson.
Inward Journey: The Life of Lawren Harris is available at bookstores and on line at: http://www.amazon.ca/Inward-Journey-Life-Lawren-Harris/dp/177102206X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354119155&sr=1-1
|Letter in front of Arthur Lismer's grave|
|Flowers, a child's bear pin and letter|