Sunday 16 May 2010

Minister Prentice (Environment/Parks Canada) and author Paul Duval and underwater photographer James Mathias unveil Studio Building plaque

Diver, Author, Cabinet Minister Unveil Plaque for Studio Building - building where Group of Seven and Tom Thomson worked.

Famed underwater photographer James Mathias and veteran arts writer/author Paul Duval were joined on Saturday, May 15th by Federal Minister of Environment Jim Prentice as Parks Canada unveiled a historic plaque in front of the Studio Building. The Studio building, which Mathias owns and lives in and where Duval rents an apartment, has a storied Toronto history.
The Studio Building, designed to be a workplace for artists, is an example of early 20th century modern architecture in Canada that rejected ornamentation and drew on industrial design. Its studios were specifically designed to let in the indirect northern sunlight - natural light sought out by artists for its clearness. The first six artists to use the Studio Building were Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson (who shared a studio with Jackson J. Beaty), A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Heming, and Albert Curtis Williamson.
Hosting several generations of artists, including the Group of Seven painters, the Studio Building is of enormous significance in the history of Canadian art. The building represents the contributions of generations of Canadian artists who produced the world-renowned paintings that are now prized possessions in museums across Canada and around the world. These artists shared a common interest in Canadian themes – together they radically changed and redefined the way Canadian art and artists were depicted.
The dedication ceremony was held in a park across the street from the Studio Building (which is located beside the Yonge Street subway near the Rosedale station). A small group of art lovers and friends of Mathias and Duval attended.
“Before the Group of Seven were able to gather and share their inspiration and creativity here in the Studio Building, the beauty of the Canadian landscape was not recognized. The artists who gathered here presented the magnificence of Canada to us and changed a vast empty wilderness into a stunning home – our home – that has foundations formed by the incredible and distinctly Canadian art created at this site, a home that is now the envy of the world,” said Minister Prentice when he unveiled a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque.
James Mathias has spent thousands of dollars restoring the Studio Building. He recently updated the large studio windows on the north face of the 3-story building. Mathias also paid tribute to his late adopted father, artist Gordon McNamara who owned the building for decades. It was McNamara who made the studio building available to the Canadian artists who followed the Group of Seven including Harold Town, the founder of Painters 11.
Paul Duval made a very rare public appearance and spoke at the Parks Canada ceremony. His 5-minute speech is printed below:
“I have known this building since I was a child” said Paul Duvall, at a special Saturday ceremony in downtown Toronto. “ I grew up one block away from here in Yorkville. My brothers used to bring me by here on the way to the Riverdale Zoo along Rosedale Valley Road (which runs by the Studio Building), which was then an unpaved thoroughfare.
“ I didn’t realize at that time, that I was passing exactly the same route that Tom Thomson would take from his shack (now at the McMichael Gallery) behind the studio building here, to draw animals in the very same zoo.
“I meet my first Group of Seven artist, Arthur Lismer, when they had children’s classes at the then Toronto Art Gallery (AGO) when I was 8-years old. That is when I first saw Group of Seven paintings and Tom Thomson’s works. “ he continued. “It wasn’t until I was 13 that I actually entered this building. That was because Paul Schaeffer, my art instructor at that time, suggested that the students should each have an artist to visit. He picked for me a man named Jackson.”
“ So I came to this gallery, walked up the stairs and met a man named Mr. Jackson. All I remember about him was that I was amazed that he put strings across his sketches in order to enlarge his canvasses. However, later we got to know each other very well. I was particularly fond of and became a good friend of Lawren Harris.
“I would like to speak particularly of him, not only did he devise the idea of this building and the other things the other gentleman (owner James Matthias) said. He was generous, he helped artists including Emily Carr, and he had great difficulties being accepted as an artist on a financial level.

“When young artists complain that they can’t be accepted, I like to tell that in 1959 when Harris was already a celebrated painter and a wealthy man from his inheritance, we sat together in a hotel over on Avenue Road, having lunch one day in 1959. About on us on the walls, surrounding us were the Harris paintings of the arctic and the Rockies. These had been put there by Dick Van Brockleberrie, the director of the Fine Arts Department of Eaton’s College Street which represented Harris in the hopes that someone would come in and having lunch or dinner and pay $1,500 for one of these large canvases, which now as you know bring $1 to $3 million dollars.”
“ Nothing has changed in that respect in Canadian art.”
Cutline: top: Honourable Jim Prentice, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister Responsible for Parks Canada (left), unveils an Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque in front of the Studio building, home of the Group of Seven, with the help of building owner James Matthias (right) and long time resident Paul Duval (centre) during a ceremony in Toronto, Saturday, May 15, 2010.
Bottom: Following the plaque unveiling, underwater photographer James Mathias opened up his home (the Studio Building) for a reception. Mathias brought a little known Group of Seven painting out of storage and hung it back in the Studio Building for the party. Beaver Lake was painted by Lawren Harris.