Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Trip to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection - Oh Ya!

Now I do realize that fine art is not exactly main stream here in Canada but when I recently announced that I was heading to the McMichael I was a bit shocked when several people asked "what's that?".  The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is truly a hidden jewel located in the little town of Kleinburg, Ontario.  The museum features the largest collection of Group of Seven paintings but it is much more than that.  Would you believe this has been my second pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of the McMichael?  My first trip happened nearly twenty years ago when I had just barely picked up a paintbrush.  I saw it this time with completely new eyes but I still have memories of certain paintings as if I had just seen them yesterday - they are still so vivid in my mind even after all these years! "Every work of art which really moves us is in some degree a revelation - it changes us." (Lawren Harris)  Yes.  I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to drink in the magic of the Group of Seven once again.  These are literally life changing moments that will stay with me forever!

"Montreal River" by Lawren Harris,
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
The museum began as a private property in 1952 when Robert and Signe McMichael purchased 10 acres in Kleinburg and built a beautiful log home there.  They began to passionately collect art, primarily of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, as well as Aboriginal artists.  Their first acquisition in 1955 was a painting called "Montreal River" by Lawren Harris.  They purchased it for $250 and since they could not afford that large sum they wound up paying for it in installments of $50 per month!  It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that six decades later the painting is now worth millions!  The home was frequently visited by artists, particularly the Group of Seven.  In fact, A.Y. Jackson lived there during the last months of his life.

View from the Museum
By 1965 the art collection had become quite extraordinary and the McMichaels decided to donate their collection, their home and land to the Province of Ontario and thus the McMichael Canadian Art Collection came into existence soon after.  The museum has dramatically expanded over the years and is now 85 000 square feet and the collection contains over 6000 pieces of art (only 10% of the collection is shown at any one time).  Although the house itself is no longer a home, several of the original beautiful log walls are still there.  The "feel" of the property still exists.  The museum has many floor to ceiling windows to allow visitors to look out on the forest that is reminiscent in many of the paintings found inside. The property itself now consists of 100 acres of forest with hiking trails throughout.  No!  This is not your typical art museum!

One thrilling sight for me was the Tom Thomson Shack that was re-located to the property from it's original location in Toronto.  Tom lived there for a few years and it was overwhelming for me to look upon the front door and I could imagine him as he walked in and out so many times.  I gazed in through the window to his studio and could picture him standing there creating some of the greatest masterpieces in Canadian art.  I truly hope some of his creative energy has rubbed off on me!

The Tom Thomson Shack
The Artists' Cemetary
Another moving experience was visiting the Artists' Cemetery.  Six members of the Group of Seven and their wives, as well as the original owners, Robert and Signe McMichael are buried on the property.  I sat in silence and had a quiet moment with Lawren Harris at his final resting place.  The gravestone for Lawren Harris and his wife Beth resemble a pyramid mountain reflective of so many of his great mountain landscapes.  You have to look hard to see his name engraved in the rough stone.
Lawren & Bess Harris' Gravestone

That, in a nutshell, is what the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is!  But I can hear you asking, "what about the paintings?"  Of course, they are the highlight of the entire museum!  There is a lot to tell you about so you will just have to be a bit patient and wait for my next blog post coming very soon, but here's a sneak peek...
Here I am hanging out with a Harris painting.  Do I look happy?