Couple follows in footsteps of Group of Seven
Sue and Jim Waddington have portaged to remote lakes and roamed rural farms in search of some of Canada’s most inspiring landscapes. Following the path of this country’s most iconic artists, the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, the Waddingtons have searched out – and found – hundreds of sites that correspond to artwork painted in the early 1900s.
On Thursday, May 19, the Waddingtons will be sharing their discoveries with the audience at the CFUW’s annual general meeting.
It all began in 1977 when Sue took a course in rug hooking. As an assignment, the teacher had her adapt an A.Y. Jackson painting, “Hills, Killarney, Ontario (Nellie Lake).” When she and her husband planned a camping trip to Killarney, they decided to hunt up the exact spot that Jackson used to create the art.
“It was a hard place to get to, but we found the painting site and got excited,” Jim says.
They took their findings to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, which specializes in the Group of Seven, and were told that the locations of most of the paintings had not been documented.
“We’ve been trying to sort them out for almost 40 years,” Jim says. In that time, the couple has found more than 500 painting sites, which have been compiled into a book called In the Footsteps of the Group of Seven, with all proceeds going to the Art Gallery of Sudbury’s building fund.
In 2010, the McMichael Gallery put on a show that juxtaposed the paintings with the photos spread out over two gallery spaces.
While the book chronicles the discoveries the pair has made, illustrating the incredible similarities and the intentional changes each artist painted, none of the actual locations are disclosed to the public.
“We will say about some of them more or less where they are,” Jim says. “We’ve learned about a number of these places in confidence.”
The plan is to eventually pass on the co-ordinates to a trustworthy organization for safe keeping.
“We have all the information and it will be given to somebody. We haven’t decided who yet,” says Sue.
“Some gallery will get all our research and they can decide what they want to do with it.”
Although it is not in the book, the Waddingtons say that A.J. Casson has painted several scenes in the Haliburton area and they intend to check them out on their way through town.
“We haven’t found any there yet,” says Jim. “There are some that are really quite close, we think.”
The more renowned the project became, the more tips the Waddingtons have received. Turns out that while many of the painters didn’t record where exactly they did their work, local people took notice.
“I say to people that we like them to tell us any stories they have from their family. Very little of this was written down by the artists. There are stories in families that their grandmother told them that they saw a particular painter on a particular lake,” Jim says.
Some of Tom Thomson’s work has controversy surrounding its origins, Sue says. When he died, much of his work wasn’t labelled. The labels that were provided posthumously have been disputed, she says.
The Waddingtons live in Hamilton – Sue is a retired nurse and Jim a retired physics professor from McMaster University – and they make each wilderness excursion from that home base.
When they were approached to do the book, they were hesitant. Finding the sites of the Group of Seven was always something they did as a hobby. Plus, Jim didn’t like to write.
“Sue and I were doing this for fun,” Jim says. “We weren’t doing it for any other reason other than we wanted to find these places as part of our canoe trips. In some ways, making any money out of this would spoil it for us.” Having the proceeds from the book go to the gallery, therefore, suits them just fine.
The book sells for $55 and will be available to buy at the CFUW event on Thursday, May 19, at 7 p.m.
at Fleming College in Haliburton. If you can’t make the talk, you can buy a copy of the paperback version, due out in July by visiting the website www.gooselane.com.