The Idea of North and Lawren Harris

He was born into a family of industrialists, but he became renowned for art, landscapes, and capturing an idea of ‘The North.’

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Lawren Harris; photo from the Archives of Ontario

Lawren Harris was born in 1885 in Brantford, Ontario; he is of the same Harris Family of Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson), which at one time was the largest agricultural equipment maker in the British Empire. Harris received a good education, studying at the University of Toronto, and later in Berlin. All this time, he developed an interest in art. In the early 1910s, he befriended JEH MacDonald and Tom Thomson; in less than a decade, Harris and MacDonald would be two members of the noted Group of Seven. That Thomson was a member of the Group of Seven is a common misconception as Thomson died in 1917 before the official formation. His influence upon those painters cannot be understated, as he was passionate about the ‘great outdoors’ and about capturing the Canadian landscape on canvas. After their first show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920, the Group of Seven began identifying themselves as being in the ‘landscape school of art.’

Throughout the 1920s, Harris and MacDonald, along with Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, and Arthur Lismer (and later A.J. Casson and Edwin Holgate) would commit the Canadian landscape to canvas like no other artists previously. Pieces created by these artists are held at major art galleries throughout the country and abroad, with major collections housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, and the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, ON.

In the early 1930s, the group felt it was no longer necessary to exhibit as a formal group, and the individual artists continued with their work to great success.  Harris moved to New Hampshire and later New Mexico before moving to Vancouver, BC in 1940, where he would remain until his death in 1970; he is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Art Gallery.

As long as I have known about art and was old enough to recognize and appreciate major works, I have known about the Group of Seven. The mystery of Tom Thomson’s death fascinated me with every trip to Algonquin; their artwork is a favourite when seen in galleries; their pieces and themes were explored as I took my Canadian Studies degree. The artwork by Lawren Harris has always stood out to me, the stark colours he uses, the forms, the simplicity yet complexities (yes, I know that is very contradictory!) in his landscapes. When I learned of a touring exhibition featuring Harris’s artwork, I could hardly wait for it to make its way to Toronto; to learn that the exhibition was curated by Steve Martin, yes the banjo playing comedian Steve Martin, it added to the excitement for the show.

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In mid-July, on one of the hottest days thus far of the summer, I made my way to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit is different from what toured in the US, expanded to include a Toronto theme, exploring an area called ‘The Ward,’ where Harris spend his formative years.  The Ward, formally the St. John’s Ward, is a neighbourhood bound by College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue; today, the Eaton Centre, Toronto City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square and other prominent shops and buildings are found here, but in the 1910s when Harris called it home, it was an impoverished area where recent immigrants would commonly settle.  Divided into three themes, the first and third explored the Ward, first looking at its history, utilizing Harris’ works contrasting with photography from the time, and the third featured contemporary artists examining the changes to the Ward both geographically and socially.  The second theme explored the ‘Idea of North’ and Harris’ iconic works which capture the Canadian landscape.

It is difficult to imagine the centre of Toronto from another time, as the Eaton Centre and City Hall are so dominant in that space, but Harris’ depictions from the Ward helped bring this time and place to life, using bright colours, or dull when appropriate, and the use of figures help put the viewer in the scene.

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I was especially struck by the following image, which again was new to me before this exhibit. Haven’t we all been this poor soul at one time or another?

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Lawren Harris: Approaching Storm, 1911; on loan from a private collection

As I moved through the exhibition, it dawned on me why I’m so drawn to Harris and his art: not only are the forms, shapes, and landscapes he captures, but I am so very drawn to the colours he uses. Blues, greys, teals, purples, whites. His striking colour use is very impactful. The knitter in me kept walking around the space just imagining skeins of yarn dyed with the colours of  Lake and Mountains.

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Lawren Harris: Lake and Mountains, 1928; Art Gallery of Ontario Collection

My iPhone photographs do not do justice to seeing the paintings in person. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, or are planning a visit before September 18, make the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Idea of North a must-visit.

Oh Canada!

Happy 148th Birthday to my home and native land!  As has become my new Canada Day tradition, I will be working later this afternoon as our Museum participates in our City’s Canada Day Celebrations.

I am a few days late in writing a new post.  My routine is to write and publish a new post every Monday, but the new house has been keeping me both busy and off my routine.  I must also say, I was struggling for inspiration for a new post; Canada Day has, however, provided me with the inspiration I was seeking!  Here is a round up of some of my favourite Canadian-inspired knitting projects.

I’ll start with the project I’ve completed: a Maple Leaf Toque.  My dad requested a Canada toque, and I was happy to oblige. This quick project used intarsia to make the leaf, and the pom pom on top makes it complete!

The Maple Leaf Toque I made for my Dad earlier this year.
The Maple Leaf Toque I made for my Dad earlier this year.

The Maple Leaf is such an iconic symbol for Canada, which is why this shawl caught my eye.  Simply put, it is beautiful.  The Maple Leaf Shawl, by Natalia @ Elfmoda, is available on Ravelry.  It has been in my favourites for months, and one day I will buy the pattern and make this stunning wrap.

Maple Leaf Shawl, image from Ravelry (© Elfmoda)
Maple Leaf Shawl, image from Ravelry (© Elfmoda)

Another iconic symbol for Canada has its roots in our early history.  The Hudson’s Bay Company is the world’s second oldest company, and it was incorporated through a Royal Charter in 1670 as a fur trading organization. It has evolved throughout the centuries, and today it is one of the country’s largest retail business groups.  The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket, and the colours that comprise the blanket, date to c. 1780 and are easily identifiable and iconic of this company.  The website hbcheritage.ca has a detailed summary of the history of the blanket, the colours, and the Point System that is referred to in the name of the blanket.

Any pattern that uses the green, red, yellow, and blue stripes are recognizable as HBC colours, but the following patterns truly caught my eye:

Hudson Bay Inspired Crib Blanket by Purl Soho

Hudson Bay Inspired Crib Blanket (© Purl Soho)
Hudson Bay Inspired Crib Blanket (© Purl Soho)

#20 Hudson’s Bay Pullover by Cathy Carron, published in Vogue Knitting – I simply love the wrap the model in the picture is wearing!

#20 Hudson's Bay Pullover (© Soho Publishing)
#20 Hudson’s Bay Pullover (© Soho Publishing)

If you type ‘Canada’ into the Ravelry pattern search, you will get 201 results, with red and white in abundance.  This last pattern caught my eye, as did it’s name.  Canadian Pride 2010 is a free pattern available by Briggs and Little.  Briggs and Little is a wool company based in New Brunswick, and I must say, I was rather impressed and surprised when I started looking into their history!  The woolen mill was first started in 1857 and has been operating under the name Briggs and Little since 1916!  This wool company is 10 years older than Canada has officially been a country.

Canada Pride 2010 lives up to its name, with this zippered sweater featuring deer, maple leaves, and Canada emblazoned on the back.  It literally screams ‘Canada.’ It looks warm and cozy, and I can picture someone wearing this while curled up by a fire.

Canadian Pride 2010 (© knitswiss)
Canadian Pride 2010 (© knitswiss)

Happy Canada Day!

We Are Canadian.

Today, I was a part of something amazing.  The more I’m thinking about it, the more amazed I am and the more honoured I am to have been a part of it.  I was able to witness a Citizenship ceremony, where 43 people became Canadians.

I was invited to be a discussion host for a citizenship discussion that happened before the actual swearing in, and I chatted with three individuals and their children about what becoming Canadian means to them, and it truly opened my eyes to things I have taken for granted.  Having a passport.  Being able to travel.  Free healthcare.  Voting.  Living in such a diverse, unique nation.

After the discussions, the Citizenship ceremony took place, and I stood and reaffirmed my oath as a Canadian.  Being born here, swearing the Oath of Citizenship is something I had never done before, but I proudly raised my right hand and said the words alongside those saying it for the first time as Canadians.  All together, at the end of the ceremony, we sang our National Anthem, and it was sung loud and with great pride.

Today was a happy day.  I left and my cheeks were sore from smiling so much.  I was honoured to play even the smallest role in this very important ceremony.  I am forever grateful that my grandparents and great-grandparents made the choice to settle in Canada.  I love my country, and today reminded me of the many reasons why I love it.  I have never been more proud to be Canadian.