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.

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Undersleeves

Every so often, my job requires that I dress like a Victorian.  When I first started, fresh out of museum studies and thrilled to be employed, I remember a slight feeling of embarrassment and nervousness the first time I donned the costume.  I think it was mostly my own insecurities and anxieties working their way out, but after time and NUMEROUS occasions, I’m quite comfortable in my ‘pioneer’ dress and am quite happy to wear it as the time sees fit.

The dress I wear was made by me, under Grandma’s careful supervision, over two years ago, and recently, I’ve been adding to my accessories through various historic knitting patterns.  I completed by Sontag last Spring, and my Sortie Cap was a very fast knit over a weekend last summer. Since the holiday knitting season ended, I’ve been slowly working away at another historic pattern which will keep my arms very warm, as I’ve been knitting myself a pair of undersleeves.

I’m still working on undersleeve #2, and I’ll share the project, photos, and my own edits and notes in a future post, but I thought for today, I’d share a little history on this accessory, because until I started working in the Museum field, I had never heard of undersleeves before.  The name seems straight forward, but what is the history of this accessory?

Undersleeves were commonly worn during the mid 1800s, an essential part of any woman’s fashion.  They were detachable, which made laundering easier – and laundry was no easy task during the Victorian era. As much as I long for aspects of the past, I am very thankful for my modern washer and dryer. Hot water, harsh soaps, washboards and wringers – no thank you. Typically white or off-white, undersleeves helped to keep body oils off the fabric of dresses, which were commonly made from wool or silk, materials which couldn’t be washed.  Undersleeves served to be both purposeful for protecting the fabric as well as decorative.

Many museums have undersleeves in their collection, and quite often they are trimmed with lace or other delicate stitching.  When fashions changed, as fashions inevitably do, undersleeves were a simple way to change up the look of a dress rather than with a new dress entirely.  The undersleeves would also change seasonally; warm weather would see sleeves made from light-weight white fabrics such as organdy, while cotton and other heavier materials could be used to help stave off the cold.  The pattern I am making from Godey’s is for wool undersleeves, clearly intended for cold weather wear.

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Cotton Undersleeves, c. 1850, in the collection of the Met Museum
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Linen Undersleeve, c. 1840, in the collection of the Museums of  Mississauga
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Undersleeves, c. 1906, in the collection of the Canadian Museum of History

The styles of these accessories also varied, from those that required pinning to the interior of the dress sleeve, ones which gathered at the wrist and those that were open and loose at the wrist.  Not only could the material change for the season, but Peterson’s, another Lady’s publication from the era, discussed how undersleeves could change for wear throughout the day.

White undersleeves for morning wear are made with a deep linin cuff, fastened with three studs, either comprised of precious stones, or of gold.  For evening wear, the cuff is made of lace and embroidered insertion; but fullings of any description are now never employed, as the under-sleeve should be as flat as possible.

~Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.

Undersleeves, after a number of decades, fell out of fashion, but one can still find many sewing or knitting patterns for making your own.  Coming next week, the Godey’s pattern I followed when knitting my woolen undersleeves, my interpretation of the pattern, and my finished sleeves. Stay tuned!

 


When researching this post, I referred to a few sources, including:

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through World History, Volume 3, 1801 to Present, edited by Jill Condra; accessed: https://goo.gl/npaeZg

Oshawa Express, ‘Under sleeves, a unique piece of clothing,’ J. Weymark; accessed: http://goo.gl/WYbzxL

Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900,  Joan L. Severa; accessed: https://goo.gl/gI30oL

I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghosts

I work for a small community museum, and not one week goes by without someone asking me if the museum is haunted.  Valid question, perhaps, knowing that the houses are over 150 years old, and deaths and funerals very likely took place in these homes.  Morbid sounding, sure, but that was the customs for the times.  In the Victorian times, if a death occurred, a family or visiting undertaker would prepare the body for the funeral, which most often than not, took place in the home.  Death was less marginalized and spoken of more openly than it is today.  When I give tours through our latest exhibit on mourning customs, I am very aware of my wording and trying to be as sensitive as I can towards the subject matter.  The Victorians were slightly more matter-of-fact about everything.

Inside our period Victorian home; the parlour is currently set up as if ready for a funeral
Inside our period Victorian home; the parlour is currently set up as if ready for a funeral

Very long story short, yes, deaths occurred many years ago at my museum.

Does this mean they are haunted?  That depends on who you ask.  I am rather skeptical about it.  If there has been an ‘encounter,’ there must be a reasonable explanation for it.  Bumps and sounds? We’re in a public park, it must be a sound from outside.  As well, I have not had an ‘apparition’ appear to me.  If someone ever does appear and ask me how it’s going, I’ll re-evaluate my position.  A few of my other co-workers are more open minded and perhaps more receptive to spirits, but I myself haven’t had any experiences, and this is my answer when people ask.  It’s not very exciting, and it’s not the answer more people want to hear.  When people ask the question, I suspect they are looking for confirmation that the story they heard from a friend of a friend is true.  Being scared is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?

Skepticism aside, I participated in a paranormal investigation our museum hosted this weekend.  I remained in our administrative building, so I didn’t go around on the hunt with our visitors, but I heard stories once they returned of meters going off, of signs, and of uneasy feelings.  Everyone had fun.

After the guests left, I closed the buildings with two investigators.

“Do you mind, now that it’s quiet, if we take a few minutes and see if any spirits are around?” I was asked.  “They might not have wanted to be present with so many people going through.”

I didn’t mind, so we sat in our 175 year old house, lights off, 10:45pm, and we waited.  The investigators asked a few questions, and then they asked me to ask a few (that the spirits might be more receptive to a feminine voice).  Either the spirits weren’t present that evening, or I’m not receptive to the spirits, for after about 10 minutes, with not much contact, we went around and locked the building up.

I might be a skeptic, but for good measure, I had salt with me at all times Saturday night.  You never know…

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An Informal Homecoming, a Heritage Village, and a Lovely LYS

What a wonderful weekend!  I am NOT referring to the weather we experienced in southern Ontario; it was wet, grey, cold, and just plain miserable.  But I did make the most of this past weekend and had a wonderful time.

Friday was spent in Waterloo, Ontario, which brought back a flood of memories! I completed my undergraduate degree at Wilfrid Laurier University (Go Golden Hawks!), and I haven’t been back to the campus in over eight years.  While the small campus has seen quite a bit of change, there was still so much that was the same, and I was brought back to days full of study and nights full of fun with friends.  I made lifelong friends while at that school, some of whom I have known for over 13 years now.  I wandered the campus with a large smile on my face.  What a school where such amazing memories were created.

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My trip down memory lane

As a huge Museum Geek, I dragged my sister along to the Waterloo Region Museum.  This museum tells the story of Waterloo Region and the communities of which it is comprised, and they do so with their new, state-of-the-art interpretation centre which connects to Doon Heritage Village, a museum village interpreting 1914 Waterloo Region, a locale with rural communities and blooming urban centres at the cusp of the largest military conflicts to date, the outbreak of World War I.

Outside the Waterloo Region Museum, and my epic Jump Pic Fail. Thanks, scarf...
Outside the Waterloo Region Museum, and my epic Jump Pic Fail. Thanks, scarf…

Doon truly was a fun, yet fascinating village to visit.  Interpreters in the house provided third-person narratives to visitors, and the super-friendly guide in their period General Store informed us that they change their interpretation for the changing months and seasons.  This means that, for example, the General Store was boasting school supplies and preserving materials for sale, which was appropriate for the season.

Kitchener, Ontario, the largest city in Waterloo Region, was known until 1916 as Berlin, Ontario.  Its Germanic roots run deep, and it boasts the largest Oktoberfest outside of Europe.  This made Doon Heritage Village and their interpretation period all the more fascinating to me.  I held back from asking, but I truly was left wondering if their interpretation of 1914 also included the outbreak of WWI and the anti-German sentiments that the City and its residents faced during the war, sentiments that resulted in the City’s name change to Kitchener.  They interpret every day life in Waterloo Region, how their residents lived, their religious life, various occupations, but do they also interpret political sentiments and/or the impact of the global altercation of WWI?  I’ll be heading to a conference in early November; if I meet someone from Waterloo Region Museum, I’ll be sure to ask them!

Doon Heritage Village also had adorable sheep!
Doon Heritage Village also had adorable sheep!

The feature exhibition at Waterloo Regional Museum was called Beer: The Exhibit.  Clearly, my sister and I had to see the history ‘on tap’ at that exhibit!  By the time we finished with the Village, we were running short on time, which meant I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I could have at the exhibit, but from our quick, whirlwind self-tour through it, I was highly impressed!  You walk in and are faced with the all-to-familiar Beer Store counter, recreated for the exhibit, complete with the rolly-counter that was a LOT of fun to play with as a kid (and, well, still entertaining as an adult)!  There was a very aesthetic wall of bottles, showcasing a beautiful range of colours and shapes and a screen playing Molson commercials, including the infamous My Name is Joe commercial, with the iconic rant which succinctly highlights many key aspects of our Canadian Identity.  Funny how it took a beer commercial to hit the nail on the head of something that is more often than not very difficult to identify.  The exhibit also had a number of ‘Selfie Stations’ where they encouraged visitors to take a picture and use hashtags to share their images, a very fun way to encourage and in turn measure visitor engagement through the exhibit.

Beer: The Exhibit, and saying No to prohibition!
Beer: The Exhibit, and saying No to prohibition!

Finally, I was able to steal away for about half an hour to a lovely little Local Yarn Shop called Shall We Knit.  I was met by Kerry who was one of the friendliest LYS owners I have ever met.  Knowing how lovely and open most LYS owners are, this is saying something about just how welcome I was made in Shall We Knit.  I left with three skeins, one earmarked for an on-going afghan and two for Christmas presents, and I cannot wait to get back to Waterloo and visit her shop again.

In My Other Blogging Life

For a number of months, I have been maintaining this blog with a new post every week.  It’s a fun way for me to share my love of knitting, of crafting, and of generally sharing select aspects of my life.  This blog in and of itself is another creative outlet for me, and to those who take the time to stop and read my posts, I thank you.  This is what I write about in my personal time about my personal life.  Professionally, however, I have been blogging for over two years.  Perhaps that’s how I first got bitten by the ‘writing bug.’

I work for a small community Museum, and we maintain a blog also hosted here on WordPress.  Somehow, over the 4+ years I’ve been working at this site I love, I have become, among other things, a social media co-ordinator, and the blog maintenance falls to me.  We have a monthly feature looking at newspaper headlines from years ago, we have students throughout the year who help share their experiences at the Museum, and we have dozens of previously written historical articles that make for perfect blog content.  But, every so often, original content needs to be written, and I happy sit, research, and write.  I studied history in school, so writing new posts for the blog brings be back to those days when I was writing dozens of essays for my various classes.  This time, it’s better because I’m not stressing about what grade the writing will get.  I write for the sheer enjoyment of writing about topics I am truly passionate about.

My WordPress reader really is a funny space because it is a great mixture of knitting and handicraft blogs to history and museum blogs, very aptly reflective of my life and interests.  I loved writing my post about the Sontag because it combined my love of research and knitting, and it’s made me want to find more historical patterns to knit and learn more about.  The Sontag is still on my needles, but I’m nearing the finish line!  Once it’s finished, I’ll share pictures of the finished object, along with me in my Victorian finest!

Friday Night at the Museum

Music, drinks, food, and dinosaurs.  Yup, dinosaurs.  Just a typical night at the Royal Ontario Museum for their popular Friday Night Live series.  This is how I spent last Friday night, with close friends and my sister, to celebrate her birthday.  This popular event runs every Friday night for a two month period, and it is amazing to see the hallowed halls of a museum being transformed into areas for bands, conversations, and good food.  The inner museum person in me has little panic attacks when I think about food/drinks in gallery space (eek! Think of the pest possibilities!!), but it really is great to see that a museum is THE place to be on a Friday night.

Drinks... in museum galleries... pl;ease pardon my panic attack!
Drinks… in museum galleries… please pardon my panic attack!

Growing up in Ontario, the ROM was one of the places that you visited with family and on school trips. I think my earliest memory of the Museum was the old dinosaur gallery, before the ROM Renaissance of the 2000s.  It was dark, and there were really big bones.  Child of the 80s, The Land Before Time was a staple, and I remember thinking how cool it was to see a ‘Sharp Tooth’ in real life.  We visited sporadically before I started high school, but then it was years before I returned, after the installation of the ever contentious Michael Lee Chin Crystal (side note: I like the Crystal).

Visiting the ROM, you can wander and see their paleontological collections, natural history collections, and galleries showcasing Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, China, Japan, Africa, Europe, along with their textiles and mineralogy collections, which is one of my favourites.  I’m such a girl: I like shiny things.  Off the main rotunda, you can find their Canada Gallery, showcasing art, furniture, and artifacts which are significant to our country.  This is my favourite gallery, and I’m always sure to visit my favourite artifact, their Rebellion Box.  I see it, geek out, then move along.

Hello Rebellion Box
Hello Rebellion Box

While it’s wonderful to view objects from cultures from around the world, the one area that I feel the ROM leaves me wanting is a gallery outlining more of our own history.  Yes, there is the Canada Gallery, but even that gallery leaves me wanting.  This past Fall, I visited Quebec City, and I fell in love.  The history, the architecture, the culture, the museums.  The Quebecois people know how to tell their story.  In the musée de la civilisation, one of their permanent galleries is Le Temps des Québécois, and it outlines the 400+ years of history that the Province of Quebec has.  I was fascinated.  I am a History and Canadian Studies major, so I’m familiar with the history, but museums give the opportunity to educate and showcase, and the musée de la civilisation did just this.

In my humble opinion, the provincial story in Ontario is not being adequately told.  The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau tells the national story and city/municipal museums tell the story of their own communities, but the history of Ontario is somehow lost in the shuffle.  I would love to see an exhibition showcasing the history of the province, from the earliest First Nation inhabitants, to its creation, struggles, expansions, and how it has become the most populous province in the country.  How did Ontarians react to the World Wars? Why did they react this way? How about the Upper Canada Rebellion, what happened there?  From farms to cities, the north to our border with the US, there is a story waiting to be told.  This is what the musée de la civilisation did for the history of Quebec, and wouldn’t the Royal Ontario Museum be the ideal place to showcase the history of this province?

Until that day, I will continue to visit the ROM, look at cultural materials from around the world, wonder at pre-historic giants that roamed the earth, and visit my beloved Rebellion Box.

FNL at the ROM
FNL at the ROM