Submitted by Norma Watt
Tickets were limited. Maurice, a fellow art college student, snagged two. I snagged my father’s car for the evening. A.Y. Jackson would be speaking at the Anglican Church meeting hall. We were inspired by Jackson’s broad confident brush movements and bold sense of colour. When I saw The Edge of the Maple Wood I’d been hooked.
Jackson had recently been whacked by a stroke, dependent on a wheelchair. The year 1967 had slowed his energetic outings, but hadn’t dampened his enthusiasm.
As he was wheeled into the room, I could see that although not tall, he remained a powerfully built man, well adapted to lugging folding chair, portable wood easel, birch panels and mounds of oil paints and brushes into woods and mountainous terrain. The small audience paid rapt attention as Jackson related incidents of his life as an advertising lithographer, a landscape painter and avid outdoorsman.
The unexplained death of Tom Thomson had hit him hard. Body missing in field action — never found. They’d shared daily breakfasts (part of a painting routine) at a rear studio at what is now #2 Bloor Street in Toronto, funded by the more financially secure Lawren Harris and J.A. MacDonald, also participants in the Group of Seven. Frederick Varley, Jackson, Arthur Lismer, MacDonald, Harris, Lemoine Fitzgerald, and Franklin Carmichael formed an alliance dubbed by the press as the Group of Seven.
Alexander Young Jackson considered himself an “Impressionist” and at age 85 retained his passion for painting “en plein air.” Simply put, he sketched and painted in the field, on the location, most of his mobile years, often hiking miles with his six companions through the wilderness to capture the magic moment of light and nature, the rugged terrain that is distinctly Canada.
Now wheelchair bound, his forays ranged closer to home. The stroke had altered the way he held his brush, though barely slowed his output.
He’d been working since age 12, supporting his mother and five siblings. The worst time in his life? Employed by the Canadian Government as a war artist, recording the death, destruction and residual horrors of war. The job paid well, left a scar on his conscious memory. He confessed to having little concern for money, reminisced about roaming the Algoma region, and into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia.
The audience was open to ask questions; this 19-year-old dared to ask if he now would consider using a camera to record images for studio painting. He replied, “I would never do that. How else can you witness the very event? The camera cannot record the brilliance of colour seen by the human eye.”
As he was wheeled from the meeting room to a round of applause, he paused by my seat, smiled at me, and said, “I suggest you save your camera for family gatherings. Keep painting.”
I did. And I do.