The "Group of Seven" and OYB Art Finds
November 10, 2005
[Original 8/9. Update 11/11]
We made a couple dandy art finds lately. They're both well within OYB thrift standards, too.
Sue Bullock is a family friend who lives in the Leelenaw Peninsula and paints what she sees around her beautiful neighborhood. Unbeknownst to us, she recently turned to oils and when we saw her work a few months ago it was a great treat. Wonderfully, she's only charging $75-200 (her work ranges from about 5" to 24"). We won't be able to afford her for long. Her influences are the Group of Seven from the Deco period in Canada, along with Russell Chatham and Rockwell Kent. She's currently being sold at "The Secret Garden" gallery in downtown Empire, MI, just south of the Traverse City area---can't miss it, it's the only gallery, I think.
We've since explored the Group of Seven further. Wonderful! I guess they were a big part of the identity-making for Canada. I find their work to be uplifting to me as regards Michigan as well. I think that Michigan has a certain look compared to the rest of the USA, a look shared with parts of Canada.
(To me a Michigan view includes a close-in scene with rolling land and a cattail swale in a hollow with a pond and lilly pads and on the hillside some low cedars with a mix of birch, poplar, oak, maple and pines backing it up. There's about six kinds of things in the quintessential Michigan view.)
I saw a map of places that the Group of Seven painters emphasized. The area around Lakes Superior and Huron got most of their attention, hence the Michigan feel.
But the coolest thing is the Group itself. It started with a woodsman, Tom Thomson, who came to Toronto to learn to paint. The Group was a group of friends who formed around Thomson and followed him back to the woods and painted together. They did numerous trips and helped each other when they came back to town. Their team spirit lasted for decades and grew and evolved beyond the initial members. A rich member built a studio they could all work in. At one point Thomson was too poor to even afford space there and set up northwoods-style living in a workshop behind the studio, where he lived and worked the rest of his life when not wandering the woods. These painters cooperated and found that the look of Canada was in its nature and neighborhoods. It's inspirational to me. Here were artists who apparently weren't backstabbing strainers but who merged their whole lives together to create something for all Canada despite their widely varying personalities (their group included rich, poor, dandies, bums, stuffy, and carefree).
Here's both a neat website about them and a lovely recent coffee table book. Here's a cheaper way to get some of the vibe: calendar.
(Since I'm involved with literature I wonder if Canada has found writing to be an effective way to build identity as well---unfortunately I hear that they're even more beholden to the credentialism than we are and thus have made no progress in that area, nothing like their Group of Seven did in painting anyway. Note that their painting of course didn't just influence the art world but helped give ALL Canada a sense of itself. Segregated, insular, niche-itis in the arts hurts everyone, eh?)
Our new art...
...And some of what inspired it...
But the new art didn't stop there. Jerry Geordie is a folk artist who lives in Empire. I have mangled his name beyond recognition, but his yardful of art is up against the dunes a couple blocks south of the main street in that tiny town. Can't miss it. He and his wife are fine folks and great characters who are often in the garage doing their art and are happy to chat. We love his styles, colors...and prices. The 3-foot-long Alien Ant was only $30. (His 5-foot-tall Alien Praying Mantises are a bit more.)
The story of how we bought our paintings is a funny one, so here goes...
We were recently tenting up north while Martha was running her LazyGal art booth at Suttons Bay. She and her friend sold great and the trip was winding down. And it was Martha's birthday. My biking pal and I had been watching the kids during the fair-days. He and I were given shore-leave to go on a ride in the gorgeous Leelenaw. We told everyone we'd be gone an hour or so. We were deliberately vague but we totally misjudged our hot, hilly 14-mile route.
The idea was to buy art for our wives. Martha and I really like Sue's work, but in the hecticness of the fair, she had never mentioned her. I knew that a sneak purchase would be a big hit. My pal had never seen her work but was wanting to get his wife a congratulations present. Neither of us knew if the artist was at her studio/home, but she's hermitish, so my hunch was we should go for it. We finally got there and sure enough our artist was home so we bought some GREAT art. I bought two small oils and my friend got a medium. The cool thing was they all fit into my Carradice saddlebag (straps at max). Then we started slugging our way back to the campsite.
We were 2 hours late. As we got close to the campground, my pal refused to take the lead even when I faked a chain derailment. Still, we had discussed that we held the most powerful hand that derelict biker husbands of art-ladies can hold. He said that my art idea was great. Aw, shucks. ...But also that we were in for it.
When we arrived the 3 art-booth families were all packed, and folding chairs were out in the blazing sun with little kids in them. They were doing the martyrdom self-immolation routine for maximum blame on wicked dads. We had been desperately hoping that everyone was in the shade or that they had abandoned us for a beach and left a note. No, they were storing up vast amounts of pain and anger, which they promptly vented.
We tried to deflect the blasts to no avail. After a couple minutes I blurted out: "We brought presents! We have surprises!" The ladies said "Huh? Where?"---scowling, unbelieving. We'd thrown a monkey-wrench into their rage. We pulled out 3 lovely pieces of art from a place where ladies don't expect it. "Oh my gosh! WOW!" It turned everything around. We got hugs. "You guys just totally saved your asses." Whew, that was close.
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