Denis Palmer is one of those from-aways who adopted the Eastern Townships as his home, and as all artists do, he has helped us see ourselves a little bit better.
Palmer arrived in Sawyerville in 1979 and just never left. His book Homage To A Rural Life (2008) mixes words and watercolours – each a picture of a moment, an event, a person, a memory, all centred on a sugar camp run by George and Myrtle Rowell. “Respect was given to all living things, be they plant, animal, or human,” writes Palmer.
“George and Myrtle knew well their families, neighbours and community. They knew themselves and their history. The stories they told came from strong memory and experience.”
The stories are lovely, the watercolours also.
Watercolours are quite difficult to master. They’re see-through, like stained glass. It takes practice to get the exact look you intend. Additionally, different brands will name a quinacridone rose a quinacridone rose, but they will look many shades apart on the canvas. Watercolours are a fickle lot.
To fully appreciate watercolours, or to learn how to use them best, consider Zoltan Szabo’s Color-By-Color Guide To Watercolor (1998). Szabo offers a how-to for beginner and intermediate painters, separating chapters by colour. This allows him to offer complementary palettes to reds, greens and blues. The examples given are his own paintings, gorgeous full-colour reproductions of flowers and landscapes.
The final chapter warns newbies of a common flaw: tone it down. “More color is simply more – not better,” he warns. (Of course, an artist should ignore advice they don’t like… personal style matters.)
From there you may want to look at some of Europe’s greatest painters and artworks. A Concise History Of Painting From Giotto To Cezanne, By Michael Levey (1962), is a picture book with text. Five hundred and forty-nine pictures, in fact, all in colour, all gorgeous.
Sir Levey, who went on to become the director of London’s National Gallery, died in 2008. But what a legacy.
You’ll need a passing knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, as well as Greek and Roman mythology, to get the most out of Levey’s erudite analysis. Just read a chapter at a time so as not to be overwhelmed.
But you can also just look at the plates and watch the evolution of painting come alive from the 1200s onward.
Or drink in Levey’s scholarship while hop-skipping over the dozens of names, appreciating the insight and humour (a nude Bathsheba is called “undernourished”, Giovanni di Paolo’s St. John In The Wilderness has “the wild beauty of a lost cause”; another male artist’s “eager curving lines sway and unite amorously throughout his compositions. The Swing, where everything including the foliage looks like frilly underwear, is a slyly erotic joke which must not make one think that life in 18th century France was always so gay or so gallant. But women remained objects of lascivious attention rather than people”).
After a grounding in the European Renaissance and what followed, Victoria Baker offers a history of art in the Eastern Townships. L’Art Des Cantons De l’Est: 1850-1950 (published in 1980) is a catalog from a show at the Galerie d’Art du Centre Culturel de l’Universite de Sherbrooke. All of it informed by a sizable essay (en francais seulement) tracing the portrayal of the Townships by artists, as well as a look at Townships artists (not all of whom painted the landscapes displayed right in front of them).
Is there a Townships school of art, asks Baker? Certainly not one before 1950, and even then…
Itinerant artists and holidayers spent time here, in the early years. But their works were very much influenced by European training and culture.
For artists and early homesteaders, there was a need to exert human control over nature, both deadly and beautiful. Military men worshipped realism, seeking documentary precision to plan against attack.
Portraiture arrived later, and silhouettes were affordable to the middle class to about 1840, when photography began to gain ground.
But still, the Eastern Townships has long fascinated for its landscapes. Magog: 1888-1988, celebrating Magog’s centennial year, is a slim softcover that showcases Cornelius Krieghoff’s 1861 painting of Owl’s Head on its cover.
And Bishop’s Collects: Works In The Bishop’s University Art Collection, is the result of “a virtual room-to-room search of buildings on campus” in 1987. One of the more noteworthy portraits in the Bishop’s Collects catalog is Robert Harris’ bespectacled and bearded Rt. Rev. J.W. Williams, the fourth bishop of Quebec, a sight to behold even in black and white.
The listing also includes an impressive series of works hanging in the campus library. The library is open weekdays this month, and it’s well worth a few minutes to wander through its rooms staring at the walls! And for modern works, the Uplands museum on Speid (closed Mondays) showcases the Bishop’s University Fine Arts Collective to Sept 1. While the Foreman Art Gallery, located on the Bishop’s campus, is closed for the rest of the month, Sherbrooke artist Miriam Yates opens her show on Sept. 11. Free entry all around!
You can find The Concise History and Zoltan Szabo in the Lenn Library’s non-fiction shelves in the 759 range, and everything else is filed in the Eastern Townships Reference Collection. And while you’re in the Lennoxville Library, look up.
Works by the members of the Lennoxville Art Group are on display on our walls. To help celebrate the library’s 100th anniversary in 2012, the artists chose “reading” for their theme in last year’s annual exhibit. With the financial assistance of the Borough of Lennoxville (for the materials which allowed the paintings to be properly displayed), those works by the Lennoxville Art Group can now be enjoyed by all who visit the library.
– Eleanor Brown, Aug. 9, 2013