Quotes: Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Mount Allison University Mural for the engineers on campus, by Rod's favourite university-based art teacher, Edward Pulford. Again, a great teacher with mediocre drawing and painting talents. The university once offered mural painting at their School of Fine & Applied Arts, but that was before Rod's time there.
Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." When Rod was a tad, soap was manufactured in his home town and shipped out in wooden cartons decorated with this Art Deco label. When this aged adolescent proved to be a handful at home, he was sent off to recuperate at Mount Allison University. There he encountered an entire building filled with his kind. The unintended unfolded when a friend named Phillip Mallory asked if he might be interested in taking a crack at additional art training in Sackville.
This posed a problem beyond simple financing which back then amounted to about $700 per annum, inclusive of all expenses. Rod had a little money from tending a in-house corner groceteria and had parental support for the remainder. The admission date had technically passed and he needed a portfolio and as noted earlier he had trashed earlier sketchbooks. A few oddies like the "Fritz Brandtner" seen above were available.
The central more complex design was essentially a copy of an illustration cribbed from a science fiction magazine completed years earlier as some strange expression of teenage angst. Pushed to the wall for some sort of showing, he surveyed magazines and produced a series of knock-off figure studies, since these were quick and easy. He was not expecting admission on the basis of his collection of thirty-some similar coloured drawings. The painting he had were on board and would not fit a mailing envelope.
This was the gallery, where the tyro painters occupied the ground floor and the handcraft people most of the basement. Inset is the "Studio Club." Rod (1), Phil (2), Mary West (later Pratt) (3), John Glassey (4), Tom Forestall (5), Jim Patterson(6), Cathy McNaughton (7). Given time and the inclination Rod claims he could name all of them. This faculty was not popular since it was not seen as a pathway to any reputable profession or even a possibility of livelihood. Graduates might become teachers or therapists, but none of the faculty members were upbeat when questioned about job opportunities. The larger turn-of-the-century photo does not show the library built by Rod's time here.
Floor plans not to scale. Top, ground floor; bottom, basement. Today the students have an attached work-building and the original stone building is entirely a museum. It was covered with grime in the middle of the last century, but has since been "restored."
The wooden University Girl's Residence has been torn down. It looked like this in Rod's time. The genders were allowed to mix (under supervision) in this area. First year girls were allowed to remain until 8 pm; sophomores until 9; third year, 10 and seniors, 11. Inserted are two minor works from 1955.
Edward Pulford supervised all of the plein air expeditions, and outings took place on sunny winter days as well as in fall and spring. Rod's style at this time was still attached to the pile up the oil paint and show lots of texture advocated by the Group of Seven. There was a lot of mandatory use of watercolour at Mount A, which helped to moderate that tendency. Pulford suggested adding a bit of alcohol to water bottles for outdoor excursions, saying that an occasional sip would keep the belly warm and the painting medium free.
Ten years later, he was showing a somewhat better handling of his medium. Edward Berwyn Pulford was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1914 and died in1994. In 1940, he joined the RCAF and served overseas in Europe, Africa, and Asia. In 1945 he studied fine arts at Mount A under Stanley Royle and Christian McKiel. On graduation in 1949 he was offered a teaching position.
During his years at Mount Allison he was involved with the campus-based RCAF training squadron (1953-1963) and conducted winter training programs. He was Commanding Officer from 1961 until 1963. His teaching duties were more demanding that those of his compatriots and he was never as free to develop skills as an artist. He retired from teaching after 30 years in May 1980. Rod says he was the most approachable of the three faculty members.
Rod did gain experience working with India ink and mapping pen in Alexander Colville's life-drawing classes, which brought together students from all years, which is how he came to known the upper classmen and women. He was prolific, but the university claimed ownership of all original works in order to mount a massive end of the semester show. Copies like this one, which he actually signed "W. Homer" escaped that show and sale. His grades were the best possible but he never returned for a second year and made no attempt to retrieve a couple of sculptures, his drawing or painting. He assumed they were destroyed.
Students were allowed to carry away still life paintings and cast drawings, but otherwise most of the work was lost. These quick sketches remain with one of his daughters as they were seen as having no relevance let alone value.
Rod has characterized Harris as "a complete gentleman but a cool customer." He was army when he was past the age of usual military service. "He was known for the highly precise style and disciplined execution of his war art, portraits and abstractions." His first art teacher was his father, Lawren Stewart Harris, a scion of the famed Massey-Harris family.
He did have two years of formal training in Boston in the years immediately before Rod was born. He taught evening classes at Northern Vocational School, Toronto, a three year stint before he moved on to Trinity College School, Port Hope. During World War II he served first as in a tank regiment, graduating to war artist. During Italian campaign he travelled with another Canadian artist, Charles Comfort.
Stepping back in time. Harris painted figures and then landscapes, which became increasingly simplified and abstracted as this example proves. He is quoted as saying.
"When I was finally made a war artist, we had to go right back to Realism with a vengeance." He did not like that imposition in spite of the fact that he might have become an eminent illustrator.
Left, a war-time portrait by Harris. Rod says he has heard it said that portrait painters invariable paint themselves. Miller Brittain suffered from emotional disassembly following his years at war, but Harris remained precise and seemingly unscathed. His post-war paintings, moved quickly towards complete abstraction, but according to a National Gallery writer "During this period, Harris's portrait work always remained highly realistic..." Rod and his family visited Molly and Bruno Bobak, both war artists, when they relocated to Fredericton after the war.
Harris was exceptional as a portraitist and realist painter, however... his work evolved "towards complete abstraction, with strongly linear, geometric forms." As a result his design classes produced a lot of really hard-edged images, which Rod did not see as either imaginative or admirable. "White on white minimalism is to be preferred." His teacher did not get a lot of favourable attention or exposure in spite of the following comment: "Lawren P. Harris held many solo exhibitions at Canadian universities and participated in numerous group shows, including a two-man show with Jack Humphrey at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1955)."
Left to right, father and son. Harris Junior said he was inspired by the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Rudolf Bauer and Hilla von Rebay. He had been appointed Director of the School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1946, where he was joined Ted Pulford on the teaching faculty and later became a compatriot of Alexander Colville. Harris remained at Mount Allison until 1975 as a professor and administrator, teaching in summer programs at the University of British Columbia and Banff School of Fine Arts.
In the case of paintings, Rod claims that that the process invariably simplifies some kind of reality but is not necessarily hard-edged when the final image emerges. Pablo Picasso has said. "There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality." Rod calls his above digital work "Traces Of Reality." He is no longer enamoured with the concept of abstraction, now a two-second process using computers.
Here is the photo taken back in the 1980s before personal computers were available. Rod worked up a small impressionistic painting which was not quote as vivid as the Photoshopped version of this image.
Which brings us to the third professor of fine arts, shown above in two stages of his life. That final stage is decidedly precise, again perhaps a result of his military experience which seems to have been filled with too much visual chaos. Born in Toronto in 1920, Colville moved as a boy to Amherst, Nova Scotia with his family. That means he was 33 or 34 years of age when Rod encountered him in Sackville. What Mackay did not know was that he had been a sickly child, which is how he happened to take the unconventional route of an art education at Mount A. He was a perfect gentleman, always immaculately dressed in the 1950s. He died in Wolfville, N.S. in July 2013. His intermediate self-portraits are better executed. He was not prolific. His Mount A graduation portrait is dated 1942.
After his studies at Mount Allison, he served in the army from 1942, working as an artist from 1944 to 1946. This painting was created after the war, when he said, "I see life as inherently dangerous. I have an essentially dark view of the world and human affairs… Anxiety is the normality of our age." In Germany, he was tasked with depicting the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Colville was the last individual to join the post-war faculty, which he left in 1963 (the year after this portrait was taken) to pursue painting full-time. Early on, he was neither widely recognized nor well-paid. That is why his studio was in the attic of his home. This was about eight years after Rod's brief time at Sackville. The study on the desk was for a mural meant to decorate a sports centre built in that decade.
In the last century absolutely everybody who had pretensions of being an artist worked on a massive mural and Colville was no exception. He had some training under Stanley Royle, who had a much better understanding of pure graphic art, but this Trueman House installation was no better or worse than average. The theme of "horse's ass" was not abandoned with this painting.
Notwithstanding, Rod and Anne admired this man and his work ethic and remained after classes to talk with him. That's how they became aware of this iconic painting. Rod did not say privately that he thought that the bedrock for the rails was poorly "realized" and the horse disproportionate. This 1954 work was said inspired by two lines from the poet Roy Campbell:
Against a regiment I oppose a brain
And a dark horse against an armored train.
Was all this really, really entirely from memory? The year was 1954. Whatever the case, these early paintings morphed into Canadian icons, a good and bad thing for the artist. "Nothing succeeds (or creates more enemies) than success."
Rhoda and Alex Colville were gentle people who deserved their moments in the honeymoon sun before critics began to take interest in his work.
That "Athlete's mural" was actually not a great work of art. Rod thinks it languished in storage for a few years, until the powers-that-be understood that his karma had economic power and importance to the reputation of the art school.
From the beginning Sophomore student Tom Forestall had the right stuff and the right connections, but did not like the dab and gob approach to painting any better than Rod. This was his was his first withdrawal from that G of S version of reality. It was a semi-abstraction of abandoned temporary buildings used to house returning servicemen who opted for a Mount A diploma before entering the work world.
Rod had left the Mount A cage before Forestall and Mary Pratt graduated.Things were not really at all bad! Having suffered from TB he carried a get out of jail card from freshman hazing signed by the university registrar. He did not have to use it. The prisoner is anatomically impossible and the style...
Rod dated Anne Torey from New Glasgow Nova Scotia in the second semester in 1954. If things had gone as planned, she would have graduated with the Class of '58. He might have departed with a BFA degree in 1959. Summer work did not bring either of them sufficient funds to return for the fall term. She went to work for Maritime Steel as a secretary, while Rod moved to Fredericton Junction, where he taught Junior High School. After a lot of letter-writing and a couple of get reacquainted trips, they married in the Christmas Season of 1957, The paste painting suggests how she looked at Mount A. The pencil drawing was completed on their honeymoon and the Picasso-inspired nude study several years later, when they became resident for ten years at Tracy, 4 miles from Sunbury West Regional High School.
Like Anne, Colville's wife Rhoda Wright, had been a student in the art school, but her future husband was her teacher. The artist married her in 1942 and returned to Canada from overseas late in 1945. He worked in Ottawa on paintings based on his European sketches and watercolours until his demobilization in 1946. It was then that he became a civilian and a professor in the art department. He did not break away from illustrating the horrors of war until 1950.
This somewhat schmarmy Colville painting was created in the post war period and seems to be completely imaginary. It has a dream-state look induced by a lack of realistic detail and believable lighting. It also shows that the master was still struggling with matters of ratio-and-proportion.
In Rod's time at Mount A, Coville was also struggling to represent hands and feet and sometimes tucked them away or made them inconspicuous. By 1954, he had seven years of teaching under his belt but his history of art slide presentations were accompanied by text memorized from The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich. He was much better in the informal setting of life drawing classes.
In the two year period before he married, Rod roomed in the home of a Fredericton Junction widow named Edna Hartt. She was raising two children, partly by providing room and board for teachers, but also in that first year, by cutting hair. Severely disappointed by his inability to continue at art school,Rod presumed that any attempts at drawing and painting would be weekend entertainment. He did complete two oil paintings and a number of on-the-spot sketches of people waiting to have their hair cut. He was still having his own troubles when it came to representing hands and feet.
This was the Mackay's homstead for a decade, a former 1830 stagecoach post-house turned into a housing by the Bunker family in the twentieth century. It stood on 100 acres, 30 cleared. The chief crop grown was hops which went into home brew, and at first hunters stopped by looking to purchase drink. By this time, Rod was teaching high school Physics and Biology following crash courses at U.N.B. in both summer and night school courses. Cathryn was born after Donald and that gave them four children under the age of five.
This watercolour catches a moment of petulance. Rod's art during that decade was largely confined to blackboards and hand-out Gestetnered study sheets. Teachers in schools and universities were poorly paid in the 1950s but the move toward degrees changed that, and his family was well compensated by the middle of that decade. Unfortunately, a period of expansion saw Fredericton Junction Regional High School closed down, its students bused to a huge complex near military Base Oromocto. They did not want their kids to spend a couple of hours each day on a bus, and ended his teaching career.
The children were not always that annoyed.This was at Sussex and turned into a painting.
At Black Point, Nova Scotia. Similar story.
At this point in time, Rod had a $45 range-finder camera purchased by mail order. Cash for use buying film was scarce so not many photos were taken. This was a southern view of a part of their 100 acres taken from the front door. It was turned into one of his earliest paintings.
This was taken from the top of a volcanic cone on a UNB summer school geology tour and it was transcribed as a acrylic painting. It is west of Fredericton overlooking the Saint John River in the Royal Roads ski resort area.
Socially and economically those ten years were the good old days, but visual aids for biology were poorly executed and did not feature local plants and animals. Rod did prepare his own illustrations which he photographed as 35 mm projectable slides. In terms of creation, these home grown teaching aids was labour-intensive but over a five year period he assembled a box full of about 100 titles."The Bad Old Days" refers to the fact that so much time was consumed with mediocre result.
Unfortunately the development of personal computers with graphic capabilities was not destined to take place for a few more decades. When that did commence on the World Wide Web in 1995 it did seem like magic.
Here is another example of a painting created to introduce invertebrate animals to students. When the high school closed down, Rod went from illustrating local species to actively collecting them in Charlotte County near his hometown of St. Stephen. He teamed up with his brother Art and a cousin Bob and set about helping to supply preserved and live animals and plants to schools, universities and research facilities in the United States and Canada. That in itself is a very long, convoluted story, which played out for Rod after about two-and-a-half years.
Robert Bosein was an observant, self-taught geology obsessive, in the best sense of the word. His interest led the firm into supplying geilogical as well as biological specimens. On foray in that interest took them into the depths of Mount Pleasant Mine (with written permission). This photo was intrepreted as a painting and sold to a friend who was a professional geologist. The mine was abandoned and beginning to flood.
Rod had been teaching high school biology and Art was a lecturer at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Both were using east coast species for lab dissection and thought that a supplier at the coast could be competitive with firms located well away from the Atlantic coast.
Rod's children had the unusual experience of getting in contact with nature in a very direct way. Maritime Biological was a shoe string operation which paid unsustainable wages for three people. Almost all drawings from this period were hand coloured cartoons reflecting Rod's reactions to real and imagined events. That cute little thing at lower right was created to get together a few dollars for Christmas presents and dinner. Several other intentionally nostalgic cards were run off in a limited edition on the company Gestetner, hand coloured at home, and offered for sale from the window of the business in downtown St. Stephen. Art said the business wanted a cut of the profits (which were not huge) but Anne and Rod said no.
That nascent business ended in acrimony and a hasty job search for Rod. His family moved to a new home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia just before Christmas1969. Rod did some illustrative work for company catalogues, but Art (lower left) preferred his own work (labelled 1970 -1975). He went on to have a many-splendoured career, which was not always free of angst.
The job, seen advertised in the Saint John Telegraph Journal, was for a Biological Technician to work in the Salmon Research Branch of the Department of Fisheries based in Halifax. It was said to involve photography, map-making and and scientific illustration. Rod knew nothing about Salmon but did some quick reading, He came down with the flu at the time of the interview and that rendered the episode surreal and worry-free. In the end, he recovered and got the job. The wage seemed generous, more than he had ever seen as a teacher, but then living in the city city soon proved the need for more money, property taxes being 10x that in St. Stephen. The children were parked on the Torey grandparents in New Glasgow, while Anne went house-hunting and finally found a nice bungalow on Crichton Park Drive in Dartmouth.
Aside from the cost of living, this was a dream job, with field work centred largely in Saint John, New Brunswick. Lots of photography and lots of travel, and that was the real problem, since Rod did not like being separated from family during the summer months.
He travelled with Harry McCavour and Sam McGuire in his last season with the department, catching and tagging, measuring, scaling and releasing adult salmon off Saint John Harbour in the Bay of Fundy. He also had two summer students as helpers. Two paintings emerged based on photos of Harry and Sam, but not until several years had passed.
Having trained as a scale-reader in Halifax, our lad spent some part of each week in the local federal building on Prince William Street in Saint John delving into the age and sex-life of sampled salmon. Some of his photos were ultimately turned into paintings. He loved the work and the co-workers but could see the end of wild strains of Atlantic salmon. Art now established the first aquaculture farm in the region.
In the end the Department of Fisheries faded as an important empire and was downsized and absorbed into Environment Canada. The impetus for a move back to rural roots in New Brunswick was the arrival of drugs in Dartmouth High School and the establishment of a biker club in town. These fellows took to roaring about the children's playground at Creighton Park School.
School teaching was no longer appealing but the only job available, a one-year appointment to fill in for a teacher on overseas educational leave. Rod admits doing badly at it, partly because he attempted to teach mathematics a subject not within his competence. When that work ended he made a stab at selling books and small antiques from the second half of this huge duplex he and Anne purchased in Sussex. With weekends free in the year when he taught, he began painting again sometimes from photos but also on the spot in the immediate neighbourhood. The studio was on the third floor, as indicated.
Just shy of middle-age Rod took a sidestep off the traditional remuneration road belt into what could have resulted in complete ruin. Oddly, it morphed into a varied career involving drawing and painting. Theodore Roosevelt has noted, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing." As for Anne, Rod explained that she said she was dead set against leaving and going home where her parents would say "I told you so!" She also loved that big elephantine 28-room home and lived to see the mortgage paid off two decades later.
According to a diary in which Rod recorded his impossible dreams, he commenced painting with an exhibition in mind in September of the year 1971, barely into the school year of teaching at Sussex Junior High. He was 37 years of age at this time. In the following year, he reported that he had completed two dozen paintings in spite of teaching duties.
Before brushing off the two previous decades of enlightenment, our boy says to tell them that while "I was frightened at the idea of trying to paint for a living, I had sold a few smaller paintings through the Fraser Gallery in the Lord Nelson Arcade in Halifax. In this century, a buyer e-mailed me this photo of the one she purchased asking if I would claim it. My signature, I was forced to! Obviously an imagined poorly remembered landscape but he remembered painting it in a basement studio in Creighton Park, Dartmouth. Rod said he knew he needed to tighten up design and use of colour to sell in the seventies, and he needed to do that to survive.
He understood that Victorian "Romantic Realism" was fortunately a dead issue. At the other end of the spectrum, "Magic Realism," Hyper-Realism," "Supernatural Realsim," or "Super Realism" was emergent, but not his way, since he felt no need to react against "Abstract Expressionism" as Colville is supposed to have done.
While Rod did not have a huge collection of archived photographs, he has a few he felt might make good subect matter. There were perhaps a dozen, including that above, of the Black Beach area where the family summered while he worked for Fisheries. He was careful to preserve the fuzzy nackground as a contrast for foreground rocks.
Somehow, he did manage to turn this and another sunset photo into paintings.
He also did Chance Harbour and Harbour-By-Chance and Lepreau.
And used sketches and photos to help represent the Lorneville based salmon fishing boats.
Art purchased a home for his family on Deer Island and move the business headquarters to a building there and that gave Rod some marine material. He tried this scene twice and trashed bothe attempts.
This became a 9x12.
Summers spent a Black Point (whose namesake, seen above, is a memory) gave Rod a lot more potential material, almost all ultimately used and added to each year.
Seen on the road to New Glasgow at Tatamagouche.
View from the Black Point cottage overlooking Mackenzie's farm property and the Northumberland Strait.
A walk to The Front in various seasons.
One of the older cottages at The Front, on property sold by the Mackazies to relatives.
Notice the crow on the roof.
All eventually turned into paintings.
Some of the Anscochrome photos had weird colours and when used had to be modified.
Kodachrome II, which some claimed overstated saturation.
Rod struggled with this possibilty a couple of times, before going to the large format.
Path to the beach. The Reid and Torey families enjoyed a right-of-way.
The larger barn was never in top shape, but the family farmhouse was beautifully maintained inside and out.
These two 24x36" efforts were close to his first attempts to develop technical skills and a distinctive style. Rod was not entirely happy with either although a newpaper did photograph and print a picture of "Boats at Black Beach, N.B." That colourful sunset at the summer cottage site overlooking Musquash Harbour was a painful project. The silhouetted treeswere only painted in after days of trying to oaint a believable water surface. The trees themelves were something like a fancy needlework project. At a later date, having learned a few lessons he painted a vertical version of the right half in a much freer hand. That spelled the end of his sunset days.