In appreciation of Canadian Outsider Artist – Philip Melvin

Martin Luther King Jr.

Outsider art is like Rap music in that you’ve got to have “street cred”. If you’re just a weird guy who doesn’t like people much, lives at the edge of town, and you paint, you aren’t necessarily an outsider artist.  It is about the lifestyle you live, and the visions you present.  The line between folk art and outsider art is a blurry one, but basically outsider art is a term applied to art made by someone untrained, who lives outside society.  Sometimes outsider artists are institutionalized;  some outsider artists live on the streets.  Philip Melvin is such an artist.

a 20 pound Salmon

I met him once in Toronto.  I was taking the streetcar down Queen street when I noticed someone had set up a bunch of crazy looking paintings along the curb in front of a CIBC bank on a busy corner. They looked interesting so I jumped off at the next stop and went back to see them.  They were mostly portraits of well know people and although they really didn’t look at all like the actual people, they all had energy and humour, and I quite liked them.  I did not know of him at the time, but it was Philip Melvin. Looking pretty disheveled with an impressive beard, and quick eyes.  I asked him if these were his paintings, and if they were for sale and he said “yes, and you can have any one of them for $60”.  So I bought one.  He introduced himself and we had a really odd but quite interesting chat, and shortly the next street car came along, and I had to say a quick good-bye and jump on.  Appointments to keep.  That was it.  I could see that trying to get a contact number would be pointless.

the Irish Mountain Ram

Philip Melvin was born in 1938. He lived all across Canada, but his last known residence was in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Not much has been recorded about him. He was born in Lamanche, Newfoundland. From there he travelled to Toronto Ontario, and once described himself as ‘the biggest fool that ever hit Toronto’ and as ‘the man from Lamanche’. Finding himself in continual trouble with the law and at the periphery of society, he spent a good deal of time in correctional facilities or rehabilitation centres. In 1980 he began carving religious plaques and subjects, as well as painting Toronto landmarks and familiar sights. Spending time at the Lakehead, or in Toronto, often at St. Michael’s Cathedral, Philip Melvin would sometimes turn to carving in hope of selling a few pieces as a means of minimal survival. Philip Melvin moved to Vancouver where he continued to get into trouble with authorities. He made the news when he was found wandering around Stanley Park with a power saw. He was just looking for deadfall for his sculpture but the authorities thought otherwise. His work was included in the 2000 Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibition “Under the Sign of the Cross: Creative Christianity in Canada”.

As far as I know he is still alive but I haven’t heard anything about him for a couple of years.

“I’m a green deer from Belfast”
BIG RED
“We got enough green in this country”

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My Meeting with Morrisseau

Man changing into Thunderbird,
Panel one

In 1976 I was making multi projector slide presentations with a couple of other guys. The kind of thing you would see at Expo 67 or the 1970’s Ontario Place, if you are old enough to catch the reference.  We called ourselves the Awes Studio, and we were based in London Ontario.  We specialized in shows about culture or art, and created works that were an artform in their own right.  There was not nearly as much money in this area as there was in creating commercial industrial or business presentations, but it was a lot more fun, and we were creating a lot of work.

Norval Morrisseau

So it came to pass that in 1976 we pitched Ontario Place on the idea of creating a multi-screen slide/ sound spectacular of Anishinaabe artist, Norval Morrisseau’s interpretation of the Ojibway legend of The Man who changed into a Thunderbird.  After a bizarre late night meeting in the executive board room of Ontario Place which I will save the telling of for another time, we had a go-ahead and some development money,  so the first thing we wanted to do was to contact Mr. Morrisseau and run the idea by him, hopefully for his blessing and in the best case scenario his involvement.   At this point Morrisseau was out of the public eye and reportedly living on the street in Northern Ontario somewhere.  It didn’t look good, but we started the process.

The one thing we knew was that he had been represented since the beginning of his artistic career in 1962 by legendary Yorkville gallery owner Jack Pollack, and although Mr. Pollack was by this point very ill and reportedly about to close his gallery, we contacted him anyway with the hope of a meeting.  He agreed, and what a lovely person he was. He made us feel most welcome, listened to our story, and suggested that although he did not know where Norval was, and could not guess what his response may be, he would do his best to contact Mr. Morrisseau and set up a meeting.  He had family contacts that he could send a message through, but he was quite concerned that no one had seen Morrisseau in quite a while and that reports suggested he was not doing well.  We crossed our fingers and waited.  We set about contacting various native organizations for input and approval.   People didn’t think about Cultural appropriation in those days, but we were serious and committed to the idea of employing as many Native artists as possible, and of studying the story and consulting until we felt certain we were presenting it as accurate and sympathetically as possible.  It  quickly became tough sledding as we came to discover that there was a vast difference in the opinions of the many scholars contacted.  We learned that Norval Morrisseau had received quite a bit of condemnation within the Native community itself for his telling of the story in book form.  Many believed that it was only to be passed on verbally and within the tribe.

The more we consulted, and learned the harder it became to see our way forward  . To find a spiritual core to hang on to, and build from.  It was all looking rather bleak when we got a call from Jack Pollack that Norval Morrisseau had been found, and very surprisingly to all of us, he had agreed to come into Toronto for a meeting to hear what we had to say.  We were equal parts ecstatic, and apprehensive.  What if he rejected us totally?  On the other hand we held great hope he may co-operate in the fact that he agreed to meet us.

We told Jack Pollack before the meeting that we would describe the project to him, and then ask Mr. Morrisseau if he would be willing to paint six large panels to depict the stages of the man turning into Thunderbird.  We would then photograph the works and use them in the production as the main, integral “sign posts” in the progress of the story.  We would also ask him if for the duration of the show, we could display the paintings along the long corridor leading to the theatre because as the line was usually quite long, and slow people would have time to contemplate them as they waited to move forward.  Mr. Pollack suggested that if Norval agreed to go ahead, he would rent him a studio for a period of months and provide him with the stretched canvas’, a budget, and the supplies necessary to produce the works.

We weren’t even commissioning him.   He would own the paintings. There would be money for allowing us to use them of course, but  we were basically just asking for him to create them,  and allow us use them for this purpose.  Preposterous when I think about it now. All we could offer other than the money was that thousands from all over Ontario and beyond would see them, and a faithful depiction of the story he told in his book.  The date for a meeting was set for a cold  February Wednesday at eleven o’clock, at the jack Pollack Gallery.

My work mate, and friend Ford Evans and I piled in my old Volvo and made it through  blizzard conditions on the 401 from London to Toronto with only moments to spare before the arranged meeting.  We had to park a few blocks away because of the snow. Time was running short so when we arrived at the gallery we burst in all red faced from the fast walking and strong wind;  with our, as it was at the time, long hair blown every which way, and snot frozen to our facial hair.  And the kicker was, that as it happened we were both wearing full length antique fur coats.  Mine was racoon, and Ford was wearing his grandfather’s buffalo coat.  Good, practical garb for February.   We never considered any implications.

So we burst into the heat of the gallery space and there before us stood Jack, whom we knew, and the great man himself. The great Anishinaabe artist, sometimes known as the Picasso of the North, Norval Morrisseau.  Or as he signed his paintings and called himself. Copper Thunderbird.  Long haired, and bearded with a clear gaze and knowing face.  You could feel his greatness. He was very still. We gathered ourselves up and approached with hand’s extended to give and receive a traditional hand shake.  “Mr. Morrisseau, we can’t tell you how honored and happy we are to meet you,  and we are so grateful that….” He held up his hand in a stop gesture. Looked right at us, and said “wait a minute, I’m talking to your coat.”  We paused.  He waited for another moment, then he closed his eyes for a moment, and then finally said, “ O.K. I’m pleased to meet you. I’m here. So what is it that you ask of me. We looked over at Jack who just smiled and looked away.  There was nothing left to do but lay it out as plainly and directly as possible so we did so in about a three minute rap leaving out many of the details and just portraying to the best of our abilities our passion and devotion to the story, and our desire to produce it for a large public.  We got to “and so, that’s about it in a nutshell but we imagine that you may have a lot of questions.” Long silence.  He just looked at us.  We began to feel he was looking through us.  We all stood there in silence for what seemed another eternity, when suddenly he said brightly “ O.K. I’ll do it.

That was it.  No questions. No comments. No reassurances. Jack stepped in and said “that’s wonderful Norval, I’ll take you over to see the studio.  We’ll let you fellows know when the paintings are finished. We thanked them both, and left wondering “what the hell just happened.”

Ago installation of
Man changing into Thunderbird

And that was the last I ever heard from or saw Norval Morrisseau or Jack Pollack.  Jack died not long afterwards, and the “thunderbird project’, although innocent of any wrong doing got caught up in a very large scandal that wiped out many departments and projects of Ontario Place.  You might remember it from the papers.  It was a big deal.  People went to jail.  But for us it was just sad that the project died on the table,  and there was nothing to do but move on to other projects.

About four years later I picked up a copy of MacLean’s and low and behold,  there are on the cover is a photograph of the six panels by Norval Morriseau  entitled “Man changing into a Thunderbird”  It was on the cover because it had sold to the Esso oil collection for some huge amount of money.  A few years after that, I walked into the Art gallery of Ontario, turned a corner and there they were in the flesh.  Magnificent. I sat  down and looked at them in awe. I was incredibly moved.  Not only did he do what he said he would do, but in doing so he had created a masterpiece.  I can only hope that Jack lived long enough to see their completion.  When I think back I am truly grateful for my brief, but brilliant moment with Norval Morrisseau, and it makes me feel good to have been even a tiny part of the story of the creation of such a magnificent and important work of art. I never did figure out what he was saying to my coat.

panel six of
Man changing into Thunderbird

Richard, the wood carver

Different carvers have different motivations, and different approaches.  There is an interesting moment in a CBC documentary made in the 60’s when Richard Thompkins who was then living in Nova Scotia , is asked by the narrator how he evolved into full time carving. Richard who answers questions simply and honestly said  “I used to work polishing automobile bumpers, and when I got into carving I liked smooth lines and surfaces.  I started with a nude and did some abstract sculptural things before I went commercial and started to produce my own version of small animals and birds. I developed a style for each,  and continued to make them in bulk”. When the narrator then  asked him if he like many carvers found the act of carving relaxing, he answered, “No, not really. When I get a big order to fill it can make me quite tense.  Richard was a straight shooter. For Richard, it was not about accolades or great profit.  He developed a simple, minimalist style using mostly butternut, which he then rubbed down with linseed oil and lacquered, until it was slick and sleek, almost resembling midcentury Danish Teak furniture. His work was highly finished, with a straight forward elegance, and his prices were very reasonable.  You could buy a nice little beaver carving in his shop for $2 – $3.  He worked on volume.  His work was not only sold in the towns he set up shop.  He would also fill orders for hundreds of bears and raccoons, etc. from gift shops in Ottawa, Toronto, and British Columbia.   Many thousands of his works have found their way into homes as souvenirs and gifts.  He would wood burn his signature “Richard” on the bottom of the pieces, followed by Canada.  Thus many people believed that was his actual name, Richard Canada.

Richard Thompkins was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1930.  He did a stint polishing chrome automobile bumpers in Sudbury, and spent a short time in the Canadian Navy.  He then suffered a back injury and moved to Cookstown, where he bought some woodworking tools and started carving. He opened a shop selling and repairing antiques, and there began to sell his carvings as he developed them.

In 1968 he moved his family to Upper Port la Tour, a fishing town in Nova Scotia, where he had a small shop selling his carvings. During this time he would come back to Ontario twice a year to collect his preferred woods – butternut, walnut and basswood. Nova Scotia was not as good financially as he hoped for, so in 1972 he packed up his family and moved to Port Dover.

Things picked up. He joined up with local folk artist Lois Garrett, and potter Dona Matthews to sell from a rented shop in what had been an old net Shanty, and called it the Red Heron.  It was a small work space, about 100 square feet with additional retail space on the main floor and living quarter upstairs.

In 1986 Richard moved to Kelowna, British Columbia, where he continued to carve in spite of advancing arthritis.  He died of cancer in 1995.

There is an excellent small exhibition of Richard Thompkins works on at the Port Dover Harbour Museum until June 23, 2018.  You should pop in if you are by this way.  Assistant curator Katie Graham has even made a small but effective 20 page catalogue which accompanies the exhibit and is for sale for $15.  Thanks to the museum, and photographer Marcia MacKinnon for allowing me to use their photographs.

How an old cupboard front gets re-purposed to become an “antique” queen size bed

 

 

finished headboard

Anyone familiar with antiques knows that there are no old queen size beds.  They just didn’t make them.  People slept differently in those days, partly sitting up; and they must have valued floor space because most century old beds are no wider than a contemporary ¾ size, and are shorter by a couple of inches.

Not that comfortable by contemporary sleeping standards. How many of us have struggled through a night in a friends guest 1840 rope bed, which when you attempt to get in sinks by inches and caves towards the middle because the ropes are loosening. Aesthetically beautiful as the bed may be, it doesn’t make up for a sore back. So what is an antique lover to do if they want to provide a comfortable queen size bed for their guests, but also want that bed to fit in and sympathize with an otherwise antique setting?  Some people will buy a good looking reproduction, some will modify an old bed which lends itself to being enlarged; or in the case of friends and collectors Paul and Cindy Beischlag, they saw the potential for an interesting head and foot board in a set of old cupboard fronts, and went on to design and make their own.

It started when they bought an old cupboard front from me.  A beautiful, circa 1840, series of 6 doors framed in and hinged, saved from a long ago dismantled built in the wall cupboard.  I had bought it years ago thinking I I might build a work table using them as a series of doors to storage underneath.  It never happened, and so many years later Paul and Cindy spotted them at our clear out sale.

as found full-length doors and four cut-off bed posts

They could imagine them running side by side, as is, to make up the front of the headboard. They then came up with a design by studying other old beds, and set about trying to find four posts for the corners. After looking far and wide they found a nice set of four from Port Hope dealer Clay Bensen, with the only problem being that years ago they had been cut off about half way up, and the original tops were lost.  They liked them though and bought them,  and set about trying to find something that could replace the missing top part.  Within a short time they found four old thick table legs at another local dealer and realized that turned upside down and attached they would finish off the posts nicely.  Talk about serendipity.  The only thing they knew that they were never likely to find was a blanket rail, and a turned top rail, so they drew out the designs for these pieces and had them turned from reclaimed timber at C.J’s antiques and restoration near Simcoe Ontario.  They did a wonderful job.

Scott Fletcher getting ready to match up some paint.

Paul and Cindy are lucky enough to have an artistic friend named Scott Fletcher who was willing and happy to work with Paul to create this unique piece as a winter project.  Even better, Scott has a large, fully equipped workshop.  So they went into the shop, and worked on it, and worked on it, on and off for a total of about 100 hours; and what they emerged with after all that time is a unique, sympathetic, and “beautiful in it’s own right” queen size bed.  They did an excellent job.  Here are some photos they kindly provided me with, along with some explanations.

template showing how top board was to be cut out.

table legs had to have the paint stripped so they could be matched up with the posts.

finished foot board showing turned blanket rail

You can pay anything for anything these days.

here’s a really old picture of me.

It’s 4:30 pm April 20, 2018, and I am declaring it spring.  I just had to run out to my friends place on the edge of town to deliver a painting I had cleaned for them, and when I got out of the car, I thought,  “Hallelujah. at last, it’s spring.  What a long wait it has been for us here in south-west Ontario this year.  But it’s like being beaten over the head with a two by four, it feels so good once it’s over. I point this out to say it took a lot of will power to reject the offer of a beer and sitting on the porch for a spell for me to write this,  but I met a guy at the market last week who pointed out he noticed I was getting a bit irregular in writing every Friday as I was until recently, and he gently encouraged me to get with it.  It doesn’t take much to make me feel guilty apparently.  But what does this have to do with economics you ask.  Well nothing, but the arrival of spring could not go without comment.

What got me to thinking about economics this week is a new pair of blue jeans I bought at Costco.   I buy clothes only when necessary which at my age is rarely.  I’ve got a lot of clothes and not many occasions when I need to dress up,  plus I am not much of a shopper.  Anyway, seventeen bucks.  I got a really nicely made jeans of quality fabric that fit me and look good for less than the price of a coffee and a snack at Starbucks. I also had the occasion that day to be in the Bay and I saw some designer jeans for about $240.  I didn’t like the fancy stitching on the back pockets but I suppose it was there so people knew you hadn’t bought your jeans at Costco for seventeen bucks, and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to diss anybody for wanting to make a statement with their clothes, if that’s what makes you feel better.  It just doesn’t do anything for me.  I also know that if I looked around I could probably find a pair of jeans for $5, but if you want them to last you’re better off to spend a little more.   My point is you can spend $15 or you can spend $245, or more for a pair of men’s jeans. You can pay anything for anything these days

Next example.  We were at our daughter’s house and over breakfast she said to her husband “when you go out to get the groceries I would like you to go to a hardware store and get a new drip coffee maker.” This was the direct result of having to listen to me once more mutter under my breath when I tried to pour myself a cup of coffee and inevitably, no matter how hard you tried, the stupid spout of the carafe was so tiny that you ended up spilling all over the counter.  That, and the fact that it no longer had a lid and she doesn’t like the smell of coffee.  I find this hard to relate to because I love the smell of coffee, but I did agree with her that the spilling thing was a pain in the ass.  Of course it is not in my nature to replace anything that still works so I objected. I would have put up with that stupid carafe until the thing died a natural death.   Also, the fact is that neither of them drink coffee so the coffee maker is just there for us or other coffee drinking guests so is rarely used.  But she showed great determination so I headed out with my son in law, figuring that I would jump in at the last minute and buy the device as a hostess gift. As it turns out he wouldn’t let me do this but I digress. We went first to the local Loblaws for the groceries on our list, and low and behold, there in the middle isle was a very nice little coffee maker on sale for $22.   Amazing.  It has a spout that pours, a lid, a cleanable filter so you don’t have to  buy and dispose the paper filters, and I can tell it makes a much better cup of coffee than the old one.  I think I may have learned something from the experience. Spending $22 to not have to wipe up spilled coffee is a good move.  When I got home and looked at the Canadian Tire catalogue I noticed you can spend anywhere from $12 to about $350 for a drip coffee maker.  You can pay anything, for anything these days.

This seems to be the case for most items these days thanks to diverse world economics, and the modernization of manufacturing, and I think it’s a pretty good thing overall.   The frugal or poor can buy pretty good things for not much money, and the wealthy have an ever increasing selection to choose from.  However, I think it also makes people suspicious of their understanding of the monetary value of things.

This has always been an issue that antique and art dealers have had to deal with.  When you are asking $350 for a  100 year old rocking chair, there is no price in a catalogue to refer to.  There is just your knowledge of antiquity and markets which the buyer either believes in or not.  I believe that a lot of established, knowledgeable dealers do a good and fair job of pricing, but it is also the case with the way the markets are now that you see prices all over the place.  Recently, a painting by a folk artist that I represented for years sold at auction for $870.  I sold that painting in my shop for $495, and I know of other auctions were similar paintings by the same artist have sold for less than $100.

I once overheard a couple of old time dealers haggling over the price of a chair.  “Well I agree that it is a very nice chair in original paint and great condition but why is it priced at $600.” The other guy looked him strait in the face and said “because I paid $5 for it”.  Ha. They both laughed, and the questioning fellow knew that his negotiation technique was failing but you get the point.  You can pay anything, for anything these days. He may have only had to pay $5 but his knowledge of antiques made him realize it was worth much more. I think this is the basic appeal behind the business. It’s a treasure hunt.  That, and a love for the stuff.  You need that too, or you will never be able to make a go of it.

And don’t get me started on how this affects you when you are trying to do a decent job of appraising items for fair market value.  That’s a topic for another day. I’ve gone on long enough. It’s sunny on the porch and I am dying to go out there and have a beer.  I’m not a big beer drinker mind you.  Don’t touch the stuff all winter, and really don’t drink much in the summer, but on the first day of spring, who would deny me?  Happy spring everyone.

Get up, get out, and do something

Listening to Mark Zuckerberg  being raked over the coals about personal information sharing on Facebook has got me thinking about this whole social media thing.  I’m not all that concerned or surprised that they keep track of my buying habits, and along with Microsoft show me endless Portuguese home rentals, now that I have investigated the subject once.  A little creepy at first,  but that’s how they make their money to provide a free service, and what’s the harm. Advertising is advertising and maybe you will see something you like.  It’s another thing to find out that they may be trying to assess, and record my medical history, if that’s true;   and I refuse to give them my phone number in spite of their encouragement that it will make my account “safer”.  I try not to give to much information that could be used to assume my identity and, “everybody’s fear”, drain my bank account, but I am overall (perhaps naively) fairly comfortable with letting people get to know me a bit better online.  What’s the point, otherwise.  I guess it’s like when you are talking to people at a party. You can either try to have an actual conversation, finding out something about the other person, and giving an opinion or something of yourself; or you can blather on about your last vacation or the weather, and essentially say nothing.  Which is the more interesting evening?

I belong to some antique and art groups and amongst the “look what I bought” posts, which, don’t get me wrong, are understandable and fine, I look forward to the occasional post which provides insight, or information, or excitement.  There’s always a few.  Perhaps less and less, or is that just me?

For instance, It was great to look at the photographs of all the beautiful and rare things that turned up at Bowmanville this past Good Friday. But it was a distant second to actually being there, and able to see the show first hand.  And that’s the point that we must not forget.  Life looking at the screen is not actual life. You can’t touch it.  You can’t really experience it’s actual presence.  You are looking at a group of pixels.  There is no actual interaction. It’s not real. It’s just a representation.

O.k. so mobility issues,  transportation problems, busy schedules etc. aside, you can argue that the main reason more and more people sit at home living their life online, rather than getting out and experiencing things first hand, is a basic laziness and disconnect brought on by the endless hours of scanning bits and pieces of entertainment and information; always on the surface, always moving on,  which is the essence of web surfing.

I just drank a cup of coffee from this cup.  As I sat and sipped I thought again of how much pleasure drinking this delicious hot beverage from this cup brings me.  I like the way that the sides of the cup is a complimentary shade and form to the crema.  I like the weight and shape.  I like that it was hand thrown and I can feel the grooves that the potter’s finger’s made while forming it on the wheel.  It’s marked “Woodside Potteries” Made in Canada, which is fine because it means it is made by an artisan and not mass produced, but in the end aside from the aforementioned aesthetics, I like it because it reminds me of the day I bought it.

It was on a beautiful, sunny Sunday in late May last year when while visiting our daughter and her husband in Toronto we noticed an ad in the local paper for a neighborhood yard sale over a series of blocks nearby, just off the Danforth. We knew that in terms of scoring a treasure we were too late by hours as it pushing ten o’clock and the pickers would have been through about eight; but we also knew that there is a nice, little breakfast place that we like on the Danforth that would be a great place to end up at for a late brunch.  Also, when your tastes run to eccentric, as mine do,   something I may like could be passed on by almost everyone.  To be honest,  I didn’t care if I found anything or not.  I just enjoyed being out interacting with friendly strangers with my family on a sunny morning with the promise a big breakfast on the horizon.  Plus, it is good for me to walk, and going up and down streets looking at stuff is a good way to walk without noticing it so much.

We parked and walked a bit and about four places in we encountered an interesting array of stuff brought out from a very eccentric looking house by some pretty bizarre looking people.  I got a little excited when I saw an old typewriter, several old photographs and  then set my eyes on a classic 1940’s waterfall vanity dressing table marked $25.  Hmmm. Well I could theoretically make $100 by going back, getting the car, and ultimately dragging it to our booth at the Waterford Antique Market.  But it needed a bit of work, and it’s really not my thing. Plus it would put me out of sink with the rest of my party, and at this point in my career,  if you can still call it that, I only buy things that I would buy for myself.  Things that interest me, or that I recognize contain an energy of originality.   It was a pretty little vanity at a great price, but I walked on.

Several blocks later, we had a bought a few books and a couple of those plaster fruit that they used to give out at the fairs. I have a soft spot for those.  We once had a large white wall in the kitchen covered with them and it was big fun, but you know, it’s not the type of purchase that you brag to your friends about.   We were approaching the restaurant and there was just one row of houses left  when I noticed this cup on a table in front of a fairly upscale (gentrified) bungalow.  Very nice woman who seemed so trustworthy and fun that my daughter bought a couple of used puzzles from her.  Now that’s trust. Anyway, chat, chat, chat, and then “ I notice you are checking out my coffee mug. Five bucks if you can use it”.  You have to drink coffee out of something and for coffee mugs we look for handmade Canadian pottery so it qualified.  “I’ll take it”.   It was later that it became my favourite. The breakfast that day was delicious.

It has to do with the style and weight and the way it keeps my coffee warm, but my affection has most to do with the memories it brings forth of that day; as Lou Reed would say “ a perfect day”. This is why we must make the effort to get up, get out,  and do something.   Look around.  Interact with your fellow humans.  Have a “perfect day” and perhaps find something to bring home to remember the day by.  You can’t order that from Amazon.

In appreciation of Nova Scotia artist Lorne Reid

It is rare, but sometimes you develop a deep relationship with an artist the first time you encounter their work. It’s like falling in love.  Immediately, a lot of your buttons are being pushed and it affects you personally.  It was like that for me with Nova Scotia’s Lorne Reid.  When we attended the Sutherland/ Amit auction in 1994 I was immediately taken by three of his works being offered there.  I had never seen his work. The first and most dramatic was a 5 1/2 foot high sculpture of a mother holding a baby, painted in a pointillist style. Amazing work. Then I found a 11’ x 14” pointillist painting of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.  I loved it because it was amusing and in your face.  Finally, and for me the most appealing there was a 6’x 3’ oil on plywood painting of a man eating a fish.  Absolutely haunting and powerful image. Not at all pretty. Actually  quite unsettling and not a favorite of my wife or daughter who were with me, but a painting that spoke to me directly.  I was fortunate in that most people sided with my Jeanine and Cassandra’s opinion,  so I was able to get it at a bargain price.  They were fine with the thought that it would go into our collection of stock for resale but they were not so happy when we got home and I hung it above the living room couch. No matter where you sat in the room he was staring at you.  His haunted look and the fish skeleton in front of him on the table suggest a hunger that cannot be satisfied.  It is not a cheerful painting.  I took a lot of heat for a few days but the controversy died down.  Before long he became a member of the family and is in the background of many family Christmas pictures.  I never grew tired looking at it.

Then in 1995, my stepson Brodie who is a musician and member of the excellent Canadian band the Corndogs, asked me if they might use the image for there up-coming CD.  I agreed to if I could get the permission of the artist’s mother, who was handling the estate. I got her number and called her out of the blue, as it were. What a lovely woman. I was nervous, but she was so immediately welcoming and friendly that my concerns quickly left me and we had a wonderful, and long conversation about Lorne. She was all too happy to give permission.  The CD was released on Immune Records in England and did very well there, but never found a Canadian distributer. Still, I think it is a masterful work and I am happy that the painting has become associated with it.  I think you can still buy it on CD Baby or one of those sites.  The juxtaposition of the image with the phrase “love is all” seems appropriate to what I know of Lorne Reid. 

He was a searcher. He hitch-hiked around North America for 15 years, and then went back to Nova Scotia and became a dedicated artist.  He painted and sculpted until his tragic early death by cancer at the age of 37.

Lorne dedicated himself to his work and the work of other local artists.  In 1989, along with artist David Stephens and Chris Huntington he was instrumental in creating The Nova Scotia Folk Art Festival and Picnic.  He is considered by many to be one of the most important and significant artists to come out of Nova Scotia. He was a member of what some refer to as the “new wave” of Nova Scotia folk artists. Younger artists who were influenced by the originals such as Sid Howard,  and then took the energy and style and made it their own.

It was difficult to find much information on Lorne Reid or to see many of his works publicly displayed until in 2010, when Audrey Sandford of the excellent Black Sheep Gallery of West Jeddore Village, Nova Scotia organized and executed a retrospective on his work in her gallery from July 27-August 29. She accompanied the exhibition with an  excellent 6 page catalogue which they make available on their website.  Here is a link  http://www.blacksheepart.com/lornereid1.html

Fellow artist and close friend David Stephens estimates that Lorne did fewer than 100 small folk art paintings and perhaps a dozen larger paintings during his short career.  He remains as one of my favorites, and I hadn’t thought about him much until this morning when  I saw a clipping from the Upper Canadian coverage of the 2004 Bowmanville show that Adrian Tinline posted in the Canadiana Antiques Facebook group.  There it is. “Man eating a fish” which sold the opening night.  I can’t say that what I feel is regret.  I owned it for ten years and sold it to a good collection, but it still makes me feel a little sad, and just a bit haunted.