I was recently surprised and delighted when a picker from the Niagara Peninsula brought me in 8 small wood carvings by Albert Hoto . I very occasionally run across work from this highly skilled carver from Stromness, Ontario, and I’m delighted when I do because in my opinion he is a “top drawer” Canadian folk artist. I would suggest he deserves this classification not only for his artistry and skill, but also his dedication to the work. He kept at it out there in his workshop. Producing thousands of finely detailed and original carvings of horses, farm scenes, wild birds, domestic and farm animals,etc., He was a natural, working his magic with his only a few tools; a jackknife, a coping saw, and a great deal of patience. He is well documented and illustrated in books such as the Price’s ’twas ever thus, and many others .
Within a month of my posting the pieces on the Shadfly website, I was contacted by Mr. Hoto’s grand daughter, Mrs. Ruth Marr. She was friendly and helpful, and I am thankful that her interest is such that she made the effort to come to the shop to allow me to copy clippings and to tell me about her grandfather, I enjoyed the articles and photos and I am happy to pass this information on. What follows is a short biography based on Ruth’s information and an unnamed local clipping from 1956. Also, I have reproduced in it’s entirety, a clipping from an unnamed Toronto newspaper from 1953, the year his carving of a brewery wagon drawn by a six horse team won second prize for at the Canadian National Exhibition. I chose to use a quote from an attached photo caption from this article for the title.
( July 2, 1886 -December 17, 1979)
Albert, as he was known, Hoto was born on the family farm in Stromness Station, south of the Welland canal near Dunnville, Ontario. He had three brothers and two sisters. He lived and worked on the farm until he married Florence Geneva Spellman on November 21, 1908. They bought a farm nearby in Sherbrooke, Ontario. They worked the farm and raised three daughters, Dorothy, Marjorie, and Gladys . In 1948 Albert retired and sold the farm. They built a home in Stromness along the feeder canal that runs between the Welland canal and the Grand River.
After working hard on the farm for so many years Albert found retirement difficult. In 1950 he decided to take up the slack hours with wood carving. He picked up his jack knife and set at it. “I just couldn’t sit back in a rocking chair when I retired” he said”I had to keep doing something”.
In 1953, three years after starting , he received wide praise and attention when he won second prize for his carving of a brewery wagon at the C.N.E. Soon he hung a white sign with neatly painted black letters in front of his small showroom stating only “Ornamental Woodcarving”. He was prolific and sales were brisk. This trend continued as his reputation spread. He won more prizes in some important competitions such as the International Hobby Show in Toronto in 1956. “My work is pretty well distributed’ he noted. He sold carvings to people from the area who would visit him at his workshop during summer months. Eventually his work was bought by serious collectors from across Canada and the United States .
Using only a bone handled jack knife and a coping saw, and without any formal artistic education he created a miniature world with diminutive representations of rural life. He carved with an unselfconscious feeling for animal and human form. He stated that his farm experience had given him an eye carving the various gates of horses and the outlines of live stock. Alongside his farm carvings, his specialty became the carvings of game birds in flight. These are renowned for their natural colouring and amazing feeling of movement.
Mr. Hoto denied that it took great patience to produce the intricate works. “If you are doing something that you like” he explained” it is never work.” I don’t feel that it takes too much patience for me. I like the work, and the time seems to go easily”.
Mr. Hoto continued to work and sell his carvings from his home workshop until his death at age 93 in 1979.