The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg is a mere 30 kilometres northwest of downtown Toronto. There, instead of driving hours to Muskoka, urban dwellers may experienced all the cottage trappings - hand-hewn logs, fieldstones, a valley vista and Canada's
Group of Seven paintings that feature incredibly vivid landscapes, quite a deal at $5 for parking and a $15 entrance fee compared to renting a waterfront cabin for an astronomical sum.
The gallery, a Canadian treasure, is located on 100 acres of woodland featuring a variety of conifers and deciduous trees, a perfect setting for artistic treasures and outdoor sculptures such
as Polar Bear created by Inuit sculptor, Pauta Saila from Baffin Island and Shibagau Shard which also guards the entrance, and is composed of 27 tons of granite. Sculptor Bill Vazan discovered this piece of pre-Cambrian rock. He engraved its surface by sandblasting, the technique based on traditional methods of carving petroglyphs with stone tools. The images are a fusion of Vazan's impressions of pictographs and petroglyphs in Ontario, Oregon and Arizona.
Another interesting outdoor exhibit is Tom Thomson's shack. After a sketching trip in Algonquin Park, he required a studio in Toronto to complete his paintings so he rented a shack for $1 per month. It served as his studio and winter home until his death in 1917.
McMichael boasts an impressive collection of contemporary First Nations art as well as prints, drawings and sculpture by Inuit artists. Of ten artists who were members of the Group of Seven, six are buried in a small cemetery on the McMichael grounds: Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, A.J. Casson and A.Y. Jackson.
On display on the gallery walls are beautiful images of rugged landscape that remind me of canoe trips and camping. These Canadian artists have captured the spirit of our land - nature that is wild, untamed and amazingly free to anyone with an unbridled will to explore. My favourite is Lauren Harris who never fails to freeze me in my tracks with his bold, mystical approach to landscape. When first starting out, Harris learned of an exhibition of modern Scandinavian paintings at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo. This display validated his approach, "paintings of northern lands created in the spirit of those lands and through the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved them."
Kleinburg is a pretty town, the former home of author, Pierre Berton, another Canadian icon. Fortunately, when we visited, there was an exhibit on display by Jean Paul Lemieux (1904-90), the ideal artist to view during an oppressively hot summer. Lemieux literally chills you with his frigid depictions of winter, featuring large canvasses filled with snow and ice, the people,
animals and objects such a speeding train, reduced to miniscule smudges of dark colour amidst an overwhelming, blinding whiteness.
When we visited, there were many children being treated to active art lessons in the lobby.
The McMichael Gallery and Shop are open to visitors seven days a week. They have an informative web site, and if you are without cottage, this is the place to visit. To reach the Gallery from the QEW, take Hwy. 427 north to Hwy. 7. Jog right (east) on Hwy. 7, turn left (north) on Hwy. 27 and follow the signs.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: McMichael Gallery, Shibagau Shard, Lawren Harris: Mount Lefroy, Polar Bear, Tom Thompson studio, Lauren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer