tom thomson, inuit art and winston churchill

I've wanted to visit The McMichael Canadian Art Collection for a long time, and my mother's visit gave me the perfect opportunity. She had actually been there before, but a very long time ago, on a sightseeing trip to Toronto and Ottawa. Allan, my mother and I did this yesterday.

The McMichael, located north of Toronto - near the suburbs of Richmond Hill, Woodbridge, and Vaughan - exhibits only Canadian art. Their permanent collection emphasizes Tom Thomson, Group of Seven, First Nations and Inuit art.

Although Thomson and the Group of Seven are perhaps the best known Canadian visual artists to Canadians, I had never heard of them before moving here, which is perhaps a commentary on how Canadian art is viewed (or not viewed) in the US.

We perused the whole Thomson and Group of Seven collection. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this work, but it was interesting to learn about the artists' social and historical significance. Their work was the first major attempt at forging a distinctly modern Canadian identity in art, rather than repeating and copying European styles. The artists traveled throughout Canada and painted the vast wilderness and variety of landscapes they found. I liked much of the later work that becomes more abstract and geometrical, less representational. I also appreciated the dark, rugged quality of some the landscapes.

I'm much more interested in Inuit and First Nations art than early 20th Century Anglo-Canadian art. But unfortunately for me, most of those galleries were closed, as a new exhibition is about to open there. We did get to see one First Nations room, and it piqued my interest for a future visit.

There was also an exhibit of work by photographer Yousuf Karsh. Portraits of famous people are not my thing, but photographs of auto workers and steel workers in Oakville, Windsor and Hamilton were interesting. It was nice to see every worker identified as an individual, not a nameless Everyman. Plus, now I know who made the photograph of Winston Churchill that has become everyone's mental image of the man.

The best part of the McMichael is probably the site itself, a stunning log and stone building situated in a 100-acre conservation area. There are paths and trails around the woods. Hopefully we can time a future visit with nice walking weather, but yesterday it was just too hot.

We drove into the tiny historical village of Kleinberg for a cold drink. Sadly, if you've seen one old town trying to live on tourism, you've seen them all. The only way these places can survive is through cutesy, expensive shops and restaurants. Still, it's nice to see a village at all, very different from nearby suburbs.

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