Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tom Thomson Canoe & Paddle Sculpture

In front of the historic town hall in downtown Huntsville is a statue of legendary Canadian artist, Tom Thomson whose raw impressionist style marked the beginning a new era in Canadian wilderness art. His suspicious death in 1917 while paddling on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park served to increase his fame and elevated him to a sort of legendary status. A great website detailing all the mystery can be found here.

The statue was sculpted and cast by local a artist, Brenda Wainman-Goulet. It features Thomson in his characteristic wool cap painting a sketch while sitting on a tree stump. Next to him rests an overturned 12 foot canoe and a paddle that eerily looks like the Birch Tripper made in '08. The canoe was sculpted in wax, cut into sections, cast and reassembled in bronze. The total weight of the bronze canoe is 900 lbs (portage that!) and is apparently the first bronze canoe of its kind in Canada.

For Thomson enthusiasts, there's a bit of a lengend regarding his canoe. Historical sources say it was a Chestnut brand purchased in 1915 although I've yet to read anything about the specific model - so I'm not sure if he really used a tiny 12 footer. According to this page, two different 12 foot models called the Teddy and Trapper were made between the years of 1904-1921 so I suppose it is possible.

Another inquisitive canoe enthusiast has done more research on the topic of Thomson's supposed canoe model by posting on the WCHA forums. His wonderfully detailed conclusions can be on his blog, Reflections On The Outdoors Naturally.

The unique thing Thomson's canoe was that he painted it his own unique shade that has been described in a variety of sources as "grey", "dove-grey" or "greenish-gray". Obviously no colour photos exist, but when his canoe was found floating upside down in the lake, people immediately knew it was Thomson's boat. People still talk about a grey coloured "ghost canoe" plowing the early morning mist on Canoe Lake.

The other mystery has to do with his paddles. Apparently when found, one of his paddles was lashed into the canoe for portaging while the other one (a suspected murder weapon) was never found, despite the obvious fact that that lake had been thoroughly searched by Algonquin Park guides and paddles, of course, float. Out of interest's sake, I've tried to find any pictures that show Thomson with a clear image of his paddle and the shot below is the only one I've been able to source.

Though difficul to make out, Thomson seems to have a large tripper style paddle (with a logo?) which seems to corroborate the design of the statue. In any event, the mystery and legend continues.

For those interested, the dedication on the canoe's overturned hull reads:
To the Memory of Tom Thomson 1877 – 1917
An artist, woodsman, guide and dreamer, whose brilliant vision defined the Canadian wilderness and captured the majesty and many colourful moods of Algonquin Park.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Great write-up....and thanks for the plug of my blog....for those interested in Tom Thomson and his art from a different perspective check out Phil the Forecaster' s website and blog, http://chadwick.homestead.com/home.htm and http://philtheforecaster.blogspot.com (he uses some of Tom Thomson’s paintings as statements for Global Warming impacts).

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