Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Algonquin Artist in Residency

Algonquin Provincial Park 2019

I was fortunate enough to recently be selected for a week long residency in Algonquin Park.
The Park that is iconic to landscape painting in Canada and even more so in the transitional blaze of Autumn.

I wasn't sure what to expect but upon arrival at the Algonquin Art Center I was greeted by two friendly gallery managers and given a bag full of treats! I was then led to my accommodations which was a simple room attached to a building full of seasoned and young naturalists who work and study in the park. This staff housing is located on Found picturesque Lake Found. 

My first day in the park was one of discovering the many varied trails that begin just off of Hwy 60 which drives directly through the park. One of the first trails I explored was Hardwood Lookout. 

A verdant meander up hills and over rocks to the summit where a spectacular view of Smoke Lake appears, naturally framed by trees. There is a bench up there for listening to the silence. The forest was mostly beech and maple with a few old white pines amongst them. It was the perfect introduction to this place which has so much to share.

That evening as I was parked at the side of the road figuring out where I would go to best see a moose. I noticed two beavers swimming in the pond just beside me. I got out to watch them be busy as beavers. One of them got nervous when I moved closer and gave the warning tail slap which scared me silly for a split second, wasn't expecting it! 

All in all, it was a great first day full of wondrous sights and sounds.
blue dotted salamander

The next day I spent a sunny afternoon scrambling up the rocks of Ragged Falls.
An ideal perch atop the falls with many paint stained rocks suggesting it was a favorite painting spot.


On the way home that evening I stopped by a spot on the Oxtongue River where it was moving a little more slowly.


And late that afternoon I was rewarded with my first moose sighting. Magnificent creatures to see wading through the water, relaxed and at ease in their home environment.

The following morning was spent in complete bliss a bit further up the river at Oxtongue Rapids. I arrived in the early morning sunshine, not a soul in sight. The rapids were carving rocks that formed welcoming sunny spots to sit as the river rushed by on all sides.  Yellow leaves fluttered down and the the morning light was slowly revealing the beauty lurking beneath the shadows as colours awoke with the light as it moved up the river.

I spent half a day here, exploring up and down the river. I was completely enchanted by the place and feasted on bread, cheese and apples while sitting on the sun drenched rocks. A few quick watercolour sketches got me more closely acquainted with the place and I felt I could have stayed there all day.


Then there were the magnificent Old Growth Pines on Big Pine Trail. These kingly beauties soared above the forest on trunks straight and tall with winding roots that braided far reaching limbs over rocks and deep into the earth.


Late that afternoon the very knowledgeable naturalist, Katsu Sakuma took me to visit Tom Thomson's alleged grave. As we climb the hill through the forest he tells me several variations on the story about the mysterious death of young Tom. Many a campfire ghost story has been spun around the still unresolved case of Tom's unusual death. 

We also come across moose and wolf tracks in the mud we are tramping through. 

We climb a small ridge in the forest and this ancient and very tortured looking birch tree suddenly appears in front of us. This is the tree that oversees a small cemetery where Tom's grave was originally supposed to have been. However there are other stories that speak of him being buried just outside the cemetery. 

THAT TREE! What does it know and what has it seen? There is a definite presence of spirits in this eerie part of the woods. It was an honour to be escorted to this hidden spot that is not open to the public.

I am starting to feel the vibe of the Group of Seven and why they found this place so alluring as a place to paint. The land is teeming with wildlife and endless gifts of grace and beauty.
Canoe Lake

Katsu decided it was a good night to go out on a Wolf Howl. So after a bite to eat five of us pile into the Park Ranger Van and go looking for howling spots. We find a dark wooded area off a dirt road with an inky sky and the milky way spilled out overhead. The first young naturalist lets out a howl that enters your skin. We wait in silence for 20 seconds, then repeat three times. If there is no response we do a group howl, which is considered a territorial threat and the wolves will definitely respond if they hear us, which they do and a distant response comes traveling back to us. We also hear loons and owls calling out to the night. 

Wolf sculpture at the Visitor Center

 The next few days are spent painting inside and out at both the Visitor Center and the Art Center. Algonquin Park attracts people from all over the world this time of year. I spoke with many different travellers as they watch my paintings of the park unfolding on the easel.

A few of my favorite young artists who helped me decide what to paint that day!


So much of Algonquin is geared towards education. The Visitors Center has a terrific interpretive museum. Spending time with the naturalists was a real joy for me. To be amongst students and adults whose passion is observing and learning about the natural world through science was an exceptional experience and one which fed my paintings on a whole new level.
The Art Center is a world class gallery with an impressive roster of Canadian artists. The story of Tom Thomson is illustrated in an outdoor walkway in front of the building. The history of the Group of Seven is felt first hand here. The combination of the art experience with the scientific knowledge of the ever present naturalists makes for a very complete way of knowing this unique wilderness park.
I learnt so much during my week long stay and can't wait to return one day soon. Many thanks to all the staff and naturalists who made my stay an exceptional one.

Listening / 20" x 16"

Algonquin Autumn / 36" x 48"

Hardwood Lookout / 40" x 40"

1 comment:

Anthony Duce said...

Beautiful Post.
Thank you

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