Gay Guthrie speaks about Orillia-born Group of Seven artist at annual lecture

Mary Ann Grant, Submitted

Gay Guthrie recently spoke at the OMAH speaker series on the Carmichael exhibit. SUBMITTED

Gay Guthrie recently spoke at the OMAH speaker series on the Carmichael exhibit. SUBMITTED

Orillia-born Franklin Carmichael, one of Canada’s most famous artists, was the subject of the annual Carmichael Art History Lecture held at the Orillia Museum of Art and History recently. Guest speaker Gay Guthrie paid tribute to the life and art of the youngest of the Group of Seven artists, a man who contributed to the changing face of Canadian art.

Carmichael was born May 4, 1890, and lived on Scott Street in Orillia. Guthrie painted a picture of Carmichael’s formative years learning design while assisting his father in his carriage works, and of a mother who encouraged his interest in art, his sketching and enabled him to take music lessons. These influences set the stage for Carmichael to follow his love of art with formal training and in his development into one of Canada’s most influential painters.

Guthrie walked the audience through the evolution of Carmichael as an artist. She described how his networking with like-minded individuals grew his artistic talent. It encouraged him to shrug off the European subtle style of painting popular at the time. It inspired him to go against the grain to paint the rugged, untamed Canadian landscape in a bold and distinctive way.

Carmichael left Orillia to study at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Upon graduation, he apprenticed at Grip Ltd., an innovative graphic design firm. It was at Grip Carmichael met Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, Fred Varley and others who wanted to be serious painters and were not afraid to challenge the status quo in their painting. He travelled with them on weekend trips to paint the rugged Canadian wilderness.

In 1914, artist Lawren Harris financed the building of one of the first purpose-built studios, at 25 Severn St. in Toronto, to promote the Canadian art movement. At the studio building, Carmichael shared Studio One with Thomson. Other painters, who would become members of the Group of Seven, also had studios there. The Arts and Letters Club, of which Carmichael was a member, also encouraged sharing of ideas with his fellow artists.

Carmichael, Guthrie explained, was married, so he did not have the luxury of going on extended trips to paint like his fellow artists. He painted close to home. His watercolours with expanses of stunning sky, water and granite were inspired by Georgian Bay, Muskoka and the Algoma La Cloche region, which was close to the family cottage.

Guthrie wowed the audience with a colour commentary of a number of Carmichael’s works. Carmichael remained true to his roots. He was born in Orillia, and he captured the beauty of the local landscapes in his paintings. He and his wife, Ada Lillian Went, are buried at St. Andrew’s-St. James’ Cemetery in Orillia. 

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