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Gallery breaks out iconic Canadian painters for all to see

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Two powerful paintings by Canadian icon Emily Carr figure prominently in the current  “Heavy Hitters” exhibition at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.

Both paintings were donated to the community’s permanent collection just last year and recently restored.

“They really cleaned up well,” said assistant curator Sonya Blazek.

“I think it’s important for people to know that not only do we receive work, but we have a responsibility for making sure it is as well maintained as possible.”

The paintings are landscapes Carr painted around 1935, a few years after meeting Lawren Harris of The Group of Seven. By that time, Harris was a revered Canadian painter and his friendship and encouragement influenced Carr heavily.

“He was a mentor to her,” said Blazek. “He taught her about spirituality in painting. You can see it in the brush strokes she used in the sky.”

Heavy Hitters: The Group of 7 and Contemporaries, is a selection of 44 paintings chosen by Blazek, primarily from the gallery’s permanent collection.  Sarnia-Lambton owns approximately 45 works by The Group of Seven and several of them are favourites that are frequently shared with other galleries.

Among others, The JNAAG’s Biehn Gallery is featuring Lawren Harris’ Spring on the Oxtongue River and Edwin Holgate’s The Lumberjack, which are probably two of the most familiar in the collection. The Lumberjack was on loan to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art until just recently.

“I felt like a kid in the candy shop while I was choosing what paintings would go in this exhibition,” said Blazek.  “There is so much joy in being up close and personal with them.”

Blazek has included a set of 12 small paintings by A.Y. Jackson acquired by the Sarnia Women’s Conservation Art Association in 1956, and Tom Thomson’s Chill November.

“Chill November was the last large painting he did before he drowned,” she said.  “It’s 101 years old this year.”

Heavy Hitters includes pieces from all members of The Group of Seven except Frank Johnston.

The Group of Seven’s distinct style, developed in the years following the First World War, influenced many other Canadian painters and some of those contemporaries, like Emily Carr, are included in the current exhibition.

Carr’s work is accompanied by a condition report that describes the yellowed and brittle state the two paintings were in when they arrived.

Conservator Jennifer Robertson of Book and Paper Conservation Services in London was hired to wash the paper, repair it with Japanese tissue where it was torn and carefully flatten its wrinkles.

The gallery isn’t disclosing the cost of the restoration but Blazek allowed, “It doesn’t come cheaply.”

Heavy Hitters: The Group of 7 & Contemporaries is on display until August 6.  Conservator Jennifer Robertson will be at the gallery on Thursday, July 20 at 7 p.m. to share details of her repair work on the Emily Carr paintings.


The Arts Journal highlights Sarnia’s cultural community.  Please forward your ideas to Cathy at [email protected] or call 226-932-0985.


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