The McMichael Canadian Art Collection Kleinburg


The marvellous McMichael Collection of Canadian Art located in the picture -perfect village of Kleinburg is (relatively speaking) just a short hop north of Toronto.

Located cheek by jowl to the Kortwright Centre – a delicious wilderness of maple trees and trails, capped by an excellent Visitor Centre (with Maple Syrup tapping in the Winter) – a trip to Kleinburg makes for a wonderful day trip.

That said there is enough to do at the Gallery itself to warrant a full day. A gorgeous building designed to blend harmoniously into the surrounding 100 acres of conservation land. With thirteen galleries housing a stunning collection of works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, there is a special focus on the works of Tom Thompson, alongside works by First Nations and Inuit. And should your taste be a little more eclectic then the McMichael regularly injects new life into their Gallery spaces by hosting major exhibitions of the works of other artists who have made a contribution to the development of Canadian art.

Currently the Museum is hosting two “guest” exhibitions: a “Mary Pratt” retrospective and “Changing Tides: Contemporary Art of Newfoundland and Labrador”

The Gallery – styled like a huge log cabin perched high up on the valley escarpment is a nook and cranny delight for slumping into a “Stickley” armchair to contemplate the art or to gaze out onto the stunning scenery – on a good day, and from the right window it is even possible to see the CN Tower way out in the distance. A stark reminder in this peaceful serene space of the proximity of our sprawling metropolis.

When Robert and Signe McMichael discovered Kleinburg, they felt that the area evoked the images of the Canadian wilderness they so loved. They consequently purchased ten acres of land in the village and in 1954 – with the help of architect Leo Venchiarutti – built a pioneer-style home (complete with barnboard walls and fieldstone fireplaces) and named it Tapawingo (believed to mean “place of joy”), the forerunner of today’s Gallery space.

Initially the McMichaels started their “Group of Seven” collection with a painting by Lawren Harris called “the Montreal River”. This was followed by a purchase of Tom Thomson’s “Pine Island” and by 1965, their private collection numbered 194 paintings and had been visited by hundreds of people who flocked to the McMichael’s frequent open houses. Realizing they were the custodians of a national treasure, the McMichael’s donated their collection, home and land to the Province of Ontario in return for an assurance that the buildings be maintanied and the art retained and conserved in the spirit of the original intent. Eight months later in July 1966 the “McMichael Conservation Collection of Art” officially opened.

Today the collection has expanded – through purchases and donations (from private individuals and artists) to about 5500 works of art. Despite extensive additions the Gallery retains many of its original rustic features; classically smart it radiates the warmth and charm one imagines the original home to have held almost as if the current custodians had had a hotline to Robert and Signe during all the remodellings.

And when you are done with the art, the restaurant – located in the split level basement – has a beautiful outdoor patio area open during the summer with drop-away views of the forested Humber River valley.

The hiking trails are open year round but occasionally one or two are closed during winter because ice and steep slopes are a treacherous combination.

Before you head out take a moment to admire the totem pole in the Grand Hall, entitled “Where Cultures Meet”, which was carved specifically for the Gallery by artist Don Yeomans.

Beforep embarking upon a trail have a stroll around the new Sculpture Garden and peer through the windows of Tom Thomson`s original log cabin.


Telephone 905 893 1121 or 1888 213 1121




Mothers Day Treat

The following is a selection of Mother-friendly Toronto destinations that have been rigorously tried and tested by a member of this very important target audience – My Mother

Warning: You won’t get to do all of these in one day of course –
Perfect excuse to take her out again.
And again……

No self respecting day out with your mother can even get off the ground without a decent breakfast.
Stratus at the top of the TD Waterhouse Building in The Toronto Athletic Club serves breakfast with a skyline view. Nestled amongst the gleaming towers of the city core, the restaurant is stylishly minimalist but good value with great breakfast choices overseen by chef David Ross (Auberge du Pommier), Open for weekday breakfast and lunch it’s best to make a reservation on 4168651924

Over in Toronto’s west end, a different style of breakfast option is available at “Nadege” The brainchild of fourth generation pastry chef Nadege Nourian, this patisserie is especially delightful from spring through fall when – after you’ve made your choice of scrumptious made-on-site filled croissants or agonised over the melt-in-your-mouth macaron selection – you can sit on the shaded patio overlooking the park.

If museums could be given a gender then both “The Bata shoe museum” and The Gardiner museum would be female and on that basis perfect for our Mothers.
The Gardiner whilst small but perfectly formed is the only museum in Canada devoted exclusively to ceramics. A gleaming glass confection of beautifully displayed ceramics spanning 3 floors topped by the Jamie Kennedy restaurant. There are always has myriad temporary thought-provoking exhibitions passing through, in addition to genre related classes and talks, plus it hosts the exquisite Twelve Trees” exhibit at Christmas. Bonus: if your Mother fancies throwing a pot or two, herself, make sure you are in the lobby on Wednesday or Friday evenings a for first-come, first- serve access to the studio beginning at 6pm. They also run on Sundays at 1pm

The Bata shoe Museum
Question: which fictitious secret agent had a telephone built into his shoe?
You can find out at this one-of-a-kind museum. If I were a shoe I’d leave instructions to be buried here. Shoe-heaven spanning 4.500 years over 4 floors in an award winning building. From chestnut-crushing clogs to celebrity shoes bequeathed by John Lennon, Marilyn Munroe and Madonna (to name but a few), oh and curiously a pair of Napolean Bonaparte’s silk socks.

Spa experience
Nothing screams “Spoil Her” as much as a couple of hours of lounging and treatments at one of Toronto’s world class hotel spas.
Both these below are covered separately in previous blogs, so if you need more info scroll back through my posts.

Caudalie Miraj Hammam Spa at the Shangri-La – a wildly exotic experience where you can book a private hamman for just the two of you. What makes this a really special treat is the tented opulence of the Hammam lounge – all “Arabian nights” draped chiffon, Persian rugs and jewel colored raffia “pouffes” strewn with mags, and reeking decadence.
A nice touch after your treatment/s is the baklava, grapes and sweet mint tea served on brassware to your little “nook

More down to earth but just a blissful in terms of treatment options (and price) is “The Aveda Concept spa” at the “Intercontinental” Hotel on Front Street.
The Spa area whilst lined with glass framed views of the Toronto skyline has an intimate ambiance and an inviting waiting area complete with Aveda tea, fresh fruit and infused waters on –tap. It always houses a decent sized pool (complete with tiny waterfall) fringed with cheerful and inviting reclining loungers, and a hot tub.

Afternoon Tea
Forget all the formula high-teas of the high-end Hotels down town, your Mother will be charmed by an afternoon tea in any of the more unusually feminine offerings below:
First up the delightful and always surprising “Red Tea Box” that hides out on Queen Street West. One of Toronto’s best kept secrets comprising 2 indoor shabby-chic tea rooms sandwiching a “secret garden” summer patio shaded by pear trees and Indian

screens. Open the tiny door and your view is barred by the huge display of “trade secret” crazy -pretty cakes: iced to perfection and almost too beautiful to eat, these are light-as-a-feather sponge and cream delectations in wildly yummy flavors. Also available are imaginative sweet and savory Bento boxes, sandwiches and soups.
This is not a place to be rushing through – the service pace should be your guide. Closed Tuesdays – check for hours. 416 203 8882

MoRoCo – a lexicon: Mo for Montana, Ro for Rory and Co for Cocoa. Montana and Rory are the inspiration behind MoRoCo Chocolate’s delectable offering on Yorkville Avenue. The interior, with its enticing “come hither” chocolate aura is a striking marriage of tasteful Parisian boudoir and a hat box –dark paint, white moulded walls, chandeliers and plush seating. This is high tea with a twist; a chocolate twist plus a chance to sample the house-made chocolate finery. You must book ahead for “High Teas”

The Old Mill Hotel is a quaint and historic setting for afternoon tea – There has been a tea garden here since 1914. A restored black and white timber framed hotel in the leafy enclave of Old Mills West Toronto, its motto is “In the valley of the Humber, a bit of England, far from England”. And a taste of old England is exactly what you’ll get: dark beamed spaces; flagstone floors and the glorious smell of wood smoke from the wood burning fires dotted around the place. You will need to book ahead: Teas are served
Monday – Friday from 3:00 -5pm, 2-4pm on Saturdays and 3:30-5pm on Sundays.

Cocktails with a view:

Cocktails at the top of one of the world’s tallest structures, “The CN Tower” wins the prize here –either as part of a meal in the spectacular 360 revolving restaurant or just a twilight visit to the Horizon Restaurant Bar just below. Be sure to visit at twilight so you can watch the sun go down over the city around 350 metres below!

“The Panorama lounge” in the Manu-Life Centre on Bloor – sit on the balcony 55 floors up for a no-holds-barred “Panoramic” view of the city and Lake. Though High-heel worthy, this chic venue is not so snotty as to turn its nose up at end-of-long-day smart

In the heart of Toronto’s impressive glass and steel financial district and under the watchful eye of the CN Tower, Canoe is one of Toronto’s high end restaurants with a view. The prize stallion of the Oliver and Bonacini stable of restaurants, you don’t need a reservation if you are simply stopping by for a cocktail in the window lined bar. – Tel:4163640054

A night on the town
Toronto is the third largest theatre venue in the world after London and New York, so expect to be able to treat your Mother to a spectacular west end or Broadway show. It’s easy to pick up tickets for same day shows at the the Totix booth in Dundas Square. Or subscribe to to nab great deals on tickets in advance.
Look out for theatre events occurring in heritage properties such
as the faux gothic Casa Loma or the century old Montgomery’s Inn which frequently host imaginatively interpreted performances of Shakespeare, Bram stoker and Dickens plays adapted to make use of these amazing spaces. Check or
Can’t leave this category without mentioning the world class architecturally and acoustically advanced “Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts”, home of the
National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company. Contact the centre at

With a phenomenal number of jazz and blues bars many of which are just that – bars hosting great talent, there are two that are a bit special:
The newly opened and Chicago-esque “Jazz Bistro” downtown on Victoria Street. Resurrected from the ashes of the “Top of the Senator” jazz club this has taken the business of jazz supper to new levels in Toronto. You need to reserve a dining slot in order to eat and watch the show as supper is served before the performer comes on. Not your average jazz club food here. More of a “Ronnie Scotts” in Londond or a “Birdland” New York experience.

“The Reservoir Lounge” on Front Street. Their tag line – “Cool Jazz. Hot Swing. Great People. Smart Cocktails. Good Eats” – just about sums this place up. A nice understated stone walled basement jazz club – There is usually a cover to be paid at the door



Encaustic Heaven – an afternoon’s workshop at The Hive – Alton Mill Arts Centre





So the last picture shows what I managed to achieve during a second visit whilst the above photos show our collective efforts and the “dog’s breakfast” I produced during a 3 hour beginners workshop.
The results whilst not too pretty on my part were such fun to create anyway and I’ve learnt that with a medium like beeswax that I need to do more planning rather than employ my usual “modus operandi” of flying by the seat of my pants!
In any case wax encaustic “painting” is an incredibly forgiving and flexible medium to work with. You really can’t make any permanent mistakes.
Don’t like what you’ve created?
Simply warm it up with the dryer or iron (or if you want to blitz it – the blow torch!), and scrape it off.
Or you could cover it over with a few more layers of wax or build it into a collage!

Essentially encaustic work means heat-fusing wax onto a surface using a small specially designed encaustic iron, a craft dryer or a craft blow torch. Medium can be added and removed to achieve positive, negative or multi layered effects.

You start off with some lumps of beeswax – pop them in metal containers and melt on a low heat using a proprietary griddle. Add oil pigments to make your base colours and then play with these to mix tertiary colours as you fancy. Too opaque – add more clear bees wax.
Too watery – add more pigment and so on
Use small natural bristle brushes – which can be left in the mix during the whole session; use scrapers, spoons, knives and any other tools you think might make good patterns.
Make sure you have to hand black and white photocopied printed motifs and lettering; photos; odd cuts of material and lace; tissue and hand-made papers – the list is endless.

The element of controlling the wax medium is the big lesson to learn here; it helps if you have an eye for colour because the beeswax is transparent and so your overall effect depends very much on what your overlaying wax coats look like on top of your base colour.
Photocopied images can be “transferred” to a warm wax surface using a burnishing technique.
The medium is also delightfully pliable allowing you to model the surface, or to add sculpted pieces using scrapings of warm wax.
Once finished these pieces are – unlike most art – totally tactile. You will definitely feel a need to run your fingers over the surface of the finished product and for a while after creation these “paintings” will need to be lightly polished with a soft cloth from time to time.
Want to try it?
You can either book over the phone or simply turn up and see if they can fit you in for a short demonstration. Daniel who ran our course and who presided over our second visit is a joy; calm, and supportive during our creative black-outs. The collective work of Daniel and his wife Andrea (who also teaches the class) is stunning to behold and displayed all around the gallery which generally is worth a stand-alone visit. There is also a cute coffee shop within the centre selling delicious pastries and espresso – a pooh about all the disposable cups, plates and crockery though!!!

Over and Out


A Multi Sensory Tour of the Art Gallery of Ontario


So once again the marvellous AGO has surprised me!
I stepped in for a member’s preview of the Patti Smith photography exhibit and ended up doing a wonderful guided “ Multi-sensory tour

Designed for sight impaired folk this tour gives you a chance to touch some of the sculpture noticeably two definitive Rodin pieces and partially “sense” a clay sculpture of Count Robert de Montesquieo-Fezensac by Prince Paolo Troubetsky.

We approach Rodin’s huge 7ft cast bronze figure of Adam.

Even as a sighted person closing your eyes to feel beneath your hands ; the creation ;that was Rodin’s original depiction of Adam is powerful stuff.-he full-onn touching experience only marginally reduced by thenecessity of wearing purple plastic gloves .

This is indeed a unique experience/privilege as ordinarily and obviously you are not anle to ;”touch” anything in the museum.

So with your eyes tightly shut, listen to the guide tell the stories behind these figures and rely upon your sense of touch to experience art in a whole new dimension.

;Is ;it cold or warm? – clue – it is bronze cast.

“Walk” your hands over the musculature of his arms – the attitude of each upper limb borrowed from Michelangelo art (see below) – both smooth and rough under your fingers, this dichotomy due to the fact that Rodin was not afraid to leave evidence of the bronze caste process AND
Rodin himself was visually challenged so the fine detail his present and fashionable in the sculptures of his contemporaries is not present – he was criticised heavily for this ;trait during his lifetime – ;but there is ;detail enough to be able to trace the human form simply by using the hands

Run your hands up the neck over the stretched and contorted sinews; if you can’t see, you would most certainly be able to feel the angst, the twisted contortion of Adam’s pose.

So to those arms!
The right Arm alludes to Micelangelo’s “The Creation of Man” in the Sistine Chapel fresco and
Left arm directly lifted from the dead Christ of the Pita in the Cathedral of Florence – Michelangelo..

So now a physical exercise: try putting yourself into that exact position. It’s a bit like trying to position yourself ;into ;the twisted, ;shoulders front, feet and head in profile stance of an ancient Egyptian figure in a tomb painting – virtually impossible. ; ;Rodin managed to conevy the whole passage of life in one sculpure – the figure has been ;framed by the beginning and end of life in.a pose that suggests a “shooting” upwards from the moment of birth with the torture of life in between and then the contorted ;agony of dying;

Now you need your eyes or your hands again ;- look at/feel feet and hands – huge and out of proportion- Rodin’s nod to depicting the humanity of his figures and a bit of a trademark.

Notice the green patina – this was often achieved by urinating on the freshly cast bronze!!!!

Over to a more modest size bronze also based on Adam.
Much smaller and famously known throughout the world as “the Thinker” but this was never the meaning attached by Rodin to the sculpture. He ;was commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts in Paris to create a massive scene of “Dante’s Inferno” which was to be the “welcoming” structure/gate for ;a new Decoratif ;Arts Museum. ;The museum never materialised. even though Rodin had worked on and off on pieces for it until his death. The product of his life’s work can be found in the Musee Rodin in Paris.

He had several variously sized casts made of this sculpture; one was for his tomb; one is in the Detroit Institure for the Arts and one in Paris

Back in the AGO we ere also treated to vivid and detailed descriptions of other artworks in the European Gallery (where the Rodins are situated) – so that if you were sight- impaired you could build a minds-eye view if what the docent was describing.

The “tour” then took us ; on a “through the ages” quest visiting connecting artworks -mainly depictions of Christ‘s Crucifixtion in order to explore the Church’s obsession – during the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance ages – with making the artistic allegorical connection between Christ and Adam in the artworks of the time.


Over and Ou

“The Devil is in the Detail” – The Art Gallery of Ontario


Waterhouse’s “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows,” Said the Lady of Shalott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay
She has heard a whisper say
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot
She knows not what the curse may be
And so she weaveth steadily
And little other care hath she
The Lady of Shalott”
….Alfred Tennyson

"Stepping" into a painting starts to open up a whole new world for the viewer – so often paintings are grouped randomly or in some sort of a sequence known only to the curator of that particular gallery!!
Often they are simply given a title and an owner (painter) with the date
And of course unless you are an expert you will have no concept of what the painter was trying to convey except if a guide is on hand to explain the nuances of the piece to you.
Once you unlock the key to a particular gallery it will lead you on a trail of discovery that will have you going back again and again.

Sitting quietly on a bench in the very intimate European Gallery at the AGO – cocooned by wraparound masterpieces – is one of my favourite moments of the week (yes, sadly I visit weekly). This for me is better than a gym or yoga workout.
Diagonally opposite the bench is the painting that stirred my interest in Art History and just one example of this potential for discovery – it is a painting by John William Waterhouse , a late-comer of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Entitled ” I am half sick of shadows says the Lady of Shalott“.

This is Lady Elaine of Astolat.

Her painter created a series of three related pictures inspired by the poem “ The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Tennyson in 1842

•Lord Tennyson’s ballad was loosely based on the Arthurian legend (5th and 6th centuries) of Elaine as recounted in a 13th century Italian novella Donna di Scalotta
•There are three paintings in the collection – one is at the Tate Gallery in London, the second is in Leeds UK and the third – this one is in the European Gallery at the AGO. All of them illustrate a particular passage of the poem based on this medieval legend.

Look closely and you will see a Victorian painter’s highly romanticized notion of a medieval maiden in a turret. She is looking into the distance with her arms thrown behind her head; both wistful and resigned. Lady Elaine Astolat is the heroine of Arthurian legend, who was struck by a curse that limited her to viewing the passing world through a mirror’s reflection. She spends her days embroidering the scenes she witnesses through her back to front portal.

One day she views the breaktakingly handsome Lord Lancelot and falls for him to the extent where she braves the curse and looks directly at him through the window.

This leads to the shattering of the mirror and the curse begins to play out.

There is another beautiful Waterhouse painting depicting this seminal moment in the poem/legend but unavailable for me to put up on this site. If your interest is picqued, it can be viewed on-line in the wikepedia gallery for “John William Waterhouse” It was painted in 1894 so you will have to scroll almost to the bottom of the gallery

The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shal...

The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat
And round about that prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay
The broad stream bore her far away
The Lady of Shalott
There is also another Lady of Shalott painting in the same gallery just a couple of pictures to the left. It is not a Waterhouse painting like the example above, but executed by a near contemporary of his – Homer Watson (in 1877) entitled “the death of Elaine” and also depicts Elaine floating down the river on her funerary boat.
Homer Watson also painted Elaine at the outset of the poem – see below:
The Lady of Shalott (1905)

The Lady of Shalott (1905) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And there’s the problem, without any linkage or historical context given to paintings in many lauded Art Galleries around the world you would never get to the real treasure behind the pictures or indeed if you are a novice like me establish the links between one painting and another for yourself.
But maybe that’s the point:
Perhaps artworks are simply there to tease out a personal reaction.
Maybe its about the work you put in to researching a particular painting and the quest this may lead you on….Maybe thats the point of Art.
And now I can’t move for Lady of Shalott references – or maybe I am just hyper aware right now.
My favourite track right now from “The Band Perry”, has a track entitled “If I die young” – the video is a direct lift from the Shalott legend – the lead singer floats down a river in the Shalott pose holding Tennyson’s book of poetry.
What a journey….
Over and Out

Nightmare on King Street

Corpse Bride

Image via Wikipedia

What do “Nightmare”;  “James and The Giant Peach”;  “Mars Attacks”; “Batman”;  “Beetlejuice”  & “Sleepy Hollow” have  in common?
You know, you know………..
Okay how about “Edward Scissorhands”; “Alice in Wonderland” and “Corpse Bride”?
They all sprang from the genius mind of Tim Burton. AND you can see an amazing selection of his drawings,sculptures, maquettes, costumes, videos and sculptures as well as watch a host of Tim Burton movies at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street.
Fresh from the MoMA in New York, this exhibition can be found squished into 2 open concept rooms on the ground floor. Entry is through a timed ticket system, so it is better to book ahead, although the evening I was there I could’ve simply bought my ticket and gone in straight away as it was very quiet.
Though grotesque and Dali-esque it is impossible not to appreciate the glorious expertly executed cartoons and storyboard scribblings, many using pen and ink . Whatever you might think of the macabre nature of many of his films, the precision and details of his artwork is superb. And this is from the woman who to this day has various scenes from the evocatively spooky” Sleepy Hollow”  etched in her mind to the extent where every time I travel along a tree-lined road in the dark, in winter with the headlights picking out the twisted branches overhead, I think of his film and am on the watch for the headless horseback rider!!!
Anyone whose ever made their own little cartoon flicker books knows how much time it takes to draw every minute change of a movement in order to bring a cartoon character to life. But you don’t really KNOW until you see this type of exhibition as this sort of insight really drives home the man-hours of work and talent that lie behind the production of these projects.
One of the rooms is devoted to his pre-fame formative years, with displays tracking his school and college work,  (he went to the California Institute of the Arts in the late 70’s) including excerpts from school notebooks, a stop motion film in 8mm he made at age 13; still-life drawings (one with a small monster etched in the corner – a little nod to the fact that even whilst sketching a  nude model, his mind was already working on the creation of the fantastical creatures that would come to dominate and brand all his future work.
The first part of the exhibit speaks to the influences of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Roal Dahl and the drawings and poetry of Dr Seuss ;  it then moves on to profile each of Tim Burton’s major films through original art work, scribbled notes and scaled models. In fact some of the satirical cartoons of his early years were distinctly surreal “Terry Gilliam/Pythonesque.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the neon splendour of something called “Carousel”, a gigantic spectacularly coloured sort of revolving mobile model with the prototype drawing off to the side. I also wanted all the actual models of the Corpse Bride AND the silhouette artwork depicting all the characters lined up and scaled to each other; even as silhouettes  with no surface detail,  they were so exquisite that it was still obvious which character each silhouette depicted.
At the end of the show was a wall devoted to one of Burton’s early cartoon features . Called “Vincent”    featuring a little boy who imagined an alternate reality where he WAS Vincent Price, and –  you guessed it – narrated by …………….Vincent Price
So even though I have been Tim Burtoned to death at home (did I just make him into a verb? – he’d probably make a film about that) courtesy of a teenaged son whose crazy about this guys’ art and as a consequence have leafed through many of the books we have; there is nothing as powerful as seeing the original pieces set out in an exhibition as skilfully and contextually put together as this one. A delightful gem of an exhibit if you like this sort of thing, and you’ve really got to get past/ignore the fact that Tim Burton must be one conflicted individual to be harbouring so many dark images in his imagination.  In fact I’ll leave the last word on this to one of the friends I went with.
“You wouldn’t want to have dinner with him would you ” ………………………………………….Probably not!!
The exhibition is showing until April 17
Tiff Bell Lightbox
416-599-TIFF (8433) or toll-free at 1-888-599-8433.