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York Region's Past and Present at the Varley Art Gallery

     The Varley Art Gallery is currently hosting two exhibitions which together bring us in touch with our artistic life past and present.   

     The Thornhill Circle: J.E.H. MacDonald and His Associates focuses on one of the founders of the Group of Seven.  Alongside is the 2006 Annual York Region Juried Exhibition, featuring thirty-two works by York Region artists of today.

     Let’s begin with J.E.H. MacDonald and the Thornhill connection.  MacDonald was a gifted commercial artist making a very good living in Toronto but who, just before World War I, gave up that financial security to dedicate himself full time to painting.

     MacDonald moved his family to Thornhill, at that time a hamlet of 700 people.  Thornhill was a good choice as it offered the chance to be close to nature and the settings that MacDonald wanted to capture.  There it would also be possible to avoid the high cost of homes in the city and yet to be easily accessible to the provincial capital through the new radial railway line that linked the city with the small towns to the north.  Many other artists followed MacDonald’s example and either lived in Thornhill during this period or visited frequently.  Several of this circle became prominent as members of the famous Group of Seven painters.   

   It is thus an exhibit strongly steeped in time and place.  Thornhill, although now absorbed into the towns of Vaughan and Markham, still retains a link to this important time in the history of Canadian art.

     Among the paintings of J.E.H. MacDonald that are collected here are several that are among his greatest: Sunflowers, 1919; Arts and Letters Club Farm York Mills, 1918; Parrot at Warren Road, 1918. 

     There are also old favourites by several wonderful painters.  Arthur Lismer’s Afternoon Sunlight, Thornhill Ontario (1916) is a delight.  I could not take my eyes off Across the Fields by Mary Wrinch.  Lawren S. Harris’ Farm Yard (c.1916) has the strong strokes that became typical of the way these artists depicted the Canadian landscape.

     There are also wood engravings on paper by Frederick Haines, as well as his aquatint on paper The Harvest Moon that I particularly enjoyed.  Farmhouse Near Bathurst Street (1932) by Carl Schaefer is not to be missed as are Trilliums and Blue Heron by Thoreau MacDonald, the son of J.E.H. MacDonald.

     The Thornhill Circle is on at the Varley Art Gallery until January 14.  Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy some of the finest Canadian art and at the same time to connect with an important period in our own local history.

     The Varley Gallery is also home to the thirty-two works of art that qualified for the 2006 York Region Juried Exhibition.  The works on display are a testament to the high calibre and great variety of artistic expression to be found here in York Region today.

     The three recipients of the Juror’s Choice Awards are Peter Sibbald for his two intriguing photographs capturing scenes in Newmarket and Stouffville; Valerie Ashton for her serene and elegant pastel Afternoon Break; and Richard Sears for his exquisite sculptural work Growth.

     This exhibit also runs till January 14, 2007.'s Grant Weaver takes in
the 2006 Annual York Region Juried Exhibition


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