Woodland Waterfall Midstream
Discovering Tom Thomson’s “Woodland Waterfall”
It has been said that “adventures are no fun while they are happening”. That rings true for much of the hardship, exhaustion, and danger that many adventures involve. However, some golden moments amidst the adventures are thrills one never forgets.
Since my early childhood I have not only been aware of, but also an enthusiast of the Group of Seven and in particular, that of Tom Thomson. As a boy, I spent my summers out on Georgian Bay exploring the forests, the small lakes and bays of the area. As an eleven-year-old, I had my first experience of original artwork at the Kleinburg McMichael Collection. I came away from the experience with an overwhelmed impression of the artwork and the architecture of the museum. The experience greatly inspired my young artistic soul. Over the many return trips in successive years, much of the Groups’ works would imprint themselves into my mind, not the least of which would be Tom Thomson’s “Woodland Waterfall”.
Throughout my teen years and adult life, I have been a canoeist exploring the big waters of Georgian Bay, Lake Superior and the lakes and rivers of Algonquin Park, seeking out the lakes, rivers and routes, the vistas and visions of Tom Thomson. On one such trip in the backcountry of Algonquin Park, my youngest son and I were travailing a rugged portage, swatting bugs and sweating under the load of backpack and boat. Already weary from five days of canoeing and more rocky portages than we wished to remember, I decided to take a break down the trail. Hearing a river, I said to my son, “Let’s take a break and see the river that instigated this long portage to be cut.” We took our canteens and camera and struck off-trail toward the sound. Descending briefly through old cedar trees then small birch, we reached a dried, runoff portion at the edge of the river, beside a rock wall and hanging moss. There before us was the sparkle of moving light ahead. “It’s the river, finally!”, I thought as we stepped closer to the clearing and the light. We stood there in the light and amazement at the source of the sound. It was not just a river, but a broad and tall waterfall! Immediately I recognized that this was not just any cascading waterfall but THE “Woodland Waterfall” Tom Thomson painted as a small sketch in 1916 and then again as a much larger piece in the winter of 1917. Unexpectantly and by sheer fate I stood there in stunned disbelief, in the very spot that Tom Thomson would have had to have stood to paint “Woodland Waterfall.”, nearly one hundred years earlier in the late summer/fall of 1916. This image had so imprinted on my mind since my first visit to the collection that Robert and Signe McMichael assembled, that I was sure of what I was seeing. Realizing the gravity of the find, I photographed this iconic location from nearly every angle I could, starting with Thomson’s vantage point and working in an arch toward mid-stream standing in the water. In the last 96 years the waterfall has hardly changed at all. The cedar trees were still there, the rocks had not moved nor had the log at the base of the falls disintegrated completely away. There was less water volume of course due to my visit being in an unusually dry July, but I could hardly believe my good fortune with this remarkable find. Not only was it a beautiful location of its own accord, but also another Tom Thomson location, a place that he found suitable to paint several times.
This too was the fulfillment of a childhood dream that I could now share with my young son who was, at that time, around the age I was when I became a student of the Group of Seven. This was a dream turned to reality, and one of the “golden moments” in the midst of a challenging endurance test otherwise hailed as an “adventure”.
This first view of the Woodland Waterfall I have painted, is in oil and is at the vantage point of standing mid-stream and looking up at the falls. The perspective that Tom Thomson painted in1916/1917 and that which I first saw at the McMichael collection, was at 90 degrees to the right of this current painting. This will be the first in a series of oil paintings that I will paint from this iconic site. I will attempt to paint from Tom Thomson’s “Original” angle and other perspectives capturing all 4 seasons over the next few years. One adventure after the other!
~ Arnold Nogy