Woodland Waterfall Midstream
Discovering Tom Thomson’s “Woodland Waterfall”
By Arnold Nogy
It has been said that “adventures are no fun while they are happening”. That rings true for much of the hardship, exhaustion, and danger many adventures involve. However, some golden moments amidst the adventure are thrills one never forgets.
Since my early childhood, I have not only been aware but an enthusiast of the Group of Seven and in particular, that of Tom Thomson. As a boy, I spent my summers entirely out on Georgian Bay and the forests and small lakes of the area. As an eleven year old, I had my first experience of original artwork at the Kleinburg McMichael Collection and came away with an overwhelmed impression of its artwork and architecture. 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 and 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. All the while, seeking out the lakes, locations, the rivers and routes, the vistas and visions of Tom Thomson. On one such trip in the backcountry of Algonquin Park, my thirteen year old son and I were travailing a difficult 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 part way up the billy goat trail. Thinking that I heard a river, my son and I took our canteens and camera and struck off-trail into the thick shadow laden forest. Descending through old red pine, then silver birch, cedar and fern, we climbed down a dried, runoff bed, between rock wall and hanging moss. There before us was the sparkle of moving light ahead. “It’s the river, finally!”, I thought and stepped out into the clearing and the light. We stood there blinking in the light and in 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 cataract but THE “Woodland Waterfall” Tom Thomson painted in 1916 and again much larger in the winter of 1917. Unexpectedly and by sheer fate I stood there in stunned disbelief, at the very spot Thomson would have had stood to paint “Woodland Waterfall.”, one hundred years earlier in the late summer/fall of 1916. This image had so imprinted on my mind since my first visit to Robert and Signe McMichael’s collection, 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 toward mid-stream. In the last 100 years, the falls have hardly changed at all. The cedar trees were still there, the rocks had not been moved nor had the log at the front right 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 in this remarkable find. Not only was it a beautiful location on its own, but also another Thomson location and a place that he found suitable to paint several times.
This too was a fulfillment of a long-lived childhood dream that I could now share with my son who was, at that time, around the age I was when I was a young student of the group of 7. This was a dream come true, and one of the “golden highpoints” 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 midstream and looking up at the falls. The perspective that Tom Thomson painted in1916 and that which I first saw, 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 the “Original” angle and other perspectives capturing all 4 seasons over the next few years. One adventure after the other!