Is This A.Y. Jackson’s Original Sketch for “Spring on the Onaping River”?

There’s a new resurgence of community interest in the fate of two paintings stolen from Sudbury Secondary School in 1974. This is the second in a series of articles that we will be posting as we continue to get more information about the theft of the two A. Y. Jackson paintings. You can read part one here. As we track down people who may have information about the theft  we would appreciate if anyone who has memories of the theft or of the paintings themselves to contact us here. These paintings need to be found and returned to their rightful owner so that students and the community as a whole can enjoy them once again. 

Many artists, once the camera was invented, would take photos of the scenes or images they wanted to paint and then paint them at their leisure in their studios. A.Y Jackson believed that it was impossible to paint a Canadian landscape from a black and white photo. He mostly sketched in oils on panels because he preferred to get the colours down pat at the scene. If it was too cold to paint he would make pencil sketches and make copious notes in a colour shorthand that he had developed that would help him remember the colours when it came time to paint the scene.

Sketching in oils was often troublesome as it took about a week for each to dry. He would often make two or three sketches a day during his travels in the Canadian wilderness – about 40 or so sketches a trip. His friend and travelling companion Sir Frederick Banting (who discovered insulin) came up with an ingenious way to stack the oil painted panels to make them easier to transport as they hiked or canoed through the north. He placed broken pieces of matchsticks or twigs between each panel at the corners and one in the middle. As each panel (they were generally about 18-20 inches wide) was added to the stack they were tightly bound together so they wouldn’t move. Once back in his studio he would touch up the spots where the matchsticks had been. Then he would transfer his sketch to canvas. He made a grid pattern with thread on his sketch separating each part of the sketch into nine sections. He would then paint each section on canvas which was much larger than the original sketch.

Which brings us to another part of the original story.

A.Y. Jackson painting Onaping Falls with S. Walter Stewart and Alex Crossgrove

S. Walter Stewart (left) with Alex Crossgrove who was Chairman of the Copper Cliff Library Board, at the presentation of the A.Y. Jackson painting of Onaping Falls to the library in 1967. Photo courtesy of Greater Sudbury Public Library. INCO Triangle Collection November 1967, B0520-7.

In 1967 S. Walter Stewart was in Sudbury to visit his daughter and son-in-law and took time out to donate a painting to the Copper Cliff Centennial Library which had just opened. That painting was A.Y. Jackson’s sketch of Onaping Falls that he used to paint the stolen “Spring on the Onaping River”

Rick Clouthier – Manager of Citizen Service Centres, Neighbourhood Libraries and the 311 Call Centre at City of Greater Sudbury provided us with some great information about the history of the paintings. S.Walter Stewart was from Toronto and was the Chairman of the East York Public Library Board from 1946 until his death in 1969. He had a passion for literacy, especially for getting children to read and also had a passion for art. After his death Toronto Public Library named the East York branch in his honour. Stewart donated nine A.Y. Jackson paintings to the library. A further four A.Y. Jackson paintings were donated by others. It’s an impressive site which has a great photo of the display here.

Stewart’s  daughter Maxie and her husband John Dowsett donated another A.Y Jackson to the library as well. This one called “Coniston Smoke Stacks”. The Dowsetts too were from Toronto but they moved to Sudbury in 1952 when John, who was a geophysicist, started working at Inco.

While as yet we don’t know for sure that A.Y. Jackson chose to use the same colours he used on his sketch which is still under heavy security at the Copper Cliff branch of the Greater Sudbury Public Library, we can suppose that the missing painting would have similar colours – hopefully colour photos or better yet, the stolen paintings will soon be found.

Slide to See! Below you can see how similar the A.Y. Jackson sketch (in colour on the right), which is today located at GSPL’s Copper Cliff Branch, is to the the stolen painting “Spring on the Onaping River”. The painting in Copper Cliff is about 18 inches square while the stolen painting is 24 inches by 36 inches.

In 1947 electricity came to Chelmsford, Blezard Valley and Hanmer.

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