Starting from the East
Stephen Borys, Director and CEO, exhibition curator
In preparing to write the essay for the 100 Masters book, I went back to my calendar from the fall of 2011, when I began the cross-country tour to visit the museums lending to the exhibition. The tour was spread out over a year; and at its conclusion in November 2012, I had visited thirty institutions in twenty cities, and looked at hundreds of artworks. While the journey didn’t follow a directional course with regards to geography, it seems fitting that I recount the trips from east to west as the tour began in St. John’s, Newfoundland, at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in November 2011.
Sheila Perry, Director of The Rooms, had invited me to give a lecture at the museum on one of my research areas—the depiction of architectural ruins in French landscape painting—giving me the opportunity to combine two projects into one trip. There was a somewhat ominous start to the trip: en route to St. John’s from Halifax, the right engine on our regional jet blew, resulting in thirty minutes of panic and an emergency landing in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, which brought me unexpectedly to another lender to the exhibition. When I arrived safely in St. John’s just in time for the evening lecture, a few hours later a major snowstorm hit the coast, immediately altering my research itinerary. The next day was spent in the hotel room as the entire city was shut down after the record snowfall. The drawback of being snowbound for a day on what was to be a program-packed trip was offset by the remarkable views of the city and harbour from the hotel window.
The next day, Sheila Perry managed to traverse the snow-packed streets to give me a quick tour of the city including a stop at Signal Hill, one of the closest points to Europe in North America and the site of the first transatlantic wireless signal by Marconi in 1901. The spectacular views of the Atlantic and St. John’s harbour brought to mind the many artists from the region and away who had captured the breathtaking scenes on their canvases. At The Rooms, the search for works by Newfoundland artists Christopher Pratt and Mary Pratt was successful, and it seemed appropriate that Christopher Pratt’s Young Girl with Seashells, featuring a woman set against sections of a room, the land, and the sea, was the first work to be confirmed for the exhibition. After seeing The Rooms’ recently acquired Home from Bragg’s Island, one of David Blackwood’s most ambitious paintings, Sheila and I were convinced it should be included as well.
Christopher Pratt, Canadian (1935-), Young Girl with Sea Shells, 1965. Oil on Masonite board, 73.3 cm x 46.3 cm. Memorial University of Newfoundland Collection, 65.6. Lent by: The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s