On a crisp clear November day V and I headed back to the Art Gallery of Ontario to find the next object to inspire us to walk.
We were intrigued by Violence Lucide (1963) painted by Claude Tousignant. This is a large painting of a black circle on a white background. V chose it. We discussed rolling the circle down the street, throwing it on the ground to create a black hole that we could then jump on and disappear into. There were some nice possibilities for taking this work for a walk, but we decided to keep looking and come back to it if nothing else struck our fancy.
We stopped at soapstone sculptures and landscape paintings. V was open to anything, which I was really pleased to see. She understands how an object can unlock so much if we use our imaginations. I feel we are just scraping the surface of the possibilities, which is exciting.
We entered the room entitled “Art and the Institution”, I believe, with impressionist inspired paintings hung in a salon-style i.e closely hung from floor to ceiling. V was immediately drawn to the paintings depicting children, of which there are a few, and she settled on Interesting Story (1898), a painting of two children reading together. The children share a large open book on their laps, and beside them sit two more well loved books. They are sat against large soft cushions under a window. A very cozy scene. They are in their night gowns and it looks as though it is an older sister reading to her younger brother. This painting is by British-Canadian painter Laura Muntz Lyall.
V set to work studying the painting and set up a drawing station on a folding stool provided by the gallery. She took this task very seriously, stating out loud her intentions with her drawing and which parts she was working on. She had a small audience at times.
After she was finished she joined me on a bench in the room and we had a chat about the painting: Who are the kids?; What are they reading?; Is it a big sister and a little brother?; Where shall we take them?; Where will they take us?. V decided that they are reading a book about clouds. Together we decided that we should head to a library and take out picture books about clouds – so this is what we did. V approached the painting and whispered to the children that were planning to take them for a walk to a nearby library. This is what she told me she said; although I think she said more as she was whispering to the painting for quite a while.
Back outside on Toronto’s streets we headed north up Beverly towards the Lillian H. Smith Library, also home to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books – a perfect connection! On the way we discussed clouds – how they are formed, what they do, what they look like. There was not one in the sky. V pretended that the two children from the painting were skipping along the street with us.
We took a jog down Cecil Street and then north up Ross Street to College Street. V and I had never been in this library before. Statues of a winged lion and griffon flank the arched doorway and welcomed us in. We asked the librarian if she knew of any picture books about clouds. She indeed did and was able to find three. We read the books there at the library and decided to check them out so that V can show them to her little brother just like the children in the painting.
Painting women and children was what Laura Muntz Lyall was known for. This particular painting happens to be one of the AGO’s most loved works of art and it has been shown in an exhibition of gallery favourites. Lyall exhibited widely and won awards in Canada and abroad, although she is not widely known today as she was most likely overshadowed by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven who were also exhibiting widely at the time. She is noted to be the first female Canadian artist to have an international reputation.
Lyall seemed to have a way with children. In doing a bit of reading about her after our walk, I came across the passage below which brings things full circle when thinking about my intention to include my children in my work.
“With children, she was always at ease. Meeting then, she immediately won their affection or adoration, often to the astonishment of their parents. She calmed some of those who sat for painting sessions by letting them join in the process. During “rest” period she allowed them to touch her paint tubes and sometimes even to paint their own pictures. With others, she told fairytales. … In everything Muntz did with children, she treated them as equals, regarding the world from their point of view.”
Connecting the works of art at the AGO to books at the library, with a walk in between, would be a really lovely project to do with children – or anyone for that matter. I am realizing that Taking an Object for a Walk could be a life long project. It is a method for a number of outcomes – acquainting oneself with an artwork, with a city, with a walking partner, and it is a true test of the imagination. It will be interesting to see if V and I continue this in years to come, in both Toronto and other cities we visit.
Sources: Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of women and childhood. By Joan Murray Printed for Boardwalk Ventures Inc. by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal. 2012.
(Click on image to enlarge)