Finding Tom Thomson

Who is Tom Thomson? The sixth of ten children, a Canadian of Scottish decent, an influential artist with a mysterious death in 1917 who continues to keep Canadians curious almost 100 years later.

On an exploration of the Tom Thomson legacy, THEMUSEUM in Kitchener invites viewers to join in a pursuit of knowledge about the man and his myth in their latest exhibition Searching for Tom.

“As I personally start to learn more and more about Tom, I realized how iconic he is, how people know that name like Canadian hockey, or Tim Hortons. People know the name Tom Thomson,” commented THEMUSEUM’s CEO David Marskell.

Prominent during WWI when Canada was in search of it’s own identity, Thomson’s landscape art introduced a uniquely Canadian style that would go on to influence The Group of Seven, Emily Carr and generations of artists.

Curated by Virginia Eichhorn, Searching for Tom hosts artwork from galleries all across Ontario with well over 100 pieces, including approximately 65 by Thomson himself.

Upon entering the exhibition, viewers are met with a room that introduces Thomson. Displaying early sketches alongside a family photo and a progression of his works throughout the years, viewers witness the development of his personal style.

Including works such as “Woods in Winter,” “An Ice Covered Lake” and “April in Algonquin,” a clear vision of Canada’s landscapes of the early 1900s is formed.

Marskell discussed the growth of the artist, saying, “He’s similar in the beginning to Homer Watson… and then boom, there he is. His colours, his sky, where the land meets sky.” He continued, stating that Thomson “has become instantly recognizable.”

Thomson’s influence is seen in works by other artists of his time, especially the Group of Seven. Along another wall are artworks from the same period by female artists such as Emily Carr, Prudence Heward and Anne Savage.

“I do like to point out that there is a section of art that are women, who if you look at their style is very similar in ways to Tom Thomson and influenced by him. They should have been a part of the group of seven but women at that time, they weren’t included,” said Marskell, explaining the exhibit’s layout.

Progressing from a time of separation between the sexes, the exhibition goes on to introduce artists from the last fifteen years that have been influenced by Thomson’s work such as Panya Clark Espinal, Diana Thorneycroft and Brian Burnett.

Once again proving that exhibitions are so much more than just paintings on a wall, Searching for Tom includes a video projection of famous Canadians reflecting on the mysterious artist.

The projection, centered on one wall of the exhibit, includes comments from news anchor Peter Mansbridge, author Yann Martel, comedian Rick Mercer and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The last wall of the exhibition features arguably one of the most captivating works, a colourful Warhol-esque piece by Dennis Tourbin. Entitled “Canoe Lake,” the ceiling-high painting tells an incomplete story of Tom Thomson’s disappearance, ending with the haunting words, “Thomson’s gone… Thomson’s gone… Canoe Lake.”

“It just puts an explanation on our title Searching for Tom because it’s this huge thing that you have to hold your neck back for, looking reading from left to right and there’s so many holes,” said Marskell. “ There’s so many missing pieces to the Tom Thomson story,” he further explained.

Marskell concluded, “The mystique is just so important, and part of that mystique and that mystery will compel people to look at his work.”

Searching for Tom is available for viewing until May 8. Exhibit curator Virginia Eichhorn will be speaking this coming Sunday, March 13 at 1:30 p.m in a talk entitled Tom Thomson: The Man, His Art and Why He Means So Much To Us.