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Local club celebrates 70th anniversary; sketch by well-known Sault actor on Sault Museum’s wall (9 photos)

Algoma Art Society’s 70th anniversary exhibit on display at Sault Ste. Marie Museum until May 31; local art club has historic ties with iconic Group of Seven artists
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Just when you think you’ve heard every interesting morsel about what effect a “small town” like Sault Ste. Marie has had on Canada and the world at large, another interesting story comes to your attention.

A graphite sketch, drawn in 1968 by Sault artist and actor Rita Tuckett (1909-2005), entitled ‘Backyards, Downtown Sault Ste. Marie,’ is currently on display in the Sault Ste. Marie Museum as part of a temporary exhibit celebrating the Algoma Art Society’s 70th anniversary. 

For those who aren’t aware, Tuckett, born in London, England, moved to Sault Ste. Marie and became a member of the Sault theatre scene and, after leaving the city in 1974, began to appear in high profile productions, including the films ‘Agnes of God’ (1985) and ‘Where the Money Is’ (2000).

Exhibitions of her sketches and paintings were held in the Sault and southern Ontario. 

Also included among the paintings on the museum’s walls in the Algoma Art Society’s 70th anniversary exhibit is a handwritten letter to the Society, written from Cape Breton by Group of Seven artist Frederick Varley in the 1950s, apologizing for not being able to visit the Sault and hold a workshop for the group due to his own workload.

The Algoma Art Society’s 70th anniversary exhibit officially began Thursday evening, and continues to be available for viewing on the Sault Ste. Marie Museum’s second floor until May 31, 2018.

The Algoma Art Society was formed in 1948, its first art activities commencing Jan. 23 of that year.

“I think it’s absolutely amazing that we could keep a club together for 70 years,” said Wendy Easterbrook, Algoma Art Society president, speaking to SooToday.

“When I became president, and because we’re an old club, I thought I would go to the Public Library archives and see what’s happened over the years. Before the Art Gallery of Algoma was built, the Algoma Art Society would put on shows for people who weren’t members.”

“They were having a show of Group of Seven paintings, so they borrowed 11 of their paintings from the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 1955. The total value of them was $1,100. One of them was a Lawren Harris painting,” Easterbrook said with an ironic smile, as a Lawren Harris painting sold for over $3 million in Nov. 2017.

“Whenever we put a show on it’s amazing to see what beautiful, talented people we have in this city. We can always put together a really good show, and for this show, to see paintings from past members is amazing,” Easterbrook said.

The 70th anniversary show features 34 paintings and sketches from the Algoma Art Society’s members throughout the years, 20 of them by current members, another 14 by past members, eight of whom are now deceased.

Judy Henderson, Algoma Art Society treasurer, joined the group in 1982.

“I’m fascinated by the history because I helped with the Society’s 50th anniversary, the 60th and 65th, and I’m fascinated by our connection to The Group of Seven, and I’ve known many key members of our Society over the years.”

Most of the society’s current members live in the Sault, with a few living in Trout Lake, Echo Bay and other Algoma communities.

“When we first formed in 1948 The Group of Seven sent the Society congratulations. A.Y. Jackson (Group of Seven member) came here in 1954 to take artists up the north highway and do a workshop, and in the 1980s the Society donated one of Jackson’s sketches to the Art Gallery of Algoma,” Henderson said.

The Group of Seven, the iconic group of artists synonymous with Canadian landscaping painting who did much of their work in the Algoma region, was formed in Toronto in 1919, comprised of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. 

Johnston left the Group in 1920 to move to Winnipeg, eventually replaced by A.J. Casson, the group expanding to include Edwin Holgate and LeMoine FitzGerald (artist Tom Thomson, while not an official member of the group, had a significant influence on their work).

Henderson said she is pleased the Algoma Art Society is still going and vibrant after 70 years, as there have been times when the group has spoken of disbanding.

The role of Julia Piskiewicz, Sault Ste. Marie Museum director/curator, and museum staff, in arranging to find space to hold the show in one of the museum’s non-exhibit rooms cannot be overstated, Easterbrook said. 

“It was really nice of the museum to step up and offer us this room. We had talked to the museum about the 70th show but then the Art Gallery of Algoma said they’d do it, but then they had the flood, so we checked with the museum and they said the space is still available.” 

“Julia already has a couple of shows going on in the museum’s galleries, but the museum really stepped up to fit us in,” Easterbrook said.

The Algoma Art Society, a non-profit group, aims to develop local artistic talent, promote exhibitions, competitions, hold art classes, sketching trips and lectures and invite prominent artists, all to keep the Sault’s art community stimulated.

For more information as to who can join, meeting dates, locations and more, go to the Algoma Art Society’s website