In the Spirit of the Group of Seven annual exhibit launched at Perivale

Barry Bowerman of Gore Bay with his piece ‘Autumnal Tapestry.’

PERIVALE – Any listing of the Island’s strongest boosters would prominently feature the name Shannon McMullan, owner of Perivale Gallery and an individual possessed of an indomitable spirit; she is also one of Ontario’s staunchest art promoters. Her gallery has regularly appeared at the very top of the website Trip Advisor’s top Ontario tourist attractions.

Perivale Gallery initiated and developed ‘In the Spirit of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven Show’ as a tourism attraction, said Ms. McMullan. “The show was conceived as a collaborative marketing initiative intending to showcase the Island as a whole and promote the other attractions, accommodations and activities that make Manitoulin Island an ideal travel destination.”

Since then, over the past six years, the ‘In the Spirit of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven’ show has grown to become “an annual celebration of Canada’s rugged landscape with an event featuring the visual arts with a common focus during the height of the tourist season traffic on Manitoulin Island: the last week of July and the first week of August.”

A challenge issued to Perivale Gallery’s over 50 artists and artisans to produce one work to be featured in the show that was inspired in some way by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Those invitations were extended to guest artists from all regions of Ontario, resulting in the annual inclusion of such famous Canadian artists as Charles Pachter, CA Henry and Ivan Wheale. 

“The artists travel to Manitoulin to deliver the works,” said Ms. McMullan. “This, in turn, has the fans of those guest artists travelling to Manitoulin to view the show.”

This year the gallery had to adjust how it gathers the works for its own collection, luckily Ms. McMullan has an ace in her corner—her partner Bill has a business that requires him to travel down the major provincial corridors. Travel stops and lay-byes serve as impromptu meeting locations for him to collect the works. 

“He pulls up, opens the back of the van and the artists put their works in,” laughed Ms. McMullan. Where there is a will there is a way.

But, back to the show. “Every visitor to the show aged three and over is invited to vote for the ‘People’s Choice’ award,” she said. “Over 1,500 actual ballots were submitted in 2019. We have no stuffy judges here. Our visitors look forward to submitting their ballots each year and having a say in the final outcome. Final and much anticipated results are then posted on Perivale Gallery’s website and Facebook page. The webpage can be found at PerivaleGallery.com/in-the-spirit-of-tom-thomson-and-the-group-of-seven/

“This year, some of the votes can be submitted virtually as ‘likes’ on the Perivale Gallery Facebook page,” she said. 

Over the years, learning opportunities have been offered such as three day art workshops entitled ‘Paint like Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven’ or past presentations by Jim and Sue Waddington about their book ‘In the Footsteps of the Group of Seven.’ 

Perivale Gallery curator Shannon McMullan with Mark Hope’s ‘Pure Gold.’

This year interest in the workshops has grown and were soon so maxed out in participant numbers that the instructor had to offer the program over two successive weekends—especially since physical distancing requirements have put a premium on space.

Perivale Gallery has experienced a growth in traffic and revenue each year of the show and this year is no exception despite the challenges presented by the times, showing a 30 percent increase. “In many ways, this has become a collaborative marketing initiative showcasing the Island as a whole and promoting the other attractions, accommodations and activities that make Manitoulin Island an ideal destination for tourists to experience first hand the very landscape of the region which so greatly influenced Canada’s most iconic artists,” said Ms. McMullan. “Many of our visitors return several times over the season.”

This year visitors can visit the show by appointment Monday to Thursday and on weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) from 10 am to 5 pm, or attend virtually on the website.

Celebrations had been planned for the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven this year that included a collaboration with Split Rail Brewery, launching a new beer, featuring a label designed by Perivale artist Mark Hope.

Among the artists taking part in the show is Gore Bay’s Barry Bowerman, who has been painting seriously for 35 years; bitten by the bug while attending Toronto’s North Collegiate. His favourite medium is acrylic. 

“When I started working, I kind of stopped, but my wife bought me a set of acrylic paints recommended by one of her colleagues,” Mr. Bowerman recalled. “I set them aside and didn’t touch them for, it must have been five years.”

“I always liked Bateman and wildlife, so I took one of the ones from his book to see how well I could do,” he said. Having mastered the master, somewhat, “I did a couple of others and then I said ‘I can’t keep on doing this,’ so I figured I should start trying to do some of my own stuff. I took a course from him, and then two courses from (famed Canadian artist) Glen Loates.” For the past 14 years Mr. Bowerman has been studying under Duane Hardy of Parry Sound (now Wyoming). Mr. Hardy is a dioramist, whose works are featured in the Royal Ontario Museum and the Smithsonian, as well as all the dioramas for the Algonquin visitors’ centre.

He became interested in the ‘In the Spirit of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven Show’ after being included in the Perivale Gallery stable of artists. “Every artist included in the gallery is invited to submit a piece for the show,” he said. Mr. Bowerman recalled a trip back into the bush on a pilgrimage to the purported gravesite of Tom Thomson. “There’s a massive yellow birch tree that you wouldn’t think would have survived the passage of time and a fence around it,” he said. “The question always is ‘is he really there?’”

Tom Thompson was a master of colour and light, something very near and dear to Mr. Bowerman’s artistic heart. “He wasn’t a high realism type,” he said, “he captures the feeling and emotion using colour. The colours you use, they vary in the distance and create a sense of depth with the right use of colour.”

These days Mr. Bowerman is sharing what he has learned about the use of colour and composition in his own courses.

Among the invited artists at the show are: ‘Benjamin Islands’ by Enid Runnals, ‘Carmichael Lake’ by Martin Kotyluck, ‘Fantasia’ by Gerry Smith, ‘Georgian Waters’ by Little Current’s own youth prodigy Cole Hughson, ‘Remote Retreat’ by Sue Lampinen, ‘Tangerine December Sunset’ by Christy A. Smith, ‘Upon This Rock’ by Linda Tessier McCarthy, ‘Weber Island’ by Cyril Leeper and ‘Cow Near Ten Mile Point’ by Gordon Drysdale. There are a total of 40 artists in the show.