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May. 17, 2021 | Monday
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Adopt An Art Work a fundraiser for RiverBrink 
Marie Laurencin, self-portrait. (Supplied)

 

Debra Antoncic

Special to The Lake Report

There are many activities and experiences we have missed over the past year, such as the simple joys of getting together with friends and family, to say nothing of the more difficult impact of loss.

Visiting an art museum has always been one of my favourite things to do, for reasons that are both personal and professional, and thus it is one of the things I have missed most in the last year.

The way I find myself looking with fresh eyes at the world after spending time in an art museum, the way that art challenges me – this has been a difficult adjustment.

Luckily my job at RiverBrink Art Museum enables me to spend considerable time with works of art, many of which I know well and think of as "old friends" whenever I see them on display or in the vault. The museum is quiet for now, but the art works on exhibition carry a strong presence in the stillness of the empty rooms.

Works of art have the power to take us to different places, to the past and into the future. It always amazes me that viewers will see different things, that the same painting will have a different impact, conjure different memories or thoughts for different viewers.

The variety of associations that prompted friends of RiverBrink to adopt specific artworks from the collection provides a compelling example of this.

For instance, Robert Sears adopted a favourite among RiverBrink staff, William Henry Barnard’s "Niagara Falls" – “because I love artwork that depicts the power, beauty and mood of the falls.” And Barnard’s career in the British military also spoke to Robert’s personal history.

Of all the (many, many!) paintings of the falls in the collection, this one is indeed striking. It has an almost contemporary feel, bringing the viewer to the brink of the falls and into a vast, existential void.

Barnard’s subsequent fate – an officer in the British military who spent time in the Canadas in the 1830s and produced a series of watercolours of his travels, who died of cholera in Bengal in 1858 after his regiment was sent to India to quell the Indian Rebellion against the East India Company – connects works in the collection to a wider history of conquest.

A fascination with art that depicts Niagara Falls also prompted Allan Magnacca to adopt "Niagara Falls in Winter" (n.d.) by Fredrick Marled Bell-Smith. In the painting, visitors are shown strolling on the ice below the falls, enjoying a sunny winter day.

The scene carries no hint of the perils of the fast-moving river current, perils that would result in tragedy in 1912 when the bridge of ice across the Niagara River collapsed and swept several to their death.

While the subject of a work is often a strong reason for a personal connection, others are prompted by admiration for a particular artist. Long experience with the work of Tom Thomson prompted Geoffrey Joyner to adopt "Sketch for the Jack Pine" (1916), a decision he links to his professional career.

In his words, “as someone who spent five decades in the art world, I believe strongly in supporting cultural institutions like RiverBrink. My choice of adopting one of the most iconic works by Tom Thomson was a natural for me as I have handled numerous paintings by him.”

Similarly, Colin Brzezicki’s response to "Self-Portrait" (1927) by Marie Laurencin was shaped by his experience as a teacher and author. Drawing on his knowledge of Shakespeare, Colin references a line from Anthony and Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” to convey his response to the youthful visage.

As Colin describes, “Mona Lisa isn’t beautiful in a classical or Hollywood sense. Neither is this woman, but like the Mona Lisa her eyes are captivating.”

Laurencin’s self-portraits are notable for the expression of independence and self-representation the artist claimed, not an easy task in the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century. As Colin notes, although the subject appears physically slight and almost ethereal, it is the impression of the eyes that linger.

Friends of RiverBrink have selected many different art works to adopt and have their own reasons. In so doing, they are supporting a unique fundraiser and contributing to an important culturalresource in the community of Niagara-on-the-Lake during difficult times.

There are many works still available, so if you would like to participate, please check out the Adopt an Artwork page on our website: http://www.riverbrink.org/adoptanartwork.html

And we hope to see you all in person very soon.

Debra Antoncic is director/curator of the RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston.

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