Thursday, 7 August 2014

Curious Curator: Discovering Arthur Henry Hider

While researching some copyright questions on the artwork within the estate's collection for an upcoming location shoot at the mansion I fell upon the interesting story of Canadian painter Arthur Henry Hider.

AH Hider is one of the fab five, a group of painters identified as so, because they are considered the nations premier historical and illustrative artists. Do not worry, I had never heard of the fab five before, but this label intrigued me to learn more about Arthur. The fab five composed of Hider; JD Kelly, A Heming, CW Jeffreys and Owen Staples, emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and according to this quote from the web, "no artists, in Canadian history, have had the impact on the national psyche to compare with that of these fabulous top five painters of Canada's past."  (

AH Hider (1870-1952) worked as a painter and commercial illustrator. Working in illustration on product calendars for Gerlach Barklow in Joliet, Illinois in the early 20th century, Hider actually had his start in terms of fame, with his war art depicting the Canadians in the Boer War. He brought the actions of the first Canadian contingent engaged in an overseas war into the living rooms of the Home Front. His work was so well received and realistic, that the Toronto Lithographic Company released reprints for the public to purchase. Hider's talents continued to be in demand and with the outbreak of WWI he was commissioned to create the many war posters that we are familiar with today. Due to his popularity and success of his work, especially the commercial appeal, Hider was never what is recognised as a starving artist, having secured many contracts over the years, his art generated a living income.

Part of the success Hider saw is attributed to his painting with gouache; pigment and binding agent (and often an inert item like chalk to add to the dense consistency drying appeal), making it opaque as opposed to water colour. Gouache is the choice method of commercial artists for illustration like posters, labels, etc.


By 1900, it was widely accepted that no one in Canada could capture the likeness of a horse like Art Hider. Due to his success in painting horses, Arthur was able to not only secure many product label commissions, but also landed the contract to paint the winners at the original Woodbine racetrack in Toronto ( many knowing this as the former Greenwood Track). It is likely this contract that found him painting the Kings Plate Winners of Sam McLaughlin; 1934 Horomoter, 1946 Kingarvie and 1947 Moldy.

These paintings of the Parkwood Stables champions, adorn the walls of the Parkwood Conservatory within the recreation wing.

According to any of the histories and biographies of Hider that I have come across this last week, his legacy has not been the ad work, catalogues or horses, although viewing of Ebay or ephemera auctions will attest to his ad work popularity, but his footnote on Canadian pop culture is his work depicting history.  Or more so, his legacy is that he has captured Canadian historical events in gouache. In an idyllic notation from, the following quote references this legacy, "for countless generations of Canadian school children, Hider's pictures captured the romance of Canadian history, and remained the favourite images they long remembered into the twilight of old age."

Another discovery among the Parkwood collection and one that opened the door into the life, times and legacy of the fab five of Canadian Art and more so of Arthur Hider that I wanted to share with you.

No one really knows where a copyright question from the film industry will lead.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Curious Curator: Composition of the Bowling Balls

Being our "season", meaning we see increased public visits and larger groups of guests at this time of year, we have a variety of differing questions that come our way. This week has been the query to the composition of the bowling balls along our bowling alley, "what's it made of?" ( x 4 times this week)

To be honest, I have never thought about it or even paid attention. People assume they are wood, due to a visible grain, and the knowledge that in history the bowling ball was wooden, but I have never actually looked into it further than accessioning, watching and documenting their condition, etc. UNTIL today.
Historically, the bowling ball was made of lignum vitae, a very hard, dense wood, until, 1905 when the first rubber bowling ball "Evertrue" was introduced. With the success of Evertrue, the Brunswick Corporation produced their first rubber mineralite ball in 1914, marketing it as a "mysterious rubber compound". The cleverly advertised product was launched through a series of YMCA bowling appearances, taking the new mysterious compound ball across the USA to an inclined audience. According to sources throughout my quick research, in the early part of the 1900s no one was thinking or concerned about the relationship between the composition of the lanes and the balls. For those inclined to learn more about the chemistry of bowling, attached is an interesting article from the May/June 1992 magazine edition of the American Chemical Society, In Chemistry

As a social historian (with anthropology), and those who know where I tend to tread when it comes to history, the above bored me. I am more curious about the bowling alley and the culture that developed around it throughout the 20th century. The fact that many wealthy persons, like the McLaughlin Family, had bowling lanes included in their homes, because i)they could and ii)it was part of the keeping up with the Jones's among society folk is evident, but what about the post- war popularity and boom that everything bowling evokes? Think clothing and shoe styles, bowling as a prevalent past time on the Flintstones and everything else pop culture that developed throughout this time period. Even the White House had two lanes installed in 1947. A 1958 quote from the American Society of Planning Officials sums up the pastime succinctly, "the bowling alley is fast becoming one of the most important, if not, the most important, local centre of participant sport and recreation". The blue collar country club, in post- war prosperity the bowling lane dominated society, especially when the weekly leagues and competitive hierarchies were developed and workplaces embraced it as a means of social outings. Bowling became the social imperative for many Americans throughout this era, an era that American culture dominated the world.
(In my research what was as equally as interesting in terms of the cult of the Bowling Alley is its demise in the 21st century)

The Parkwood Bowling Balls? On close inspection and due to conjecture re: our lane was developed and installed by the Brunswick Corporation,  the bowling balls, both 5 pin and 10 pin in our collection, are rubber mineralite. The grain effect, a popular look in the early days of the rubber mineralite compound, a faux technique that was part of the composition as a throwback to the wooden bowling balls of the past.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Curious Curator: Early Twentieth Century "Orientalism" in Material Culture, example Seated Bedouin Guard Lamp

Some of the d├ęcor at Parkwood, along with the decorative art pieces (material culture) are a wonderful example of the early 20th century love affair the west had with the Middle East, Asia and North Africa in what we can term in the Edward Said "School of Orientalism". Everything from chinoiserie, to the persian carpets throughout the Estate, to the japanning technique on side boards, to the use of pagoda style buildings on the property is evocative of the influences that the "orient" conjured in the minds of the west for hundreds of years and came into vogue, once again ,while Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin were working with the leading designers and decorators in the presenting of their home.

The piece, that has many of our guests commenting, is a cold painted Vienna bronze lamp that sits, dependent on your visit, in a nook at the top of the back stairs, or perhaps in the small private library space. The cold painted bronze entitled, Seated Bedouin Guard c. 1910, Franz Bergman (or Bergmann).  Like every Bergman piece, the lamp evokes the exoticism that was part of the appeal the west found in "the orient".

Our Bedouin guard sits within his tent holding a rifle.
Close view of the rose
The draped tent "fabric" surfaces are hung on three poles with corded "ropes" forming a cut-away tent. The tent has a peaked and tasseled roof in greens and golds with raised flowers and red tasseled trim above a cascading floral back wall decorated with art-nouveau style leaves and large red roses.

The Bedouin man is seated on a dias draped with maroon, ridged fabric surrounded by his cache of weapons and a lute, a coffee pot, an elongated shield and before him, a decorative carpet.  More weapons and a round shield are suspended on the outside of the roof.

Bulb located behind
the shield
Often referenced as boudoir lamps, due to the glow the bulb emits, rather then a full light, the lamp in the Parkwood collection no longer operates as a lamp with the wires being tied off, but the bulb still sits in its original position, just behind the shield, pictured in the upper left corner of the photograph.

'Cold painted bronze' refers to pieces cast in Vienna and then decorated in several layers with so called dust paint; the recipe and technique for the mix of this kind of paint has been lost. The colour was not fired hence "cold painted". The painting was carried out mainly by women working at home, a typical cottage industry of the era, and one that the Franz Bergman, Vienna bronze industry used well during its height of popularity through the early part of the 20th century.  This PBS Antique Roadshow episode features a Franz Bergman cold painted bronze, much larger and elaborate than our Seated Bedouin Guard, but I like to think that RS McLaughlin would enjoy the reference to the pieces by Bergman, as the Cadillac of cold painted bronze.