Wychwood Park artists George A. Reid and Mary Hiester Reid not only painted many still lifes (yes, it’s written like that) but they composed their possessions in their studio-home to demonstrate the Arts and Crafts principle that beauty should be integrated into every aspect of life.
Inspired by their example, I invited Wychwood Barns artist Diana Renelli to do a still-life photography workshop at the market. She began by shopping for the most visually pleasing produce at The Stop Farmers’ Market.
Whole Circle Farm beets
Diana Renelli invited market goers to use the light of The Stop Market Cafe, the produce and objects she had on hand, and their own groceries to create a cell phone still life photograph. The results, along with documentation of a collaboration by two friends is seen below.
Julia w. Alli’s Fresh Baked Halla
One hundred years ago and a block from the Artscape Wychwood Barns, Mary Hiester Reid used a limited palette of complementary tones to create such works as the Art Gallery of Ontario‘s “A Study in Greys”. Famous as a flower painter, she was nevertheless the most influential female artist in Toronto. Through her presence in women’s and art associations she became widely admired as the embodiment of genteel Edwardian elegance—adept not only with the brush but also with the gardening trowel and the Arts and Crafts decoration of Upland Cottage.
In a Sept. 28 1912 Toronto Star Weekly feature “A Social Sunday in the Reid Studio”, Mary is described through the up-to-the-minute style of her live-work space in the artists’ colony.
Upon the hearth a generous log is blasting, for the air is damp. Nasturtiums in champagne glasses… Old willow pattern plates, glazed terra-cotta dishes, silver cups, candelabras and bowls… appeal to tasteful souls. No meretricious Art Nouveau thank you, it had a certain vogue in Ontario, but that has passed. All about are panels and furniture in good design in oak. The inglenook is a cozy corner indeed.
Read the description of this iconic interior in Sally Gibson’s Inside Toronto: urban interiors, 1880’s to 1920’s. To borrow a copy of this book from the Toronto Public Library click here.
Star photographer William James posed Mary in her emblematic inglenook–a classic element of Arts and Crafts houses. The inglenook was later reconstructed as a visitor rest alcove beside the Salon-style hanging of Canadian historical art, part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s 1992 renovation. Was it resignation to the fact that she would be forever cast, like one of her still life subjects, in a domestic corner that led her to use the inglenook as a subject of a 1910 painting?
The current residents of Upland Cottage, Sarah and Marc Giacomelli continue the tradition of the carefully calibrated artistic-domestic space. They have folded such detritus of the Reids’ life as their palettes as well as the inglenook into the family-oriented interior design scheme. Upland Cottage now preserves both recent Giacomelli family memories as it conserves a significant corner of Wychwood Park’s collective memory.
While Mary chose her subjects from the immediate environment, George Reid’s preparation for painting involved constructing sets, assembling props, arranging lighting and models to work out a dramatic scene in his studio. Using painterly effects to enhance the emotional tone of the scene he would then transfer it to canvas.
Although his technique was European, Reid’s subjects were intended to be quintessentially Canadian. “That picture is a painted chapter of Canadian history,” quotes the Star reporter. The work in question The Home Seekers (1911), like many of George’s paintings was epic in scale and treatment of subject—figures ennobled by the struggle to settle and work the land. “My father did that with us some fifty years ago. He found his home, he cleared his land, he harvested his crops, and he reared his family.”
“Mr. & Mrs. Reid” Canadian Courier 1911 page p306 scrapbook in George Agnew Reid Fonds, Art Gallery of Ontario
For Reid, what bound Canadians together was a shared rural past. This national memory, a kind of shared childhood, was represented as a time of struggle but also of innocence. Forbidden Fruit (1889) evokes the buffered-from-the-world space of the hayloft where the boy has taken refuge from his chores.
Unlike his wife’s modest themes and narrow ambitions George set out to do nothing less than paint the story of Canada. Both husband and wife lived their lives among the studio tableaux, still life arrangements and tasteful decoration that merge art, memory and life then and now at Upland Cottage, Wychwood Park.