Slow Summer Reading

By , August 7, 2023 7:55 pm

Less TTC, less reading.

I finally got through Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017).

I would not say I loved this book due to the writing style – just not my style, nothing wrong with it; however, I found it interesting enough to keep at it. And I certainly learned a lot about the Osage people and their history. I also took on board lots of new information about the early years of the FBI, but that I was not so keen on. Maybe that’s why it took me about a month to get through this book.

Note: I didn’t choose it because of the upcoming movie, though that may have helped. I was actually browsing on my local book store’s website when it came up. There were a few times when I was reading when I pictured Leonardo DiCaprio in my head. Weird.

Simply put, the book tells the true, very sad, and angering tale of the mass murder of Osage in the 1920s, up until the 1930s. Its premise is that a very well-connected white guy lauds himself as a friend of the Osage. Quite a lot of white people make their way in, too. That’s because the Osage are earning tonnes of money from their underground reservation, oil, in Osage County, Oklahoma. It was an oil rush! However, given the underlying racism of the country at the time (and probably still so), the Osage are required to have non-Indigenous guardians to manage their headrights. That’s how the murders started – greed, manipulation, and an unjust system that made it possible. Though there were some good people who worked hard to find the killer (it was suspected that the multiple murders were all directed by one man), the US and state governments, the nascent FBI, and the open-to-corruption court system just didn’t put enough into the investigation. In fact, as Grann points out at the end of the book, more people were killed than originally suspected. That’s one thing I definitely appreciated about David Grann’s narrative approach was his delineation of his historical research methods: archives, interviews, other books, etc. Working with Osage and descendants of other victims allowed Grann to piece together unknown parts of the story, expanding the conspiracy.

At the start of the book Grann goes into the history of the Osage prior to arriving in Oklahoma – look it up; it’s maddening. Given what we now know of the Canadian government’s treatment of Indigenous people here, it’s not a surprise that whatever little was given was taken away. However, they lucked out, initially, in arriving in northeastern Oklahoma because of the oil. Obviously, the moral of the story is that money does not bring happiness, especially when that money comes with conditions that put the Osage in great jeopardy.

Will I see the movie? Not if it’s on Apple TV.

Worth reading.

Tom Thomson North Star at McMichael

By , August 3, 2023 9:33 am

My mom and I went to see the new exhibit at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg. Actually, it’s called the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, to be proper.

I know I have been there before but I only have a vague memory of the building. The building does not disappoint. In fact, my mom remembers going there with her parents when it was still the McMichaels’ home and they would sit and greet guests.

All photos are mine.

The way the collection is set up is very smart. All the exhibits and galleries lead into each other. So it’s not really practical just to see one exhibit. Since the building is not gigantic, like the Met Museum in New York, for example, the whole thing that can be seen easily. We enjoyed a small exhibit by Sandra Meigs, Sublime Rage, featuring very large paintings, almost like they were done on window blinds.

I am not qualified to speak on how diversified their collection is now. It is clear that they have made an attempt to feature many women artists and some Indigenous artists beyond their Norval Morrisseau collection and their Inuit sculpture and print collections.

The main reason we went was to see the North Star exhibit. I happen to have watched the curatorial video on You Tube. As a new painter, I am quite interested in the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. I often flip through the pages of my book on their paintings before I go to sleep (I am NOT saying they make me fall asleep!).

The show did not disappoint. It is so intriguing to see Thomson’s brushstrokes in his many small sketches. He was not a professionally trained painter – though he was friends with some very well trained and educated painters such as AY Jackson, JEH McDonald, and Lawren Harris. Considering he mostly learned (apparently) through talking with these fellow painters and experimentation and how he painted for such a short period, his work is incredible. Never mind that, his sense of colour and freedom of the brush are incredible. It is actually quite a pedagogical experience to be able to see the brushstrokes up close.

The exhibit highlights some of the few sketches he turned into canvases for future exhibits and sales. Here’s one example of the transition, one I really find exquisite because of the detail of the shadows. The exhibit book (which I bought, of course) explains that the influence for this type of shadow work was AY Jackson. The sketch is the bottom photo.

As I said, as a new painter I am trying to learn certain basic techniques pertaining to sky, clouds, water, flowers, and trees. Tom Thomson is a tree master!

I have only just started to read the book accompanying the exhibit. One that stood out already is an interesting piece on how Thomson has often been “Indigenized” in much of the writing about him – really mythologizing about him. At the same time, as has often happened in Canadian history, the actual Indigenous people have been written out of the story. I look forward to more insight on not only his painting but his place in Canadian history.

I wonder if I will be able to apply any of my learning in my art?

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