Tom Smart on James Reaney’s visual art at Words Festival

Thank you all for coming to Museum London on Sunday November 5 to hear Tom Smart speak on “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of His Imagination.”

In his talk, Smart placed James Reaney in the tradition of poet-painters William Blake (1757-1827) and David Jones (1895-1974), who extended the expression of their literary ideas into their visual art.

James Reaney’s watercolour painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

Smart also mentioned Reaney’s interest in children’s art and the work of psychologist and educator Rhoda Kellogg, who analyzed thousands of drawings by children to show the evolution of their early non-pictorial work, or scribbling, to pictorial drawing. The child-like lone figure or “playful witness” is also a device that Reaney uses in many of his drawings and paintings.

Watercolour drawing by James Reaney from “The Boy Who Lived in the Sun” (1961)

Mandala created by Rhoda Kellogg showing the evolution of children’s non-pictorial into pictorial drawing (What Children Scribble and Why [1955])
Reaney also admired Huron County farmer George Laithwaite’s folkloric concrete sculptures, created between 1912-1952.

 

Near Goderich, Ontario, “Moses” sculpture by George Laithwaite (1871-1956). (Photo by JS Reaney)

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

See also Jean McKay’s 2006 article “What on earth are you doing, Sir?” in Artcscape magazine, and James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun (1961).

Our thanks to our hosts Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support in organizing this event, and to Western Archives for their display.

A video of the lecture is available here: https://vimeo.com/244934223

The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

November 5, 2017 — Western Archives display of James Reaney’s paintings and drawings prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson from the James Reaney fonds (AFC 18).

 

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

Join us on Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm at Museum London to hear curator and author Tom Smart speak about “James Reaney’s Visual Art: Iconographies of his Imagination.”

Throughout his literary career, poet and dramatist James Reaney also produced sketches, drawings, and paintings to explore the ideas in his writing. Common themes in Reaney’s visual art are play, home, regionalism, symbolism, and the interplay between text and image.*

James Reaney’s watercolour painting “David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”, 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

When: Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm

Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario

Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.

Gallery director and author Tom Smart was Director at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2006-2010, and organized an exhibition of James Reaney’s visual art and writings called “The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney” in 2008.

Watercolour by James Reaney, East Zorra, Oxford County, Near Cassel Mennonite Church, September 2, 1978

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

*See the Spring Exhibitions invitation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, April 17, 2008.

“The Artist & Table” by James Reaney, watercolour, ink, and graphite on paper, 1992 (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

 

James Reaney, 1979 (Photo by Les Kohalmi)

“The Windyard” by James Reaney

Front entrance to James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954. Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (née Crearar).
Front entrance to James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario, February 1954. Photo by Elizabeth Cooke (née Crerar).

The Windyard

I built a windyard for the wind;
The wind like a wild vast dog came up
To play with the weathervanes and corners
My keyholes and my chinks.

And for the sea I built a well;
The brookish tomcat gurgled in,
Waterfell and sprung about
Hunting throats and boots.

I stood a house up for the earth;
The mappy girl came in
With rut and footstep path
That wind the traveler up.

A stove I hammered for the sun;
In flew the golden oriole
To crackle the sticks of time
And sing the loaves of space.

Come girl well yard and stove,
Come Flesh Heart Mind and Lyre,
Come Earth Water Wind and Fire.
Well, when they came
Barking, meowing, talking and caroling,
I stepped above both house and yard
Into myself.

James Reaney, 1956

 

“The Windyard” is from The Essential James Reaney and available from The Porcupine’s Quill. The poem also appears in Poems by James Reaney, New Press, 1972.

James Reaney’s emblem poems:

In his recent book The Emblems of James Reaney, Thomas Gerry notes the connection between “The Windyard” and a later emblem poem “Windlady” from 1970:

"Windlady" by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.
“Windlady” by James Reaney. First published in Armadillo 2 1970.

“‘Windlady’ magnetically attracts two in particular of Reaney’s other works: the 1956 poem ‘Windyard’ and the play Listen to the Wind, first performed in 1966.” − Thomas Gerry in The Emblems of James Reaney, page 130, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013.

“Hark! Who knocks at our door so late?” Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, undated. (Possibly from 2001 and perhaps based on a childhood drawing or an illustration for a story. The old house, the tree, and the windmill are like the farmhouse near Stratford where James Reaney grew up.)
“Hark! Who knocks at our door so late?” Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, undated. (Possibly from 2001 and perhaps based on a childhood drawing or an illustration for a story. The old house, the tree, and the windmill are like the farmhouse near Stratford where James Reaney grew up.)

Tim Inkster on design in James Reaney’s work

Tim Inkster in Stratford, Ontario, October 19, 2014. Photo by Laura Cudworth, courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.
Tim Inkster in Stratford, Ontario, October 19, 2014. Photo by Laura Cudworth, courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

Thank you all for coming to the Fifth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture in Stratford to hear publisher Tim Inkster’s talk on “The Iconography of James Reaney: A Collector’s Manual.”

Inkster praised the excellence of the typography and graphic design in many of James Reaney’s published works, particularly Paul Arthur’s design for The Red Heart (1949) and Allan Fleming’s design for A Suit of Nettles (1958). Tim is also impressed by James Reaney’s work hand typesetting the early issues of his magazine Alphabet (1960-1971).

Alphabet Number One, September 1960
Alphabet Number One, September 1960.  Cover design by Allan Fleming (1929-1977).

A full version of Tim Inkster’s lecture will appear in an upcoming issue of The Devil’s Artisan, a journal of the printing arts.

 

Cover for James Reaney's Twelve Letters To A Small Town, first published in 1962 by Ryerson Press
Cover for James Reaney’s Twelve Letters To A Small Town, first published in 1962 by Ryerson Press.

 

Pages 6 and 7 from Twelve Letters To A Small Town (1962). Drawings by James Reaney.
Pages 6 and 7 from Twelve Letters To A Small Town (1962). Drawings by James Reaney.

Our thanks also to Charles Mountford of Poetry Stratford and Robyn Godfrey of the Stratford Public Library for their help in organizing this event. Future speakers for the James Reaney Annual Memorial Lecture include Thomas Gerry and John Beckwith.

For more about the lecture, see JBNBlog and Laura Cudworth‘s article in the October 20, 2014 e-edition of the Stratford Beacon Herald (page A1).

James Reaney printing at the Alphabet Press print shop at 430 Talbot Street in London, Ontario (mid-1960s). Credit: London Free Press/Sun Media Corporation.
James Reaney printing at the Alphabet Press print shop at 430 Talbot Street in London, Ontario (mid-1960s). Credit: London Free Press/Sun Media Corporation.

James Reaney’s The Boy Who Lived in the Sun

In the summer of 1961, James Reaney wrote and illustrated a story for children called The Boy Who Lived in the Sun. He made 36 watercolour illustrations to go with the text, stitched them together, and for many years it was only shared with family and friends.

In the story, a boy who lives in the sun dreams of going to earth to meet other children. He discovers that it’s not easy for a luminary being to have contact with humans, and that the process of becoming human will require lengthy and celestial labour on his part.

Once there was a little boy who lived in the Sun.     (Illustration and text by James Reaney, 1961)
Every morning he watched the earth get up
(page 3 illustration)
and all the other planets — even tiny, gray Pluto
He loved watching earthsets best though
He dreamed of walking on earth. Beneath trees!
No trees, no shadows on the sun! In the dream, there were
were children picking berries in a lane. They looked at him as if they knew who he was

So the boy wanted very much to live on the earth, to pick berries, to meet the children in his dream. He wanted to be a little boy who lived on the earth.
“Do you,” said the Archangel of the sun when he went to see him. “[I] wonder. It’s a very slow process. You can go to earth but first you must go to Pluto and then to….”
“No,” stamped the boy. “I wish to go right now.” “Then go,” laughed the Archangel. “[I} think it may do you some good.” And

and down to earth went the boy — right through a big rainstorm.
It was night & a large moth pursued him all over. Since he was a child of the sun he glowed in the dark
He hid in a hollow tree at last but did not sleep. He did not need to. He did not know how to.
A bough of green apples ripened at one glance from him!
A farmgirl threw a pitcher of milk at him.
He melted the ice beneath skaters!
He caused a thistle and a butterfly to come out although it was snowing
In a minute a little baby he paused to talk to grew up into a woman & then down into a very old lady.
He could make no contact with earth-people. To them he was often just a sunbeam in the corner of the room.
There were no children picking berries and the leaves had fallen off the trees
Next he saw a crowd of people. He must have been in a city. The boy was discovering that he often had very little control over where he was. He was not human yet and so bounced about like a flash of light.
One day he went back to the sun. It was harder to go to earth than he had thought.
“As I was saying,” said the Archangel of the Sun. “In order to go to Earth first you must go to Pluto and be…
an old beggar man for 100 years
on Uranus harvest the enchanted hay
(Neptune with his sceptre)
sail the stormy seas of Neptune
On Mars you must lead the toy soldiers against the mad mice
You must be a madcap on the Moon for a full Leap Year
you must on Saturn think 1000 thoughts
On Mercury steal the ogress’ magic horn
on planet Venus find the tree whose leaves are flowers
And now that you have done these things go, for you are ready, Go to earth!
There he met the children of his dream who said that he was their brother. While berry picking they had lost sight of him in the forest. They were just going home to tell their parents that he was lost,
but now instead they would take him home.

 

Note from Susan Reaney: The Boy Who Lived in the Sun existed from my early childhood and was never published. I always thought of it as unfinished because I could not accept the ending. The boy returns to earth and is reunited with his family, but does he remember being a boy who lived in the sun? Now I think perhaps he does.

James Reaney at home, age 4. Summer 1930

 

 

James Reaney honoured by Devil’s Artisan

Devil’s Artisan, founded in 1980 to present to Canadian readers “information on the craft of printing and bookmaking, on bibliographic and historic matters, and on communicative, sociological, and technical subjects related to printing,” has added James Reaney to its Rogue’s Gallery of the Canadian Book and Printing Arts this month.

“In the spirit of Gutenberg, printing copies of the Bible for lay people to read, and of William Blake, infernally printing his own illustrated poems, Reaney hand-set Alphabet and printed it with a motorized Chandler & Price vertical platen press.”

We know James Reaney would appreciate this honour, and his deepest wish was that others would be inspired to write and publish their stories.

“Two years later (printing lessons, typesetting, waiting for t’s to come from Toronto, balancing trays of type on buses rolling in blizzards) here it is.” — James Reaney, July 1960, from the Editorial to Alphabet, Issue No. 1.

“The Poet’s Typewriter” by James Reaney, 1997

James Reaney paintings at Museum London

Four rural landscape paintings by James Reaney are part of the Pastorale exhibition at Museum London from July 16 to October 9, 2011. The paintings feature views of the Canadian farm and are chosen from the Museum’s permanent collection.

Drawing and painting were a “constant” in James Reaney’s life, and these landscape paintings grew out of a desire to “keep a record” of the world he knew (see Jean McKay’s article,“What on earth are you doing, Sir?” ArtScape, Issue 5, June 2006, 10). Here is a painting James Reaney made in Oxford County in 1978.

Watercolour by James Reaney, East Zorra, Oxford County, Near Cassel Mennonite Church, September 2, 1978

The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney

Elizabeth Reaney visits the James Reaney Canadian Centre at Gujarat University

On April 6-7, Elizabeth Reaney, James Reaney’s granddaughter, visited the James Reaney Canadian Centre at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, India. Elizabeth was able to see the Centre’s collection of Canadian literature donated by James Reaney in 1992, and meet some of the students who are using it in their studies.

Dr. Ranjana Harish, Director of the Centre, welcomed Elizabeth and assured her that the collection is  well maintained and a valuable resource for scholars and students studying Canadian literature. Elizabeth was pleased to see that the some of the books include her grandfather’s wry marginal comments.

James Reaney visited India in January 1996 and spoke at the Canadian Studies Conference at Kerala University in Trivandrum. He enjoyed a performance of his play, Wacousta, put on by students, and he also painted this watercolour of his visit to the beach near Trivandrum on the Indian Ocean.

Watercolour sketch by James Reaney, January 1996 in Trivandrum