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Creative Dialogue Across the Ocean E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   

screen_shot01Justina Chong at McMaster University has transcribed a collection of letters from Eric Aldwinckle to Harry Somers, and wrote a case study detailing her findings:

Aldwinckle's letters to Harry Somers and Ruth Somers (Harry's mother) poetically explore his experience as an agent of creativity in his various roles: as mentor to the blossoming Harry, as a writer acutely aware of his reader, and as an artist struggling to express the strange dynamic of war while meeting the demands of his higher-ups. Sixteen years Harry Somers' senior, Aldwinckle's close friendship with Somers seems unlikely at first. However, this collection of 31 of his letters reveals the fundamental principle underlying their relationship: a love for truth, beauty, and ideals – in other words, the creative experience.

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Eyeless In Gaza E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   
Eyeless In Gaza :: Watercolour, 28.3 x 35.2cm, 1944 [original is in colour]

A poetically-titled work from Eric's Normandy sojourn is “Eyeless in Gaza,” a rendering of a disabled German “Würzburg” radar dish. The title is the most quoted phrase from John Milton’s “Samson Agonistes,” a reference to the biblical Samson, enfeebled and blinded through Delilah’s treachery and held in captivity in Gaza. Aldous Huxley also wrote a book by the same name in 1936. On the back of the picture, Eric suggested an alternative title: “The Broken Eardrum.”

Damaged German Würzburg Radar in Normandy :: Photo by Eric Aldwinckle (collection of Margaret Bridgman)

The engineered fabrications of war’s new technologies intrigued Eric, but they were so new and so secret that exhibition to the public was not allowed until a year and a half after the end of the war in Europe. They were declared “NOT TO BE EXHIBITED OR REPRODUCED FOR SECURITY REASONS.” This was a source of considerable frustration for Eric, who watched his fellow War Artists as they were repatriated and organized exhibitions of their (unclassified) work. Unfortunately for Eric, by the time some of these pictures made public, interest in the war and war art had evaporated.

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Afternoon, Algonquin (1938) E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   
Afternoon Algonquin :: 1938, 1324 x 1003 cm, McLauglin Gallery, Oshawa

It was during the early sketching trips to the area around Algonquin Park that Eric was impressed by the shapes of the limestone rocks, some of which he took back to his Toronto studio. He combined this experience with other observations and created his first major painting, called “Afternoon, Algonquin” after the large nature preserve in the heart of northern Ontario. “Afternoon,” which is currently in the R. McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario is a somber work which depicts an assemblage of abstract natural shapes by a lake on a cold, windless fall day. Compared with his brightly coloured illustrations and covers at the same time, the painting seems lifeless and overwrought. However, this painting is important because it reveals something about Eric’s innate inquisitiveness:

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Eric Painting “Mustangs in Readiness” E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   
Mustangs in Readiness :: Watercolour, 38.7 x 56.5cm, 1943 (War Museum of Canada)

This watercolour, “Mustangs in Readiness,” in the Museum of Civilization's collection, is Eric's 1944 depiction of Mustang fighters in England ready to intercept the enemy. In her collection of Eric's work Margaret Bridgman has a photograph of Eric standing at an easel working on this painting. Taken at face value, this photo depicts Eric completing the painting, although it could have been staged after the fact. This is not to say that Eric did not work al fresco; a clipping of a Toronto Star article by Gregory Clark (“War Artist Finds Out Eyes On Him All Time,” 1944), mentions Eric's backpack which contained a camera, paints, and water bottle, along with a hinged easel.

Eric Aldwinckle painting “Mustangs in Readiness” :: Collection of Margaret Bridgman

This photograph was in Eric's possession when he passed away in 1980, and this collection of photographs, drawings and other work was given to the care of his neice, Margaret Bridgman. They provide insights into Eric's work and methods that are missing from the collection of completed work and archives in the Crown's possession.

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Portrait of Christopher Chapman (1966) E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   
Christopher Chapman, Oil on Paper, 57 x 66 cm :: Collection of Christopher and Glen Chapman

Through membership in the Arts and Letters Club, Eric met the renowned architect, Alfred Chapman. Eric took Chapman's two gifted sons, Francis and Christopher, under his wing. "Whiterock" is the story of the canoe trip Eric to the Killarney region in Georgian Bay. Francis Chapman (who assisted Eric with the Sunnyvale Hospital mural) became a successful television producer with the CBC.

Christopher Chapman, 2004 :: Christopher with his gold doorstop

While Francis made headway in his career at CBC Television, Christopher pushed ahead on his own, as an independent filmmaker. In 1965, in anticipation of Canada’s Centennial Year and Expo ’67 in Montreal, the province of Ontario asked Christopher to create a short film which would be shown at Ontario’s pavilion. The result, which took a half million dollars and two years to complete, was called “A Place to Stand”. The film featured stunning scenes of nature and industry and presented 90 minutes of footage during its 18-minute running time, using what Christopher called his “multi-dynamic image technique.” This was an innovative, multiple-image method that allows viewers to see up to 15 different moving images in independently moving frames simultaneously on one screen. Eric designed the titles for the film and was paid well for his efforts, but his greatest reward was watching Christopher accept his Oscar award for “Best Live Short” for “A Place to Stand” in 1968.

Eric often reminded his young charges of Leonardo’s saying that “It is the poor pupil who cannot surpass his master,” and indeed Christopher did surpass his master (as had Harry Somers), giving Eric once again that rare sense of personal and professional fulfillment.

Christopher is a charming man and I was most impressed by “Oscar,” his gold front doorstop.

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Silver Rail Mural (1948) E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   
The Silver Rail Mural :: photo by Michael McClelland The Silver Rail Mural :: photo by Michael McClelland
In 1948, Eric accepted a private mural commission from the proprietor of Toronto’s first licensed (serving alcohol) establishment. Up until that time, in “Toronto the Good,” if you wanted liquor in a public place, you had to buy it with a meal. The Silver Rail (photo from 1954) allowed patrons to buy just drinks, but you could have a meal there too, if you wanted! The art deco tavern was located across the street from Massey Hall, at Yonge and Shuter Streets, and for many years was the place to see and be seen. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie took time out from recording sessions at Massey Hall in the early 1950’s to “knock back a few” at the Silver Rail. The mural was destroyed in 1998 barely a month after the tavern had been closed down to make way for a new retail complex.

Architect Michael McClelland (known for his work on re-purposing the Distillery District in Toronto), recognized the value of the mural; he directed the demolition crew to remove the wall with care and save the fragments. He took several pictures of the mural panels as they lay on the floor, and left the building that evening with instructions to the night crew that it not be disturbed. Tragically, by the next morning the panels had been tossed into the dumpster and carted away to the landfill.

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Buy the Book

Nothing Uninteresting book cover

Now available at Blurb.com.

Nothing Uninteresting

The Work and Life of Eric Aldwinckle

By Michael B. LeBlanc

Print Book, 186 Pages


Macleans Magazine: Under what circumstances would you consider marrying?


EA: I would only consider being married by Canon Cody inside the boiler of an old railway engine, no guests.