|The Ontario Hydro Mural|
|Written by Michael LeBlanc|
In 1959, Eric received a commission from the Township of York (Toronto) to produce a mural at the 1652 Keele Street offices of Ontario Hydro. “Hydro,” as Ontario residents call its electric company, became large and powerful initially through the development of its hydro-electric generating stations at Niagara Falls.The mural, called “Harnessing the Power,” was intended to commemorate the harnessing of electric power at the beginning of the 20th century in the location of one of the main beneficiaries, Toronto. Eric considered this mural “small”– 8 metres by 2.5 metres.
For this mural, Eric used a medieval technique of painting: egg tempera. After coating the wall surface with gesso (a chalky coating), and allowing it to dry thoroughly, he mixed powdered pigments with the yolks of eggs. The egg yolks contain albumin, a very long lasting binder, which dries completely clear and holds the pigment crystals to the painting surface. It is one of the most permanent artists media: unlike oil paintings, which tend to yellow with age, egg tempera paintings look as fresh after 500 years as they did a week after their creation. This mural took 200 eggs and three months to complete.
Eric had some pencil studies of his old friend Harry Somers, made about 10 years earlier, and used these “Northern Ontario poem” studies to model a powerful male figure. The structure of the picture is simple: a giant, sleeping muscular male figure sits in front of Niagara Falls in panorama, his arms resting on the top shelf of the falls, using the vertical drop of the falls as a seat back.
Ontario Hydro has since then been reorganized into five separate corporations. The company vacated the building around 2000. Since then, the mural has been under threat of extinction. Humber York Community Council officially recommended that “Harnessing the Power” be preserved and protected under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2003. Toronto City Council adopted this resolution later that year.
(sketches and photos courtesy of Mrs. Margaret Bridgman)