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Sue Waddington looks at her husband, Jim, and shrugs. There was not a master list taped to the kitchen fridge with “invent a new and unique hobby” written across the top. What happened just happened.
“I mean, I guess I always liked the Group of Seven as a child,” Ms. Waddington says. In 1976, she already had a hobby: rug-hooking. For a class project she decided to copy a Group of Seven work, an A.Y. Jackson painting called Hills.
Hills, according to the description the artist attached to it, was somewhere in Killarney. The iconic Canadian landscape painter included another detail in brackets: “Nellie Lake.”
Sue, now a retired nurse, and Jim, a retired physicist at McMaster University, loved camping. And all those years ago they had a life-altering hypothesis: What if A.Y. Jackson’s Nellie Lake was an actual place?
And what if they packed up their two kids, Nina and Michael, and actually went there? Would they be able to find the same view A.Y. Jackson rendered on canvas in 1933?
“We looked at a map of Killarney and saw a Nellie Lake, and we didn’t know if the two would line up to be the same place,” Sue says. “So we decided to go camping there. I remember climbing up a ridge, picking wild blueberries.
“We just kept climbing. There is a dead tree in the painting. The tree had fallen down. But we found it.”
To confirm that they had, they took several photographs and compared them with A.Y. Jackson’s masterpiece. And they matched.
“We thought, this is great fun,” Jim says.
The Waddingtons have been scouring the Northern Ontario bush in search of Group of Seven painting sites ever since.
“People suggested to us that the painters would head out and have a good time camping and paint from memory, and that these places weren’t real,” Jim says. “But that is not the case.”
We are sitting in the living room of a tidy brick house on a leafy street in Hamilton with four sturdy walls and Group of Seven prints on every one.
I have come here with an agenda. I want to learn more about the Waddingtons’ hobby, and then I want to temporarily adopt it as my own.
Jim likes the idea. Sue offers some advice: If you go, do not forget to pack wine. (Note: I forget to pack wine.)
There are other essentials: A paddle, life jacket, canoe, camera, topographic map, compass, salami and cheese sandwiches, mustard, camping permit, mosquito repellant, binoculars (note: I forget binoculars), sunscreen, good walking shoes and patience.
“Each winter we think about our next trip and what paintings we want to hunt for,” Jim says. “Sue reads up on an area and on the artists’ attachment to it and I study the topographic maps.
“My training has nothing to do with art. But my physics research was a puzzle — trying to understand nature — and finding a painting is solving a puzzle.”
By that equation, the 69-year-old couple has solved almost 200 puzzles, and their quest has attracted admirers.
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg is home to hundreds of the painters’ works. Last summer, the gallery displayed the Waddingtons’ contemporary photographs alongside the Group of Seven’s matching original paintings in a multimedia exhibit. (The project can be found on the gallery’s website.)
“We are going to keep doing this until we can’t move anymore,” Jim says, laughing.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/08/20/brush-with-greatness/#more-88670