Peterborough is the only place I know where folks drive around town with canoes permanently strapped to the roof of their cars. Our identification with canoes and waterways runs deep. We who live here know well the stippled light of trees and water, the still magic of gliding across a lake lush with silver moonlight.
With that trope as her cue, the Art Gallery of Peterborough’s curator Fynn Leitch has integrated the work of three local artists and selections from the permanent collection into four exhibitions that rock us gently into summer like a paddle down the Otonabee.
Selections from the Permanent Collection: Surface
Leitch has chosen work from the AGP permanent collection that converge with liquidity and light in Surface. Christopher Pratt’s modest serigraph, “Labrador Sea” dominates the space with its pale blue, luminous and undeniable presence; Gathie Falk’s “Water 3 (No. 2)” is pure light abstraction in graphite on paper; regional artist Sarah Gibeault’s “Comfort” echoes the colour and pattern of A.J. Casson’s “Kearney Lake, Algonquin Park,” hung alongside it.
Patrick Moore: Song of the cataract
Patrick Moore has invented a site-specific work for the lower ramp, transcending its notoriously awkward slope. The 67-foot-long portrait of a waterway takes the viewer cinematically into the flow of the river with Walt Whitman-esque exuberance.
“The paint itself, and gravity made the picture. It’s ultimately for the viewer to navigate … While time may seem linear it is actually a bath that surrounds us,” comments Moore.
Moore’s painting amalgamates layers of organic material, as in his 2015 stratified storefront installation for Artsweek—dried weeds, paper, sticks and clay—media which are remarkably difficult to work with. Song of the cataract is panoramic, vigourous and immersive, conveying the turbulence and scrape of rapids as they tumble us along to a literal denouement at Little Lake.
“I think it’s going to live in people’s minds for a really long time,” says Leitch.
Wayne Eardley: Caribou II
On the upper ramp, Wayne Eardley’s Caribou II is a photographic essay on the demolition of a section of the 1892 General Electric (GE) factory, the second oldest in the world. By invitation from GE, Eardley uses light with surgical precision to document the vast geometry of these historic spaces with their steel exoskeletons, massive industrial windows, and turn-of-the-century brickwork. He portrays their colour and scale, which dwarf any human presence, with the same sensitivity he has brought to his portraits of the global village in his Relative Project.
The photos fairly vibrate with the mysterious residue of lives and labour that invite further scrutiny, but “it’s not about answering that question,” says Leitch. Eardley manages to strip away nostalgia yet humanely bear witness to a space that few of us ever entered, but which was a formative engine of Peterborough’s working class roots.
Brad Copping: Setting afloat on a river in spate
As 2015 artist-in-residence at the Canadian Canoe Museum, glass artist Brad Copping conceived a canoe inlaid with mirrors that illustrates a map of the waterways flowing through the Trent-Severn Waterway to Rice Lake. That same year he paddled the canoe between the GlazenHuis in Lommel, Belgium and the National Glass Museum in Leerdam, Netherlands to exhibit it in both galleries. Diaries of the voyage were later etched into the hand-cut and bevelled mirrors embedded between the wooden ribs on the canoe’s interior surface and the journey was documented in a moving video.
Back in Canada, the canoe was transported on top of Copping’s van from his home in Apsley and, in classic Peterborough style, portaged from Little Lake right into the AGP’s water-level vault and through to the main gallery. Suspended vertically in mid air, the mirrored canoe uses the gallery’s vaulted ceiling to full advantage.
A mobile of dozens of miniature canoes fabricated out of beer cans, entitled “drifting into hubris,” floats through the window of the main gallery, lightly projecting shadows on the walls and floor.
Using the facilities at the GlazenHuis glass studio, and the Glasblazerij in Leerdam, Copping also fashioned a full-sized, molded, transparent glass canoe, tied together with sinew, entitled “way-marking.”
But the most powerful part of the exhibit for me is the oversized coat sewn from a Hudson’s Bay blanket in red and black. Imposing and ominous, “coat full of colonial chic” is a potent statement on the exploitation of First Nations to bolster Canada’s fur trade. Green and brown glass beer bottles re-blown into doll-sized canoes are tucked into covert pockets within the coat, a reminder of the traffic in alcohol which shattered Indigenous communities while Canada grew rich. Stripes of black felt signify Canada’s oil extraction which continues to threaten the good way.
Copping’s passion for glass and nature is unmistakable in this earnest exhibit. As both artist and craftsman, he has grappled with the fragility and weight, the fluidity and corporeality of glass as a medium in his ethereal reflection on canoe culture and the vulnerability of our natural world.
Cover photo Reflections by Deana Huntsbarger. Patrick Moore photos by Ann Jaeger. Other images courtesy the artists.