McMichael Gallery: Where Nature Meets Art

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection turns 50
By Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
May 31, 2016 Updated: May 31, 2016

The sole gallery in Canada to display only Canadian art by artists from across the country turns 50 this year, and is set to celebrate with a lineup of Canadian talent to complement all that visual beauty.

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection houses over 6,000 pieces, including works by the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, in several galleries nestled in the woods on 10 acres in Kleinburg, Ontario.

It all started in the 1950s when a young couple, Robert and Signe McMichael, began buying Canadian art and displaying it in their four-room log home. Their collection grew and became so popular that by the ’60s, thousands visited every year to see the paintings.

In 1964 the McMichaels donated all 194 works of art, their buildings, and the land to the province of Ontario with the dream of the facilities growing into a large-scale art centre showcasing only Canadian art.

In July of that year, the McMichael Conservation Collection of Art opened.

Nature and Art in Tandem

Today, 14 galleries display the art of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples as well as historic and modern Canadian works in log buildings with windows that let in natural light and reveal the fauna of the area.

“Some of the unique properties of Canadian art are [that] you see that connection with the land. You also experience it in a more physical way because of the natural beauty of the setting at the McMichael,” says Tina Terranchian, trustee of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and chair of the 2016 Moonlight Gala, a fundraiser to be held on June 4.

“The way the gallery is designed is that as you’re looking at the paintings you also have these huge windows that open up to the gorgeous landscape and you’re experiencing art and nature at the same time, which is very unique.”

Seeing nature in company with the art pieces reinforces the brilliant landscapes the artists present in their works.
— Tina Terranchian, McMichael Canadian Art Collection

In describing one aspect of Canadian art, Terranchian says, “It’s the bond between our identity and our land and our culture that comes through in the art. Seeing nature in company with the art pieces reinforces the brilliant landscapes the artists present in their works.”

Outside, the Sculpture Garden unfolds as visitors walk the winding trails that house nine works by renowned Canadian sculptor Ivan Eyre.

Some of the Group of Seven artists were friends of the McMichaels and six of them are buried on the property—another unique facet of the gallery grounds.

Art classes and summer camps for children are ongoing programs at the gallery that help youngsters get to know Canadian artists.

“McMichael has always been very family friendly, and educating the next generation has been huge on the agenda for the McMichael,” says Terranchian.

She says students often show up with sketchpads in hand to sketch what they feel inspired by in the galleries.

Celebratory Events

The Moonlight Gala fundraiser on June 4, which has already sold out, introduces three Canadian wines with Group of Seven art on the labels.

Also on June 4, a grouping of three complementary exhibits titled “50/50/50” opens for the anniversary, presenting art in 50-year leaps. They are “The Wounds of War,” “In Studio,” and “Needles and Pins.”

On July 8, a special ceremony will be held for artists, descendants of the Group of Seven and the McMichaels, and government officials and other dignitaries to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the gallery opening.

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Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan