Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 43: Exploring Halifax

The reason we went to Nova Scotia was to enjoy the scenery and history. However, a cutting, damp wind was blowing this morning, and the idea of making a long drive in low visibility and then walking around outdoors was not very appealing. Plan B was to tour the museums in Halifax, a mostly indoor activity requiring only a short drive.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia occupies two buildings in the old part of town, but one of these was closed for renovation because of "sprinkler problems." The other one was occupied by two exhibits.

Making Waves was a selection of the top forty works of their permanent collection, focused on Nova Scotia's ties with the sea and the coast. Some of the artists were known to us from our study of Canadian art, including Arthur Lismer, an important art educator and promotor of modernism.

Arthur Lismer, 1885-1969
Sackville River, 1917
My impression is that women have played a large role in Canadian painting, and their works are shown in large numbers. This gallery's selection of their top forty included several good works by women.

Edith A. Smith, 1866-1954
View of Crescent Beach, near Petite Riviere, N.S., c. 1930

Marjorie Hugh Tozer, 1900-1959
Windswept, c. 1927

Marion Bond, 1900-1969
Halifax Harbour, 1957
A group of five works paid tribute to Alex Colville, a Canadian precisionist that we have been following; he was a special friend of AGNS and his death was recent. Colville seems like Canada's most formidable artist to me because of his unflinching attitude and his unmatched draughtsmanship.

Alex Colville, 1920-2013
Headstand, 1982

Alex Colville, 1920-2013
Studio, 2000
The other major exhibit was the work of a local primitive artist called Maud Lewis. Although she was a victim of crippling arthritis, very poor, and completely unlearned and untraveled, she took up painting. She started by painting the walls of her shack, but with her husband's encouragement, she graduated to masonite panels; he sold the paintings in front of the shack, as folks used to sell quilts along the highway in the Ozarks. The small paintings would make good images for Christmas cards, like those of Grandma Moses: kids on sleds, farm scenes, boats, etc. Her style was simplified and colorful, and she often repeated various 'cute' subjects like portraits of cats.

After the couple's death, some group undertook to save the painted shack and install it in the museum. I tried to imagine two people living in a tiny room with a wood stove and a cot and a table, all painted with flowers, and how they got by on her income. It's an amazing story, and her work is now popular with collectors.

Home of Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis

Paintings by Maud Lewis
Lunch in the gallery's restaurant was nice. Dan keeps experimenting with seafood chowder, which can be quite a let-down if it isn't done right. I had baked haddock, the local fish, with salad.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was only a short walk away in the Halifax harbor.  Dan fed the parking meter some more "Loonies," one dollar coins engraved with a loon, and we rushed down there in the damp wind. We passed some very interesting architecture, in various bulky stone styles from the 19th century. There is a lot of granite around here and they put it to good use.

After buying our tickets, we went straight back into the weather to tour an historical ship, the CSS Acadia, a sailing vessel that was used for scientific surveys from 1939 to 1969.

Former Ocean Survey Vessel
Dan hung around outside taking pictures of the harbor, but the wind drove me indoors, to navigate the unfamiliar seas of a maritime museum on my own. One exhibit featured sailing ships, in models and pictures, and ships in bottles. Another featured steamships in glass cases.

A model-making craftsman was working in his open shop, making a model of an historical harbor scene. I was fascinated by his painstaking work. He grumbled because they had him working on steamships, when sailing vessels were his interest.


Model of historical harbor made by the craftsman above
An exhibit about the Sambro Island Lighthouse, oldest lighthouse in Canada, presented the lens that was used for the light. It had lovely sculptural and optical qualities.

Lens for the Sambro Island Lighthouse
Lighthouse active 1906-1967
The most authentic and interesting section was the ship's chandlery, because it was an actual historic chandlery, standing on an important corner in the harbor. A little girl asked the costumed guide why the store was called a chandlery. The guide said it came from the French word for candle seller. Originally the stores had sold only candles, but gradually they started catering to the shipping industry and carrying every other sort of hardware that a ship might require, especially lots of different types and sizes of rope for rigging sails.
Rope for use on sailing ships

Dan engaged the guide in an extended conversation about steam engines on trains as well as boats, and traded various experiences. "The romance of the steam engine." Ugh. Coal makes such a lot of grit in the air.

We hoped the weather would lighten up the next day, but Dan observed that Halifax is located about the same latitude as Seattle, which means that wet and gray is part of its DNA.