Northern Island (1927)
When Elizabeth Wyn Wood first encountered the North Country landscape, in the summer of 1926, she was twenty-two years old and a recent graduate of the Ontario College of Art (O.C.A.). With two fellow classmates, Wood was on her way by freight train to the Pickerel River crossing, halfway between Parry Sound and Sudbury. The train stopped momentarily to let them climb off, and they carried their gear down the rocky bank to the river.
Waiting at the landing, in his birch bark canoe, was Emanuel Hahn, Wood’s teacher of sculpture at O.C.A. He had invited Wood to join a lively party of Hahn family campers and fellow students on his remote island, five miles inland from the railway bridge. As the echoes of the train faded away into silence, they paddled up the Pickerel River.
What no one, neither family nor friends, suspected was that Hahn and Wood had secretly been engaged for several months. During her school years, to reveal a teacher-student relationship would have been damaging to both of their careers. Most important for Wood was her proud independence and confidence in her own talent and the ambition to develop it as an individual.
On this first trip, Wood carried a well-worn, compact sketchbook and black lithograph crayons (less likely to smudge than charcoal). As the days passed, she was enchanted by the wind in the white pine trees, the waves on the reefs and the rosy, rounded granite of the island. Junipers and lichens accented the sensuous curves of the ancient rock. Amenities on the island were simple and rustic. Everyone slept in tents and cooked over a boulder campfire. They feasted, sang silly songs, swam, sketched and explored the surrounding bays and channels.
Early in 1927, Wood completed the first of a series of Island sculptures, which established her unique artistic identity. No other sculptor, before or since her time, has rendered waves, rain squalls, clouds, rainbows, windblown foliage and glacier-scoured granite reefs in polished metal, bronze, tin or aluminum, on bases of black glass or marble.
In the centennial year of Elizabeth Wyn Wood’s birth, 2003, her family agreed to adapt Northern Island, so that miniature replicas will be used as awards by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. This award will celebrate the creativity of Canadian songwriters over the last three centuries.
ELIZABETH WYN WOOD, CANADIAN SCULPTOR (1903 - 1966)
As an innovative artist, Elizabeth Wyn Wood challenged the accepted notions of sculpture of her time and spent her life exploring the possibilities and nuances of her craft. Sculptor, teacher, writer, arts advocate, muse and mother, Wood embodied every facet of her creativity.
Born at her parents' summer home near Orillia, Ontario, Wood discovered at an early age her love and aptitude for art. In 1921, she enrolled at the Ontario College of Art (OCA) in Toronto where she was instructed by Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. Macdonald and Emanuel Hahn, whom she later married.
Winning a postgraduate scholarship for an extra year at OCA gave Wood the freedom to begin experimenting with new materials and her own distinctive style of expression. She reached beyond the traditional choice of statuary metal and bronze and created works in tin and pewter. Torso, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, is cast in polished tin. Her exploration of stylized, streamlined figure studies resulted in two striking works carved of snowy marble: Man and Woman in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario and Gesture in the National Gallery of Canada.
It was during her early twenties that Wood began to express her love of the Canadian landscape, the same way the Group of Seven was doing on canvas. Her modernist interpretation of landscape would soon become her signature style. In the National Gallery of Canada can be seen Passing Rain carved in Orsera marble, and Dead Tree, in aluminum. The Art Gallery of Ontario displays her critically acclaimed Reef and Rainbow sculpture, which has illustrated many books documenting Canadian art.
Now an established professional success in her field, Wood dedicated herself to teaching budding artists their craft and educating the Canadian public about the artistry of Canadian sculpture. From 1927 until 1961, she was the modeling instructor at the Central Technical High School in Toronto.
In the fall of 1928, Wood and her husband Emanuel Hahn founded the Sculptors Society of Canada (SSC) with fellow artists Frances Loring, Henri Hébert, Florence Wyle and Alfred Howell. Wood became president of the SSC in 1935, serving as national spokesperson and advancing the appreciation of sculpture in Canada through exhibitions and competitions for public monuments. Much of her creative energy was spent in advocacy on behalf of all artists. As a leader in the cultural community, she worked for better copyright protection and for government sponsorship of the arts.
During the Depression years and wartime, Wood displayed a mature awareness of societal issues in her sculptures, Linda, Immigrant and Munitions Worker. She was noted for her sensitive portraits of literary, civic and political Canadians. As part of her arts advocacy, she worked for international post-war reconstruction through the arts and served as one of two Canadian delegates to the founding of UNESCO in Paris in 1946.
Wood and Hahn designed their home in York Mills Valley in North York near Toronto. After Hahn's death in 1957, Wood continued her studio work designing coins, medals, fountains, architectural reliefs and historical monuments for the Niagara Parks System. Wood, who never enjoyed robust health, died at her home in 1966 of cancer.