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Local artists share impressions of painter’s work

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Simcoe artist Sally Gable is one of five artists contributing work to an upcoming exhibit at the Norfolk Arts Centre based on the life of Norfolk historian and painter William Edgar Cantelon (1866-1950).  The painting on the easel is a Cantelon landscape. The Cantelon Trail opens Nov. 17. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Simcoe artist Sally Gable is one of five artists contributing work to an upcoming exhibit at the Norfolk Arts Centre based on the life of Norfolk historian and painter William Edgar Cantelon (1866-1950). The painting on the easel is a Cantelon landscape. The Cantelon Trail opens Nov. 17. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

SIMCOE  - 

Norfolk County was lucky to have William Edgar Cantelon.

Cantelon (1866-1950) was not a great painter, merely a competent one. Had he been a great painter, he may have moved on and sought a wider audience in a more populous area.

As it happened, Cantelon chose to eke out a living in Norfolk. His legacy includes a fine collection of artifacts at the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe and more than 1,000 irreplaceable drawings and paintings chronicling Old Norfolk from Victorian times through the Second World War.

Cantelon is the subject of an upcoming exhibit at the Norfolk Arts Centre in Simcoe.

Five artists and a collection of photographers were tasked with studying Cantelon’s legacy and sharing their responses in paint and pictures. The result is an exhibit called The Cantelon Trail.

Simcoe artist Sally Gable approached her end of the project by examining Cantelon’s paintings of historic buildings that are still standing and still in use.

Gable went to some of these structures and took photos of the life inside they still foster. The people and activities she encountered are the focus of several paintings.

“(Cantelon) had a lot of foresight,” Gable said Thursday. “Early on he began to collect artifacts in his travels and he became the first curator of the Eva Brook Donly Museum. He was smart that way.”

Cantelon scrounged money where he could. Lore has it he rode his bicycle into Norfolk’s rural areas and made cold calls at area farms. He would offer to paint a picture of a handsome house or a prize steer in exchange for money or something he could use, like a good meal.

As part of his legacy, Cantelon left behind a significant collection of stiff but workmanlike portraits of Old Norfolk’s notable citizens. In response, Simcoe artist Jim Jackson has produced a selection of portraits of relatives and labourers in counterpoint to Cantelon’s treatment of Norfolk’s upper crust.

Several artists taking part in the exhibit are from outside the area. This is their first exposure to Cantelon and they too have committed their impressions to canvas.

“We visited many places where Cantelon set up his easel and painted,” Gary Blundel and Victoria Ward said in a joint statement.

“Most of these were bucolic waterways that had once been the location of a mill many generations ago. We looked around and saw what had become of Cantelon’s `places’ in the 21st century. He seems to have been driven to document the area and sell paintings.”

The Norfolk Historical Society was founded in 1900. Cantelon was one of its early supporters. His large and important collection of artifacts found a home in 1941 when local artist Eva Brook Donly bequeathed her property on Norfolk Street South to the former Town of Simcoe.

The Eva Brook Donly Museum houses more than 400 of Cantelon’s paintings. The Norfolk Arts Centre has several Cantelons in its permanent collection. The Cantelon Trail is the third collaboration in recent years between the museum and the arts centre.

“It should be a conversation starter,” Deirdre Chisholm, director and curator of the arts centre, said Wednesday.

The public is invited to attend to the exhibit’s official opening 7 p.m. Nov. 17. Guest curator Helen Bartens will speak about Cantelon’s life and times.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com