Painting the Wilderness of the Oxtongue

Feature Documentary | 73 minutes

man canoeing near oxtongue river103  fall on the oxtongue river, ontario, canada, pic 2

“they would canoe out into the land and walk for miles to get to the right spot, and it’s that direct experience in the land, and the direct relationship as a human being to the land, that they were able to capture.”

Lisa Daniels – Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery

tom thomson, archives of ontario - truenorthfilmproductions lawren harris - archives of ontario - truenorthfilmproductions a y jackson, archives of ontario - truenorthfilmproductions Arthur Lismer - archives of ontario - truenorthfilmproductions Frederick Horsman Varley - Archives of Ontario - truenorthfilmproductions a j casson , archives of ontario - truenorthfilmproductions

It was here beginning in 1912, along the Oxtongue Waterway in Algonquin Park in Ontario, that Tom Thomson, along with future Group of Seven members Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and A.J. Casson, began to paint the Canadian Landscape.

jean and bob hilscher, painting the wilderness of the oxtongue, ontario, truenorthfilmproductions  jean canoeing on the oxtongue river, ontario, canada, truenorthfilmproductions  bob hilscher filming on oxtongue river

Over the course of three years, beginning in 2011, Jean and Bob Hilscher canoed and filmed many of the actual locations where these landscape artists once sketched and painted.  And as this film shows, the wind still blows through the trees that are depicted in their paintings.  The fish still jump high out of the water where Tom Thomson once fished, and the rich green and deep blue that Lawren Harris captured to canvas in “Spring on the Oxtongue River” still colour the landscape along the river’s edge.

“They would camp, and they would have some kind of shelter, and they were also working very quickly on the spot.  A.Y. Jackson created a paint box specifically that could hold wet oils apart from each other in this box to keep them protected as he moved through the bush, or perhaps the storm, or the wilderness.”

Catherine Sinclair – Ottawa Art Gallery

As Jean and Bob point out, it is easy in our present world of cellphones, cities, and modern ways of life to unknowingly forget and even abandon the wilderness that these artists once painted to canvas.  Canadian art experts comment about today’s young people and how many of them believe that the wilderness scenes once painted by Thomson and the Group of Seven no longer exist.                       

Painting the wilderness of the Oxtongue banner

“Painting the Wilderness of the Oxtongue” shows the viewer that the wilderness where these artists once hiked, canoed, fished, froze and got soaked to the hide is still out there, and all complaints aside, Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven never stopped going to it.  That is the challenge presented to all of us in this film:  that the wilderness painted by these artists is still out there, and it needs to be protected; it needs to be experienced and valued.

Director/Producer: Bob Hilscher  Produced by True North Film Productions

With the artistic support of The National Gallery of Canada, the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery of Sarnia, Ontario, the Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Ontario, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery of Oshawa, Ontario, Carleton University Art Gallery, and the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at the University of Guelph, Ontario, with the participation of Haliburton County Development Corporation, Oxtongue Lake for Arts & Culture, and Algonquin Outfitters.

muskoka magazine

Quote from an article in Muskoka Magazine:  Filming is in some ways like painting.  Its uses images to inspire or to capture the essence of the subject. One uses movement and the other doesn’t, but both are designed to evoke emotions in the viewer.  The emotions that Bob Hilscher hopes to create with his latest documentary, Painting the Wilderness of the Oxtongue, One River, One Lake, Tom Thomson, and the Group of Seven, are empathy and appreciation – for Canada’s art history, for the men who started it all and for the regions in which they loved to paint.

Surprisingly, the men were mocked for their efforts.  At the time, no other Canadian painters were doing what they were attempting.  “They were told that what they were painting – the Canadian landscape – was a waste of time,” says Hilscher, “that it wasn’t even worth the cost of the paint.

Dawn Huddlestone – Muskoka Magazine, June 2015

Painting the Wilderness of the OxtonguePreview trailer