Friday, June 8, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: An Artist at Work

Sometimes it is painful for me to read my father's words,
especially when he writes about dreams he didn't fulfill.
His year in Lansdowne House allowed him to paint,
and paint he did, like I never saw him before or after.

He and my mother both loved to paint,
but they rarely had time to indulge in their artistry.
The responsibility of raising five children, continuing their own educations,
and the demands of their careers crowded out most of their personal time.
I am always humbled by the sacrifices they made to realize their dream
of sending all five of us to Acadia where they had met in a Paul Jones dance.

My Parents at an Acadia Dance
(Dad has the black bow tie.)
Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
Circa 1947
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On Thursday, June 22, 1961
My father wrote to his mother:

I hope that the six pictures that I am sending you don't cause you too much trouble.
I sent them to you mainly because I wanted you to see
what I have been doing in the painting line.

I want you to do something for me, Mother.
I want you to enter these six pictures, and the one of the church
that I gave to you, in the art competition at Old Home Week.
You can find out how you go about entering the pictures in the exhibition.

The Little Log Church of England Church
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Painting by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Perhaps I am conceited, but I want to enter them all.
I just want to find out how they stack up against the work of other amateur painters.
Perhaps I won't win any prizes, although I think
The Nine Spruce Trees should win a first in any exhibition of amateur paintings.

I don't expect you to hang them in your living room,
for I know that you won't have the room.
Besides I wouldn't want you to have to take down
all your own pictures to make room for mine.
It would be different, if I was sending them to you to keep, but I am not.
I will want them all back in the fall, as soon as I am settled in Sioux Lookout.

I am going to continue painting, and when I have a selection of good paintings,
I am going to see if I can interest any commercial outlet
in handling some for sale on a commission basis.

What I said about another picture for your birthday still goes.
I will paint you one at Sioux Lookout.
If there is one in this group that particularly appeals to you,
and it isn't already promised to Sara or Roy, let me know,
and I would consider giving it to you, although I'd rather paint
you another because these are all sort of a matched set from Lansdowne House.

Besides, as I said before, I am anxious to build up an accumulation of paintings,
in case I ever do get a chance to sell some.
I would stand a better chance if I had a large selection.

Please let me know immediately what condition they arrived in,
and also let me know what you and the rest of the family think about them.
I guess I will have almost a little one man show of paintings from Lansdowne House, eh?

Whiteout on Attawapiskat Lake
My Favorite Painting of Dad's
which hangs in my living room
Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I haven't had any school in my school for the last two days,
because the electricians have been in wiring the school.
They finished today at noon, and I was going to have school at one thirty,
but on my way over, I upset the cotton pickin' canoe.

This is the second time I have done this since I came up here,
but at least the water was much warmer today.
I have acquired a reputation as a damned poor canoe driver.
The Indians all line up to see what difficulties I am going to get into next.

I don't know what happened today, for the water was dead calm.
I guess I just put too much weight on the paddle, one swish, and I was swimming.

This is the strip of water Dad crossed to get to and from his school.
(Note the bush plane at the Hudson's Bay Company dock.)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well, I must sign off now and get a letter off
to my deserted family on the Indian reservation.
Oh well, I will be with them in another eight days.
In fact, one week from tonight I'll be out in Nakina
catching the train for Sioux Lookout.

I wish that I could be on the Island sometime this summer,
but I guess that this will be impossible.
This move to Sioux Lookout will be quite expensive,
and I won't have too much to spare for gadding around.

I will have to buy quite a bit of new clothes for myself,
as my old ones have just about had it
Now that I have a job of this nature, I will be expected to dress quite well.

Poor Sally, I'll have to get lots of clothes for her also.
She has nothing but rags, and it will be important to have my wife well dressed also.
I am not, however, going to go hog wild or anything like that.
I am just going to buy what is absolutely necessary.

Sally and Don MacBeath
at Their Honeymoon Cottage
Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, Early September, 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Be sure and write me as soon as you receive the pictures.
I guess you may as well send your letters
in care of General Delivery, Sioux Lookout,
till I get a definite address in Sioux Lookout.

Don't send anymore to Lansdowne House.
No, the answer to this letter please send to General Delivery, Nakina,
and then all future letters to General Delivery, Sioux Lookout.

Bye Now,
Looking Toward the Father's Island
Dad canoed back and forth across the water at least twice a day.
A bush plane is pulled into the beach on the island.
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father continued to paint for a few more years, 
but then the responsibilities of his teaching and administrative career
consumed too much of his energy and time.

Sometimes I feel heartsick at the thought that when my father retired
he was so sick from emphysema and a missing lung
that he couldn't take up painting again.
Other times I take comfort in my memories of the pleasure he had when he did paint.

Whenever he painted, my father had an audience.
Roy and I watched keenly, looking over his hunched shoulders
as he whistled tunelessly
and sketched on his canvas with a soft charcoal pencil
or applied paint from his palette with broad strokes or fine, sure touches.

As Dad squeezed squiggles of paint onto his palette,
he would tell us their exotic names:
burnt umber, ultramarine blue, zinc white, and cadmium yellow.

Out of six or seven blobs of color Dad could mix an array of colors,
and he always warned us against using too much white when mixing colors.
He would add a little linseed oil to bind the paint
or a dribble of turpentine to thin it, and he was off and running.

Dad talked to us about line and perspective
and showed us the secrets of light and shadow,
answering our pesky questions
until his patience ran out and he shooed us away.

Playing with Color and Perspective
Winter on Attawapiskat Lake
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Painting by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whatever my busy mother was doing, she would interrupt frequently
to evaluate my father's progress and to encourage him.

My younger sisters Donnie and Barbie stood back a little,
Donnie peeking shyly at Dad's canvas,
and Barbie watching Dad's brush strokes with a discerning eye.

As for toddling Bertie, we kept her well away from Dad and his painting.
The blobs of glorious color and the little tin pots
of linseed oil and turpentine enticed her tiny fingers,
a disaster waiting to happen if she succeeded in reaching Dad's palette.

I have many incredible memories of time spent with my father,
but surely watching him paint are some of the best.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Point Prim, Near Digby
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Paul Jones Dance:
     This a mixer dance that has several variations.  In Nova Scotia the women would form
     an inner circle facing out, and the men would form an outer circle facing in.  When the music
     started, the men would circle in one direction, and the women in the opposite.  When the music
     stopped, each man and woman facing each other would dance together, until the music stopped
     and the circles formed anew.

2.  Letter of June 22nd:
     I've included a few details from a similar letter my father wrote to his mother on June 17th.

3.  Old Home Week:
     Old Home Week has been celebrated in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, since 1888.
     It includes livestock shows, handicraft and produce displays, a midway carnival, and harness

4.  The Nine Spruce Trees:
     I wish I knew where this painting ended up.  Dad was very fond of it.  

5.  Dad's Other Dunking:   TLL: The Inevitable Happens.

6.  The Indian Reservation:
     Dad was referring to Two Point, Lac Seul where we were staying in a log cabin belonging to
     the Garrick family.
7.  The Island:
      Prince Edward Island

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House, Nakina, and Sioux Lookout
Northern Ontario, Canada

Lac Seul
Northern Canada
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

To See a Photo of Lac Seul Click Here


  1. haha funny how he'd have to shoo you away eventually. Yeah, the palette would be hippy heaven to any young kiddo wanting to make a mess. At least he got to enjoy doing it for a while. Life sure can get in the way sometimes of things we want to do, as the things we have to do take hold.

    1. I think it would be funny to see you with a few rug rats at your feet while you were trying to write, Pat! ~ LOL You'd be a fun, but unconventional dad. I got such a kick out of "Delivered." I'm staring at a few have tos today, like scrubbing floors. Oh well, I'm grateful to be able to scrub them. Have an awesome day today and a better weekend!

    2. haha writing sure would slow with them yanking at my feet. Unconventional is more fun. "Detoured" is the sequel that is done to it too. Just had to give another a view.

  2. I'm sorry he couldn't paint after he retired. But maybe for the few years he did at Landsdowne House were special enough for a lifetime.

    1. Thanks, Alex! When I think of my father and painting, I also think of Tolkien's short story "Leaf by Niggle", and it gives me comfort and hope that my father is realizing his artistic dreams in a better place (and my mother too). I consider Tolkien's "Tree and Leaf" which also contains his essay “On Fairy-stories” second only to LOTR among his works. Whenever I read LBN, I feel peace and hope of redemption and healing in the hands of a loving and merciful God. All the best to you this weekend, my friend!

  3. That's sad. When he did have time to paint though, he was doing it in a really unique place. Did any of his paintings win?

    1. Thanks, Diane. I don't know if he won. I'm still working through a stack of my father's papers, and I hope the answer will emerge. This has been a slow journey for me, but I'm getting there. Have an awesome weekend!

  4. Greetings Louise. The pictures you posted are great, your Father had a talent. How did he do in the competition? So sorry he couldn't keep his painting hobby up because of all his commitments! And I'm so sorry when he retired he had ailments preventing him from painting. Do you have any of his paintings left to admire and treasure? Blessings to you. Enjoy the rest of your day. Blessings to you. Love love, Andrew.

    1. Hi, Andrew! I don't know if my father won the competition. I'm still working through his papers and hope to discover something further.

      I have three of my father's paintings: The "Whiteout on Attawapiskat Lake" shown above, one of Lac Seul, and a third of Sachigo Lake. My siblings have others and are beginning to pass a few on to the next generation. My brother and sister-in-law recently moved back from Kuwait after many years there. I am hoping that when my brother Roy unpacks some boxes that were in storage for more than a decade that he will find some of the missing paintings, including "The Nine Spruce Trees."

      I have one watercolor by my mother that she painted specifically for me. It's of Double Arch in Arches National Park in Utah, a place where we spent a wonderful time together. Their paintings are my most treasured family objects.

      Wishing you a lovely weekend ~ hopefully with your sweetie. I'm looking forward to my Friday Night Date Night with Terry ~ dinner and wine for me, beer for him. We've only missed the odd Friday date over the past decade, generally due to one of us being really sick. It's the highlight of my week! Blessings back at you.

    2. Greetings Louise. I'm so glad you and your family have some paintings from your parents, gifts to treasure. I'll be seeing my Lady friend on Monday. Hope your date goes well, and all future ones. It's nice to have some romance in your life. Enjoy your weekend too. Blessings back at you. Love love, Andrew.

  5. I've never heard of a "Paul Jones Dance" before. But it's a very clever way of mixing things up and ensuring that everyone meets new people and gets to dance. And look what it led to in your parents' case!

    1. ME!!! ~ LOL I'm surprised to hear that you hadn't heard of a "Paul Jones Dance." I thought it was a Canadian thing, but maybe it was a Maritime thing. The dance can be traced back to post WWI in England and to at least the 1890s in the US. The name "Paul Jones" may refer to John Paul Jones, an American naval hero of the Revolutionary War. It could also be coincidence that the naval hero, a late 19th century song, and a post WWI dance share the same name. I can remember, when I danced the Paul Jones at Acadia, fervently hoping that the music would stop at a specific spot, and just as fervently not a specific spot! Such is teenaged angst! Have a great weekend with your Rare One! Sending you a big hug!

    2. This is so interesting! Thanks for sharing about the dance! Never heard of a Paul Jones Dance before! And, you came out of it! LOL!

  6. He had a good talent with art, I never was blessed with the art gene

    1. Hi, Adam! My sister Barb and my brother Roy have painted a little, but the true artists are in the next generation. Several of our nieces are very talented. We all have different strengths. My father probably would have enjoyed talking about history with you. All the best!

  7. Wow, your parents were both so talented. I read this and then went back and looked at the paintings. I really like them, they should be in an art museum!
    It is a joy to know that his art lives on in you. x

    1. Thanks for your lovely words, Kay! I hope all is well with you!

  8. This is such a beautiful post about your father and his art. I'm sorry he couldn't do it for a living, but I am so grateful, he got to create, when he could! So happy you still have some of his paintings! Big Hugs!

    1. Thank you, Stacy! I definitely have to thank my mother and father for my love of art. Maybe one day I'll try it. I'm supposed to have artistic talent, but I've never developed it. I can't seem to get beyond writing and photos. I hope all is well with you!

  9. Hi Louise :) I think those paintings are wonderful. That is sad that he couldn't keep it up. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't keep creating art. Beautiful post. :)


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