A brief history of the La Cloche Art Show by Peg Forbes
It all began at Peg Forbes' annual tea party, held for fifteen years at Alligator Rock on Charlton Lake near Willisville. It was a meeting place, an Open House. Everyone was welcome and they came from Manitoulin, McGregor Bay, Bay of Islands, Espanola and Sudbury to climb up the incredible stairway and enjoy the magnificent view in the heart of the La Cloche Mountains. These mountains which were once as high as the Himalayas are now.
In 1977 artists Ivan Wheale and Em Lloyd were at the tea party. Peg suggested an art show to provide more exposure for their work. Ivan said with a chuckle, "An art show in Willisville? " The population of Willisville fluctuates between 60 and 80, BUT they had an old two room schoolhouse with a sturdy concrete basement built in 1942 by INCO which was now used a Recreation Centre. So...The aim was to provide a showcase for well known and lesser known artists who have portrayed La Cloche Country and its inhabitants including the flora, fauna, spirits and legends. The first jurors were Pat Fairhead and Rebecca Sister, R.C.A., both of Toronto. The first show was opened July 8 1978 by John Lane, M.P.P. for Algoma-Manitoulin who did the honours for many years, followed by Mike Brown, M.P.P.
It was the first art show of its kind to be held in this area and it created great interest although some residents were concerned that the heavy motor traffic would ruin the road from highway 68 (now 6) into the village. The first art committee was composed of Suzanne McCombs, Helen Gass, Barbara Gough, Sheila Pope (secretary), Jim Bailey, Susan Bailey, David Pope, Betty Ferris, Pat Nichols, Diane Cooley and Cindy Niemi assisted by Tammi Fern's, Wanda Ferris, Peg Forbes, Em Lloyd, Joan Lloyd, Ivan Wheale and Jean Wheale.
The second year, 1979, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) sent a crew to film our art show for the series Conlon's Ontario with host Patrick Conlon. This caused quite a stir among the citizens of Willisville and they were pretty proud of their efforts. Slide presentations were created which depicted the rich art history of La Cloche from Anna Jameson, Paul Kane and Frances Anne Hopkins in the 19th century to members of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and A.J.Casson, in the 20th century. These were shown throughout the province. These slide presentations still exist.
For sixteen years the Willisville Community Centre was the venue of the Annual La Cloche Art Show. As many as 5000 in one record year, 1980, traveled the winding scenic road to attend. During these years works by many famous artists were shown: Sir Frederick Banting, Robert Bateman, Bruno Cavallo, Ann Davidson-Bilas, Linda Finn, Yvonne McKague Housser, Francis Kakige, George Arthur Kulmala, Isabel McLaughlin, Norval Morrisseau, Eric Nasmith, Charlie Rapsky, Vivian Ripley, Jean K. Smith and of course Ivan Wheale. Among the many others from Willisville who volunteered their time and talents were Marie Blake, Yvette Bourque, Denise Ellison, Scott Jones, LaVerne Paul and Sue Riching. By 1993 the tiny village of Willisville was weary of the work required in maintaining the community centre and the art show but pleased too as every home now had one or more original works of art gracing their walls.
To the rescue came the Whitefish Falls Recreation Committee. During the next eight years they produced the annual juried exhibitions so that now about 500 artists have participated since 1978. To broaden the scope of the entries they are no longer limited to portrayals of La Cloche. In 1998 Daphne Odjig, C.M., R.C.A., was invited to be our first Distinguished Artist. She was followed by Ivan Wheale in 1999, Richard Edwards in 2000 and Vivian Ripley in 2001.Among the most active supporters from Whitefish Falls have been Barbara Boulard. Gordon Cohen, Kathy Dolan, Danielle Edwards, David Edwards, Elizabeth Lehman, Jean Soros, Helen Wojeck and Isabel Blackledge. And many local businesses and individuals have helped sponsor the exhibitions which now include work by students from local schools. The La Cloche Art Show continues to be a popular and viable event. Opening Day of the nine day exhibition is always jammed with eager viewers, buyers and old friends greeting each other. It is fun to meet the artists in person and to reminisce. It has contributed considerably to the cultural life of the area and helped maintain the Whitefish Falls Community Centre.
As of 2001, archival materials relating to the La Cloche Art Shows are in 3 scrapbooks at the Whitefish Falls Community Centre in scrapbooks and files of Peg Forbes. Catalogues have over the years been deposited at the Espanola Public Library, the Little Current Public Library, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Edward P. Taylor Research & Archives 317 Dundas St. W. Toronto, ON M5T 1G4; Phone: 416 979-6642
Let us hope that some of the art from our La Cloche exhibitions may survive until 2101.Do you suppose they will be handed down from generation to generation?
Ivan Wheale's paintings hang in many public buildings and Marina Fricke's stone sculpture Strutting Loon might still be found atop Alligator Rock!
The above history plus copies of La Cloche scenes have been put in Domtar's Time Capsule which will be sealed for the next 100 years.