As the Curator of Clara’s work I’ve had the privilege of discussing Clara’s pieces with many different people from all walks of life. Her work has been described as “having Group of Seven characteristics”, “whimsical”, “sentimental”, “kind of like Gramma Moses”, “interesting”, “obscure”, “beautiful”, “skilled in her painting techniques”, “good treatment of light”, “good brush strokes”, “painted on location”, “ethereal” and the list goes on. And you the reader have your own impressions both good and bad. But there is one characteristic that cannot be disputed: the majority of the scenes do not exist today. The topography, the buildings, the people and the vegetation are gone. And this is the essence and value of Clara’s legacy. I call it the Long Gone principle.
Remember the large elm trees with their trademark fan shaped canopies? Dutch Elm disease (DED) all but annihilated the species but they survive in Clara’s work:
One of Clara’s best works, Elms in Winter by the Humber River, Toronto, Ontario, Oil on canvas 14 x 17", Titled and dated by artist (Winter Section) exemplifies the Long Gone principle. The Humber River is still flowing but what surrounds it has been drastically altered.
From Clara’s sketch book Elm and Stooks. A view of an Ontario field common once, gone now.
Here’s an ethereal scene: the elm by the Humber River.
See Summer section, Summer on the Humber River, Toronto, Ontario. Oil on board 10 x 14".
Titled by artist.
We don’t know if Clara considered the value of her art as a future archive of times gone by. She was probably more interested in perfecting her style and reveling in her passion. But her craft morphed from artistic to a visual diary replete with historic detail.
From the University of Guelph site: Uoguelph.ca
"Efforts to stop the spread of DED took on military characteristics as almost every elm in its path, even healthy trees, were cut in advance of the disease. Foresters suggested that the sun was going to set on the beautiful American elm.
"We now know that the DED attacks every elm, but many trees have a strong enough immune system to live for 20 to 30 years, reaching about 20 to 40 cm diameter. Some may live 60 to 90 years and attain the classic elm silhouette. Scattered across Ontario, unusually large, surviving elms are as big as 500 cm or 15 feet in circumference. So isolated are they that little opportunity exists for DED tolerant trees to cross pollinate and produce the next generation."