Spectral Passages

The history of Arctic exploration is full of cul de sacs, of narrow channels in ice fields, of straits that turn out to be bays, and of illusions that appeared to be opportunities. Some adventurers hesitated and missed breakthroughs of discovery. Others rushed in and found their retreats cut off by enclosing pack ice that ground their ships to flinders. Islands also appeared where none existed: cloudbanks and enormous ice fields masqueraded as solid ground. People saw things that were not there—or that we insist could never have been there.

“Beardmore” revisited: Jens Bloch’s dark Norwegian past

In my 2018 book Beardmore, which investigates the Viking relics hoax that scandalized the Royal Ontario Museum, I lay out the most likely case for the source of Norse weapons that itinerant prospector James Edward (Eddy) Dodd said he discovered on a mining claim east of Lake Nipigon in the early 1930s. Dodd had been … Continue reading “Beardmore” revisited: Jens Bloch’s dark Norwegian past

A.Y. Jackson's "unknown" landscape

I visited McMaster University's Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020, to view several early (pre World War I) works by A.Y. Jackson. One of them, Girl in the Middy, an oil sketch of Rosa Breithaupt, herself painting by the water's edge, contained a bonus painting on the obverse side: a landscape catalogued as "unknown" in subject matter. Jackson's fellow member of the Group of Seven, A.J. Casson, actually wrote (in ink!) on it: "The sketch on the reverse side could possibly be an early AY Jackson." That clearly seems to be the case. But what does it depict?

“The Place of Stone” review in Winterthur Portfolio

One must have patience where reviews of academic-press books are concerned. It can take years for some to appear, but it's nice when the waiting is worth it. The Place of Stone (UNC Press, 2017), which was developed from my 2015 doctoral dissertation, "Stone of Power," has earned another strong review, this time by Patricia … Continue reading “The Place of Stone” review in Winterthur Portfolio

A.Y. Jackson and Scotland’s artists

Charles Hodge Mackie, Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice. By 1912. National Galleries, Scotland. As I researched my forthcoming book on A.Y. Jackson, Robin Rodger, a documentation officer in the collections department of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, was a big help in sorting out A.Y. Jackson's relationship with several leading British … Continue reading A.Y. Jackson and Scotland’s artists

What’s in a name? Douglas, Deborah, and Karen

This post has been updated The twitterverse and media had all sorts of fun with the boys’ and girls’ names registered in Alberta in 2018. Released in January 2019 under the province’s open government policy, the lists of baby names included some real, well, horrors. Who names their son “Despot”? Who names their daughter “Anger”? … Continue reading What’s in a name? Douglas, Deborah, and Karen