So here I am in the wilds of rural Nova Scotia vacationing at the beautiful cottage of my friend, The Gifted Typist, and her wonderful family. Tanya, Rowbear and Alexander are along for the fun.

It has been pouring rain here, so we decided to check out a nearby museum, the old estate of a Nova Scotia grocery store magnate named Frank Sobey. It houses some of the most famous art by many of Canada’s most revered and respected artists, including Tom Thomson and AY Jackson.

To say it was a surreal place to take in some of the most breathtaking art Canada has ever produced is an understatement. The “estate” looked, from the outside, like a 1970s-era monster home built cheaply, quickly and with materials that were on sale. And as you walked through the living areas – bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms – to take in the spectacular art, it was as though you were walking through the showrooms of a bargain-basement, mass-market furniture chain circa 1981. The house and its trappings were outrageously tacky and cheap.

In one bedroom, a stunning Lawren Harris was hanging over a cheesy wood-veneered dresser with large plastic knobs. Sitting on top of the dresser, sort of nestled against the masterpiece, was an even tackier version of the Eskimo doll pictured above that you used to be able to be able to win while playing midway games at travelling fairs when I was a kid. I am pretty sure the Inuit now deem those dolls as being offensive. It was sort of like taking in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and seeing the Museum of Modern Art had decided to place one of those “Jocko” lawn jockeys in front of it.

The house was so ridiculously cheaply done that it actually distracted from the art. I was as busy staring in disbelief at the upholstery, the crappy rose-coloured wall-to-wall carpet and the hideous “Tex and Edna Boil’s Organ Emporium” furniture as I was at some of the most beautiful artwork I’d ever seen. Adding to the surrealism, the French-Canadian couple who have been employed to take visitors on guided tours of the house were utterly uninformed about any of the art on the walls. When asked for some more information on one of the lovely pieces adorning the walls painted the colours of 1970s-era hospital waiting rooms, the female tour guide rudely replied: “I have no idea. I’ve only worked here two years.” Now that’s dedication to your job. And the couple actually LIVES in the house, and get to gaze upon those masterpieces every single day. You think they might be a little curious about what they’re taking in.

We are deep in Scottish country here in Pictou County, and the Gifted Typist described the museum as typically Scottish. In other words, the hard-working Scottish people who established much of this part of Canada were known for their frugality. Generations later, they still don’t like to part with a buck. So rather than spending some money and turning their old family summer house into a spectacular showcase fitting the spectacular art on its walls, and hiring some art-savvy people to run the place, the Scottish Sobey family are simply happy to take the tax writeoff. It is very sad.

Advertisements