Arnold Hodgkins was born 1st March 1911 on a farm in Silverdale Ontario, Canada. From a young age he was deeply interested in all things creative. Encouraged by his mother to draw, paint, and sculpt, he won a few juvenile competitions. When he was 16, on her deathbed, his mother insisted that he continue with his drawings. Following her funeral he went home and wrote his first song called Lonely. He had a close relationship with his father whom he nursed for the next four years until his death. During those years, he developed proficiency at the piano, playing for hours in an attempt to soothe his father’s pain.
On 7th March 1933, he married Iola Houser. Their first child, Gary was born in 1940 and shortly thereafter, Arnold volunteered for the ambulance corps in World War II - to "help stop Hitler from stomping across Europe and accomplishing his madman claims of conquering the world". In his time off-duty, he continued to draw, and returned home with hundreds of sketches.
When he returned from the war, he enrolled in the Ontario College of Art. He graduated in 1948 with the coveted O.C.A. Medal for Proficiency and his oil painting, Portrait of Ballerina, was included in the O.C.A. textbook for future students to learn from. That same year his daughter Carol Hodgkins-Smith was born.
From 1948 – 1953, he operated art studios in Toronto, Ontario. The years directly following his graduation, he referred to as “learning to paint years, the brash times of over-strong colour and effects, as well as the desperation of mixing teaching and painting through the 1950s.” Portrait commissions followed such as Lady Eaton. There were showings throughout the 1950s and 1960s at Laing Galleries, Roberts Gallery, Casa Loma, Eaton’s College St. and McLaughlin Gallery and joint showings with notable Canadian painters David Milne, Duncan MacPherson and Franklin Arbuckle.
Between 1953 and 1961, Arnold and his son Gary son developed Deerfoot Pioneer Art Settlement, a summer art school, on five acres in Leaskdale, Ontario where he taught his students. At this time, his love affair with the beauty he found at Cross Lake and the Madawaska Valley began. Throughout the early 1960s, his art gained more authority resulting in the first sale of a painting in four figures, and paintings materialized with a continuity of quality and variety of subject matter.
In 1965, Deerfoot Gallery was opened by A. J. Casson of the Group of Seven and attended by Frederick Varley. He greatly admired the Group of Seven and was influenced by their work. However, he continued his practice in different mediums: oil, watercolour, sketching, and pastels. He received Honourable Mention for his watercolour, Big Bear Rock, at the Paris Salon, Grand Palace des Champs Elysees, Paris, France in 1966. He undertook two artistic treks to James Bay in 1968 and 1969, and found new inspiration resulting in numerous sketches and paintings.
In 1971, he painted Falkowski, A Portrait of Poland which was a frontispiece in Falkowski’s book, ‘With The Wind In My Face’. Then in 1974 he was commissioned to paint Portrait of Lucy Maude Montgomery by the Uxbridge Historical Society. The last year for Deerfoot Summer Painting School was 1976. Despite health problems in the years following, he produced some of his finest work. He wrote a novel during this time, and when too sick to write sitting up, he lay in bed and spoke into a microphone. He passed away in 1989.
"What is a lifetime --- tell me friend ---
A mile, a year, threescore and ten;
A smile that trembles on a hill
When all the smiles have loved and gone?
A lifetime is a silver cup ---
Off balance on the rim of dawn."
A. Benjamin, 1964
(pen name of Arnold Hodgkins)
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