Tom Thomson was a famous Canadian painter who died nearly a century ago. His landscapes influenced the Group of Seven. Had he lived longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have become an official member and they would have been called the Group of Eight instead.
If you haven’t heard of this artist or the kinds of paintings he and his friends became famous for, the links above will tell you all about them.
For the past few years, he has been tweeting through the last eight months of his life. His tweets are heavily researched and include references to his diary entries, conversations that others remembered having with him, and many other sources.
What I want to talk about right now, though, is why you should be following Tom Thomson on Twitter. He also has a blog, although he is much more active on the former. His tweets about his final months are beginning again today, so now is the perfect time to get to know Tom and his art.
Tom’s paintings are beautiful in an understated way. My favourite one from him is included below, although there is something I like about every piece of art I’ve seen from him so far. They remind me of what it feels like to stand outside on a freezing January morning, or a breezy May afternoon, or a hot and muggy August evening and feel everything that nature has in store for me on that particular day. The weather can’t always be tied up into neat packages, and neither can Tom’s work.
There are many things we know about the ordinary fabric of this artist’s daily life. His tweets discuss everything from what he ate for specific meals to how he liked to spend his free time to what sketches he was working on in the last few weeks and months before he died. More than once I was impressed last year by his descriptions of the small details of his life. One day, for example, he mentioned eating boiled potatoes and stew. I barely remember what I ate for dinner last week, so have those details of someone’s life from a hundred years ago is surprising and fascinating.
In the last nine months or so that I’ve spent getting to know him online, Tom has been kind, funny, and personable. There are times when he seems unsure of himself or when he doesn’t know what he should do next. Yet he still picks himself up the next day and tries again. These are the tweets I’ve come to appreciate from him the most because of how much they reveal about his personality and character. He’s the type of person I’d invite out to dinner if we were living in the same century.
Exactly how he died is a matter of debate. We know he was alone at Canoe Lake and that his empty canoe surfaced days before anyone found his body in the water.
Did he have some kind of medical emergency that lead to him falling into the lake and drowning? Did his canoe accidentally tip over or bump into something submerged in the water, leaving him to drown before he could be saved? Did he stumble across someone who was doing something illegal and who didn’t want any witnesses of their crime? Did someone else murder him for another reason?
There are so many different possibilities, and he’ll tell you about all of them as the date of his death grows closer.
I have my own theory about what probably happened to him, but I’ll keep the details of that to myself until we get closer to the end of his saga. The urge to write short, speculative stories about his fate is growing stronger. I don’t know if I’ll give into it, but it is something I’ve been thinking about doing as he gears up to once again chronicle the end of his life.
Which theory you end up believing will be up to you, but I hope you’ll start following Tom and learn a few things about him and Canadian history along the way over the next eight months. I’ve been finding a lot of writing inspiration in his tweets. Who knows? Maybe you will as well!