My father Donald Sutherland certainly wasn’t an artist, he was a numbers guy. I was recently reading an article about downsizing all the things collected in pursuit of one’s family history. It suggested actually throwing some things out and giving other things to family members. This really struck home as I had once again unearthed a large brown envelope containing my father’s artwork. These were not drawings that showed his view of the world but mostly coloured paper shapes cut out by the teacher when he was in kindergarten and grade one. He had done the glueing. My grandmother saved them all.
I had looked through them before and was going to throw them out but just couldn’t. I didn’t think they had much connection to my father but they were in an envelope from Frank W. Horner Inc., where he worked and written in his hand “ Donald, School Hand Work.” They were from an era before children’s artworks were displayed on refrigerators. These papers were brought home from school and safely put away. He obviously found them at some point and decided to keep them.
Why didn’t I just chuck them? My siblings would have if they had seen them first, or so I thought.
He did not create much with his hands. He did a little carpentry in school and a telephone table he made stood in our hall. His mantra was a place for everything and everything in its place. He continued to make a few useful items. I have a little box, a record stand, and a speaker stand that he made. The woodbox and washtub stand are at the cottage. My brother-in-law thought my father’s most creative work was the wasp’s nest he had cut out of a tree and hung over the fireplace.
Dad spent more time thinking than doing. I have some letters he wrote but mostly what he got down on paper wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say. He would rewrite and rewrite and never finish so some letters never got mailed.
He was interested in photography as his father had been but more for the technical aspect. Dad was very particular when setting up to take family portraits. The lighting, the exposure and the composition had to be perfect, which was hard with four squirming children. After the long set up he would be annoyed with our “fish face” expressions.
Black and white pictures were developed in our basement. It was his quiet time. He would sometime let a child in with him to watch the images develop. In his meticulous way, he would keep notes of the apertures and exposures. With the advent of colour film, he tried developing his own pictures but didn’t have the time to create perfect colour images. Each time he started a session he felt he was starting at the beginning and was never happy with the results, so he stopped. He did use slide film and these pictures were are organized in boxes and catalogued.
In the pile of papers, there was a pumpkin, a turkey and other fall pictures. I took them to our cottage for Thanksgiving table decorations. We all looked at them, talked about Dad and then I thought we would throw them out, but no! There was a chorus of, “Daddy did them, they have to be kept, they are folk art and almost 100 years old.” So, as no one else volunteered to take them, I brought them home, put them back in the envelope and they are back in the file.