Saturday, May 2, 2009

True confession: I love these two girls

"Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall"

Frances went everywhere & painted what she saw

As is the case with favorite poets and favorite novelists, my favorite artist, Frances Anne Hopkins, is long dead. She was born in England, lived from 1838 until 1919, and spent 12 of her years in Canada. Her subject matter includes a series of "voyager paintings." This is one of them, above. There is no doubt this group of paintings strongly influences my designation of her as my favorite. Some of these paintings are huge as well as magnificent.

Frances was the granddaughter of a well-known British portrait painter, whose clients included the royal family. Her father was an admiral in the British navy, an explorer, author and artist of considerable talent. She married young, to Edward Hopkins, who was a chief factor in the Montreal office of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Frances arrived in the vicinity of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, at age 20. She accompanied her husband when he went on an inspection tour of Fort William in 1864. Fort William began as a French fur trading outpost in the late 1600s. It is located on the banks of the Kaministiquia River in what today is Ontario, next to the northeastern tip of what today is Minnesota. Fort William and an adjacent city, Port Arthur, were merged in one and renamed Thunder Bay in 1970. The logical way to reach Fort William in 1864 was by water, by Lake Superior, by voyager canoe.

This was the first of at least three extensive canoe trips she made with her husband. Among the results of these trips were at least four "voyager paintings," as they came to be known. The most reproduced one, which was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1869, is known as "Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior." While I have never done any research on Frances, my impression is that she worked primarily in watercolors and oils. She was attracted to any number of settings and subjects to paint.

One of the signature characteristics in her paintings was including herself among the characters. In our painting today, "Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall," she is clearly shown seated next to her husband at approximately the mid-point of the canoe. Frances might be the only European woman to have seen and known first-hand the world of the fur trade and the life of the voyager.

Reflecting a moment, I think Frances not only is my favorite painter, but one of my half-dozen or so all-time favorite women.

Dorothy could write & and handle a six-shooter

While I am at it, I think I will toss out the name of another of my all-time favorite women: Dorothy Marie Johnson.

Between movies such as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "A Man Called Horse" and "The Hanging Tree," I was not aware there was a common thread. It was not until I dove head first into studying the (once again) magical latter years of the 1860s and picked up a non-fiction book entitled, "The Bloody Bozeman," written by Dorothy, did I learn all those movies were based on stories written by her.

Dorothy’s life ranged from 1905 to 1984. She tried marriage, and gave it up after three years. She tried living in New York and working in advertising, and gave it up. She was editor of "The Woman" magazine, and gave it up.

Dorothy began and ended as a Montana newspaper woman, and also taught journalism at the University of Montana.

"She was kind of funny-looking. She was short and dumpy and had those Coke-bottle glasses," a colleague once described her. "Her speeches were always hilarious." A story about her relates how when a rattlesnake was found in a neighbor's house, she descended the cellar stairs clad only in a muumuu and "clutching a long-barreled six-shooter in her trembling hands .... fortunately, no shots were fired."

She was prolific, producing 17 books, 52 short stories and countless articles that spanned a 60-year career as writer and editor. In 1957, the Western Writers of America gave Dorothy the organization's highest award, the Spur award, for her short story "Lost Sister." Time magazine once compared Dorothy's stories to those of Bret Harte and Mark Twain.

And, believe it or not, Dorothy was a collector of handguns. See me smiling.

Music Note: Listening to Styx ....
Specifically, "Come Sail Away -- The Styx Anthology"
Some lines from "Come Sail Away:"


I'm sailing away
Set an open course for the virgin sea
For I've got to be free
Free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain
So climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow
On every shore


A gathering of angels appeared above our heads
They sang to us this song of hope and this is what they said
Come sail away
Come sail away
Come sail away with me
I thought that they were angels
But to my surprise
We climbed aboard their starship
And headed for the skies

8 comments:

A Cuban In London said...

Fascinating life story Frances had. Given that she was still very young as the impressionism movement was making its mark in Europe I can only guess that it was fortuitous her choice of subject for the paintings. After reading your column I looked her name up on the web and I was mightily pleased with the images I saw. Thanks for the info on this painter of whose work I was completely unaware. Mind you, there's a book on impressionism sitting on my bookshelf and I do page through every now and then, maybe her name is in there as an artist influenced by one of the most revolutionary (in my humble opinion) trends ever to have come out of vanguard arts.

Now, Dorothy's name rings many bells and I am starting to think that it was one of my postgraduate literature teachers who first mentioned her name many moons ago when I took his course. Again, thanks a lot for the information and article. Perfect for an early Saturday evening, sipping 'mate' and watching the sun go down in the magical springy London. You have Sytx, I have 'Caravan' :-).

Greetings from the British capital.

Fram said...

Life is nothing more or less than learning, is it not, CiL?

Had I not been a canoe fanatic and seen Frances Hopkins', "Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior," I never would have "met" her. A print of that painting and an 18th Century map of Lake Superior have been in matching frames on my wall wherever I have lived for a couple of decades now. I admire her daring, as well as her artistry.

Dorothy Johnson never will be considered a literary master but, at the same time, I think she is underrated as a writer. I failed to mention that she also is considered to be an expert historian of the Old West, particularly of Montana and Wyoming. No one, for example, has written a better historical account of the Bozeman Trail. Wish I could have known her.

Katy said...

Wonderful Fram, thank you. I am not familiar with either of these women - or wasn't, until I read your piece today. Now I think I'd like to find out more - perhaps you will tell us more about them one day?

Hope you're having a great weekend.

Magdalena said...

Wonderful women you love, Fram, it was really interesting to become acquainted with them. I like France's painting very much. But I heve to confess I've got few more men on my list ;-) Have a lovely Sun-day :-) Bye.

Fram said...

Glad you enjoyed learning about Frances and Dorothy, Katy. Dorothy was still alive when I lived in Montana but, of course, I had no idea of her existence at the time. I would have loved to have met her and talked to her.

Will I return to write more about them? Who knows?

Fram said...

Glad you found Frances and Dorothy interesting, Magda. They really both seem to have been fascinating young ladies.

So you have a "few more men" ahead of them on your list, do you? Touché. You have me laughing now.

Yes, you have brought the sun with you for several days. Thank you. I need it.

TheChicGeek said...

Fram, I think you have very good taste in women :)
Have a Happy Day!

Fram said...

Yes, Kelly, I think I have become more discriminating in recent years, and finally am getting the hang of what qualities to look for among young ladies.

Thank you, as well, for reading about Frances and Dorothy.

Something special ....