by C.J. Veach
Currently on display at the Eptek National Exhibition Centre in Summerside are over 100 watercolours and prints from the Victorian era in the show George Ackerman (1803-1891): Brave New Worlds. Organized and circulated by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum, the exhibit was first shown in Charlottetown two years ago. Since then it has been touring Canada and is now back on the Island.
These incredibly detailed watercolors by Ackerman, as well as memorabilia and prints by other 19th century artist, can be enjoyed at Eptek until April 26.
Ackerman, a London arts publisher and accomplished painter, retired at the age of 59. He then left his native England for Portland, Maine, but a storm at sea forced his ship north and he ended up in Montreal. From there he headed to Belleville, Ontario where he had contacts through his publishing work. Much interested in botany, Ackerman fell in love with the rural setting of Hastings County and, entering his sixtieth year, he decided to homestead a farm there. While in Upper Canada he painted numerous small townships and botanical subjects. In the mid 1870s he ended up in Charlottetown where his daughter lived. Two years later he moved to Summerside and began teaching at the Davies School (now Parkside Elementary).
But as usual wanderlust took control of Ackerman and he headed west to Saskatchewan and finally to Chicago, Illinois, where he died at the age of 87.
Ackerman's paintings at Eptek span decades, from his time in London to the mid-1830s, when he travelled through Latin America, to his time in Canada.
Director of Eptek Nonie Fraser is delighted to show these fascinating works. "George Ackerman was such a talented and interesting man, educated, adventurous, and his works show how in tune he was with his surroundings," she said.
Although his works were on display, it was the discovery of a large collection in Saskatchewan that prompted the current exhibit. "His widow had given his works to her granddaughter and in the 1990s they were "rediscovered" and shown at the Confederation Centre," Fraser explained.
Wandering past the meticulous works one can gain a sense of Victorian life; the architecture, the everyday scenes. One painting of Central Street and Willow Avenue in Summerside is particularly fascinating with small pastures jockeying for space with homes along what is now a busy thoroughfare.
In conjunction with the exhibit a watercolour class is in the works which is expected to be taught by Charlottetown artist Henry Purdy. "We felt it would be an ideal setting for such a classroom," observed Julie Gilman, Program Co-ordinator at Eptek. "As well we've had people bring in memorabilia for Heritage Week recently, and it fit quite well with our exhibit."
Anyone interested in art or history, or both, will find the current Eptek show a memorable experience and well worth the time.