AY Jackson

by Dorothy Nixon from Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Jul 9, 16

It was the summer of 1965, and A Y Jackson was sharing a cottage with Jennie and Harry Ross at the south end of Sandy Beach, near Wawa, Ontario. We had a cottage at the north end of the Beach.

During the summer the Rosses held a reception for their guest, and we were invited. A number of the sketches that A.Y. Jackson had done during the summer were lined up against the walls of their cottage. They could be purchased for $40 each. We didn’t have $40 to spare; so we didn’t buy one. 

During the reception, A.Y. Jackson expressed an interest in painting the view that could be seen from the front of our cottage. We gladly said that he was welcome at any time.  

Not long after I was contacted by Jennie Ross to arrange a convenient time for A.Y. Jackson to come and paint. Of course, I was thrilled. I arranged to have my own paints on hand. You see I was one of a group of Wawa ladies taking lessons in oil painting. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity; even though I recognized that our levels of talent and skill were about as far apart as any two people could be.

On the appointed day Jennie drove the painter to our cottage. He set up his easel down by the shore. He began to paint. I brought my equipment down to the shore. I sat near him. I started my own sketching. Our two little children, age seven and four, were running around playing. But they were good kids. They didn’t seem to bother him. In fact our little boy Ian became so taken with the painter that he sat by his side as still as a mouse and just watched him work. 

When lunchtime arrived I asked A.Y. Jackson if he would join us for lunch. He said that would be lovely. So we went up to our cottage (which was very basic, with no power and no indoor plumbing). I served him a bowl of chili. 

After lunch he decided to have a rest. He lay down on the bed and had a good nap and then resumed painting until Jennie Ross arrived in the late afternoon to take him back to their cottage. 

Later that year, I was visiting my mother in Ottawa. She lived on McLaren Street. I went to the corner of McLaren and Elgin to mail a letter. It was there that I was surprised to see A.Y. Jackson again. Just like me, he was mailing a letter.

To my great delight he remembered me and asked if I would care to see the paintings he was working on. He was so gracious and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to see his work. So we walked back to his house, which was just across the street from my mother’s apartment. When he opened the door there was mail piled everywhere on the floor. He just kicked it aside and invited me in. 

We spent a lovely time looking at his paintings. He was both generous and hospitable. And I thought it was wonderful that he had taken the time to show a casual acquaintance his unique creations. It was an afternoon I would never forget. 

Before I left, he picked up one of the sketches he had painted in front of our cottage. He turned it over, wrote on the back “Mrs. Peter Nixon, On The Beach, August 1965, A.Y. Jackson” and then, handed it to me.  

We later thought it was not right to accept the painting without paying for it, so we sent him a cheque for $40. I don’t believe the cheque was ever cashed. It probably remained, with his other unopened mail, on the floor, inside the front door of his home.

I think of him often. And when I do I think of A.Y. Jackson as a kind, gentle person who enjoyed people and was willing to take the time to share his amazing talent. 

The sketch he titled “On the Beach” still hangs on our living room wall. It is a continual reminder of that summer’s day in 1965 when a young housewife painted with A.Y. Jackson, member of the Group of Seven and one of the greatest Canadian artists who ever lived.