Another Favorite Publisher: Firefly Books

Firefly Books Logo

Not long ago I commented on the remarkable Canadian publisher Douglas & McIntyre.   Another nifty Canadian publisher worth taking note of is Firefly Books, which emphasizes non-fiction.  Aside from McClelland & Stewart, a major Canadian publisher that is a division of Random House, it seems that when it comes to high quality books from Canada one of these two outfits is sure to have had a hand in such works.  While Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Firefly produces a high number of science, nature and “how to” type books, the titles that stand out for me are those focused on art and photography.  Their volumes in those two areas are among the best on their subject matters.

Pictured above is a random selection from the Firefly catalog.  Coincidentally, I have four of these and each is very well done for its subject matter.   Of these, David Silcox’s The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, is the subject of an earlier post here, and I plan to comment on Pat & Baiba Morrow’s The Yukon and George Walker’s Graphic Witness — each mesmerizing in its own way — in the next few weeks.

Although it’s generally not fair to judge a book by its cover, the graphic elements of book design can play a role in pulling in a prospective reader.  So it’s a minor complaint that the website for Firefly Books, unfortunately, does not do its catalog justice in this respect.  When searching for a book a listing of titles is initially displayed and one must click on the title to get more information and only then get a visual on a given title.  Of course, this is a non issue once you’ve located the book for which you were searching or already have it in your hands

Douglas & McIntyre: An Exceptional Indy Publisher

Although several volumes produced by the Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre have sat upon my shelves for quite awhile,   I had not focused on this independent publishing powerhouse until I recently posted some thoughts about art in the Pacific Northwest and pondered the coincidence that two art books (Shore, Forest and Beyond and Mythic Beings) mentioned then were from D&M.  I also count Inuksuit (noted in O’Canada Blog on January 31, 2011) and Arctic Eden  among my books from D&M that contain beautiful images of special aspects of the Canadian physical and cultural landscape.

Exploring their catalog of titles, what strikes me are the diverse range and high quality — there are many award wimmers here — of Douglas & McIntyre’s art-themed volumes and its literary fiction and non-fiction.   Its affiliated imprint, Greystone Books, is also quite good.  I’ve added several to my wish list.   Some of the titles that stood out from my browsing include those below.

Amazing Landscape Artistry of Philip Buytendorp, Jennifer Woodburn and Steve Coffey

Browsing at a local Barnes & Noble the other night I came across the Fall 2012 issue of Arabella , a Canadian arts quarterly.  Standing out within the 400 or so glossy pages were the works of Philip BuytendorpSteve Coffey and Jennifer Woodburn, three amazing landscape artists each painting in a decidedly impressionistic style that for me harkens back to the talented Group of Eight.   Buytendorp’s canvases  convey an aesthetic and color palette that is highly reminiscent of Tom Thomson’s vivid Canadian landscapes, while Woodburn’s style has a beautifully dreamy appeal and Coffey’s mannerism is soulful.   Nice profile writing by Kylie Serebrin on two of these artists.

Sites / links for more info on these artists and their galleries:   Philip Buytendorp * * Jennifer Woodburn * * Steve Coffey

David Silcox’s Exquisite Book on The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

While in Toronto recently I stayed at a hotel across from the Royal Ontario Museum.  Although I did not have sufficient time to tour the Museum, I briefly stopped by its gift shop.  Browsing through the art books on display I came across an amazing book on the Group of Seven that I had not previously seen and which I had to have.

Once back in Atlanta as I leisurely browsed through the simply named volume, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by David Silcox (Firefly Books 2001), I was impressed anew at this amazing collaboration of early twentieth-century artists who helped define a distinctively Canadian style of painting.  (See previous post on OCanadaBlog here.)  It also gave me a greater appreciation in particular for Tom Thomson, but for whose untimely death in 1917, the collective might well have been called the Group of Eight.   As one of the other members, Lawren Harris, noted in a narrative of the Group, “although the name of the group did not originate until after his death, Tom Thomson was, nevertheless, as vital to the movement, as much a part of its formation and development, as any other member.”

Tom Thomson, Autumn Foliage

Silcox’s beautifully compiled book is organized into thematic sections, initially around some broad categories, such as “Icons: Images of Canada,” “The First World War,” and “Cities, Towns and Villages,” and then by geographic regions, including “The East Coast,” “The St. Lawrence River and Quebec,” “Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay,” and “The Prairies, Rockies and West Coast,” among others.   This approach enables a wonderful comparison of each artist’s perspective on the same subjects and geography.  Preceding each section is  a brief narrative by the author that provides historical and cultural context that enriches the understanding of the individual Group members and their works.

Tom Thomson, In the Northland

The Group of Seven’s Landscape Explosion

J.E.H. MacDonald, The Solemn Land

While reading a story in the latest volume of The Journey Prize Stories (more on that collection in a later post) I came across this passing reference to the Group of Seven:  “Straight ahead a group of smallish islands.  Like the Group of Seven but realer and more sad.”  The narrator’s incidental reminder of this ground-breaking group of Canadian artists, who first rose to prominence in the 1920s (although several painted well after this period), prompted me to refresh my knowledge of an amazing band of painters who are not well-known to many people here in the U.S., but who collectively serve as a cultural touchstone for Canadians, as indicated by the above quote from the story I was reading.

Lawren Harris, Clouds, Lake Superior

The members of the group initially consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson,  Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley.  Frank Johnston left the group in 1926 and A.J. Casson was invited to take his place.  In addition, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr are also closely associated with the principal seven, and Thomson, in particular, was very influential even though his passing in 1917 preceded the group’s most prolific period.  It’s fair to say that their collective focus on the Canadian landscape helped define in the popular imagination the majesty of Canada’s vast natural treasures.

Frederick Varley, Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay

Their work reminds me of the more loosely defined California School of American landscapists, whose many paintings of the American West during the first half of the Twentieth Century exhibit a subject matter and color palette remarkably similar to that of the Group of Seven.  Both groups were obviously borrowing from and re-interpreting the approaches developed by the French Impressionists several decades earlier, and the Group of Seven evolved to adopt the vivid colors of Post-Impressionism and the simplified forms of abstraction of Art Nouveau.  While other points of commonality can be found between the work of these artists and others here in the States (for instance, Lawren Harris’s spare abstracted landscapes bear a striking resemblance to some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s pieces), even if one does not recognize these connections there is much to appreciate in the Group’s representations of Canada’s diverse geography.

A.J. Casson, Rapids

As a whole the Group of Seven were prolific and their paintings and other works are held in many Canadian and other museums and collections.  There are also several useful websites devoted to the Group with rich resources available for further exploration.  Most notably, perhaps, is the site for Ontario’s McMichael Canadian Art Collection / Gallery (http://www.mcmichael.com/collection/seven/index.cfm), which houses one of the largest collections of the Group’s works.  The CBC has a wonderful set of digital archives (http://archives.cbc.ca/arts_entertainment/visual_arts/topics/754/) featuring video and audio on various aspects of the work of the Group, including rare interviews and footage of some of the artists themselves.

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