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Old 11-07-2016, 11:00 PM   #1
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Default Spirit of Mariposa exhibit in Orillia

THE ARGUS - Student Voice of Lakehead

The Spirit Of Mariposa

New Exhibit Celebrates Orillia’s 150th birthday

By: Thomas Rose, Staff Writer

There’s a story in Anishinaabeg oral history that says the Atherley Narrows is the spot where the Creator hung the sun, marking the area as a special place. The Narrows, located just outside of Orillia where Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe meet, were long a place of peace where various Indigenous nations would meet at the fishing weirs there while travelling by land or water. Craig Mainprize, curator of the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH)’s Spirit of Mariposa exhibit, tells the story with an awed reverence as he walks me through the exhibit, which features a history of the area directly in the centre of the room.

Commissioned in celebration of Canada and Orillia’s 150th birthdays, The Spirit of Mariposa focuses on contributions made to the Canadian art world by four prominent Orillians: Elizabeth Wyn Wood, Gordon Lightfoot, Stephen Leacock, and Arthur Shilling. Mainprize, a first-time curator, took up the mantle from the Mariposa Roundtable’s idea for an exhibit featuring the four artists after OMAH offered the position to him while volunteering with a forthcoming exhibit of lesser-known Canadian artists. Looking at the exhibit, which Mainprize notes takes visitors through “four different mediums” of art – sound, language, form, and colour – you’d hardly guess this was anything less than a seasoned veteran’s work. The four corners dedicated to each artist are linked by an outline of the shore of Lake Couchiching which guides you through the exhibit, with the centreplate of Orillia’s history as a culturally important area dating back thousands of years demonstrating what Mainprize calls one of the big themes of the exhibit, the spirit of home. “Your home, as an artist,” says Mainprize, “Is always going to be a sort of nucleus to what you’re doing.”

At each point along the shoreline associated with each of the four artists, viewers are treated to an assortment of locally-sourced artifacts linked with them, from the piano on which Lightfoot took music lessons to a fishing basket accompanied by a picture of Leacock using it, pants rolled to his knees, in the lake. Perhaps most beautiful is a selection of pallets used by Shilling, who made his home in nearby Rama, painstakingly cleaned of debris and encased in glass. The vibrant gobs of hardened paint stand as a testament to the quickness with which he painted, which Mainprize notes was “like turning on a tap”. “You can see that in the pallets,” he says, “you can see that in the hurriedness of things, and the lack of care about how much paint he’s wasting. It’s more about working.”

To experience the exhibit is to experience an Orillia that is too often forgot – a city that, though small, is a lively centre of Canadian culture including not only the artists of The Spirit of Mariposa, but other artists and politicians who have left an indelible mark on the nation and the world beyond. When asked what it is about Orillia that inspires its citizens with, as he puts it, “a spirit of ‘let’s do everything we can with our life’”, Mainprize pauses. For a man so clearly passionate about his work, describing every piece and its backstory in precious detail, it’s a moment of silence which seems to give importance to the question. After suggesting the calming effect of living on the water, or the size of the community facilitating easy, abundant discussion, he smiles. “Some people might say it’s The Narrows, the idea of this being a meeting point for people where sharing happens.” Looking at the exhibit, you wouldn’t be blamed for believing him. You also wouldn’t be blamed for believing, as Mainprize hopes the exhibit compels you to, that you could have the same impression on history as its subjects.

The Spirit of Mariposa will run at the Orillia Museum of Art and History at 30 Peter Street S. until December 31st, 2017.

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