Mysterious death? Tom Thomson? No, the painter is alive and well and tweeting – has been since 2011. And, now, the renowned landscape artist lives on in a new book: Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring.
The book, which supposes the journal entries that Thomson would have written in the last months of his life, is the “semi-fictional” work of Tim Bouma, an Ottawa-based policy analyst for the federal government by day and a Thomson-channelling writer by night. With his blog entries, thriving Twitter account (@TTLastSpring) and particularly the book, Bouma connects Canada with one of its lost, missing sons.
“He was an enigma and a moody figure,” says Bouma, calling from the nation’s capital. “Other books viewed him from a distance. What I’m trying to do is say, ‘This is what it felt like to live at the time. This is what contributed to our collective experience.’”
Thomson died, at the age of 39, on Canoe Lake in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, on July 8, 1917. The circumstances surrounding his demise have ever since been routinely described as “mysterious.” Regarded as an excellent guide, fisherman and canoeist, the notion that he would drown in a watery mishap wasn’t an explanation bought by everyone.
Indeed, the mystery of his death was originally a big part of the narrative to Bouma’s tweets, which often come with the provocative tag line, “Who killed Tom Thomson?”
Over the years, however, the whodunit angle became less important to Bouma, who grew up in the same village (Leith, Ont., near Owen Sound) where Thomson himself was raised. As well, with his work, Bouma concentrates on the jack-pine maestro as a Canadian man of his times, as opposed to Thomson the artist.
“The mystery thing isn’t what fuels the story at all,” Bouma, 52, says. “Those loose ends gave an energy, but what fuels it is the relationship and the iconography he gave us as Canadians. That’s what this book is all about.”
In addition to the imagined journal entries, the book includes what Bouma calls “fictional” paintings. A computer program is used to conjure Thomson-styled sketches from photographs.
So, an iconic Canadian lives on. The feeling is that Thomson not only saw nature, but felt and understood it in its various moods. In that respect, with Bouma’s deep comprehension of the artist who fascinates him, he should be seen as Thomson’s kindred spirit, not his biographer.
Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.