Harold J. Treherne

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Harold Treherne: The Innocent Eye (1975)

Harold J. Treherne was born in Parkgate, near Rotherham, England, in 1899. In 1923 he came to Canada, as did thousands of others from Britain, in answer to the glowing advertisements of recruiters, to help harvest a bumper crop in Saskatchewan. He bought a farm in the Moose Jaw district in 1926, and farmed until 1972. He has lived in Moose Jaw since 1945.

Treherne's drawings have been included in several juried Saskatchewan Arts Board exhibitions, and in 1961 won an award. Also in 1961 he showed in the Lady Dunn International Exhibit in the Beaverbrook Gallery of New Brunswick. The Saskatchewan Farmers' Union awarded him their first trophy for excellence in rural art in 1963.

In July 1967 Treherne was honoured at the opening of a local three-man Centennial Show in the Moose Jaw Art Museum. A selection of twenty-six works from this exhibition was then circulated in Saskatchewan by the Saskatchewan Arts Board.

Treherne is the author of Murder, Inc., In a Keg and Other True Stories (Vantage Press, New York, 1974), a collection of stories and poems based on his experiences of living on the prairies from the time of his arrival in 1923.

What strikes one immediately in viewing this selection of Treherne's pictures is that the subject-matter speaks of a man who is very closely tied to his environment. As a Saskatchewan farmer for almost fifty years, Treherne's pictures are concerned with the things he has known best: the prairie panorama, wheat elevators and rural communities, the private vista of his back yard, and objects close at hand such as those presented in his still lifes.

As a self-taught artist, no rules or categories of "high art" need be applied to his pictures. He does not attempt to imitate the art styles and assimilate the fashionable art doctrines of the day; nor does he pursue them. He is a creative man who has chosen to elevate his particular concerns and experiences to drawing, prose, and poetry in a manner he has developed himself because of an inner need to do so. Art of this nature will always mirror and universalize the mind and heart of the area from which the artist comes. Terminologies such as "primitive", "provincial", "folk" or "naive" are often applied to art of this nature, but one should not categorize creation which is uncomplicated by fashion. What is important is Harold J. Treherne's own ideas, concerns, and aims - any formal evaluation or criticism is of secondary importance.

Treherne suddenly started drawing in 1957, and has completed approximately one drawing a month since, except for a brief interlude when he was preparing his book for publication. When asked why in 1957 he should suddenly have begun, he chuckled, and with a twinkle in his eye retorted: "Just caught up on me, I guess. I had thought about it on and off for years, you know, but the family was around me - didn't give me enough thought to do anything." Asked why he used ballpoint pen and pencil crayon, he replied that he had tried painting but found it too sloppy. Both straightforward, uncomplicated answers.

When asked about the overriding precision, the linear quality, and the feeling that everything in his pictures is measured, he answered, "That's the draftsman's angle to it," and then continued that making a picture was a matter of drawing the object and putting colour to it. He had studied drafting and mechanical drawing in England before coming to Canada. The "'Heenan' Water Cooler" is such a mechanical drawing, made in 1918, when he worked as a junior in the drawing offices of Heenan and Froude Ltd., Worcester, England. He also mentioned that his pictures are measured or "sighted" with a ruler to get the proportions correct.

A very interesting aspect of Treherne's landscapes are his panoramic views, such as "Kelvington Elevators" and "Sunset". One of the prevailing interests he has is in applying a "wide angle" perspective to the prairie landscape. This is especially appealing in "Kelvington Elevators", where he has included six wheat elevators from a vantage point from which only one and part of another could actually be seen. Again in "Sunset" he has chosen a viewpoint between a roadway and ditch on the right and the trees and telephone poles along the road at the left. Thus on this very long horizontal picture surface one is immediately and unavoidably aware of the horizon; the effect is virtually to engulf the observer in the prairie. Treheme was well aware of this picture's psychological import with his statement "the headland in Saskatchewan is where the road and ditch meet."

Treherne's night pictures, such as "Saskatchewan Street (Night)", "St. Andrew's United Church (Night)" and "Rear of 1227 (Winter)" were actually drawn in daylight but planned at night so that the patterns of light and shadow could be observed and accurately reproduced. Treherne is fascinated by the contrasts of light and dark at night; to make a successful night-time picture "you have to make a maximum of contrast," even if in actuality the contrast is not exactly that pronounced. Thus Treherne is well aware of the necessity of a certain amount of exaggeration or artistic license to elevate a created work above the normal realm of perception.

This same spirit of controlled exaggeration may be found in his still lifes, such as "This and That" and "Greek Vase". In "This and That" the careful placement of objects and the different choice of the viewpoints within the same picture were done to "make the picture interesting - otherwise it gets drab." The same approach is utilized in "Greek Vase", in which the vase is reflected in two mirrors.

There are of course many other pleasing aspects to Treherne's pictures. For instance, note the treatment of the wheat in "Mostly Wheat", and the trees in "St. Andrew's United Church", where the swaying linear quality animates the picture spatially. Nor are these the only subtleties and variations in his art. In his prairie landscapes, such as "Track and Field", one finds the contrasts of fallowed and unfallowed land, uncultivated land and sloughs, and the contrast of the railway track diminishing to a headland against the panorama of the prairie itself.

Harold J. Treherne's art is born of the prairie, for he portrays the things he knows best. He has interpreted his experiences and concerns into art for his own satisfaction and in his own manner, and thus he does what many others with creative intentions leave uncultivated. Treherne speaks for those who have been nurtured on the prairies, and does so in a direct and honest manner.

-from the catalogue for "Harold Treherne: The Innocent Eye" an exhibition organized by the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, April 24 - May 18, 1975.

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