Category Archives: people

Tom Thomson


Tom Thomson (1877-1917)

Tom Thomson was a prolific artist over his short career. The Canadian painted 400 oil sketches on wood panels, and about 50 larger works on canvas.


Thomson fishing in Algonquin Park

An avid outdoorsman, Thomson spent a lot of time canoeing the waters of eastern Canada. In May of 1912, Thomson visited Algonquin Park in Ontario for the first time. That visit began a love affair that lasted the remainder of his life. It was Algonquin that inspired Thomson to seek out his first sketching tools.


The Canoe, Tom Thomson 1912

As an artist, Thomson was largely self-taught, and did not seriously start to paint until he was in his 30’s. His oil work on small wooden panels made it easy for transport during travels. Much of this work was inspired, or done in Algonquin Park.


Campfire, Tom Thomson, 1916

Thomson’s larger canvas work was mostly completed over the winter months in his Toronto Studio. The studio was an old utility shack, that was heated by a wood stove, located on the grounds of the artist complex The Studio Building. Thomson’s work and notoriety reached a peak between the years of 1914-1917.


The Jack Pine, Tom Thomson, 1916

On July 8 of 1917, Thomson disappeared on a canoe trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. His body was found eight days later floating in the lake. He was buried near Canoe Lake at Mowat Cemetery, although his brother later exhumed his body and brought it to the family plot.

Thomson was known as an honorary member of the Group of Seven. Also known as the Algonquin School, the Group of Seven was collection of Canadian landscape painters from 1920-1933. One member, Lawren Harris, said later, Thomson “was a part of the movement, before we pinned a label on it.”

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Totem on Hayhurst Point

Brazil Lucas and I spent some time on Canoe Lake during the Canadian Excursion. We canoed over to Hayhurst Point, where a memorial cairn stands honoring Thomson. Near the spot where Thomson’s body was recovered, the cairn was erected in September 1917 by J. E. H. MacDonald and John William Beatty.


Tom Thomson Memorial Cairn, Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario


Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White passed away suddenly on Thursday of a suspected heart attack. The musician was inspired to pick up a guitar as a teenager when he heard Lightin’ Hopkins for the first time. Known for his “swamp rock” style, White wrote several classics including “Willie and Laura Mae Jones”, “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia”. The latter had been covered by over 100 different artists by the time White turned 30.

In the above video, White performs one of his songs with Johnny Cash. White was 75.


Rest in peace, Senator

“This guy, he served his country.”


The Queen of Soul


Aretha Franklin at Columbia Records

We lost another icon of the music world with the passing of Aretha Franklin. Franklin got her start as a child singing gospel at the New Bethel Baptist church in Detroit, where her father was a minister.

Franklin signed on with Columbia Records in 1960 at the age of 18. She found success and acclaim after signing with Atlantic Records in 1967. By the end of the 1960’s Aretha had become the Queen of Soul.

Franklin brings down the house at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. As a singer, Franklin won’t drop the mic, but she can drop the coat.

I have to add a clip of Aretha’s cameo in “The Blues Brothers”. Matt “Guitar” Murphy is “her man” in the film. Sadly, we lost Murphy earlier this year, as well.

Franklin was a powerful vocalist, who wrenched every bit of emotion out of the lyrics. As Paul McCartney said, she “was the Queen of our souls.”

Aretha Franklin was 76; there will never be another quite like her. Rest in peace.


Ted Williams on PBS

PBS is airing an incredible documentary through their American Masters series called Ted Williams: “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”, and it is extremely well done.


Ted Williams in 1947

Ted Williams was a fascinating, yet complicated individual. Widely accepted as the greatest hitter that baseball has ever seen, Williams had a swing that was pure artistry. He also had a temper that both riled and endeared fans and sports writers alike.
He was the last man to hit over .400 during a MLB season, which Williams did in 1941. He also refused to tip his cap when on the field, even after hitting a home run. His final at bat at Fenway Park was a home run, yet his cap never left his head. In private, Williams raised millions of dollars for treatment and research for children with cancer.


Ted Williams in Korea

His baseball career was interrupted twice by war. Williams spent three years in The U.S. Navy in WWII, and another year of service in Korea in 1953. He flew 39 ground attack combat missions as a Marine pilot over Korea. Many, as John Glenn’s wingman.

The American Masters documentary pulls no punches as it delves into “The Kid’s” life. Williams was a complicated man, but as the film states, “Williams was real. Ted lived his life with his emotions on his sleeve”. The documentary is well worth the time, even if you have little interest in baseball.


Eight stars of gold on a field of blue


The Alaska state flag

In 1927, when Alaska was still a U.S. Territory, Territorial Governor George Parks persuaded the Alaska American Legion to hold a competition. The Governor thought it would help the statehood movement by having a state flag, so the Legion held a contest, open to all Alaskan children, to design Alaska’s new flag.

142 designs were sent to Juneau from all over the state. A thirteen year old living in Seward, John Ben “Benny” Benson won the contest with a simple, yet elegant design.


Benny Benson holding his design for the new Alaska flag

Benny Benson was born in the fishing village of Chignik. His father was a Swedish fisherman, his mother an Aleut-Russian. Benny’s mother died when he was just three, and the family home burned to the ground shortly afterwards. His father, John Ben Benson Sr, could not take care of his three children alone, so they were divided up. Benny and his brother were put into an orphanage in Unalaska; his sister Elsie was sent to a school in Oregon.

The Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska was home to hundreds of Aleut orphans. It eventually moved from Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain, to the town of Seward on the mainland. It was from here that Benny Benson sent his design for the Alaska flag, as a seventh grader.


The Jesse Lee Home for Children in Unalaska, circa 1901

Benson described his design to the judges this way: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The Territorial Legislature approved the new flag in May of 1927, and Alaska officially flew its new flag for the first time on 9 July 1927. Benny Benson received a watch, with the flag design etched on it, as well as a $1000 educational scholarship, which he eventually used to become a diesel mechanic.

Benson Boulevard in Anchorage, which is a major east-west thoroughfare, is named after Benny.
A Benny Benson Memorial is located at milepost 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward.
The airport in Kodiak was renamed the Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport in 2013.
A school in Anchorage on Campbell Airstrip Road has been named the Benny Benson School.

Benny Benson died of a heart attack in 1972. He was 58.

The black & white photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library Archives


Who Loves You Baby?

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater

Legendary Chicago bluesman, Eddy Clearwater died today. He was 83. Born Edward Harrington in Macon, Mississippi, Eddy moved to Chicago in 1950, taking on the nickname “Guitar Eddy”. His agent suggested Clear Water, playing off of bluesman Muddy Waters. Eventually that morphed into Eddy Clearwater.

Clearwater perfected his own style of Blues, which he called “rock-a-blues”, a mixture of Blues, rock, rockabilly, country and gospel. His music career extended over six decades, and he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016.

I first saw Eddy Clearwater live at a club in Des Moines called “Blues on Grand”. I tell you, it was one hell of a show. Of all the Blues acts I saw in Des Moines, I think Clearwater was my favorite. Eddy was such a showman, and I was mesmerized by his guitar play. Clearwater was self taught, and he played the guitar left-handed and upside down. My buddy who was at Blues on Grand with me said, “Watching him play is giving me a headache!” When Clearwater was on stage, he grabbed your attention, and didn’t let you go until he was done with you.

We sat close to the stage, although at BoG, no one sat very far from it. Just before a break, Clearwater called my buddy and I out from the stage. During the intermission, he came over to us and talked to us like we were old friends. Of course, he gave each of us a guitar pick. To this day, I still have mine; it’s fastened to the dash of my old Land Rover.

Rest in peace, Eddy. You will be dearly missed.