Christmas with the Carmichaels
The OMAH collection is a treasure trove of artifacts, oftengenerously donated by those who recognize their importance to local history. These gems teach us about our past and individuals who played a part in it.
Orillian, Franklin Carmichael, a founding member of the Group of Seven, lived in the family home on Scott Street from his birth in 1890 to 1910. During this period, his artistic talent was nurtured.
Carmichael’s first job was in his father’s company, a carriage works. He applied painted embellishment to carriages. In the first half of the 1900’s, both horse-drawn wagons and motor cars might be seen on municipal roads. Many would have painted designs as branding or decoration.
Designing and applying painted decoration to carriages and auto bodies is precise work. Carmichael’s talent for artistic rendering had been noted in his early childhood. His aptitude and skill were encouraged by his parents. Judging by everything he accomplished in his short life, he had a formidable work ethic too.
He began work as a mail boy for Grip Industrial Design in Toronto, after an art education in Belgium. Grip was a commercial art company that employed other members of the Group of Seven.
Carmichael was a founding member of the Group of Seven. He co-founded the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour with A. J. Casson and Fred Brigden, focusing increasingly on watercolour work.
He taught at Ontario College of Art (OCA) and then headed of OCA’s Department of Industrial Design.
There is an Orillia connection to Carmichael’s time at OCA: Orillian Ann Duncan’s mother attended OCA, and Carmichael was one of her instructors.
In his spare time Carmichael painted, sketched and printed stunning landscapes and images of mining towns.
Carmichael Christmas Cards
Carmichael is best known for his art depicting Ontario landscape in all its glory. Less well known is that Carmichael designed and printed the family’s Christmas cards. In fact, several Group of Seven members created their own Christmas cards.
The Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH) is grateful to Gary Marsh for his kind donation of a collection of these handmade treasures.
Marsh’s family lived in what became North York, near the Carmichaels. Christmas cards from the Carmichael family were received by the Marsh family from 1937 to 1944.
Franklin Carmichael’s printing company was named ‘The Press of the Wyvern’. A ‘wyvern’ is a two-footed winged dragon of Welsh mythology and a formidably magic creature. Carmichael’s magic is evidenced by brilliant designs and perfect prints.
One of the cards displays this text on its back page:
“Designed Engraved on Wood Set and Printed by hand At the Press of the Wyvern Lansing, Ont. 1940”
Carmichael is drawing to our attention that his Christmas cards were produced by hand. His pride in skilled work is declared. ‘Printed by hand’ was a marker of value for him.
By the 1940s, manual wood block printing was yielding to more automated methods. It was important to Carmichael that his cards were produced in the more traditional way.
As you look at the card design above, with its ornate medieval lettering, take a moment to imagine how Carmichael would have created the printing block to make it.
First, the image would be designed and drawn, then re-drawn on a block of wood. Next, the wood would be carved away, removing a depth of wood around the letters and entwining holly, so that the design emerges three-dimensionally from the wood.
Once the design was perfectly carved and delineated, a single colour of ink would be applied to the wood block. The block would then be set in a press and the cardstock paper lined up. The inked wood block would be pressed into the paper, using a hand operated press.
Carmichael has used two colours in this card. Applying a second colour would require cleaning the wood block, application of the next ink colour and perfect alignment of the block to the paper, so as not to mar the ink already on the paper.
Carmichael’s cards in OMAH’s collection have been wrought perfectly in a variety of styles.
Some of his cards feature medieval poetry, such as “This Rose is Railed on a Ryse,” above, with script and ornate images reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts.
The greeting below, “There be a wyshe we have for thee upon this Christmas-Tide. May Joye and alle gladde thynges the season brynges get to thee and abyde” , is reminiscent of Chaucerian language from the 1400’s, an interesting choice of text showing that Carmichael was a person with historical knowledge.
Other cards are sparsely elegant, even ‘art deco’ in appearance.
The card below, “To wish you the Season’s Greetings for Christmas and the New Year” depicts three doves and what might be a stylized star, grouped around “T”.
Franklin Carmichael was only aged 55 when he died in 1945. The card below, received by the Gary Marsh’s family in 1944, would have been one of the last Christmas cards he ever produced.
OMAH expresses its sincere thanks and gratitude to Gary Marsh for what is a beautiful collection of Christmas cards from Franklin Carmichael’s ‘The Press of the Wyvern.’
We are always interested in photos and artifacts related to Franklin Carmichael that residents of our community may be able to bring to our attention.
Click on the LINKS below for further reading and viewing related to Franklin Carmichael’s life and work: