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Tom Thomson gallery unveils significant donation of McLean works

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A significant collection of works by world-renowned widlife artist George McLean are coming home.

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On Friday, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery revealed 10 works that have been donated to the gallery by late philanthropist, businessman, politician and sports team owner David Braley through his Hamilton-based company Alexander Tools Ltd.

“It is a great honour to receive this donation of Grey County artist George McLean’s artworks,” art gallery director and chief curator Aidan Ware said. “We recognize the late David Braley’s outstanding vision and passion for collecting these paintings and we are thrilled to bring them home to The TOM where we will share their powerful beauty and artistic excellence with generations to come.”

The collection of 10 works includes those done by McLean, who calls the Bognor area home, over an approximately seven-year period between 2008 and 2015. The collection includes eight paintings and two graphite drawings.

They are all prime examples of the work that has made McLean one of world’s most renowned North American wildlife artists. McLean is know for the way he captures his subject animals in action, and how he recreates the reality of nature in the way he depicts the predator and the prey.

One 2015 work, titled Fisher and Flying Squirrels, depicts a fisher perched on a tree as the flying squirrels attempt a getaway flight. Another 2013 painting, called Mantling Hawk on Rabbit, shows the hawk on a rabbit in the snow after the kill has been made. Other works depict animals including a mink, blue jay, Cooper’s hawk, house finch and cougar. Another piece is of hare tracks in the snow.

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The gallery’s curator of collections, David Huff, first saw the collection at Braley’s office at Alexander Tools in 2019.

Huff, who has been instrumental in bringing the collection to Owen Sound, said the donation is significant for a number of reasons, including the quality of the works, the number of pieces, the reputation of the artist and the time period in which McLean completed the works. The gallery has 16 other artworks in its collection by McLean, who has been painting wildlife professionally since age 18.

“For somebody like McLean, we want to be able to explore the whole process. He has been painting for decades and decades and decades and his artwork has changed over the years,” said Huff. “We have some very early works he has done, then we had pieces through the 70s, some in the 80s and a couple in the 90s, but this time period that is sort of at the height of his career was not already represented.”

Huff said it has been a true team effort to bring the collection to the gallery, with Owen Sound senior management, Mayor Ian Boddy, McLean, Braley’s family and the staff at Alexander Tools involved.

McLean, 81, who continues to paint at his home studio near Bognor, said Friday that there is no more appropriate place for the works than the Owen Sound gallery.

“This is our 52nd year here and I partly grew up around here because my family are all from Owen Sound,” McLean said. “The Tom Thomson gallery I think is the only place that should rightfully have the collection because it is a major collection.”

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Braley, who died on Oct. 26 at the age of 79, was a long-time collector of McLean’s work, purchasing numerous pieces for his home and business over the past decades.

McLean said he didn’t know how many of his works Braley had in total, but it is certainly the biggest collection in existence, including some that are major pieces in his career as an artist.

He said he lobbied Braley for years about some day directing works to the Owen Sound gallery and was happy to hear from him when he decided to do so.

“One day he called me up and he said, ‘I have decided to take your advice on this Tom Thomson thing,’” said McLean. “He said, ‘Can you get that started for me’ and I said, ‘sure’ and that is how it began.”

Boddy said the gift was a wonderful one for the gallery to receive.

“We are grateful to David Braley and Alexander Tools Ltd. for their generosity in donating this collection so that we can share George McLean’s incredible talent with the public,” Boddy said. “I congratulate the Tom Thomson Art Gallery and the City of Owen Sound on their collaborative effort in coordination this important donation and look forward to seeing the works at the gallery very soon.”

The gallery is developing plans to publicly showcase the donation.

Alexander Tools president Grant Panchyson said Braley was very passionate about Canadian wildlife art and the pieces by McLean had a special place in his heart.

“He always knew that there would be no better place than the Tom Thomson Art Gallery to share these great pieces with everyone,” Panchyson said. “The works of art have found their permanent home.”

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