Sunfield Painter: The Reminiscences of John Davenall Turner
Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.
Alberta artist John Davenall Turner lived in Edmonton and Calgary and painted the many faces of his province for almost all of his 80 years. This lively autobiography is introduced by Jon Whyte with a sketch which shares many of the literary qualities of the main text. With humour and sensitivity, Whyte depicts a romantic and idealistic figure seen in old age on a painting expedition: “Only a fool or a passionate man could love that day of winter-scraped rawness and tempest-quickened roughness, a day of slender beauty, grimly spring. Jack Turner is enjoying himself.”
Turner’s self-portrait ranges from the early years of this century, when his immigrant parents were pioneer farmers in northern Alberta, to 1965, when he and his wife, Grace, retired from the art gallery they had established in Calgary 20 years earlier. He retired to Sunfield, nearby, to paint, sculpt, read, and write. His lifelong struggle, to combine the practice of art with earning a living, humanizes the story. Turner writes as he paints — with passion, humour, and wit.
The autobiography includes 31 colour reproductions of Turner’s paintings and numerous whimsical drawings scattered through the text in the manner of Ernest Thompson Seton. Turner’s oils are not unlike the landscape tradition established by the Group of Seven, while his delicate water-colours (“Sun and Rain,” “Dry Creek”) catch the changing lights and moods of prairie and foothills. Turner was a complex man, as tough and resilient as the culture and terrain that nurtured him. Paintings, drawings, and text convey a rounded portrait of a major Western Canadian artist.