Art Love Forgery

There were approximately 19,900 new books published in Canada in 1996, the latest year for which statistics are available. Even if I were to read two a week, it would take me 200 years to read ’em all! So, I must choose carefully which books I read.

As a history aficionado, I recently read Art Love Forgery, Carolyn Morgan’s foray into published fiction based on fact.

art-love-forgery-coverIn 1880, Alexander Pindikowsky, a Polish artist working in Heart’s Content, is arrested for the crime of forgery.

Morgan has been fascinated by this story since she first heard about the Pole.

“Since I am a visual artist,” she says, “his story was all the more compelling to me.” She wanted his “quite unusual” tale to “come alive.”

As a university student writing history papers, she “always read historical fiction first to get a sense of the time period and the historical figures. Reading a novel was far less tedious for me than reading dry historical documents.”

By crafting Pindikowsky’s story as a novel, Morgan was able to entertain her readers and educate people “about a slice of Newfoundland history in the process.”

Art Love Forgery is informed by an amalgam of “stories and characters from my own family history” and an awareness of “the cultural mind-set of the time.”

Pindikowsky was sentenced to prison; part of his sentence included designing and painting ceiling frescoes that can still be seen at Government House in St. John’s.

“Very progressive was the idea of using a prisoner’s talents during his incarceration instead of having him languish in a jail cell.”

Visual artistry has been part of Morgan’s life, she explains, “starting as a young girl designing and creating hats and clothing for my dolls.”

Studying art locally and spending two art holidays in France and one in Italy, studying painting en plein air, she now sells her paintings, textile work and metal art work.

She says that her visual work is based on inspiration.

“My artistic expression is all about communicating ideas and stories. My work often reflects the struggle between the industrialized/technological world and the natural world. When I am inspired, my imagination processes images in the form of a visual story. A person, place, leaf or seedpod, a phrase in a book or a fragment of conversation, can trigger a torrent of visual images that will condense into an artwork.”

In Art Love Forgery, she writes “about an artist who is part of Newfoundland’s history – a happy combination for me.”

In case you are wondering, yes, the Love in the title indicates the story of a forbidden love in the capital city in the nineteenth century.

Art Love Forgery, which is published by Flanker Press, is a good read. Morgan draws the reader in through her artistic imagination. The overriding question is: How will the love affair between Alexander Pindikowsky and Ellen Dormody evolve?

The book will also “foster a curiosity about other characters and events from our rich history,” which is one of the things Morgan wants people to take from her novel.

A fire at Brigus

smith-nicholasIt was Wednesday, 25 September 1935. Seventy-five-year-old Nicholas Smith of Brigus was in the middle of writing his memoirs. The book would be released the following year by the English firm, Arthur H. Stockwell, Ltd., under the title, Fifty-Two Years at the Labrador Fishery.

Humphrey T. Walwyn (1879-1957), Governor of Newfoundland from 1936 to 1946, wrote the foreword to Smith’s book, referring to it as “a work of great inspirational value and historical interest to those who today follow in his footsteps.” The Englishman enthused that the author “gives to the reader an insight into the sterling character of the Newfoundland fisherman. Greater indeed than the industry itself are the courage and undying optimism which inspire him to carry on in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties. Greater indeed than the mere commercial value of the total catch are the character and resourcefulness which go into the production of a single quintal of codfish.”

Suddenly, as Smith was buried in his manuscript, a fire started in a house halfway down Grave Hill, which was one of Brigus’ better residential neighbourhoods. Much of the town’s businesses, including the premises belonging to J. & G. Smith, Captain Azariah Munden and Captain Nathan Norman, were located there. Both captains owned homes not unlike English castles which were, Smith recalled, “a picture to see.”

The fire spread to the adjacent building, then the cooperage where R. F. Horwood had lived as a child. From there, the flames lit another house and coal shed, then quickly ignited the Pomeroy dwelling and stores across from Smith’s home. The fire jumped the street, a mere thirty feet from where Smith was writing his autobiography.

“It greatly affected my brain and ability,” Smith admitted. He facetiously added that he had not been “over-stocked with either before the accident occurred!”

During the following week, Smith could barely write his own name, let alone continue writing what would become a 56,000-word book!

The author, who was blessed with a keen sense of humour, acknowledged, “I fancy now that I have got things down here that I should have left out, and have left out some funny incidents that I should have included.” He encouraged the reader to “take the will for the deed and forgive my shortcomings under the circumstances.”


A flood at Brigus in 1907. Photo courtesy J. J. Winter.

The fire was a disastrous and devastating one. Before the conflagration was brought under control, largely after the arrival of the pumper from St. John’s, sixteen structures were destroyed. Smith himself came to within a hair’s breath of losing his home and all his possessions. He and his family, he suggested, would then have “been on the street in my old days.”

As it stood, his daughter and son-in-law lost their home, which was, he wrote, “a fairly good one for a fisherman to possess.” The house boasted nine rooms and a grocery store on the ground floor; the basement stored 100 tons of coal. Fortunately, most of the furniture, as well as the items in the shop, were saved. Unfortunately, no insurance was carried. Some of the other people who had suffered loss were covered, but most were only partly insured.

Smith suspected that, if the residents of Brigus at the turn of the twentieth century could return, they would be grief-stricken to “see the once prosperous Grave Hill, now a place of fallen brick and mortar.” Smith hoped the buildings which had been destroyed by the fire would be rebuilt, but he was practical enough to realize that “time alone can tell.”

A bishop at Bay Roberts

Newfoundland’s second Anglican bishop, Edward Feild (1801-76), was consecrated in Canterbury in April 1844. Shortly after, he assumed duties commensurate with his position.

He began a private diary, in which he reflected on his challenge and detailed his voyage. He was preoccupied with church architecture and arrangement, colonial practices for church ritual, and the erection of a new cathedral. He included his personal opinions of both public figures and clergy, not shying away from passing judgment when he felt it was necessary.

Today, it is instructive to review the bishop’s experiences at Bay Roberts on 30 July 1844.

Feild found the settlement to be “very long-struggling.” To reach the church, he “proceeded along a very decent road upwards of a mile.”

Nearing the church, he spied the parson who, apparently, “had been expecting us in the morning and had designed that his people should receive the Sacrament at my hands.”


Bishop Edward Feild

The Anglican minister at Bay Roberts in 1844 was Robert Traill Spence Lowell (1816-91). He is remembered as the author of New Priest in Conception Bay, the first novel ever to be based on firsthand experience of Newfoundland life.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Lowell trained for ministry in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1842, he was admitted for ordination.

That fall, Lowell met Aubrey George Spencer (1785-1872), Newfoundland’s first Church of England Bishop, later following him to Bermuda.

Lowell was deaconed in December and priested in March 1843. He served as domestic chaplain to Bishop Spencer and school inspector.

Lowell requested to be transferred to Bay Roberts. Arriving in Newfoundland in May 1843, he became the third resident minister of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.

Except for a three-month stint in the States in 1845, when he married Mary Ann (known as Marianna) Duane of Duanesburg, New York, Lowell lived in Newfoundland until July 1847. The couple had three daughters and four sons. Their first child was born in Bay Roberts in 1847.

Lowell took Feild to the schoolroom, where the American bragged about the Sunday school children who, in his opinion, were “well instructed in the church Catechism.” Feild begged to differ.

Lowell also boasted of the numbers he had enlisted in Sunday school. He had established a daily afternoon church service. He had also obtained and fenced ground for a cemetery. He had “great influence” with people.

Feild committed his caustic feelings about Lowell to his diary: “He is a genuine American – a young and unfortunately a single man, [who] fancies himself a decided Churchman.” His ways were “truly American.”

For example, Lowell had a dog by the name of Chrysostom. “The dog was introduced to me as a son of the Church,” Feild noted humourlessly.

Chrysostom accompanied his master and the bishop to the church, evidently “a common practice.” Field was not amused.

Feild was also unimpressed with the way Lowell “said the prayers,” making “such pauses between the sentences of the Confession that it was quite painful to hear him.” Feild thought Lowell had simply put on a performance.

Not only that, but “people kept coming in during the whole service, and the children were moving about, coming and going out in a degree that was almost intolerable.”

Feild mounted the pulpit to preach. Suddenly, “John Chrysostom marched deliberately up the church, as it might be supposed to inquire who was got into his, or his master’s, place, but as it turned out to join his master at the altar!”

Decidedly upset, Feild stopped preaching and insisted that the dog be “thrown out, which his master, in great confusion, was obliged to perform.”

The bishop noted in his diary: “I greatly fear that Mr. Lowell has another American gift, viz. that of lying,” as Lowell had assured the bishop that the canine would not venture “beyond the vestry.”

Following the service, Feild accompanied Lowell to his lodgings, which consisted of two small rooms. The American endeavoured to make the Englishman “feel more comfortable and at ease by expatiating on the house he shortly intends to build,” a stone structure on a site he had already obtained.

Lowell served his guest plenty of tea, bread and butter, along with “some very nice scrods – which is the young cod – and was the first variety of the fish I have liked.” Feild sarcastically noted, “The fishermen cook it better than professed artists.”

Lowell then “informed us of his powers and perfections, among other things equally wonderful that he was regularly descended from Mahnus Troil,” a character in a novel written by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

Bishop Feild then took his leave of Bay Roberts and moved on to neighbouring Port de Grave.

Skipper Jim Powell’s dream

Jim Powell of Bonavista was not a particularly religious fellow. This is an important observation to keep in mind, as it plays a key part in this story. He attended his church whenever the doors were open and he supported his clergyman anyway he could. Still, religion was largely a perfunctory affair for him; he was what is termed a “nominal” Christian.

One night, Jim dreamed a dream. Nothing unusual there. But the content of his dream was unusual and would stay with him until his dying day. He related the details of his dream to all and sundry.

In his dream, he died, thankfully ending up in heaven.

“My son,” he would say to family and friends, “you should’ve seen it!” He would then launch into an eloquent and colourful description of heaven’s splendours.

“I was met at the gate by St. Peter himself!” he exclaimed. “I walked up the golden staircase and entered this very wonderful and beautiful place.

“Then,” he continued, excitement showing in his voice, “I was taken to a long hall, where there were rows of pegs. On each peg there was a robe and a crown.”

Emotion creased his countenance. But he wasn’t yet finished describing what he had experienced.

“As we were walking down the hall,” he continued, “St. Peter stopped and pointed to a certain peg. He said to me, ‘This robe and crown are yours, and in three years I am coming for you.’ ”

By now, shivers would be running up and down the backs of Jim’s listeners, who had heard this story time and again.

Earlier, we said that Jim Powell was not a particularly religious fellow. Well, that was before his dream. After his dream, he did an about-face. So impressed upon his mind was his dream that he became a devoted Christian. Indeed, his lifestyle was completely altered.

One fall day in 1890, three years to the day from Jim’s dream, his schooner was tied up at Baine Johnston’s wharf in St. John’s. His brother-in-law’s schooner was there, too. They had sailed to the capital city with a load of dried codfish. In return, they would take back to Bonavista the full complement of supplies they needed for the winter.

Jim’s brother-in-law had been up on Water Street. On his way back to his schooner, he saw Jim Powell walking up the wharf. He was drenched and water was streaming off his clothing. His brother-in-law spoke to him, but there was no response…for Jim was no longer there!

That afternoon, the two schooners left for Bonavista. The larger one was skippered by Tom Burge; the smaller, by Jim Powell.

Because there was no wind, they put out their rowboats and rowed until they reached the outer part of the Narrows. The schooners were so close to each other that the men engaged in a bit of fun by throwing birch junks at each other.

Separating from Captain Powell, Captain Burge proceeded to Bonavista, arriving almost three days later. But Powell’s schooner was nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, Jim had reached Sugarloaf.

At that moment, a steamer, the Falcon, steered directly for the schooner. A Mr. Carroll, who was manning the wheel, later testified, “I tried by every means in my power to steer clear of the steamer, but I was unable to do so.

“They had lights up,” he explained. “There was no reason whatsoever for the steamer to run into our vessel, unless there was nobody on the bridge. The steamer came along so fast that I didn’t have a chance to see if there was any lookout. But I distinctly remember there was nobody on the bridge.”

The schooner was sliced in half.

Miraculously, Mr. Carroll grabbed a piece of rope which was hanging from the steamer and pulled himself aboard. Jim Powell, who had the reputation of being “a dog in the water,” was lost. His body was never found.

Jim Powell died three years to the day of his dream of heaven.