"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lifting Yesterday -- A Chapter Three Supplement: Meeting the Family

One of the delights of looking deeply into someone’s life is the connections that come, often unbidden, often unexpected. Elizabeth Bishop had a fascinating immediate maternal family and an intriguing set of ancestors. (I am sure her paternal side was interesting, too, but my research has focused on her maternal side.) One of my favourite of her relatives was one of her great-uncles, the painter George W. Hutchinson. As Chapter Three of Lifting Yesterday tries to convey, the connections between him and Bishop were many and complex, some quite direct and literal, some rather oblique and mysterious.

It was too bad that Bishop never met her great-uncle – I am sure they would have hit it off, as George Hutchinson had a wonderful sense of humour and a truly curious sort of life. I have been looking into his life with my friend and colleague Lilian Falk since the early 1990s. Lilian was one of those wondrous synchoronicities that happen – and I am most grateful that George, in is own strange way, brought us together.

I have also had the great pleasure of connecting with several people in the U.K. who have a direct line of descent from George. First, perhaps ten years ago now, came Pat and Graham Kench. Pat is the great-niece of Lily Yerbury, George’s second wife. The Kenches visited Nova Scotia in June 2011 and they brought with them a remarkable self-portrait George did in 1914, when he was in his early 60s. It hangs in the EB House, and eventually will go to Acadia University.
Second, about three years ago, came Jayne Lawrence, one of George’s great-grandchildren. She is the daughter of Gordon (Hutchinson) King, who was the son of Victor Jubilee (Hutchinson) King, who was one of George’s youngest sons. Jane provided me with important material she had located in her family research. Thank you Jayne. She also sent me a dear painting done by her father, Gordon – especially for me – a treasured possession.
Third, late last year, came Matthew Hutchinson, the son of Marty Hutchinson, who was the son of Benjamin Hutchinson, George’s oldest child. Matthew has kindly sent to me a number of photographs, one of them the earliest image of George Hutchinson I have ever seen – a very young man, probably at the beginning of his illustrating career in the 1880s. Matthew has kindly given me permission to post this image of George, the first time, I think, that it has been publicly shown. George had a way with a moustache!
From all of these wonderful people, I have learned a great deal about George Hutchinson, and with each discovery, it became clearer that George’s life was full, complex and deeply interesting in its own right, not just to his great-niece Elizabeth Bishop.

You can learn more about George Hutchinson by subscribing to Lifting Yesterday. It is still possible to do so – go to the “Lifting Yesterday” link at the top of the page to find out how to subscribe.

Over the years I have written essays about George Hutchinson’s connection to Bishop. My first essay was presented at the first Bishop symposium to be held, at Vassar College, in September 1994. Most of that essay was integrated into Chapter Three of Lifting Yesterday. My collaboration with Lilian Falk triggered another essay, “What’s in a Name: The Gilbert Stuart Newton Plaque Error” (which, in spite of its title, is indeed about George Hutchinson). This latter essay was published in Acadiensis in the Autumn 1995 issue. I have a pdf of this file if anyone is interested. Or you can find it in the Acadiensis archives: http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/index.

Lilian Falk wrote a wonderful essay about George Hutchinson’s illustrating career, which was presented to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society and appeared in its Journal in Vol. 9, 2006. My name is included as co-author, but it is primarily Lilian’s work. I can send this as a pdf, too. Lilian co-wrote an intriguing essay about George, “George Hutchinson, a Canadian Illustrator of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island,” which appeared in Canadian Children’s Literature (now Jeunesse Journal), Vol., 25:4, No. 96, 1999. The journal’s site is searchable if you register, so it can be found there.

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