SCUGOG: During the height of the Second World War, as gun shots and the life-taking explosions of bombs rang through the air, soldiers of all countries and creeds fought amongst trenches and bombed out buildings in the European theatre of war. Many of the brave young men who crossed the channel did not make it home, and those that did were left wounded in both body and soul.
World War II carved deep scars in the body and soul of Arnold Hodgkins, and death was always near to the young Canadian field medic. Still, the not-yet 30-year-old soldier pushed on through the battlefields, driven by a passion for life.
One fateful evening, during an air raid, Arnold put down his rifle and began sketching the horrors of the conflict, battle and blood-shed as they transpired around him. The sketch, which depicts strong men fleeing from German bombers illuminated by search lights and flames - carries an impressive amount of emotion.
A renaissance man and artist by trade, Arnold did not join the war effort to take life, but to preserve it as best as he could - either by mending wounds with bandages and stitches, or by capturing memories with paint and pen. At the end of the journey, his art would be one of the primary sources of joy and healing for the young man.
Whether writing poems and memoirs in small journals, or sketching scenes on found scraps of paper - Arnold strived to fulfill his goal of relaying the things he witnessed to those back home. Part of him recorded the sights for his own mind, and part him hoped to bring home a time capsule of the men and women he lived his life with.
Many of the paintings and sketches have never been viewed publicly, but thanks to Carol Jean Hodgkins-Smith, Arnold’s daughter, they will be on display this weekend on Nov. 8 and 9, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. inside her home at 423 Kenny Ct. in Port Perry.
Carol has kept more than 100 of her late father’s creations inside her home, as a record of the talented artist and compassionate man who she called Dad.
“It’s Remembrance Day, and I think it’s finally time to share my Dad’s art work with the rest of the world,” said Carol. “Most of the work is in beautiful condition, and they hold important memories of our Veterans.”
During his five years in the Medical Corps, Arnold was always within reach of a sketch pad and his series of journals - producing a variety of scenes, with an even greater variety of materials, whatever he could get a hold of.
While many of the intricate sketches and pastels were created during short rests from action on the front-line, or while stationed inside medical tents hoping his patients would pull through - most of the paintings were created back home, recreations of the images recorded in Europe.
After being wounded by shell shrapnel during the Moro River Crossing in the Italian theatre in 1943, Arnold spent several months recovering in a hospital bed, with pieces of the bomb lodged in his leg, shoulder and head.
Given time to draw, but no materials, Arnold convinced one of his nurses to walk several miles and scavenge some coloured pencils - a debt he repaid with an emotive portrait of the woman who saved his life.
A man in a hurry, Arnold was constantly spread in many directions and rarely settled down. Carol fondly remembers him having multiple paintings on the go at one time - when he grew frustrated with waiting for the paint to dry, he would step to the next easel and resume.
When Arnold returned home after the war, he was greeted by his wife Iola, and five-year-old son Gary Hodgkins, who had been only a baby when he left.
The peace in Canada was an entirely different world than the one he had become used to, and it only fueled his passion to create. While his talents lay in music, writing, poetry and visual art - Arnold chose painting and drawing to focus on, and enrolled in the Ontario College of Art in 1945.
After flying through a four-year course in only three years, Carol Jean Hodgkins was born to the family in 1938, the same year that Arnold graduated with the OCA’s Medal for Proficiency in Drawing. Artistic pursuit had become Arnold’s primary focus in life, aside from his beloved family.
“After he returned home, it took Dad several years before he could laugh again,” remarked Carol. “Whenever he tried, a horrible choking sound came out instead - but I think that the art is what helped him finally express the things he saw and felt. He learned how to be happy again, and would often use my mother or I as models.”
While shell-shock or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a well-known and recognized psychological affect on military personal these days, many returning soldiers were simply thought of as scarred men, and left to heal through their own devices. Creating images and stories of the men he fought beside or treated became Arnold’s refuge from his stress.
No matter the medium, style or subject of his work, Arnold decided he had to create masterfully - therefore, he would practice and practice until he became in expert in nearly every art form imaginable. From a young age, Arnold had a Midas touch with the arts.
From humble beginnings, Arnold was born on March 1, 1911 in Silverdale, Ontario. His father, Benjamin Hodgkins, was a poor farmer but a good father - Arnold’s mother, Frances, passed away shortly after but fondly encouraged Arnold’s art, often catching him crafting small sculptures from the clay leaden soil in their yard.
Ate age 14, Arnold’s father fell ill and suffered from a broken heart after the loss of his wife and daughter, and became bedridden. Arnold took up the piano, and would play scores for hours on end in hopes that the music would soothe his father’s pain.
After nursing and single-handedly supporting his father for the last four years of Benjamin’s life, Arnold struck out on his own at age 18 and worked numerous difficult and dirty jobs, while creating music and art in his free-time.
After returning home from war, Arnold struggled to regain the free-spirited life of his younger years.
“Dad had always dreamt of living peacefully, tucked away in a valley far out in the country,” said Carol. “His valley had to have a stream running through it, and the home had to be built into the hillside - after I was born, he spent many years designing and building Deerfoot with some of his artist friends.”
The five-acre valley plot in Leaskdale would become home to Deerfoot Gallery - the home and playground of the Hodgkins family from the early 1960s onward.
During the summers, its’ long and winding trail was a pilgrimage for aspiring art students, who would study closely under Arnold and often purchase his creations. Gary Hodgkins, Arnold’s elder son, began to work alongside his father and developed his own interest and talent in painting.
“During the late 60s and early 70s, the summer classes really gave Dad and Gary a chance to not only teach, but to learn from other contemporaries - Dad’s style became heavily influenced by the Group of Seven during this time, and he would often venture into the woods near Bancroft to paint,” said Carol, fondly remembering her father coming out of his shell.
The work on display in Carol Hodgkins-Smith’s home this weekend will feature scenes of battle, the hopeless and hopeful faces of soldiers, intricate biblical scenes, shockingly life-like portraits, and even the landscapes of Northern Ontario.
Carol is excited to welcome art patrons into her home, and to share the story of her father and his contribution to the arts.
Spanning a career of almost 70 years, the story of Arnold Hodgkins can perhaps only be described by seeing the images he put to canvas, up close and personal.
The show takes place from 12 noon to 5 p.m., on Nov. 8 and 9, inside 423 Kenny Ct.
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