W. J. Wood, painter/etcher

William J. Wood painter, etcher (b.  May 26, 1877 d. January 5, 1954)

A simple, evocative expression of small town Ontario life in the first part of the twentieth century can be found in the numerous etchings, watercolours and oil paintings of William J. Wood in the collection of the Huronia Museum.

Woods was a painter and etcher who chose as his subjects, music, nudes, and scenes around his home of Midland, Ontario.  His work examines with warmth the peopled environment not the empty, raw landscape of his contemporaries. He was a close friend of several members of the Group of Seven: Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson. In 1923 at one exhibition Wood is listed as a member of the Group of Seven, replacing Franz Johnston.  Wood has been overlooked as an artist both during his lifetime and afterwards.

William J. Woods was born on a farm near Ottawa in 1877. By 1896 he left home to work on ships, travelling to the United States and Europe.  During this period he took some art classes in Boston in 1900.  He had two winter sessions at the Central Ontario School of Art (now the Ontario College of Art).

In his autobiography, A.Y. Jackson writes a chapter entitled, “Art Appreciation and Otherwise”. In it he describes the precarious living that Canadian artists faced in his lifetime. Among the people he writes about is Bill Wood. It is an illuminating passage.

“Years ago I met Bill Wood, who worked in the shipyards at Midland. He had always wanted to be an artist, and he had managed to put in a few months’ training in Toronto in the winter-time when he was a Great Lakes sailor. Then he got married and raised a family. When he took up etching, he made his own press and prints. His efforts at etching and painting were all made after the day’s work or at week-ends.
“Hart House purchased one of Wood’s paintings of a girl playing a violin. His own letter regarding the painting appeared in Canadian Paintings in Hart House. ‘It represents’, he wrote, ‘more to me than a “Woman with a Violin”. The woman whom it recalls is a lassie playing by ear the songs and hymns of Auld Scotland, the homeland of my father. I painted “Memory’s Melodies” when the Grants visited us in the evening and Mrs Grant played her violin…after I had ten hours in the auto-body works in Penetang. The mellow colour of the canvas is due no doubt to its being done at night by the usual electric light. The paint is home brew from dry colours. Do I love a violin? Do I? it’s as beautiful as a bark canoe I once bought of an Indian at Byng Inlet and lost the next day as belonging to another Indian. My attitude towards the arts is that where your heart is, there your art is also.’

“In their modest little home at Midland, where his wife helped out by sewing and other work, Bill, painting signs, making etchings, talking like a philosopher, was a most cheerful soul. The Art Gallery of Toronto has one of his canvases, “On the Beach”. Whenever I see it I can’t help feeling that if he had only a quarter of the opportunities some of the young artists have today, he would have proved to be a genius.” (A Painter’s Country: the autobiography of A.Y. Jackson. Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd. Toronto, 1958 p. 147-148)

To support his family W.J. Wood  worked in various jobs: painter/burnisher at a shipyard, carriage painter, house painter, did restoration work on Martyrs’ Shrine.  During the depression his job at the shipyard was lost and he refused “relief”. 1941-49 he was employed as a sign painter on boats.  When unemployed Wood had more time to devote to his art, but lacked the funds for materials. He often painted small canvases.  He would grind his own pigments and mix his own oil paints.

In 1906 he married Jessie Reaman from Severn Bridge.   1908 he worked for the Herald Printing Company, stationery printers and publishers of the Temiskaming Herald for which he did illustrations. By 1911, Wood was in Toronto and had made contact with a group of young artists, some of whom would form the Group of Seven.

During World War I, Wood served in the Canadian Army in England and on the Continent, returning to Canada in 1919.  While stationed in England he took art classes at the YMCA.  At this time he may also have seen and been influenced by the work of Walter Sickert. Wood most certainly attended exhibits of the Royal Academy.

Major influences:  George Reid (himself influenced by Velasquez and had been taught by Thomas Eakins) and Anders Zorn. In1920 Wood joined the Canadian Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. He exhibited with the CPE up to 1950. In 1933, he was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters. During his lifetime he participated in 92 exhibitions of art in Canada.


A Painter’s Country: the autobiography of A.Y. Jackson. Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd. Toronto, 1958

W.J. Wood: Paintings and Graphics. Christine Boyanoski and John Hartman. Art Gallery of Ontario, Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Oct. 22 – Dec. 4, 1983 and travelling to other galleries.

10 thoughts on “W. J. Wood, painter/etcher

  1. About 15 years ago I purchased a framed painting at a yard sale.
    When I removed the picture to re use the frame I found, taped to the back, a small water colour. It is a very ruff painting, the type an artist would do quickly and file for later reference. On the back of that is very old looking typed description which says:
    “Canadian Group formed by Artists…Among the artist of the group known to the visitors of the Art Gallery and O.S.A for many years are: Frank Carmichael, A.J. Cassonk, Arthur Lismer, Yvonne McKague, George Pepper, William Wood and
    L. Fitgerald.
    Taken from an article in a recent issue of the Glove.
    I am eager to find out if this piece has any value, and am hoping someone at the museum would be able to set me in the right direction.
    Thank you…W Mackie

  2. It should be noted that W. J. Woods’ prints were not etchings, but drypoints. Drypoints are but one of the Intaglio methods of printmaking that includes etching (use of acid), aquatint, mezzotint, and engraving. A drypoint is obtained by scratching and image into a metal plate whereas an etching is obtained by coating a metal plate with a ground (asphaltum) then drawing through the ground to bare the metal, which is then etched into the plate with an acid (nitric). W. J. Woods should be described as a “Painter & Printmaker”.

  3. Pingback: Artist A.Y. Jackson – Huronia Museum Show | Huronia Museum

  4. Pingback: a summer scene | ettagirl

  5. I was scrolling the Internet and came to this site, because believe it or not my story about w.woods is identical to Wendy up the page, was removing an old frame and thre hidden Was a beautiful water color it looks very old it has what look like Mr whitehead written on the back, it’s of a mountain stream with a little cottage an old man walking up the road and a horse can anyone shed light on this cheers dan

  6. My sister was going through things of my mothers and like Wendy and Dan found a beautiful painting tucked in behind another painting. It is a W.T.Wood, mounted on a board and I’m assuming is in Wood’s handwriting, The Nipigon River, Ont 7 1/8 x 10 3/4. I’m told that this painting was purchased for my grandmother by my great grandfather. I would like to know it’s value, not that I am looking to sell it, but for me it’s a family heirloom.


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