Artists in the family

A big reason why some of the With family, and related members under other names, became artists is due largely to the beauty of Georgian Bay landscapes. The two originals were Kenneth With and Helen Ritchie. (Examples of both their works can be seen in Sweetwaters’ Gallery.}

They met each other in London, England, while attending the Heatherley School of Art. Helen introduced Kenneth to her elder sister Isabel and he was smitten, later following Isabel to Canada where they were married. Helen also returned to Toronto and later married Albert Henry (Hank) Hegnauer PhD., of Rochester, New York. The Withs and the Hegnauers eventually built cottages at either end of Wahnuhke Island.

Wahnuhke island looking south. (June Chisholm photo)

Kenneth With was the eldest of four English boys whose mother Amy Walton, an artist, died after the youngest was born. Their father emigrated with the three eldest, his second wife and their daughter to New Zealand where they spent their youth. Kenneth trained as a cadet on sheep stations. But he was passionate about art so at age 20 he signed on as a stoker on a freighter and worked his way back to England to study at Heatherleys.

After meeting Isabel through Helen, he moved to Canada in 1929. The Depression was raging so he went west to work at the prairie grain harvest. Moving back to Toronto to marry Isabel in 1931, he found employment in commercial art while, like his contemporaries the Group of Seven, developing his personal style with landscapes.

Kenneth’s younger brother Ronald, also an artist, joined him in Toronto in the Thirties after working his passage from Australia. When World War 2 broke out Kenneth joined the navy and Ronald the army (see Testing Their Mettle). After the war they both were employed as artists in Toronto, with Kenneth returning for a couple of years in the Fifties as an officer in the naval reserve.

The cottage at Wahnuhke became almost a second home for Kenneth and his family. Every holiday and most weekends were spent there and Georgian Bay seeped into the blood of us all.

This scenery, his daughter Marnie Graham wrote in a biography of him for the website, “was the source of inspiration for the majoriity of his work for the rest of his life, recording the Bay in its many moods in watercolours and oils.”

One of his commercial jobs in the Thirties was illustrating the 1934 edition of Beautiful Joe, an endearing animal story by Marshall Saunders which takes place in Meaford on Georgian Bay where there is now a Beautiful Joe Park.

Kenneth With kept painting almost until he died at age 85 in 1992. Isabel followed him later that same year.

Woods at Wahnuhke’s south end. (Oil painting by Helen Hegnauer)

Helen Hegnauer’s style was quite different from Kenneth’s. In the early years at the island they both tried capturing the trees, rocks and waters with realism, but Helen painted with oils while Kenneth became more comfortable with watercolours. Also, over the years Helen developed more of an abstract use of colours and Kenneth aimed for almost photographic clarity.

The diversity of Helen’s artistic education might have contributed to her interest in experimenting with different styles. She not only studied at Heatherleys in London but also at the Royal Academy Schools there, and later with Carl Nelson in Boston, Mass.

After her family grew up, Helen began a 15-year career teaching art and art history at Walnut Hill School in Natick, Mass. near her home in Newton Highlands outside of Boston. She and her husband then retired to Newport, Rhode Island.

There, her artistic style expanded to another phase — pen and ink drawing. Her subjects included Newport’s historic buildings and waterfront, as well as the pines, cedars and rocks at Wahnuhke which she and Uncle Hank continued to visit each summer.

After her husband died in the early 1970s Helen continued to spend time at Wahnuhke for many summers. She died in 2003 at her home in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She was 92.

Kenneth With had three daughters: June Chisholm, Marnie Graham and Barbara Pinkham, all of whom inherited appreciations of artistic interpretations of Georgian Bay. Of his four offspring, only Barb studied the subject at the Univerity of Toronto and put the talent to use. Two examples are in our Gallery.

Helen Hegnauer’s two children, Betsy and John, also had artistic leanings, Betsy in photography and John in stone calligraphy.

Footnote — The mysterious skipper of the Blackduck in the Joe Corbiere incident was none other than Uncle Hank, a true and much loved gentleman.

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