A Boy All Spirit

A Boy All Spirit

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A Boy All Spirit: Thoreau MacDonald in the 1920s

Edited by John W. Sabean

THOREAU MACDONALD INHERITED HIS SURNAME from his father, J.E.H. MacDonald, the well-known leader of the Group of Seven, and received his first name in honour of his father's favourite author, Henry David Thoreau. It seemed natural that two of his great interests should be art and nature. Born in 1901, Thoreau was raised in an artistic environment. For many years he worked alongside his father in the famous Studio Building in Toronto. After his father's death in 1932, he continued there as a commercial artist until 1949, when he moved his studio to his home in Thornhill.

Although Thoreau worked with many media during the course of his career, he decided early to go in a different direction from the Group of Seven; he concentrated on black and white illustration—in which he had few equals. When the Group went north to find their subject matter, he stayed behind to depict rural Ontario and its wildlife. E.R. Hunter once wrote that in Thoreau "We have some of the loveliest drawings of bird life in Canada."

Thoreaus artistic career began in 1922, when three of his works were published in The Canadian Forum. He served as the Forum's Art Editor for the next ten years. He is best known, however, for his book illustration and design. In all he designed and/or illustrated
about 200 books.

In A Boy All Spirit, editor John Sabean gathers the work and source material of Thoreau's formative years in the 1920's. This volume is an excellent companion to Notebooks: Thoreau Macdonald, edited by John Flood and first published by Penumbra Press in 1980. Both shed light on the artistic process of this intriguing and gifted man.

Thoreau MacDonald

Author, Artist

See a biography for Thoreau MacDonald in the description for the book A Boy All Spirit.

John W. Sabean


John W. Sabean is a cultural and intellectual historian whose usual research sphere is fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Britain and Europe. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Guelph, where he studied under Dr. W. Stanford Reid. His training in paleography was not without value in deciphering the handwriting of J.E.H. MacDonald.

A former teacher at several colleges, he is now a freelance writer and researcher. His latest finished project, A Boy All Spirit, draws from the notebooks and correspondence of Thoreau MacDonald, the son of J.E.H. MacDonald. Sabean is an amateur naturalist (as was Thoreau MacDonald) and the former editor of The Pickering Naturalist.

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