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The Recluse of the Rockies


On the North end of Shuswap Lake sits the unincorporated area of Seymour Arm. Situated at the head of the inlet bearing the same name, it was once a Gold Rush boomtown, serving as a bustling centre for several thousand. The years have seen it through fires, near desertion and resurgence and today, the area is home to a small community. 


For those unacquainted with this part of the province, Shuswap country is a region rife with the constants of the British Columbian landscape. Blue-green mountains. Great parcels of dense forest. Dark lakes and roving rivers. The territory, named for its original inhabitants, the Secwepemc First Nations people, is presently one of small towns and settlements established between tremendous expanses of such wilderness--a place unapologetic in its rugged beauty.


The country’s landscape has long served as a source of wonder for its viewers. Many artists have found inspiration in it, including such well known Canadians as Emily Carr, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Their works, including diverse depictions of the land and water, are iconic and appreciated not only nationally, but worldwide. But one talented artist, Charles John Collings, was a painter whose name has largely been lost to the passing of time.


Born in England in 1848, Collings spent most of his life across the pond working in a solicitor’s office. While he began painting at an early age, he did not entirely take his work seriously until later in life, when he taught and held a number of shows to exhibit his pieces. But in 1910, at the age of 62, Collings, along with his wife and two sons, immigrated to Canada. The family settled in Seymour Arm, creating a life for themselves in the relative wilds. Undertaking various homesteading pursuits, the Collings tended gardens, kept bees and built furniture, but their greatest endeavour was arguably the construction of an English-style estate, nestled within the woods of the Shuswap.


It is said that the family lived in a tent for a year during the building of the Tudor mansion, finally moving in on Christmas day. The home was expansive, even though all materials were ferried in by boat and it was built by hand. It was finished in deep brown and white, colours so often associated with the style and would see dinner parties and piano concerts hosted under its roof. It contained a variety of treasures--including a music box from U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. The estate, which is still standing and was even recently for sale, was a seeming sanctuary in the wilderness, providing a place to live among and appreciate nature—and for Charles Collings, to create.


He was an avid hiker and nature enthusiast, climbing mountains in the province and sketching before completing works in his studio. His finished pieces depict muted, almost washed out scenes, many featuring the land, the water, the sky seeping into one another. The result is somewhat melancholic, but nonetheless beautiful and a striking representation of the landscape.


While he was an acclaimed and well-known artist at the time in England and on the East coast of North America, he was not greatly involved in the British Columbian art scene, preferring to keep to himself and work at his craft, even being dubbed, “The Recluse of the Rockies." But through this intimate and isolated communion with the natural world, Charles John Collings created something that captured the true spirit of the province.



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