S. H. F. Kemp, "A Recollection of Tom Thomson", 1955

Copied from Kemp's manuscript by Blodwen Davies, Dec. 3, 1955, and reprinted in William T. Little, The Tom Thomson Mystery, 1970.

The period of time in which I knew him [Tom Thomson] was before he began to paint. Both of us were employees, (artists they called us) in a well known photo-engraving shop in Toronto. To be exact it was at Grip Limited. At one time or another one worked there with several famous figures. To name a few we rubbed shoulders with W. Smithson Broadhead, Frank Carmichael, Frantz Johnston, Ivor Lewis, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H MacDonald, Tom Marten, Rowley Murphy and A.H. Robson. There were a lot of other artists, too, but those will do.

Thomson was a commercial artist for a long time before he began to be a painter. He was not only a first class designer but also a solid and reliable delineator. If genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains, Thomson had it. As a result he could do, and got to do, considerable work calling for meticulous and patient care. There was a similarity in the appearance of Tom Thomson and J.E.H. MacDonald which was a simple serenity, only MacDonald was more cherubic. Thomson smoked a pipe and was a connoisseur of good tobacco.

His hair was as black as midnight and he wore it long,

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or at least in front. At times it got in his way as he bent over his work and he would give it an easy, unhurried jerk back without benefit of the hand.

Then as now, an engraving plant’s equipment included an elaborate shading machine known as the Ben Day. By it a considerable variety of shading can be put either on a drawing or a plate for reproduction by the process known as photo engraving. When more arrogant souls despised the Ben Day (and incidentally were no good at running it) Thomson took it in his stride. Aware of his undoubted and varied skills, he never threw his weight around as do those who feel inferior. It was not beneath his dignity to attend to those jobs calling for Ben Day shading. He had no wisecracks to offer, no prescription for the Good Life, nor any particular philosophy of life. [...]

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Norman Angell’s book “The Great Illusion” had been published and at the shop we were discussing it. It made out a clear case that in no war could the victor be any better off than the vanquished. The Great World War I had not yet cast its shadow before, but Norman Angell had not a few converts. Thomson had long been of the opinion that war was a snare and a delusion and that militarism and what we now call preparedness, were quite wrong. He held that view with passion and sincerity. He was not impressed when one of our fellow artists was seen in the garrison parade in the scarlet coat and busby of a private in the 10th Royal Grenadiers, a local militia unit. In this Thomson was not alone in his views. [...]

Source: S. H. F. Kemp, A Recollection of Tom Thomson, in Blodwen Davies, William T. Little, ed, The Tom Thomson Mystery (Toronto: Toronto, 1955), 173-178

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