The Bradley Museum isn’t one of grand presence. It’s nestled among a row of houses in Mississauga and, from the outside, looks like any other home. But the exhibits on display inside contribute to the history of the city, making the museum one worth visiting. Their current exhibit pays homage to several Canadian talents: Susanna Moodie, author of Roughing It in the Bush; Margaret Atwood, who wrote a series of poems after the pioneering woman; and contemporary multimedia artist Charles Pachter.
In 1832, Susanna Moodie emigrated to Upper Canada with her husband and daughter. In Roughing It in the Bush, Moodie writes about her experiences as a middle-class Englishwoman settling a farm in the backwoods of Ontario.
Moodie’s books inspired Margaret Atwood to write poems that explored the emotional and psychological aspects of Moodie’s survivalist spirit. When Charles Pachter first read Roughing It in the Bush in school, he felt unconnected from the story. But when he read Atwood’s poetry, he felt compelled to illustrate them.
The exhibition includes 30 original print-poem combinations on loan from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.
According to the exhibition’s website, it seeks to “prompt new insight into the experiences of early settlers and today’s newcomers”. The site quotes Moodie: “In most instances, emigration is a matter of necessity, not choice,” a quote that lands close to home for many Canadians, given the relevance of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Gallery 1 houses Immigration and Settlement—Journal One. Red stenciled letters on the hardwood floor guide the viewer’s eyes into the room, reading, “It was our own ignorance we entered. I have not come out yet.” The effect is reminiscent of following a trail of blood on the ground.
The stenciled red letters continue on the white wall above the fireplace and contextualize Journal One. Gallery 1 focuses on Moodie’s arrival and early settlement in Canada. Journal One reflects her initial feelings of alienation.
Atwood’s poems “The Wereman” and “Disembarking in Quebec” capture the initial feeling of alienation. In “Disembarking in Quebec”, Atwood writes from Moodie’s point of view. Patcher’s illustrations for these poems use sombre colours. Against a dark green forest, a figure rises from the trees with white eyes and teeth in “The Wereman”.
Journal One also documents a shift in Moodie’s attitude towards the landscape. In “Paths and Thingscape”, Atwood writes about the beauty of plants. Patcher’s illustration reflects that shift with light colours and soft lines. The effect echoes sunlight falling on summer leaves.
In addition to the prints, the exhibit also displays artifacts from the Mississauga Museum’s collection. A trunk of old books, lace cloth, and a fine china tea set contrast with rough firewood, rope, and metal farm tools. Though not artifacts that belonged to Moodie, they help set the tone for the lifestyle shift Moodie experienced and they reflect the themes in the poems.
Gallery 2 houses Ageing and Afterlife—Journal Two and Three. An old rocking chair, a pair of women’s boots, a pile of books, and an ink stand sit in this room.
The red stenciled words continue on the floor: “I should have known anything planted here would come up blood.”
The poem and its illustration “Later in Belleville: Career” speaks about Moodie’s process of buying her children shoes by selling sketches of butterflies. The last line, “There is no use for art”, is juxtaposed with the exhibit of poems and illustrations inspired by Moodie’s writing.
The exhibit has dedicated a wall in Gallery 1 to community reflections. In this component of the exhibit, there are poems and reflections from high school students and community leaders and artists, including Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate, Anna Yin.
This ongoing part of the exhibit makes The Journals of Susanna Moodie come alive with relevance to present-day visitors. From the experiences of a writer in the 1800s to a writer and illustrator in the mid-1900s to the experiences of newcomers today, the exhibit takes a mandatory studied-it-in-school text and makes it relevant to people living in Mississauga today.
The Bradley Museum will host Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter’s collaboration The Journals of Susanna Moodie until April 17.