Point of View

The Museum of the Street

In the summer I was contacted by the curators of The Museum of the Street, an exhibit and archive of prominent illustrators in Canada. They were interested in the inclusion of my father, Peter Swan’s, work. As most of his illustrations were sold during his career, and he passed away in the 1990s, I was concerned about being able to provide them with enough material. They requested original artwork as well as published tear sheets. The few originals I have gracing my walls at home are paintings, but where to find the illustrations of his prolific career? The countless magazine and book covers, story illustrations, postage stamps? What did he do for Esquire Magazine, and what about the Mona Lisa with Telephone? It was an involved process, having to track work down, to be able to contribute to and attend meetings, to consider what pieces to include.

A curator told me that the genesis of the project was asking the question, “What ever happened to the work of Peter Swan?”

A biographical overview of my father was requested, over which I proceeded to fret and sweat. Simply put, we had always been very close, and I felt the responsibility of representing him as he himself would do.

I had just finished my first draft, when I found the old portfolio case of his that he had given me for my own drawings when I was a kid. Incredibly, in it I found a school composition I wrote when I was about eight; a biography of my father. Why on earth had I been sweating over it? Apart from an over enthusiasm for exclamation marks at the time, clearly I’ve been writing the same goddamn thing for thirty years.

My child self ended the piece with “… even though my father is a busy man and a great artist, he’ll always, no matter what time it is, come in and kiss me goodnight.”

A teacher’s note in the margin caught my eye. ‘It is obvious that Samantha is extremely proud of her father…’ Really? Whatever gave me away?

One of the elements I enjoyed at the opening of The Museum of the Street, was how timely it felt to see Dad’s portrait of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He is depicted as Robin Hood, and it is a fabulous piece, painted for the cover of Saturday Night Magazine, in 1976.

And seeing as there were hundreds of people crammed into the John B. Aird Gallery opening night, who is to say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn’t also there to see it?

It would have been a good moment; both of us babies then, looking up now, at our fathers brought into the present. After all… we both had such cool dads.

The Museum of the Street runs at the John B. Aird Gallery Monday to Friday,
10am to 6pm, to Friday February 5.


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