A dozen artists made a bit of local history themselves in June when they embarked on an outdoor painting trip to Newmarket’s historically rich Mulock Farm Estate.
Situated on 11.6 acres on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Mulock Drive, the property has been the private home for nearly 140 years to six generations of the Mulock family up until October.
That’s when the Town of Newmarket took possession of the estate after striking a deal with the family earlier this year for $24 million. With public input, the town plans to redevelop the site into a year-round Central Park-like space during the 2018 to 2022 term of council.
The Society of York Region Artists president Linda Welch’s own home backs onto the Mulock Farm property. Over the 17 years she has lived in Newmarket, Welch got to know Sir William Mulock's great great granddaughter, Deborah Mulock Barbour, “by chatting back and forth over the back fence”.
Welch said she was invited onto Mulock Farm several times over the years to photograph what she calls the “magnificent, 100-year-old, 60-feet-long peony beds” that were in just the right location to catch some sunshine on an otherwise shady property.
“It truly is magical driving up the long driveway,” Welch said. “It’s a winding driveway and as you make your way, you cannot see what’s on the property. About one third of the depth of that property is the laneway, and it’s like going into somebody’s cottage, with the northern laneways that are completely surrounded by trees. Then, all of a sudden you’re in an opening and there’s a house.”
Welch has long had an interest in the property for its historical value, beauty and the massive 200-year-old trees that Sir William Mulock himself is said to have planted. She attended the town’s February open house on the Mulock Farm Estate out of curiosity.
“I knew the trees are really worth saving, and it was my fear that a developer would come in and things would change,” she said. “Deborah had done everything she could to get the heritage designation for the house, but that doesn’t protect anything else. They’re talking about walking trails, skating trails, an ice skating rink. I know those are just ideas, but I hope they don’t change the canopy on the property.”
And then, in a moment of serendipity, Welch asked Mulock Barbour for her permission to bring a small, select group of artists onto the property to paint the house, grounds, landscape or whatever else caught their imagination. The town gave an enthusiastic thumbs up as the soon-to-be new owners, and there happened to be “a perfect spot” on the Old Town Hall’s Serpa Galleries calendar.
A call went out to members of the Society of York Region Artists to apply for one of 12 juried spots on an outdoors painting trip whose location was to remain secret until the day of the activity. The details of where the artists would paint had to remain confidential as it was private property, Welch said.
“The artists had to be serious enough about participating, and I wanted people comfortable painting outside because there are bugs, wind, and changing light on the subject,” she said. “Painting en plein air (outside) is a little trickier, you have to block out street noise, and just get immersed in what you’re doing.”
That day in June when Welch led the artists to the Mulock Farm it was “beautiful, clear, cool in the morning and warmed up in the afternoon”.
“I told the artists I want you to wander the property, find sights, locations, scenes that speak to you. You have to connect with something that moves you emotionally,” she said. “It was like letting a little group of puppies out, in a way. They just wandered, and scattered, spread out completely.”
A number of artists chose to paint the architectural details on the house. Others chose to capture the trees and the view through the trees on their canvases, or other natural details in the environment.
Welch, a watercolourist with a love of photography, painted what she says are the two peaks on the Yonge Street side of the house, which features a sort of monogrammed inset of initials that look like a signature.
The Town of Newmarket’s culture services supervisor, Laura Schembri, said the Mulock family was overwhelmed and appreciative of the way the artists had expressed their property in oil, pastel, watercolour and acrylic. It was clear to them that the more than a dozen artworks were created with love by high-calibre artists, she added.
“From the town’s perspective, it’s been the start of our public engagement,” Schembri said. “This exhibition has become the first step in imagining what the Mulock Farm might be like in the future. It sort of launched the whole project for us very beautifully.”
Schembri added that there’s a strong commitment on the town’s behalf to keep the property as unspoiled as possible.
“The old growth trees would stand, the house will be preserved, but we have no idea yet how it will be utilized,” she said. “It will look different, that’s for sure. But there’ll be lots of opportunity for public input.”
The juried exhibit, Mulock Farm: Artists Preserve History, runs until Jan. 23, 2019 at Serpa Galleries, Old Town Hall, 460 Botsford St. Admission is free.
While all the artwork has been sold, the public is invited to view the exhibit that also features the artists' statement of the inspiration behind their work.
Participating artists include John David Anderson, Mahtab Abdollahi, Karen Bowen, Catherine Fairs, Brigitte Granton, Robert McAffee, Nancy Newman, Sharon Nielsen, Mikhail Nikitsenka, Lucy Quintero, Carol Walthers, and Linda Welch.
For Serpa Galleries holiday hours and closures, visit here.For more information on the Society of York Region Artists, visit here.