Leonard Hutchinson, RCA, 1896-1980


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Leonard Hutchinson is best known for his
colour and black-and-white woodblock prints

Biography

Leonard Hutchinson was born in Manchester, England, in 1896 and moved to Canada in 1912, settling in Tillsonburg, Ontario.

When the First World War broke out, Leonard Hutchinson returned to England, enlisting in the Royal Military Corps, serving throughout the war.

After returning to Canada, Leonard Hutchinson started sketching scenes around Tillsonburg, then best known for growing tobacco.

Soon after, he moved to Hamilton where he worked as a graphic artist by day, while studying art at night at the Hamilton Technical Institute, also known as the Hamilton School of Art. His teacher was artist John S. Gordon.

During the 1920s, Leonard Hutchinson painted in oil and watercolour and started to turn his attention to block prints.

Today, Leonard Hutchinson is best known for his colour woodblock prints, especially those done in the 1930s and early 1940s.

National Gallery of Canada Collection

The National Gallery of Canada has a collection of 16 woodblocks, including a half dozen colour ones: Burlington Bay, Lake Winds, The Ravine, Twilight, Old Ontario Village and Windy Morning.

Leonard Hutchinson was also known for his black-and-white woodblocks, many of which showed men and women working to earn a living, depicting loggers, farmers, fishermen and steelworkers.

Among his subjects were working men and women advocating for their rights, including one called Worker’s Picnic. His subject matter also reflected the harsh time of the Great Depression and early Second World War period.

His woodblocks were a powerful vehicle to tell the story of working class Canadians and their struggle to earn a living during a difficult time in Canadian history.

“His best-known images are those which old a mirror to labouring people and their lives during the years of the Great Depression,” wrote Grace Inglis in an essay to the book, Leonard Hutchinson, RCA, 1896-1980 – An Artist of His Times.

Influential Printmaker

Grace Inglis also pays tribute to Leonard Hutchinson’s major contributions to printmaking in Canada, noting he first cut blocks and printed them by hand in his kitchen, before having access to a studio to make prints and teach printmaking in Hamilton.

Leonard Hutchinson was of Romany descent.

Leonard Hutchinson began teaching art at the Hamilton Technical Institute in 1932, and was appointed as a Governor of the Hamilton Art Gallery in 1936, a post he maintained for about 10 years.

Hutchinson was an active member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and the Ontario Society of Artists. He was a founder of the Hamilton Chapter of the Artists’ Union. He exhibited with and was elected as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).

Leonard Hutchinson turned away from printmaking during the early 1940s, though the reasons aren’t clear. He worked as a graphic artist, a construction foreman, designed jewellery, and taught art to adults with disabilities.

In 1967, Leonard Hutchinson received a Centennial Medal for his contributions to Canadian art.

Film and Book on His Life

A 1975 film on Leonard Hutchinson’s life called Years of Struggle, by Gloria Montera and David Fulton, helped revive interest in his prints, as did a book by his daughter Lynn Hutchinson called Leonard Hutchinson, People’s Artist: Ten Years of Struggle 1930-1940.

Leonard Hutchinson died in 1980.

The Art Gallery of Hamilton held a retrospective exhibit in 1995 called The Life of His Times: Leonard Hutchinson, 1925-1945.

A limited edition book, Leonard Hutchinson, RCA, 1896-1980 – An Artist of His Times, containing an essay by Grace Inglis and illustrations by Leonard Hutchinson, was published after the exhibit. The book came with a black-and-white block print of a Hutchinson scene.

Sources:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database. Hamilton Public Library biography posted online. Leonard Hutchinson, RCA, 1896-1980 – An Artist of His Times, Essay by Grace Inglis. Illustrations by Leonard Hutchinson.