David-Milne's Lightning

David Milne, Lightning, 1936, oil on canvas, MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection, gift from the Douglas M. Duncan Collection.

About the Artwork

(This story is told from the perspective of one of the bats in The Permanent Collection: What the Bat Knows. It’s meant to help us think about the artwork from a different viewpoint than we are used to.)  

I’d like to share a story from Nigeria’s Cross River National Park, one of the oldest rainforests in the world. This is a story about thunder and lightning that has been passed on through families and communities over many, many years. It isn’t clear who told this story first. Was it the animals the story is shaped around, or the humans who keep passing it on? In the story, Thunder and Lightning are a family living on earth. Thunder is a mother sheep, and Lightning her ram son. Hot- tempered and prone to outbursts, the ram left messes and broke things wherever he went. Despite the loud boom of her voice, the mother could do little to change his ways. After one disaster too many, the mother and son were sent away by their community. They were forced to live in the sky where they would cause less damage. To this day, Lightning continues to misbehave, and Thunder’s scolding follows. 

About the Artist

David Milne was born 8 January 1882 in Burgoyne, Ontario. He was a painter, a printmaker, and a writer. He is often thought of in association with the Group of Seven, although he was never formally a member. David studied art in New York City at the Art Students League, but was very proud to be Canadian. He lived both in New York State and in Ontario at various points in his life. His early work was seen as part of the movement to bring modernist art to North America. The landscape works he created during the middle of his life were also influenced by impressionism and fauvism. Towards the end of his life, his work took inspiration from fairy tales and from the bible. David Milne passed away in 1953.  

Things to Think About

  • How are David Milne’s painting and the Nigerian folk story similar? How are they different? 
  • All over the world, people have created stories about how natural forces came to be. Do you know of any of those stories? 
  • What parts of nature are both helpful and harmful? Or scary and beautiful?

Important Definitions 

  • Modernism- A group of art movements from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. At this time, artists experimented with new ways of creating. Many modernist artworks are less realistic, and more abstract. This art style reacts to many big changes that were happening in the world at that time. 
  • Impressionism– An art style from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that focused on capturing the feeling of a moment. These artists did so by focusing on changes of light and using bright colours. Many impressionists painted scenes from everyday life.  
  • Fauvism– An art style that reacted to Impressionism. Like Impressionists, Fauvists also tried to capture moments of life in artwork. However they created very emotional works with harsh colours and brush strokes.  

Studio Activity

This Studio Sunday’s program is inspired by two stories about storms. Inspired by Lightning by David Milne, we will create paintings that tell our own stories about living with the forces of nature. 

This Sunday’s program is inspired by two stories about storms. First, we’ll listen to a Nigerian story about how thunder and lightning are created. We’ll also look at the painting Lightning by David Milne, which shares another perspective on storms and their power. This artwork is on display in the exhibition The Permanent Collection: What the Bat Knows. Inspired by both, we will create paintings that tell our own stories about living with the forces of nature. 

Supplies: 

  • A computer or phone to listen to or read a story. 
  • Paper or canvas 
  • Paint, paint brushes, and water 
  • Pencils, erasers, and sharpeners 

Instructions:  

1. Listen to or read the story Thunder and Lightning as told on the Circle Round Podcast. https://www.wbur.org/circleround/2017/11/14/thunder-and-lightning-circle-round. Or, you can read the shortened version of this story in the “About the Artwork” section. 

2. Take a look at the painting Lightning by David Milne. Do you think this artwork tells a story? What do you think he is trying to tell us about this force of nature?  

3. Think about a story from your own life where a part of nature played a big role. How did you interact with that part of nature? Some examples of parts of nature could be:  

  • Strong winds. 
  • Snowy winters. 
  • The hot sun. 
  • Mosquitoes trying to bite you. 
  • Ground squirrels digging holes. 
  • Bees pollinating plants and helping make your food. 
  • Powerful rivers. 
  • Shade from trees. 

4. Create a painting to tell that story. Before you start, think about the story’s parts. Who are the characters in the story? What are the most important events of the story? How did you feel during the story’s events? Visual artists are often challenged with trying to tell a story without words. How will you tell all those parts of your story in paint? We recommend sketching out your picture in pencil first, and then painting over it.