One of Phoebe Watson’s great loves was her little cottage at Lake Oliphant. Sitting along the shore of Lake Huron on Preacher’s Point, Oliphant and its surrounding islands were settled around the turn of the twentieth century with Phoebe Watson amongst the earliest settlers to the land. She purchased the cottage mid-life and, in the years following Homer’s death, would spend much of her summers in Oliphant and on the surrounding islands.
At her cottage, she not only entertained relatives, as pictured below, but she also painted and taught art lessons. There are a number of accounts from Phoebe’s friends and family about her care for her guests and abundant hospitality, particularly at her and Homer’s home in Doon. It stands to reason that her cottage was no exception.
While Phoebe is best known for her painted porcelain, she also enjoyed painting watercolour landscapes. Though they were often small in scale, her watercolours were expressive in their brush strokes. The area surrounding her cottage was common subject for her landscapes.
A favourite painting location was a spot known as Lonely Island. The image above shows the area photographed by guests to Phoebe’s cottage in 1914. The collection at Homer Watson House & Gallery includes two paintings depicting the subject, the first of which was painted during a bright summer’s day with reeds obstructing the view along the water’s edge. It was likely given as a gift to one of her nieces as the back was signed “With love from Aunt Phoebe.”
The second was painted during a sunset. Phoebe took the opportunity to capture the reds in the sky and its reflection.
In a similar fashion to Monet’s impressionist series Haystacks, these two paintings serve as a careful study of Lonely Island through subtle and dramatic changes in time and season. The location stays the same, however, the foliage grows and dies, the colours shift, and the mood changes. While Homer was busy painting the landscape of his cherished home of Doon, in these watercolours, Phoebe captured her home away from home, Oliphant.