Book’s guided tour of island scenes lets life imitate art GPS co-ordinates included with Randolph Parker’s paintings of Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods has more than 14,500 islands, and there’s a scenic spot on every one of them.

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Lake of the Woods has more than 14,500 islands, and there’s a scenic spot on every one of them.

Art preview

Islands: Lake of the Woods
By Randolph Parker
● Mayberry Fine Art, 212 McDermot Ave and Unit 18-2025 Corydon Ave.
● To Dec. 18
● Hours: McDermot Avenue: Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Corydon Avenue: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
● Free admission

It’s the only conclusion that can be made after gazing at some of the 230 paintings by artist Randolph Parker that are included in Islands: Lake of the Woods, an alluring new book published by Mayberry Fine Art, and a partner exhibition that will be on display at its two Winnipeg galleries until Dec. 18.

Parker has spent the past six years, off and on, visiting his friend, art dealer Bill Mayberry, who has a cottage on the north shore of the lake near Kenora that has served as the launching point of their exploration of the lake’s coves, bays, inlets, narrows and channels.

“When Bill and I are out on the lake, we work together unbelievably well; it is like two minds thinking the same,” says Parker, adding that Lake of the Woods reminds him of the lake-dotted landscape near Huntsville, Ont., where he grew up and fished with his father.

“We might get to an island and ‘Look at this, look at this,’ and the excitement level starts rises. And then we keep motoring around the corner, and we go, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s something else coming,’ and now we found it.”

Mayberry has owned the cottage for more than 35 years and has spent many of his boat trips searching for sites where Winnipeg landscape artist Walter J. Phillips, who visited and painted at the lake in the 1910s and ’20s, set his works.

The holy-grail location Mayberry sought was a small island where Phillips created Sunset, Lake of the Woods, his most famous watercolour painting and colour woodcut.

There was a problem: a print made from the woodcut was Mayberry’s only clue; it took him almost 20 years of searching on boat and hiking trips before he found the exact location in 2005.

Phillips had used artistic licence with the sunset’s location in his work, and some of the trees had worn down in the century since Phillips painted his masterpiece.

“When you study the islands, you realize they’re like people: there’s no two that are alike. They have their own character and own personality,” Mayberry says. “The trees that have character are on some of the islands that are most exposed to the elements.”

Prints for CancerCare Manitoba

Twenty archival pigment prints have been made from Upper Corkscrew Channel, one of Randolph Parker’s paintings that are part of the book Islands: Lake of the Woods and its exhibition.

Twenty archival pigment prints have been made from Upper Corkscrew Channel, one of Randolph Parker’s paintings that are part of the book Islands: Lake of the Woods and its exhibition.

Each one sells for $1,500, including frame, with all proceeds going to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation.

Each purchase includes a $500 tax receipt and an anonymous donor will match each purchase with a $1,500 donation, a total of $60,000 to CancerCare should all the prints be sold.

For more information, visit

Mayberry called the place Phillips Island, and when he took Parker to the exact location nine years later using GPS technology — Lake of the Woods is notorious for confusing lost boaters — they realized after enjoying the historic view that blending art and science could lead to a publishing breakthrough.

The result is that every one of Parker’s 230 paintings in Islands comes with its own latitude and longitude co-ordinates, which Parker and Mayberry say is a first in art publishing — allowing those with the book to follow in the duo’s wake and footsteps to see for themselves where Parker drew his sketches, like an artistic scavenger hunt.

”The GPS, interestingly enough, in a way keeps you honest to the place,” Parker says. “If somebody goes there and you’ve made too much sh— up, they’re gonna go, ‘What’s he doing? That’s not even here.’”

Unlike Phillips’ more Impressionist art, Parker’s works, which range in size from small watercolours and panels to large canvases, hardly stray from what he saw when he sat down to sketch.

If a tree tilted a certain way because of the wind, it tilts that way in Parker’s painting. Landscapes with angry-looking storm clouds hang alongside gorgeous sunset scenes.

One of the challenges Parker faced in Islands was avoiding repeating himself when he found new locations and began new sketches, a lesson he learned while visiting an exhibition during his studies at York University in Toronto in 1978.

“I walked into the show and (the artist) had about 40 pieces, mainly watercolours, and if you saw one piece, I really liked it. When I saw all the pieces, exactly the same four colours, one after the next, after the next, I was going ‘This is boring,’ ” says Parker.

“If I ever have a big show, I would make sure every piece represented totally differently, and represented the mood and atmosphere of what was actually there and not a contrived piece of art.”

Parker’s initial plan was to create about 100 paintings from Lake of the Woods that would pair well with his previous landscape series, which focus on British Columbia’s coastal regions, the Canadian Rockies, Prairies vistas and the foothills of southern Alberta.

Mayberry’s cabin proved to be an idyllic COVID-19 lockdown location in 2020 and 2021; 100 paintings grew into 230 — and the book, which gets its official launch Thursday at Mayberry Fine Art’s gallery at 212 McDermot Ave.

Islands ($95, 230 pages) is more than a coffee-table book of Parker’s sumptuous paintings. Besides the geographical co-ordinates of the island portraits and lake maps that provide a broader view of the islands he painted, the book includes a history of the lake and how explorer David Thompson surveyed it in the early 1800s, as well as the creation of the Northwest Angle, United States territory that includes Lake of the Woods that juts north of the 49th parallel.

While most of Parker’s paintings are spring, summer and autumn landscapes, there are a couple he’s painted during the dead of winter that provide a stark contrast. In Sunset Channel, Moskahossi Passage, which hangs on the second floor at Mayberry Fine Art’s McDermot Avenue gallery, snow and ice obscure the spruce trees and granite outcroppings that adorn almost all 105,000 kilometres of the lake’s shoreline.

Most of the paintings on display at McDermot Avenue and at Mayberry’s Tuxedo Park Shopping Centre location are for sale. Parker’s smaller watercolours are listed for about $1,000, while his larger oil paintings are priced in the $10,000-$20,000 range.

He paints in such a detailed fashion that viewing thumbnails on a smartphone or a laptop screen can fool the viewer into thinking his paintings are photographs. The brushstrokes are so precise that his painting Blueberry Inlet, which is the cover art for Islands, from a distance looks like a postcard moment.

“We picked that one early in the game and we never changed our mind on it. We didn’t second-guess it,” Mayberry says. “That painting typifies what we think of as an island; it ticks all the boxes.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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