Artwork buried in Thornhill backyard is donated to museum by Kristina Virro
Ephry Merkur has been surrounded by art his entire life. His father was an art collector, his mother was an artist, and dinners with members of the Group of Seven were commonplace for him and his parents. But his parents’ home housed more than just memories of some of Canada’s most iconic artists. Unbeknownst to him, it also contained 10 original oil sketches by acclaimed Canadian artist James Edward Hervey MacDonald.
After creating the pieces early in his career, MacDonald and his son Thoreau buried them in the backyard of their Thornhill home, for safekeeping, where they remained for more than 40 years.
Through a stroke of fate, Thoreau’s house eventually caught the eye of commercial high-rise developer Max Merkur, in the ’ 70s. The topic of conversation changed from real estate to art as the two discussed the buried paintings, and Max decided to purchase them.
“The thing that Thoreau liked was that my dad didn’t resell any of the paintings; he just put them away. Thoreau wanted them preserved,” said Max’s son Ephry, 72.
After his parents’ passing, Ephry contacted art curator Janet McNaught of Arctic Experience McNaught Gallery in Hamilton.
“They didn’t know the significance of them,” said McNaught. “I was very excited when I saw them but also a bit apprehensive about what the right thing to do was.”
That right thing ended up being a donation to the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“We are thrilled to have received these extraordinary paintings that are accompanied by such an incredible story,” said director Kathleen S. Bartel.
For Ephry Merkur, it’s the relationship between his parents and the artists that gives the collection sentimental value.
“They just loved working with these people, and they were nice people. They were all human beings — very, very wonderful human beings,” he said. “I’m just so delighted that people can enjoy the great art.”
They just loved working with these people, and they were nice people.”
The set of sketches were buried for 40 years