Leonard Hutchinson was born in England in 1896 to Romani traveller Lizzie Lee and an unknown father. Along with his three older siblings, Leonard spent his childhood in the family caravan, travelling in the north of England, specifically Lancashire, until they left for Canada in 1907. The family settled in the Tillsonburg area, picking tobacco and continuing to travel, putting on shows with their hand-built puppets. As a youth Leonard worked alongside his stepfather, Tony Hutchinson, building and painting houses. In the early 1920’s he began sketching migrant workers in the fields and curing houses of southwestern Ontario, and studied art in the evenings at the Hamilton Technical Institute. During the 1920s, he began to paint in oil and watercolour, and continued to sketch area towns and their people. He also began making the block prints for which he would later become best known.
In 1932, Leonard began teaching evening art classes at the Hamilton Technical Institute. He also exhibited his colour block prints with much acclaim at the Royal Canadian Academy Exhibition, and with the National Gallery of Canada’s Annual Exhibition of Canadian Art. Recognized as a master of the lino and woodcut print medium, his works are regarded as perhaps the finest ever produced in Canada.
In 1936 he helped organize an artist’s union in Hamilton, the same year that he was appointed curator of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In 1967, he was elected an Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy, and received the Centennial Gold Medal for his contribution to Canadian art. During his career, Leonard Hutchinson served as President of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art; President of the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers; and founded the Hamilton Chapter of the Artists’ Union.
Despite an active artistic career that lasted little more than a decade, he became known as the artist of Southern Ontario’s land and of the working people. He lived their life, using his art to comment on their struggles, believing the arts should serve the cause of social justice. Through this commitment, Leonard Hutchinson has emerged as an important artist of the 1930s, and one of Canada’s social realists of the Depression years.
Leonard Hutchinson’s work is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Hamilton; Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives; Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (Hamilton); New York Public Library; Art Gallery of Ontario.
Sources: Rhoda and Robert Hutchinson (Leonard’s elder children)
Stuart MacQuaig, Climbing the Cold White Peaks: a survey of artists in and around Hamilton, 1910 – 1950 City of Hamilton Gallery of Distinction