One of the greatest aspects of life within a Schlegel Village is the diversity of each community; the sheer number of people who come from countless backgrounds collectively offer hundreds of years of vastly different experiences to their Village, and it’s worthwhile to try and learn as much as possible from each unique story.
Panchal Mansaram offers a fine example. I met him a few days after his move into the new retirement neighbourhoods that opened in The Village of Tansley Woods at the end of 2019. There were still boxes to be unpacked and what seemed like hundreds of paintings stacked against the walls while he decided how and where to store them. The sound of unfamiliar music from the Indian subcontinent filled his suite when I knocked upon his door, and he was cooking a light lunch that sent the smell of subtle, fragrant spices through the air.
Mr. Mansaram is a celebrated Indo-Canadian artist, considered by many to be one of the great bridges that link the past and present of the two nations through his use of mixed media and collage. “His body of work adds a new dimension to our understanding of Indian modernism, as well as to narratives of the history of Canadian art,” wrote Deepali Dewan, the Dan Mishra Curator of South Asian Arts & Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum shortly after the acquisition of more than 700 pieces of Mr. Mansaram’s work.
His story is an interesting one, for sure. When he was still a young man, freshly in pursuit of his studies of art, he was chosen from more than 1,000 applicants from across India for a scholarship to study in Amsterdam for nearly 18 months.
“That changes your whole life, actually,” he says, “because you have access to Paris, London, Germany and all those countries.”
For a boy from the small, hilltop town of Mount Abu in the highlands whose father wanted him to become an engineer, the exploration of art in Western Europe was transformational. He had been lost, he says, in his youth after losing half of his family to typhoid, but he found peace in the mountains and trees around him.
“I was at home there,” he says, “walking aimlessly among the trees.” When he began to study art in earnest, he was truly at home, regardless of whether he was in India, Europe or his eventual adopted land, Canada.
He married a fellow artist named Tarunika, who studied at the famed Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and together they shared their passion with young artists throughout the region around Hamilton, where they settled after coming to Canada in the mid-1960s. Throughout their lives together, they would venture back and forth between Hamilton, New York, Ottawa, and Montreal, and on the weekends they would often attend parties in Toronto.
“It was a good deal,” he says, “but it was a lot of hard work, painting and teaching.”
It took 50 years, he says, but the art world began to notice after watching for Indian influence in contemporary art in North America, and in 2017 the ROM made its move and acquired a substantial amount of Mr. Mansaram’s work for posterity’s sake.
Today, Mr. Mansaram is settling into a new home at Tansley Woods, and both his art and that of his beloved wife adorns the walls of his new suite, in many ways a tribute to the life they built together and the influence they had on countless others.
A fine example, indeed, of the beauty of a diverse community.