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Article about Frank Arbuckle work sold at auction sparks reaction from Port de Grave Peninsula residents
It brought in more than $30,000 on an online auction last week in Toronto, but there’s a riveting story behind the rare, decades-old painting depicting a small fishing village in this province — and local residents are quick to share it.
Shortly after The Telegram’s story about “True Lovers Leap, Newfoundland” sold at the auction was published in the weekend edition, people from the area were more than willing to share its rich history.
“It’s quite important to us,” Port de Grave Peninsula Heritage Society Inc. president Roland Andrews said about the painting and the story that inspired it. “Many of us here know the story quite well.”
“Many of us here know the story quite well.” — Roland Andrews
The painting, by the late Franklin Arbuckle of Toronto, sold for $30,680 — five times more than the opening bid of $6,000 in the auction, held last Thursday by Cowley Abbott auctioneers, based in Ontario.
Rob Cowley, president of the auction company and a Canadian art specialist, told The Telegram last week he suspected the painting depicted an area near Brigus and Cupids.
But Andrews, who lives in Bareneed, immediately recognized the painting, as there are several photos of it in the society’s collection.
Lovers Leap, he said, is in the area of what’s known locally as Patrick’s Pier in the community of Blow Me Down on the Port de Grave Peninsula.
He said the name Lovers Leap was inspired by a true story in 1864 about a young couple — Charles Dawe (son of John and Jane Dawe of Ship Cove) and Brigitte (Biddy) Warford of Blow Me Down — who fell for each other and then fell off a cliff in Blow Me Down.
Gerald W. Andrews’ book, “Heritage of a Newfoundland Outport: The story of Port de Grave,” (published in 1997) references Arbuckle’s painting and the story of Brigitte and Charles.
Andrews explained that Brigitte’s family disapproved of her relationship with Charles, “So, they plotted and planned a way they might get rid of him,” Roland Andrews said.
According to the story, Brigitte and Charles were leaning on a wooden rail on the eastern gulch in Daniels Hole as they had their parting kiss. Suddenly, the rail gave way and the two plummeted more than 60 feet to the beach below. Brigitte survived with light injuries, but Charles was seriously injured.
Gerald Andrews’ books states, “It was surmised that both were saved from instant death by the fact that Biddy was wearing a hoop skirt which acted as a parachute to slow their descent, and it hooked into a ledge before their final impact. Upon inspection, it was discovered that the rail had been sawed.”
Brigitte’s brother, Azariah, came under suspicion, but it couldn’t be proven. Charles recovered and went on to marry Brigitte a year later.
“The rugged gulch has since been known as Lover’s Leap and the story indelibly imprinted in the folklore of the community,” the books says.
The area attained national recognition in the 1950s, as Arbuckle’s painting and the story behind it were adopted by the Dominion Life Assurance Co. as the subject of its calendar and distributed across Canada shortly after.
When Roland Andrews saw The Telegram article, which reported that the painting, which was sold for the first time in 70 years, sold for more than $30,000 in the auction, he was overjoyed by its value, but was disappointed it went to a buyer in Toronto.
“I only wished we, as (a group located in) the birthplace of that painting, could’ve had access to it and put it on permanent display,” said Andrews, who added many people had messaged him about the article.
When asked if members of the society would have participated in the auction had they known about it, he replied, “I’m sure the society would’ve given it consideration. I doubt we would have that kind of money to spend, but we certainly would have been a participant.”
Andrews is hoping the new owner will contact the society so they can talk about the painting.
“If he (or she) would follow up, we’d certainly love to have a discussion,” he said. “That would mean a lot to us.”
Retired teacher Mona Petten of Hibbs Cove (formerly Hibbs Hole) has been a resident all her life and said the story is well known in the area.
“It’s a landmark now. We’d say we’re going to Lovers Leap,” said the 77-year-old. “But the story about (Charles and Brigiite) was a common story when I was growing up. Everybody knew it.
"It was told over and over again. Many had suspicions about who (sabotaged the rail). Some thought it was another man who was jealous of Charlie and some thought it was the brother, who didn’t think it was a good match.”
“It certainly doesn’t hurt tourism here. Perhaps we’ll see more (artists) here.” — Mona Petten
She said her late friend, Ruby Petten, even wrote a poem about the story and recalls when painters like Arbuckle would come to the community to paint the area.
“I remember when after Confederation, artists used to come around, perched on the side of a cliff somewhere and we would stand and watch them. We thought it was wonderful.”
Petten is delighted to have read that Arbuckle’s painting sold for such a high price.
“It’s tremendous,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t hurt tourism here. Perhaps we’ll see more (artists) here.”