The exhibition’s organization reflects the diversity of the work both in location and conception, with one room devoted to the homes of the west coast and to Thom’s art and music. The second room showcases the university projects of Ontario, but curator Adele Weder has also included west coast homes in order to show the interconnections between the realms of art, and domestic and university architecture. The West Vancouver museum is small, but the Thom exhibition, designed by the Vancouver firm Public: Architecture + Communication, is satisfying and comprehensive. Upon entering, before any visual information can be processed, one smells wood – the smell of the west coast. The rooms of the museum have been built out, in the diagonals of Thom, using plywood, that ubiquitous west coast product so key to the creation of Modern architectural and artistic production on the west coast. The smell of the west coast – wood, air and water is unique, and that the exhibition designers remember our sense of smell is wonderful and subtle, because this is an art and architecture powerfully of the senses. In terms of this exhibition design, Weder collaborated with Public: Architecture + Communication (Susan Mavor, Brian Wakelin, Courtney Healey and Laura Killam) and credits these designers for the idea of deploying wood.
Ron Thom began as a painting student at the Vancouver School of Art and the exhibition treats includes several of his paintings and we see an artist’s sensitivity to a stimulation of all the senses in his architecture as a total work of art, orgesamtkunstwerk. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work is evoked in both the exhibition and the film, Coast Modern, Thom believed one idea should control all aspects of a design from the built form right down to the cutlery. At Massey College, for example, Thom chose and ordered the specific cutlery to be used in the dining hall. Additionally, he designed furniture, lamps and commissioned ceramic artists to create ashtrays, and examples of each are on display in this exhibition. I was personally delighted to see beautiful pencil, hand drawn, plans for Massey College by Ron Thom; their quality and detailing underlines the connection to the work of Wright, (fig. 5).