Call of the Wild

An artist's uncommon obsession with the common loon

T&C Eye Candy / Art by Kurt Swinghammer

Not too long ago, in collaboration with The Canadian Canoe Museum, we asked our audience to share favourite examples of “canoe art” with us on social media.

Weighing in from around the country, our followers’ feedback was rich. They pointed to everything from a giant canoe sculpture in Martensville, Saskatchewan to voyageur canoe art circa 1789 to a mural of Potlotec First Nation members famously paddling from Nova Scotia to Quebec during Expo 67.

One of our readers flagged a vibrant canoe print and puzzle by Toronto-based artist and musician Kurt Swinghammer. When we checked out his website, we confess that while we loved his red canoe, we fell hard for the artist’s loon.

We immediately reached out to Swinghammer at his home in Ontario to see if he’d let us share this image with you (he said yes!). He also had a few reflections to share about his lifelong fascination with the iconic bird.

“I love that loons are naturally super graphic and high contrast. When you think about it, the bird is stunning. Black and white with bright-red zinger eyes,” he says. “It looks like it was designed in the late ’60s, a time when the art world celebrated a strong graphic sensibility.”

Beyond its unique look, there’s also no debating the distinctive sound of a loon’s call, says Swinghammer.

“Their song is reminiscent of the blues, comforting yet mournful. Add to this that when they call, the sound often echoes across lakes and through forests and even to distant hills. This natural environment gives them a sound quality that is incomparable. It’s almost electronic music to me, which ties into the look of the work I’ve done here.”

Swinghammer says he found a way to create loon songs musically with a slide and an e-bow (an electronic device used when playing string instruments) in his wonderfully eerie song Canoe Lake (totally worth a listen), which was inspired by the life and death of Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson.

“I’ve also had the most amazing one-on-one experiences with loons while canoeing on lakes in Ontario. The birds do just crazy moves and mating rituals, with splashing water and outstretched wings — all contrasted against blue water. It’s almost as if the loon was created as part of some kind of divine intervention.”

As for his unique take on this beloved bird: “People seem to enjoy it because it combines traditional representation with modernism,” says Swinghammer, who sees himself as somewhat of a cultural engineer.

“I’m approaching the loon with modern eyes. I’m not trying to make it look realistic. I’m finding my own expression of a loon and how it can be interpreted in a fresh, new way.”


Editor’s note: If you’re interested in Kurt Swinghammer’s work, check out his website here or reach out to him at

Founded by two Canucks on the loose in a big country, Toque & Canoe is an award-winning Canadian travel blog. Feel free to follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

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  1. Margo Pfeiff commented:

    Love this story. The physical and vocal descriptions and interpretations really strike a chord with me. Love the painting too!


  2. Gwen Breen commented:

    Such a beautiful painting. I have a life size carving of a loon, hand carved by Don Bourassa in April 2001. This painting would look super on a quilt (I’m a quilter) or as a “Barn Quilt”


  3. Christopher Paul Heinrich commented:

    The Loon
    Has been one of my favourite birds since I was very young. Watching it travel under water in a bullet-like manner or arching its head with a straight neck and very slowing and methodically swallowing a whole fish from head to tail. Its red eyes and seemingly perfect black and white finish has always mesmerized me.


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