Themes

GOLD MINING    •    GOLD IN NATURE    •    GOLD IN SOCIETY    •    GOLD IN ART

Frederick B. Nichols

Watercolour landscape showing a wooden building on a cleared ridge.

Born in 1824 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Nichols was best known as an engraver and a mining engineer. He apprenticed as an engraver in New York before starting his own business around 1845. He invented and patented a process of relief engraving in 1848, but gave up engraving in 1858 to work on inventions. Nichols moved to Nova Scotia in 1865 with a particular interest in our gold fields and worked here as a chemist, mining engineer and professor of geology. He returned to New York in 1884, where he resumed engraving for a year. As of 1906, he was living retired in Bridgeport.

It is likely Nichols’ work as a mining engineer led to the production of this series of watercolours portraying some of the key gold mining districts and industrial hubs of Nova Scotia. With his background in engraving, he may have considered using these sketches as a basis for prints to publicize the Nova Scotia goldfields.

Watercolour landscape showing two miners working a hoist above a mine shaft.

Oldham Gold District, Whitehead, N.E., c. 1870 by Frederick B. Nichols.

AGNS: 2011.264

Nichols as an amateur artist is typical of his day, heavily influenced by the landscape fashions of the mid-1800s - an extension of the British topographical drawings that so dominated the documentation of Canada. Nichols has chosen to paint idyllic industrial landscapes in a muted, serene palette, minimizing the visual impact of the industry on the land. Little in the images makes the viewer aware of anything other than charming scenes of pastoral beauty or of activity at a safe distance.

Watercolour landscape made of two sheets of paper showing a series of buildings in the background.

Nichols was working on paper of a certain size. To make a wider landscape painting, he painted two images looking in different directions that were put together to show one broad landscape view. This combination of paintings is called a diptych. Uniacke Gold District, Looking NW and Looking NE, c.1870 by Frederick B. Nichols.

AGNS: 2011.256

The two views of Uniacke NE and NW are particularly charming, as they form a diptych for a more extensive scene.

The watercolours show idealised industrial landscapes. While there are some buildings in the distance, the trees are missing and a few drawings have identifiable shafts and men operating them, nothing else indicates this was an active industry.