When one thinks of artwork that has been deemed by the Ontario Heritage Foundation to have heritage value, and the artist is from a Muskoka pioneering family, one might expect tranquil landscapes with water, rocks and trees. Alma Rumball’s landscapes may be scenes depicting heaven or Atlantis, and the figures are more like Tibetan deities. Alma is one of Muskoka’s most hidden treasures, and her artwork is born of an inner landscape, made available to her as a recluse, living on the shores of Fairy Lake, in Huntsville.
When I first met Alma in 1972, I was about to marry her nephew, Colin Oke. She shared her incredible story of ‘the Hand’ that drew and wrote by itself, separate from her consciousness. Alma told me I was to be the one “divinely inspired to take them to the world”, and I have spent the last 40 years attempting to understand and share her works and her story. This article traces her background history in Muskoka from early settlers to most recent showings around the globe. She can still be seen as a pioneer in this realm of Spirit.
Alma’s paternal grandfather, Charles Rumball, immigrated to Canada from England in 1844. He married Catharine (Kate) Sanders in 1863 at Port Talbot. They lived in Haysville and Petersville (London) until they came to Muskoka in the early 1870’s with Sydney Smith and settled on Mary(‘s) Lake. In Alma’s own words, “He was a man of many artistic gifts, being a first class amateur actor, a rare narrator, a splendid pen and ink cartoonist, and an author of some local repute. These gifts are not much in demand in a pioneer community, and his lack of business ability caused loss of fortune.”
Catharine Rumball is said to have died in childbirth, as was often the fate of pioneering women, but there is no record of that. Charles remarried Florence Moody, who acted as stepmother to the Rumball children, plus her own two. She and two of the children died, sadly, of diptheria in 1887.
Alma’s maternal grandfather was Welshman, William Morgan, who pioneered in Muskoka with his wife, Matilda Wiles. Both the Morgans and the Rumballs knew Sydney Smith previously, and he convinced the families to come to Port Sydney. William became an accomplished architect, cabinet-maker, wood- carver and carpenter. He built and managed the first Sydney Hotel, which served as a resting place for travelers, as they changed from horse- drawn stage to steamer, on the way to Huntsville. It was later destroyed by fire.
The Morgans settled first in the village of Port Sydney and then moved to Newholm. They became the Rumball’s closest neighbours there, as their lands were adjoined. From his home in Newholm Mr. Morgan became the chief craftsman in construction of Deerhurst Inn, Bayview Hotel, and Trinity Anglican Church. His work is featured in the Newholm pulpit, the baptismal font, which was displayed at the Chicago World Fair, and in the wood carving of All Saints Church, Huntsville. His design for the Eiffel Tower was among the top five designs chosen from around the world.
Reg Rumball, Alma’s beloved father, was born in Petersville, Ontario, which is now a part of the city of London, in 1865. When his father, Charles Rumball, began homesteading his 100 acres of virgin crown forest in Brunel Township, he met the Morgan family’s daughter, Frances. Mrs. Morgan continually left food for the plague-stricken Rumball family.
Young Reginald had to work to help provide for the family, so he took a job at 16 years of age, as a cook in Robert Dollar’s logging camp, studying a cookbook by night to gain his first baking skills. He became an accomplished cook throughout his life. He won the heart of Frances Ellen Morgan, and they were married in 1897.
Alma was born in 1902, at Newholm. She was one of five girls, including Gertie Scott, Edna Oke, Jessie Adamson and Gwen Rumball; there was also one brother, Roy. Reg managed the Britannia Hotel on Lake of Bays, from 1905 until 1911.
Mr. and Mrs. Rumball then started the first Rumball Dairy, later named the Huntsville Dairy, and purchased by W. Horton & Son when Reg retired. They built a cobblestone house on the river at Dairy Lane. Their farm covered the property from the corners of Hwys 11A and 60 , now Rogers Cove Retirement home, to the Hutcheson Memorial Cemetery. Verne Oke later built his home with Edna and two cottages for the maiden aunts, Alma and Gwen, on their family pasture land on Fairy Lake. It was known in the family as ‘the aunt hill’. Okes Grocery store was located where the current Tim Horton’s lies, and the hospital was built on the opposite corner. Reg was a community-minded man and became Reeve of Chaffey Township and a member of Unity Lodge A.F. and A.M.
Alma’s father wanted her to become a school teacher, so she attended Normal School (Teacher’s College) in North Bay in 1923. She lasted only a few years in the rural country schools in Huntsville, as she was suspected of having tuberculosis. She spent three months in a Gravenhurst sanatorium, but never did prove to have TB. When her father died in 1941, she inherited the house on the river, now owned by Dr. Michael and Judith Morison, and she lived there until 1948.
As a child she was always drawing, so she left for Toronto to express her artistic talents. She worked in a ceramics factory, York China, and decorated vases for several years there. The factory was bought by the University of Toronto, and she returned to Huntsville in the early 1950’s. Up until this point she had a relatively normal social life.
Something changed her life forever at this time, and she was never the same again. She became a recluse, not venturing out except for family functions. She never married, nor had a family of her own, to distract her from her soul mission. Around the same time she experienced a vision of Jesus, accompanied by a panther. As she recounts, Jesus spoke to her and commanded her to draw and write in order to help humanity.
She became clairvoyant and clairaudient around her 50th year. She told me she saw other planes of existence and began to communicate with what she called a ‘genius’, a turbaned, spiritual guide, named Aba Pasha. Socrates and other gifted visionaries speak of their genius, or daemon that inspired their greatest works.
At the same time her hand began to choose crayons, pencils and coloured inks as though with a will of its own. She watched as The Hand raced across multiple sheets of paper, leaving intricately detailed and beautiful images, unintended by her own mind. She responded, saying, “I’m as excited to see what The Hand will do as you are. I can’t accept credit for them; you see, I don’t do them.”
It was in the early 1970’s that the spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche, saw the drawings in Toronto. In a private audience, he named and identified seven of twenty shown as Tibetan deities and gods, in proper positions and with appropriate mantels and headdresses. Strange symbols, figures and characters, forming patterns like unknown languages, have captivated experts for decades.
Sometimes the messages splashed across abstract or geometric drawings. ALMA CAME TO EARTH AS JOAN OF ARC was one. There are several armoured females in the collection.
Strangely, hundreds of pages lay out descriptions of Atlantis, complete with drawings, and warnings for humanity to follow God’s wishes or suffer Atlantis’ fate. She drew scenes in heaven, holy ghosts and fruits of the Tree of Life, each with different healing capabilities.
Alma was a childlike, simple, rural woman who never explored beyond her Christian teachings. She never claimed to understand the process; she simply marveled at the gift she felt was from God. Over the years the drawings have been named by others, as their content becomes more identifiable. Alma suffered a stroke in the early 1970’s, but continued to allow The Hand to express itself. She died in 1980 never really understanding, yet accepting her role in exploring the frontiers of the world of Spirit.
Thirty years have produced showings in Toronto, atop the CN Tower, at the Symposium For Humanity and at York University, custodians of many drawings.
Their curator, Michael Greenwood said he had not seen a more pure case of psychic automatism, a Surrealist term, coined by Andre Breton, since William Blake.
Chilean muralist Carmen Cereceda, assistant to Diego Rivera and housemate to Frida Kahlo, declares there is nothing quite so “purely of Spirit” seen anywhere in the world, to her extensive knowledge. She became the Okes’ mentor and introduced them to both Toronto’s artistic community and its spiritual community, in the 1970’s.
Artists, spiritual teachers, cryptologists and healers have vast and varying commentaries on her contribution to humanity. There are suggestions of energetic healing through meditative exchanges. Alma’s works have been shown in Canada, the United States, Mexico, England and Australia. There is almost always an intense reaction when viewers interact with her artwork. Her works continue to be seen as pioneering in a world so few have explored, even today.
A documentary film, ‘the Alma drawings’, commissioned by Vision TV won the Best Direction, Canadian Spectrum, short to mid-length films at the 2005 International Hot Docs Film Festival, held in Toronto.
All Images Are © Colin and Wendy Oke’s Collection
Article first published in Muskoka Magazine March/April 2004
Guest Author Biography:
Wendy is married to Alma Rumball’s nephew, Colin; together they have been ‘keepers of the Alma drawings’. Wendy has been a teacher/counselor/therapist/multi-faith minister and journalist, as well as Creative Consultant on the Hot Docs award-winning documentary, ‘The Alma Drawings’.
She is currently presenting workshops comparing Alma’s Atlantis writings and imagery with Edgar Cayce’s readings. She also offers presentations on the Sacred Language of Light, as it relates to Alma’s sacred art.
Re: the Artist Alma Rumball: Following a vision of Jesus, at age 50, Alma (1902 – 1980) became a clairvoyant recluse, creating intricate, coloured pen and ink drawings. She watched, as “The Hand” drew by itself, unfamiliar forms, separate from her consciousness. Tibetan gods, Joan of Arc figures and tales of Atlantis revealed themselves. They have been called “the Sacred Language of Light, activation drawings, with codes embedded in them for the evolution of humanity at this time.”
Blog / Website: www.Alma Matters.ca