Visual Arts in Guelph
Author: Helen Brimmell
Publication Date: 1998
It was an omen, perhaps, that the first recorded artwork to come out of the fledgling community of Guelph, in Canada West, in 1830, was a drawing. Prepared for John Galt to accompany his article in Fraser's Magazine on the founding of the new village, it was published as a lithograph and showed The Priory, Guelph's first house and office of the Canada Company. The print was signed 'G. Childs,' but in later accounts it has been suggested that the original sketch was done by a Miss Neeve, an early resident.
From this sketch to the city's present richness of visual arts - the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre; the Fine Art Department of the University of Guelph; 'The Family,' William McElcheran's sculptured fountain in St. George's Square; the regular exhibitions sponsored by the Guelph Creative Arts Association; and the wealth of commercial galleries and artists' co-operatives - is a story of steady development in a community which enjoys the arts.
Illustration for John Galt's article on Guelph in Fraser's Magazine, in 1830, signed 'G. Childs.'
The first art show in Guelph was held in 1867 in the Guelph Drill Hall. Another is recorded in 1882 in the City Hall under the auspices of the ladies of St. Andrew's Church. In 1890, at the Guelph Central Exhibition, William Wood won first prize, a photography album, for his delicate ink drawing of a peach. Portraits were sought after from early times: George Robinson Shaw, a farmer in Eramosa Township, painted portraits. C. Acton Burrows in The Annals of Guelph mentions a painting done in 1828 of Allan's Bridge, but this work has never been located. He also mentions a Russian portrait and miniature painter who was in Guelph during the first years of the settlement. This would have been one of the itinerant artists who produced portraits, miniatures, landscapes and' renderings of houses on demand, and also painted signs and decorated wagons, walls and the like.
One of the finest examples of this type of art is the scene of Guelph painted around 1873 showing the view from Allan's Bridge up the Speed River toward the newly constructed St. George's Anglican Church. Visible on the left are the turrets of the Court House and the stone bath house that William Allen built for The Priory when he lived there. This charming study is unsigned and has become well known through its reproduction on postcards and use as the theme picture for a Spring Festival.
A civil engineer by training, William H.E. Napier painted many studies in the Guelph area while working for the Grand Trunk Railway. He made delicate studies of 'Woodlands,' a stone residence built in 1846 for Thomas Saunders on Waterloo Avenue, and of other houses.
The most important early studies of Guelph are those by David Johnston Kennedy who came in 1834 with his Scottish-born family. He soon decided that pioneer life was not for him, and he settled permanently in Philadelphia. During numerous visits, however, he painted many watercolour studies, one being of his parents, home, 'Yankee Cottage,' which his father had built on the east side of the Speed River opposite The Priory.
For some time, Guelph artists had to travel to larger centres to pursue their art. Alfred Mickle, born here in 1869, studied in Scotland and Europe before settling in St. Catharines, where he died in 1966 after a distinguished career painting architectural, marine and landscape subjects in oils and pastels.
Rolph Scarlett was another who had to leave to establish his artistic career. Born here in 1889, he was articled with the W.A. Clark firm of jewellers. He went to New York where he became noted as a painter of non-objective works and produced beautiful jewellery in similar style. He returned, in a wheelchair, for the University of Guelph's sesquicentennial exhibition, Visitors, Exiles and Residents, in 1977.
Early in 1997, director Judith Nasby of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre organized an exhibition of Scarlett's work for a tour which opened at the Canadian Embassy in Washington in March, to be followed by a two-year tour through the United States and to the Art centre. The show included paintings, sketches, drawings of his many commercial designs for salt and pepper shakers, tea and coffee pots, stoves and other furniture, booths and presentations for the 1939 World's Fair in New York, a swivel lamp made to his design and still in production, and the magnificent jewellery. The industrial designs included also included one for a small guided missile, produced when he worked for the British War Office in London in 1937 and based on his skill as a jeweller. It was never put into production.
Lillian Freiman, born in 1908, established a successful career in New York. Leroy Stevenson, born in 1905, was active in Calgary most of his life, and Herb Ariss established himself in London, Ontario.
THOSE WHO STAYED: SMITH, MACDONALD, AND COULING
G. Effie Smith (1867-1960) broke the mould of having to seek artistic success elsewhere. She was born in Cumberland, near Ottawa, and came to Guelph when her father, Rev. J.C. Smith, became the minister of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Her mother, born Emily Petrie, was a gifted artist. Miss Effie, as she was known, stayed in Guelph and made a glowing career in the arts, best known as a painter of magnificent flower studies. A sculptor in wood and an expert china painter, an art she taught, she turned to painting in oils. By 1952 she had completed some 1,500 paintings and was honoured with an exhibition of her work in Toronto. "I could paint pansies in my sleep," she told the Globe and Mail at that time. "I like lilacs, but pansies are my favourites."
Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was one of many who owned her works as did George Drew who had also been her pupil. Many others knew her designs for Hallmark Cards. Guelphites brought their special bouquets to be turned into permanent memories through her brush. A hard worker, she often painted into the night to capture flowers at their best. She also confessed she had once taken a fling into modern art but had returned to painting flowers. "Surrealism has its points," she said, "but everyone understands a rose. I commune with nature by studying a spray of flowers on a table."
Miss Effie was an active member of the community. She played the organ at St. Andrew's Church for fifteen years, and later at the Congregational Church. When the Imperial order of the Daughters of the Empire (now the IODE) established its first chapter in Guelph - the Victoria Guelph Chapter - she was a founding member. She was also an early and active member of the Guelph Painters Group. As executive secretary of the Guelph Country Club, she had the honour of planting the first of many ornamental trees on the property in 1912. In 1987 the club sought out and marked 'Miss Effie's Tree' as part of their 75th anniversary celebrations.
When the Painters Group joined other arts and crafts groups as the Guelph Creative Arts Association in 1948, she was invited to provide expert advice to the organizational meetings. As a result, the GCAA named her its first honorary life member in February 1960. As she was too frail to attend, Elizabeth Kemp accepted the scroll, designed, and lettered by Prof. Gordon Couling, on her behalf. President Hugh Douglass recounted her many achievements, "as an artist and the contribution she has made to the artistic development of the community."
In 1957 when the GCAA held its first major exhibition, in the drill hall of the Guelph Armoury, there was no discussion as to who would be invited to be the first special exhibitor. Miss Effie was happy to provide a large display. In 1967 when the GCAA opened its gallery in the Public Library, it organized a large group of her works, loaned by collectors here and in the United States.
In order to make examples of her work available to the public, the GCAA also obtained for their permanent collection two large paintings, Irises and Bouquet in Pink and Blue, and several sketches. The sketches are on permanent display on the second floor of the University of Guelph Library, along with other smaller works in the collection.
Evan Macdonald (1905 -1972) is another of Guelph's most prominent artists. After studying under William Orpen and Augustus John at the British Royal Academy from 1923 to 1930, he retumed to Canada and settled in Toronto where he worked as an illustrator of books and magazines and painted the occasional portrait. He became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, and many of his works from this period were reproduced in The Financial Post and the Northern Miner Press, which published his paintings of miners in the Noranda district.
At the start of the Second World War, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Engineers and was posted to British Columbia where he designed camouflage and instructed in the army's camouflage schools. After the war he returned to Guelph to become president of D.E. Macdonald Brothers store at Macdonell and Wyndham streets, the family business. In his painting he concentrated on landscapes, and completed about 25 portrait commissions a year.
In 1948 Macdonald was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. From then until 1950 he was commissioned to paint portraits for the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association. In 1953 he was commissioned by Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Ltd. to contribute to the Cities of Canada touring exhibition, and in 1954 he was commissioned to paint George Drew's portrait.
Evan Macdonald, as printed by Marion Long, 1934. From the catalogue to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre exhibition of his work.
Evan Macdonald also taught several courses in portrait painting for the Creative Arts Association. He roughed in the outline and then painted the eyes, explaining that this brought the portrait to life. One thinks of this method when viewing his portrait of the Queen as the young Princess Elizabeth to commemorate her visit to Guelph in the early 1950s. He presented the portrait to his native city and, on her accession to the throne, it was decided to place the portrait in the Council Chamber.
Several other paintings among his legacy are renowned - Herbie Larson; Miss Jessie Hill; The Wireless Air Gunner, 1942; and a self portrait when he was in the army. The famed portrait of Herbie Lawson was loaned by the artist's son, Bill, to be the centrepiece of the Guelph Museum's display in 1997 on the contribution of black culture to Guelph. Besides his portraits, he completed hundreds of lively oil sketches, watercolours and drawings while travelling throughout Ontario and the Maritimes. For years a popular gift for an important visitor to Guelph or speaker at the Colleges was an Evan Macdonald oil painting.
ln 1970 Macdonald was granted the first honorary Doctor of Laws degree given by the new University of Guelph. An exhibition of his landscape paintings and portraits was organized at the University of Guelph Art Gallery to mark the award. He had already had several exhibitions in Guelph, the first in 1945 sponsored by the local Business and Professional Women's Club. In 1956 Chief Librarian Florence Partridge organized a showing of 50 of his landscapes at the Massey Library, Ontario Agricultural College. His work was chosen for the first exhibition by the Creative Arts Association at their Public Library Gallery, opening December 4, 1966. In 1976 there was another exhibition at the Corbett Gallery in Elora and in Guelph's sesquicentennial year, 1977, his work was included in Visitors, Exiles and Residents, a show of Guelph artists' work at the University of Guelph Art Gallery.
Gordon Couling (1913-1994), the third of the germinal threesome who established the visual arts on the map of Guelph, was immensely talented in many fields of art but he is best remembered for the help and encouragement he gave to other artists. He was born and received his early education in Guelph before studying at the Ontario College of Art under Rowley Murphy, J.W. Beatty and John Alfsen. He took post-graduate studies at New York University and began exhibiting his oils and watercolours in 1935. He also joined the Royal Canadian Engineers when the Second World War broke out, and also served in camouflage work on the west coast. In 1946, before returning to Guelph, he had a large exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Returning home, he became active in the Guelph Painters Group and served as president. He was the founding president of the Guelph Creative Arts Association, and later was its first honorary president. He taught art and design at the Macdonald Institute from 1949 to 1974, and in 1956 became the first chair of the newly established Fine Art Department at the University of Guelph. He held this position until 1974 when he retired to devote more time to his work with stained glass. In addition to painting representational works, centring on the scenes and architecture of Guelph, he produced a series of white constructions between 1960 and 1972, exploring the interaction of light falling on a complex grid.
Gordon Couling with two of his designs for church windows in Kitchener (KITCHENER-WATERLOO RECORD PHOTO).
Couling was a noted architectural historian who produced illustrated guides to the city's interesting buildings in honour of Guelph's sesquicentennial year of 1977. His booklets, Where Guelph Began and Downtown Walkabout, are available from the Guelph Arts Council along with others prepared by Florence Partridge. Because of his interest in architecture, he organized the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) of the City of Guelph. On his death he left manuscripts on architectural subjects ready for publication.
A visual art we are apt to take for granted is stained glass. Nearly all our churches are enriched by light falling through the blues, reds, greens, and purples beloved of artists in stained glass, but several have outstanding displays.
The Church of our Lady Immaculate, modelled after the Dome of Cologne by Joseph Conolly, and dedicated on October 10, 1888, has windows from the workshop of Vermonet & Co. of Rheims, France, along the sides, showing scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The central panel above the altar shows Mary Immaculate above and Father John Holzer S.J., founder of the church, below. The Catherine Wheelwindow, more than 18 feet in diameter, fills the great front gable of the nave shedding its light from the east down the length of the whole church.
St. George's Anglican Church is graced with beautiful windows, the principal one being the 'Palmer Window' over the high altar. It represents Christ in the central panel flanked by the four Evangelists. Dedicated in 1885, it honours the memory of Arthur Palmer, first rector of the church, 1832-1875, and Archdeacon of Toronto. At tire west end of the nave is the only true stained-glass window in the church, all the other images being painted onto coloured glass. Its subject is the Ascension of Christ, and the afternoon sun provides a dramatic effect as the rich colours bathe the church.
The windows in Paisley Memorial United Church are of special interest for they were designed by Guelph artist Gordon Couling. His ecclesiastical designs, murals and stained-glass windows are installed in several churches in Guelph and Kitchener and in other cities in Ontario and British Columbia. A dedicated member of the Paisley congregation, he designed all its windows, in cooperation with the Guelph Glass Co., which cut the sections and, after he had painted them, assembled them.
The first was installed April 24, 1960, and the last two were completed after his death in 1984. One of these, featuring the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, was augmented with the tribute: "In memory of Gordon Couling AOCA who conceived and designed the windows in the sanctuary."
SCULPTURE: HUNGERFORD, MULLER, DRENTERS, BOOS, AND GAGE
Guelph has also had a strong tradition in sculpture, both large and small and including fine jewellery pieces.
Sophia Hungerford knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life when, as 15-year-old Sophia Buckingham, she attended a party where the guests were each given a cake of soap and a knife and told to carve. She carved a Venus, and her career was born. She studied at the Ontario College of Art with Toronto sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle before continuing in New York and Los Angeles where she studied wood carving. A great influence was sculptor Jacobine Jones who came to Guelph to sculpt animals at the Agricultural College, and who encouraged her and taught her the technique of casting and the manner in which plaster could be coloured to resemble bronze.
Always in the realist manner, she produced a stream of portrait busts. Among her sitters were Dr. J.D. MacLachlan, first president of the University of Guelph, and A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven, whom she portrayed twice, many years apart. She exhibited regularly with the Guelph Creative Arts Association from 1948, with the Ontario Guild of Potters, and at the Art Gallery of Ontario. An exhibition of her work was held in the University of Guelph's Arts Building in 1978, and in 1989 a major overview of her work was mounted at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre.
Harold Muller attended the Ontario College of Art, obtained a teaching certificate from Queen's University, and attended Sheridan College, all after wartime service with the 16/43 Royal Canadian Artillery. He was a founding member of the Guelph Creative Arts Association and is the past honorary president. For many years he taught painting and metal courses for the Association and for the Guelph Recreation Department. He also taught evening and Saturday morning classes in painting in Galt, Preston, Orangeville, Erin, Acton, Arthur, Drayton, and for the Central Ontario Art Association.
Sophia Hungerford, sculptor, as shown of the cover of the catalogue to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre exhibition of her work.
His paintings and metal sculptures are in private collections in Canada and the United States. He created the communion cup for Harcourt United Church and medals for the Edward Johnson Music Foundation and others, designed and made the mayor's chain of office for the new city of Cambridge, and was commissioned to make a painting of John McCrae School.
Muller's outstanding local assignment was his commission by the city to design and make a mace for the new University of Guelph, a gift from the citizens of Guelph. The handsome artifact which is carried at the front of formal processions at the university, incorporates stone from the Johnson Arch which was the original entrance to the Ontario School of Agriculture; pine from the Massey Library; and metal salvaged from an early pitch fork and from a grain binder from the original college farm. At the head is the crown of Queen Victoria, in whose reign Guelph and the colleges were founded. It is decorated with native-Canadian stones, and below it are insignia of Queen Elizabeth II and of the three original colleges. Enclosed in the head are coats of arms of Canada, Ontario, the City of Guelph, and the University. On the main shaft is a four-sided silver shank with sixteen symbols representing the arts, the sciences, and other activities of the colleges.
Yosef Gertrudis Drenters (1930-1983) came to Canada with his family from their native Belgium and settled in Eramosa Township where his father was a farmer and blacksmith. Both Yosef and his brother Andreas became known for their sculptures using 'found objects,' mostly pieces of old farm equipment. Yosef was commissioned by Expo '67 in Montreal to make a major piece, and produced Pioneer Family, four large figures under an Ontario farmhouse roof decorated with fretwork. When this was discarded after the exhibition, he attempted, without success, to reclaim it. After his death, Andreas created a half-sized replica which was presented to the Macdonald Stewart Sculpture Park by Ginty Jocius and his family in 1990 in memory of Yosef.
A devout man who had trained for the priesthood, he produced many sculptures of the Madonna. When he restored the old Rockwood Academy as a home and studio, he built a small stone chapel in the garden. In 1983, the Art Centre held a major exhibition of his work, Images of the Madonna. Major Drenters pieces are located there and in the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., as well as in many other public and private collections.
Hanka Boos received her early training in Bonn and Dusselforf, West Germany. After moving to Guelph in 1957, she joined the workshop of well-known Toronto sculptor, Frances Gage, and continued classes with her in Guelph. She developed her own style, working in clay and wax, later to be cast in bronze. She maintains a studio on Kortright Road West and has exhibited at the O'Keefe Centre and at galleries in Toronto and Ottawa, and the University and the Art Centre in Guelph. Her work appears in collections in Ontario, the United States and Germany. Her subjects are often religious, and a major work is her heroic Ascended Christ, which was installed in St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1989.
Frances Gage is a resident of Toronto but for some 30 years she taught a sculpture workshop here with great influence on local sculptors. Her bronze portrait of her own dog, Mindemoya was the 1990 addition to the Sculpture Park. Small editions of the work are awarded to top students at the Ontario Veterinary College.
CREATIVE ARTS ASSOCIATION
"The formation of the Guelph Creative Arts Association in 1948 was an important development towards organizing loosely-knit art and craft groups and interested individuals," wrote Judith Nasby, now director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, in her overview to the 1977 exhibition, Visitors, Exiles and Residents, which she organized at the University of Guelph's library.
"One of their first projects was to sponsor a two-day exhibition of arts and crafts to provide an overview of what was being done in Guelph at that time. This association has prayed a major role in fostering a congenial environment for the growth of the visual arts. Many people have contributed their teaching and organizational skills towards the success of the association's classes, workshop programs, and exhibitions held at various locations throughout the city."
The program of that two-day exhibition was a major find for Gail Crawford of Mississauga who visited Guelph on her last leg of a cross-province search for early craft groups. Guelph had organized crafts clubs: potters and weavers, at least 20 years before any other community.
The Guelph Creative Arts Association grew out of an informal meeting of amateur and professional artists held in the Faculty Lounge of the Ontario Agricultural College on May 11, 1948, in response to an advertisement placed in The Guelph Mercury by Prof. Wilfred Tolton and Romeo Lacasse. Harold Muller attended that meeting and, so far as is known, is the last survivor of that original group.
Within a few weeks of that first meeting, a formal organization was set up, comprising the guilds and groups then active, and chaired by Gordon Couling. Besides Couling, the founding executive included Allan Evans, first vice-president; Peter Anderson, second vice-president; Gertrude Peterson, secretary; Ben Drew, treasurer; Ruth Saison, publicity, and Alma Grinyer, membership. From the start, the new association was concerned with the developmental of high standards in instruction and opportunities for exhibitions.
In a letter to the Guelph Public Library on February 19, 1949, Couling requested co-operation in the use of the library facilities for the GCAA, mentioning the craft groups that were working together in its ranks: Fine Art, Weaving, Ceramics, Leather Craft, Pottery, Creative Writing and Music Appreciaton. The last two groups took part in several early exhibitions but disbanded after a few years. Early on, the Guelph Photographers Group was invited to be part of the association but declined. They later became active, and by the 1954 exhibition in the City Hall Auditorium they had 12 exhibitors.
EXHIBITION AND INSTRUCTION
The first exhibition was held from September 30 to October 1, 1948, in the auditorium-dance hall above Ryans' Store. During the winter of 1948-49, the GCAA gave classes and lectures in the basement of Carnegie Public Library. From 1949 to 1951, the unused basement of Norfolk Street United Church was developed as an improvised work centre and gallery. Between 1951 and 1954, the group moved its operations to the old Brooklin Mission on Martin Avenue, where a lighter and warmer space was available.
The basement of the City Hall, referred to by many as 'The Dungeons,' became a work centre between 1954 and 1962, at which time the GCAA moved its operations to the new Recreation Centre in the former Light and Heat Building on Wyndham Street South (now the parking lot south of the Police Building). Since then, the association has held its classes, workshops and many exhibitions at the Delhi Street Recreation Centre, developed by recreation director Frank Vigor in the old Isolation Hospital Building when it was no longer needed.
In 1957 the association obtained a provincial charter. Elizabeth Kemp was president at that time and Evelyn Couling, wife of Gordon Couling, was secretary. The organization continued to operate as an association of affiliated groups relating to specific skills. In 1964 the member groups came together under a single executive which prevented repetition and saved some skill activities from being lost.
In its work to fulfil its mandate, "To promote the visual arts and crafts in the City of Guelph," the association early instituted series of arts instruction for both beginners and more advanced artists. After the member groups came together under one executive it 1964, these classes developed into three series annually with some 15 courses being offered each fall, winter and spring, and approximately 500 art and craft students participating. The courses included painting in oils, watercolour, acrylics and mixed media, drawing, batik, enamelling, rug-hooking, weaving, sculpture, macrame, pottery, china painting, flower arranging, silversmithing, creative stitchery, leathercraft, and printmaking.
Though quietly done, it was a bigger undertaking than the more widely known Doon School of Fine Art in nearby Kitchener, and some who had been to the Banff School of Fine Art said that it was bigger than that renowned institution. It was all run by dedicated amateurs and spanned what is now offered by the Guelph Recreation Commission, the Wellington County Board of Education, the Wellington County Separate School Board, and the local art classes offered by Conestoga College.
The GCAA was highly esteemed by the Community Programs Branch of the Ontario Department of Education, as it was then. This group was to give a helping hand to similar groups across the province - except there were no other groups like the GCAA across the province. The Community Programs people sent interested citizens from other communities to Guelph to study the association's set-up and methods. The visitors were impressed, but none thought their community could provide such a skilled and hard-working team as the one they observed in Guelph.
When the association decided, as of January 7, 1972, to turn over its classes to complement those already being offered by the Recreation Commission, there was little visible change. All the classes were then administered by Recreation Director Frank Vigor and his secretary Ida (Bunty) Saville, instead of the larger part being looked after by Vigor wearing his other hat as program director of the GCAA, and Saville as his assistant. Official staff took over the running of the programs instead of a committee of volunteers.
The GCAA turned to other projects, among them providing special seminars especially for the benefit of arts and crafts students who had made good progress and wanted to go further, artists who were almost ready to 'turn pro' but who were unable to travel long distances to get this type of instruction.
Running a public art gallery was another major undertaking. On December 4, 1966, Guelph's first public gallery was opened by the GCAA, in the two basement rooms of the Guelph Public Library. The first exhibition was, fittingly, the work of Evan Macdonald. The association maintained a program of exhibitions there for the next three years, until the space was needed by the library. This activity helped build a foundation for a permanent civic art gallery.
From the beginning the association had held an annual exhibition, often in the Armoury, later at the Delhi Street Recreation Centre, at the Barber Gallery, at Pond's Camera Store and, for the past few years, in the Eaton Centre.
In 1960 the Guelph Painters' Group instituted their outdoor art show, 'Painting-on-the-Green,' in June in the grounds of the Parkview Motel on Woolwich Street. The choice of the gardens of the Parkview Motel was largely due to the efforts of Mrs. Thelma Paul who had her first Paul's for Gifts shop in the motel and had mounted art works by GCAA members there and in the dining room. She continued, over many years, to be the show's unofficial, but expert, sales agent. Except for the Centennial Year, 1967, when a special exhibition was mounted, this show has continued ever since. When Prof. W.C. (Scotty) Allan was president, it moved to the grounds of the Ontario Veterinary College, and later to the grounds of the Delhi Street Recreation Centre.
Peter Briggs was chairman of the first 'Painting-on-the-Green.' There were a great many exhibitors and an array of guest exhibitors: Laura Agnew, Peter Briggs, Helen Brimmell, Oreen Campbell, Gordon Couling, Margaret Craig, Corgett Gray, Margaret Keegan, Faye LaBelle, Margaret Lewis, Harold Muller, Margaret McCloskey, Frank Vigor, Winnifred Watson, Douglas Robb, Dr. E.L. Barton, Bill Scanlon, Helen Carscadden, Walter Coons, C.E. Dilliston and Nell Westcott among them.
Con von Suchtelen of Toronto was the first best-in-show winner in 1960 with his painting, La Bergere. He was also an instructor for the association's oil painting classes. Most of the top prize-winners over the years have been painters - one thinks of Werner Zimmerman when he was still an unknown student at the University of Guelph - but in 1974 Mike Leishman won for a magnificent ceramic chess set on a leather board, inlaid into an oak table.
Working with the Guelph Spring Festival, the association has staged exhibitions of paintings by Effie Smith, Evan Macdonald, Grace Coombs, Hazel Runions, and Gordon Couling in conjunction with the musical events.
Centennial Year of 1967 was an exciting landmark stimulating all kinds of new projects, and the Guelph Creative Arts Association started its permanent collection of art works under the influence of this coming anniversary.
Exhibition chair Erika Tavascia with Birute Znotinas's winning watercolour at Painting-on-the-Green, June 1993.
Old Library, an oil painting by Evan Macdonald showing the demolition of the old Carnegie Library in 1965, was purchased at a show at Lowe Bros. store in March 1965. Mrs. Aleta Ledingham donated two charming watercolour studies by her mother, Mabel Hardy Pescott (1872-1961), who had been an original member of the Guelph Painters Group. Harold Muller's large watercolour The Old Opera House, shows the building on Wyndham Street at Woolwich Street. Lady and a Teacup by Corbett Gray is another large oil, painted as a demonstration piece in a lesson he gave at the Guelph Correctional Centre and later a prize winner.
Faith and Sustenance, a large oil by Gordon Couling, shows the original building where now there is a parking lot across from the Market, below the Church of Our Lady. The GCAA bought it and presented it to the city in January 1955, when it was hung in the council chamber. After the reconstruction of City Hall, it was returned to the association. A portrait, Mrs. Sarah Gill, painted by daughter, Helen Gill Raymond, the second wife of Charles Raymond, was presented by Greta Shutt, his great-granddaughter, in 1965.
In 1966 the association recieved the splendid gift of a painting by A. Y. Jackson, famed Group of Seven artist, who often donated small works to groups setting up collections. Arranged trhough the kindness of Paul Bennet of Toronto, it was delivered to Guelph by the artist himself who, with fellow Group of Sevener A. J. Jackson, was visting their friend J. D. MacLachlan, first president of the University of Guelph. The work, titled Sugar Bush, was painted at St. Sixte, Que., and has inscribed on the back: "Presented to Margaret Lewis." Lewis, GCAA president at the time, reminded the artist to sign the sketch.
Another treasure is Ken Danby's large watercolour Guelph Carousel, a study of one of the carousel horses in Riverside park with the artist's son, Ryan, standing in front of it. It was commissioned as the GCAA's tribute to Guelph's sesquicentennial in 1977 and is well known through an edition of reproductions, and a special edition of Paul Duval's book on Danby, who lives near Guelph Lake. These books, highlighting the reproduction, are presented to special visitors by the City of Guelph during the celebration period.
Works by Grace Coombs, Helen Carscadden, Jack Pollock, Hazel Runions, Peter Goetz, Eric Nyros, Harriet Marsh, Katherine Goddard, Ian McKay, Barry McCarthy, Margaret Peter, and Werner Zimmerman round out the collection, along with two glowing flower studies and two preliminary drawings by Effie Smith.
The association presented the collection, along with a gift of $10,000, to the Art Centre when it was established in 1980, and several of the newer works were chosen by the Centre staff and purchased from the gift of money to round out the collection of Guelph art. It remains known as the GCAA Collection.
Most of the smaller works now hang permanently on the second floor of the University, with larger works now hang permanently on the second floor of the University library, with larger works displayed in the smaller reading room on the main floor, along with other works from the permanent collection of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. The most valuable works remain at the Art Centre and are exhibited from time to time.
In 1982 the association offered a scholarship to the University of Guelph Fine Art Department to honour the contribution of Gordon Couling to both. He had retired as honourary president of the GCAA and from the faculty of the university, but he was still an active artist. After considerable discussion it was established, "For a student in the 7th semester or who had completed 25 courses." The award was to be $500.
The first Couling Scholarship was presented on May 7,1984, to Bryan Shook of Kincardine and the formal presentation was made at the College of Arts Awards Luncheon on May 30 by Prof. Couling, accompanied by Maureen Gaskin, president of the association.
On April 1, 1992, the association opened its Artisans Store in the Eaton Centre, in partnership with the Guelph Chapter of the Canadian Embroiderers' Guild, and with the backing of the Eaton Centre. with Maureen Gaskin as manager, the store has been very successful, and has provided a regular showcase for Guelph's talented artists and craftspersons.
Membership in the GCAA numbered 189 in 1998, a figure which has grown slowly over the years. The group could not have been so long lasting without the devoted efforts of a great many people. In recognition of outstanding service in many phases of the organization's operations, Gordon Couling, Douglas Robb, and Kendrick Marshall were presented with life memberships when the association reached its 25th anniversary. A special gold pin was commissioned from Eric Barth and presented to Wilfred Barber; Harold Muller; Reta Holman, the long-time treasurer; Evelyn Couling; Elizabeth Kemp; Eric Barth; Jean Corke; W.C. (Scotty) Allan), both president and honorary president; and Frank Vigor. Since then, each president has received, a pin on retiring, and at 'Painting-on-the-Green' in 1988 there was a special ceremony when pins were presented to Erika Tavascia, for work as exhibitions chair, and to Helen Brimmell, for the many articles and reviews she had written about the association.
MACDONALD STEWART ART CENTRE
The opening of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, on Gordon Street at College Avenue, brought Guelph into the mainstream of twentieth century art. Since the opening ceremony in 1980, the centre has provided about 25 changing exhibitions a year, half of them organized by director Judith Nasby and her staff. They cover the spectrum from the cutting edge of contemporary art to treasures from the past, the centre's own permanent collection, which includes the University of Guelph collection, and, especially, Inuit art. With help from Omark Canada Ltd., Nasby has gathered what is considered the finest collection of Inuit drawings in the world, numbering more than 450. Carvings, rare print stones and fabric collages round out this important collection.
The University of Guelph art collection of some 3,000 works includes examples of 300 years of Canadian art and international art works. Highlights are Tom Thomson's great painting The Drive, and works by Paul Peel, Clarence Gagnon, James Wilson Morrice, Maurice Cullen, Lauren Harris, David Milne, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alex Colville, Ken Danby, Jack Bush, and Michael Snow.
Experimental artist David Rokeby with his parents Canon and Mrs. Richard S. Rokeby, shown with his Echoing Narcissus at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MERCURY PHOTO BY CARL NELSON).
Another treasure is the Donald Forster Sculpture Park in the two-and-a-half acres around the Art Centre. Sixteen sculptures have been put in place, with four more in the planning stage. Many were chosen through competitions sponsored by du Maurier Arts, and the collection includes works by Kosso Eloul, Frances Loring, Florence Wyle, Tony Urquhart, Walter Bachinski, Evan Penny, Frances Gage, Brian Scott, and Reinhard Reitzenstein. The area is noted for its 'soft setting' of native deciduous and coniferous trees, shrubbery, and native plants, rather than paving and formal background.
The Art Centre is housed in the old Macdonald Consolidated School, built in 1904 by Sir William Macdonald as model for rural schooling. With the active support of his great-nephew, David Macdonald Stewart, and a grant from the Macdonald Stewart Foundation, it came into being with the combined backing of the University, the City of Guelph, Wellington County Council, and Wellington County Board of Education.
GOOD PLACE TO LIVE
In the last 20 years, especially since the establishment of the Fine Art Department at the University of Guelph, an increasing number of artists have chosen to live here while exhibiting across the continent and farther. Ken Danby has rived at Guelph Lake for many years, occasionally exhibiting at the Art Centre but more often in larger cities.
Experimental artist David Rokeby considers Guelph home because his parents live here; Canon Richard S. Rokeby, is retired rector of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church. David Rokeby's astonishing art owes nothing to the ability to mix paint and everything to a mastery of electronic engineering. It has been described by an awed visitor as "Jello that sings." A major installation of his work in the Art Centre in 1986 featured three video screens placed facing one another with a camera atop each. It was up to the viewers to activate them by dancing around in the midst; the more active their movements, the more lively were the images and the music. Another installation, Echoing Narcissus, required a whisper down the well-like structure with the echo played back. Children loved these, while adults generally found them intimidating.
These are only the best known of the artists who live here but are known to a great area. They may be a sign for the future.
- Judith Nasby, Visitors, Exiles and Residents: Guelph Artists since 1827 [Catalogue of exhibition held at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre], 1977.
- Robert Stewart, A Picture History of Guelph 1827-1977, Vol. Two (1976).
- Judith M. Nasby, "A Painter of Guelph - David Johnston Kennedy," in Historic Guelph, Vol. XVII.
- Ingrid Jenkner, Evan MacdonaId: A Retrospective [Catalogue of exhibition held at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre], 1986.
- University of Guelph Fine Art Faculty, Celebrating 20 Years, 1965-1985/University of Guelph Fine Art Faculty [Catalogue of exhibition held at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre], 1986.
- Church of Our Lady archives.
- Phyllis Dodson, St. George's Church Windows.
- Vern Parker, "Paisley Memorial United Church," in Historic Guelph, Vol. XXVIII.
- Ruth Pollard, "Effie Smith - Guelph's Noted Flower Painter," in Guelph Historical Society Publications Vol. XIV.
- Sophia Hungerford and Susan Farr, Sculpture [Catalogue of exhibition held at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre], 1989.
- Judith M. Nasby, Images of the Madonna [Catalog of exhibition held at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre], 1982-1983.
- Ruth Pollard, "Yoseph Gertrudis Drenters, R.C.A.," in Historic Guelph, Vol. XXIII.
- History of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre.
- Marion E. Jackson and Judith Nasby, Contemporary Inuit Drawings (Guelph: Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, 1987).
- Talk by Judith Nasby, on Rolph Scarlett, February 27, 1997.
- Talk by Judith Nasby on the Donald Forster Sculpture Park, February 17, 1998.
- Guelph Creative Arts Association archives.
- My own files as art reviewer for the Guelph Mercury, 1970 to 1990.
- The Ontarion, March 18, 1986.