Sunday, August 29, 2010

JACOBINE JONES (1897-1976)

Jacobine Jones was born in England. When she was a child, her Danish-born mother encouraged her and her brother and sister to explore their world. Fortunately, her mother also fostered Jacobine’s spontaneous interest in art. As Natalie Luckyj explains in her book on the artist (see below), her childhood drawings include a happy family of birds with the father leading the flock and the mother at the rear - an indication of Jacobine’s feeling about her family.

Jacobine was educated at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London where she experienced the companionship of a circle of other students also passionate about art, and developed her technical skills in sculpting. In her final year of her studies, she won an award for a stone carving, which was purchased by an art gallery in Glasgow.

In 1932, Jacobine came to Canada for a visit that stretched into more than just a visit. She went camping in northern Ontario with a friend two years after her arrival, an experience that led her to adopt Canada as her home. She became a teacher at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto; there she became the first woman to be chosen as the head of any department - she took on the sculpting department.

Jones’s work was primarily figurative and representational, though she was open to a more abstract approach in later years. She came into her own during a period of time when architectural sculpture was popular; she received many commissions from both corporations and also from government. Her work can be found in private collections, and in such public museums as the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the National Gallery of Canada.

Natalie Luckyj “Put on Her Mettle: The Life and Art of Jacobine Jones” (Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press, 1999)

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Dorothy Stevens is an artist for whom little archival information is available, despite that her work as a print maker is outstanding and her work is in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery and the Canadian War Museum.

Dorothy was born and raised in Toronto. Her father was a painter and recognized his daughter’s talent, so he sent her to study abroad. She attended the Slade in London as well as the Académie Colorossoi in Paris. During the First World War, Dorothy requested a commission from the Canadian War Memorials Fund. As a result, she created etchings of workers in the shipbuilding yards and munitions plants, focusing especially on female workers whom she captured in poses that suggested the fluidity and grace of dancers. These works are part of the collection of the Canadian War Museum.

Dorothy was a teacher at the Ontario College of Art, and became known as a portrait artist. Her favourite travel destination was Mexico, where she painted portraits of the people as well as landscapes.

Selected Sources stevens.html

Friday, August 13, 2010


Yvonne McKague Housser (1898-1996), a highly regarded educator and painter, studied at the Ontario College of Art before travelling to Paris to study there. Later, she studied in Vienna under Franz Cizek, Arthur Lismer’s mentor in art education for children - Lismer was an influence in Yvonne’s thinking about art. While travelling abroad, Yvonne was exposed to French modern art; Cezanne’s influence can be seen in her work.

Besides working as a painter, Yvonne was also a teacher at the Ontario College of Art. Of all the painters of that time, Lismer was the one who influenced her most. Yvonne was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and an adviser for the Toronto Art Students’ League patterned after the Students’ League in New York City.

Yvonne made many sketching trips to glean subject matter for her paintings, scenes from mining towns and other villages in Northern Ontario over a ten-year period, from 1925-1935. Her friends often accompanied her: Rody Kenny Courtice, Prudence Heward and Isabel McLaughlin. Yvonne’s paintings from the North were different from those of her predecessors (paintings that gave the impression of lifeless towns) for their evidence of human habitation - details including curtains and lights shining from the windows in night scenes.

A letter from Yvonne to Paraskeva Clark in 1950 reveals her admiration for her friend’s work. Apparently Yvonne was late for an opening at an exhibition and arrived during a talk Paraskeva was giving. In a letter to Praskeva she apologized and concluded with “…perhaps before I die I shall be able to paint a bit of green foliage so that it sings - as yours does - I hope so.” This is an example of how the women artists of that time had a true appreciation for each other.

Two years after Yvonne’s marriage to Fred Housser, in 1936 he died of a heart attack. Her personal tragedy seemed to take her into a new direction in her art. She was one of the artists who was strongly influenced by the move to abstraction in the art world - she studied with Hans Hoffman in the 1950s in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Yvonne’s work can be seen in major museums in Canada.

Selected Sources
Library and Archives Canada Artist Files
"Yvonne McKague Housser," Joan Murray (Oshawa: The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1995)

Friday, August 6, 2010

MARY ELLA DIGNAM (1856-1938)

Mary Ella Dignam was one of those artists who showed an interest in art when she was a young child. Her inclination was hard to miss because she sometimes pulled wool out of carpets to get coloured material for making her pictures. This interest in art stayed with Mary Ella as she grew up. Fortunately, her parents could afford to pay for art classes in London, Ontario not far from their home.

Later, Mary Ella went to New York and studied at the Art Students’ League in Manhattan and also traveled to Europe. She lived an unconventional life for her time; she was married and had children and still followed her professional interests as an arts educator and developed her career as an artist.

Moulton College in Toronto (a girls’ prep-school founded by Susan Moulton McMaster, the widow of Senator William McMaster who founded McMaster University) hired Dignam to establish an art department and be its director.

Dignam knew that women in Canada had little opportunity to develop as artists and began using her energy to change this situation. She started the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC), an organization still alive today with its own building, purchased in 1916, in Toronto. She was also active in other arts organizations.

From what I’ve learned, I think that Dignam, despite her ideas about women - revolutionary for her time - painted oils of “ordinary” subjects that included landscapes and flowers. Nevertheless, she exhibited her work widely and gathered praise from critics, along with having made a great contribution to having women recognized in the art world of her time.

Selected Sources
Library and Archives Canada Artist files