Friday, 29 September 2023

History Corner ~ September 2023 by John Lover

Louise Loveland was typical of the many art-trained ladies who immigrated here from Britain in their middle years, early in the twentieth century, and who were soon attracted to our Club to practice their talents.

She was born in 1869 in Sudbury, England, a picturesque town with artistic connections, being the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough and in a region which was a favourite painting venue of John Constable. We know little about Louise’s earlier life in England, but shortly after her arrival in Victoria, she joined the newly formed Island Arts Club in 1911, and was a regular contributor to its annual exhibitions until 1941, the year of her passing.

Louise was competent in the media of oils, watercolour, pastels, and black and white sketching.  As our illustrations suggest, her focus was on depictions of Victoria’s landmarks, such as the  Legislature buildings, and portraits of fellow Club members, such as Maude Lettice (pictured here).

She showed her work at the Art Association of Montreal Spring Exhibition in 1921 and at the BC Artists Annual Exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery from 1933 to 1940.

Louise died in Victoria in 1941.

Thursday, 31 August 2023

History Corner August 2023 ~ by John Lover

One of the most interesting and unusual artists, fleetingly associated with our Club, was Major Robert Fletcher Leslie. He was born into an artistic family in Woolston, Hampshire, England in 1864. Both his father and his paternal grandfather were artists. Educated at Winchester College, he subsequently served as a civil engineer with the Great Western Railway. In 1885 he moved to India where he was employed by Indian Railways, and acquired the rank of major through his work in voluntary military affairs.

After returning to England, he emigrated to Canada in 1906 and took a post as a Government Inspector of Railways at Hazelton, BC., later becoming a partner in a firm of consulting engineers.

Although there is no record of previous interest or involvement with art, he nevertheless decided to become an art teacher, and set up a studio in Vancouver in 1925. Thus, it can only be assumed that he inherited artistic skills from his forebears and managed to nourish them during his years in railway construction.

This conjecture seems to be backed up by a picture dated 1922 (illustrated here) which was hung at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. It was painted from English Bay and gives a clear view of Bowen Island on a cloudy day. 

Leslie became a regular exhibitor with the BC Society of Fine Arts during the 1920s and contributed to the Vancouver Exhibition in 1925. His move to Victoria in 1926 naturally brought him into contact with the Island Arts and Crafts Society and he showed his work in the Society’s annual shows between 1925 and 1929.  His first showing with the IACS, to which he submitted eight paintings, reveals a competence in both oil and watercolour. In 1927 he received special mention from the Daily Colonist newspaper art critic for a painting, Grey Day in Uplands, shown in the IACS section of the Willows annual exhibition,

Leslie lived in Victoria until 1930, but his association with our Club proved to be a brief one as he returned to England where he spent his final years. He died there in 1942.
Editor's Note: We're pleased to announce that this is VSC's 50th
History Corner, written by our own historian, John Lover. If you're interested in reflecting further on our club's history, check out VSC's History webpage here, where you'll also find many of John's previously published 'History Corners'  in the Post-Archive section. 

Sunday, 30 July 2023

History Corner ~ July 2023 by John Lover

Lillian Clarke Sweeney, artist and noted wood carver and sculptor, was associated with our Club for over half a century. One of the 56 Charter members who founded the Island Arts Club in 1909, she was later one of the stalwarts who bridged the transition of the Island Arts and Crafts Society to the Victoria Sketch Club in 1956. 

Born in Winnipeg in 1884, she became a resident of Victoria in 1904, where she married William Sweeney in 1912. Under her maiden name of Clarke her work had hung in the Club’s first Annual Exhibition in 1910, and she remained a faithful contributor until 1927. She exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the 1937 Vancouver Island Exhibition, and this versatile lady became a staff artist at the BC Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology in 1936.

Lillian showed her talent as an illustrator in co-operating with her sister, writer Frances Ebbs Canaran, in publishing “Tale of a Belgian Hare,” a 1914 book dedicated to the little children of Belgium deprived of their homes and heritage during the German invasion.   

In 1956, members the newly formed Sketch Club organized a party to honour Lillian Sweeney for “keeping the Club together by means of her charm and personality and generosity in allowing winter Monday meetings at her home and in providing tea and encouragement.” The following year she was elected Club president.

Sweeney was a particularly gifted oil painter (see oil-on-card illustration below). Representing the Victoria Sketch Club, she took the “best oil” in a 1958 competition with eleven other provincial art clubs. Two of her paintings were presented to the Government to hang in the Provincial Library.

She was not only a fine wood carver, but equally adept at sculpture, and was commended by the Smithsonian Institute on her work for the Museum, which included all manner of paintings and models, including dioramas of Indigenous life. She had a complete collection of British Columbia birds, and carved to meet orders from across the province.

On her death in 1961, the Museum paid her the following tribute: “During her years of service as an artist on the Museum staff, she produced many life-like models of fishes, mushroom, flowers, and prehistoric animals. Her images of native fishes have never been excelled, despite the advent of plastics and more modern techniques and her painting dioramas of native life will continue to be used in schools of the province for years to come.” 

Monday, 3 July 2023

History Corner ~ June 2023 ~ by John Lover

 Lindley Crease was a member of a socially prominent family in Victoria which played a significant role in the founding and subsequent development of the Island Arts and Crafts Society.  

He was a “man of parts” and a distinguished citizen in his own right, and although it was Lady Sarah and her daughter Josephine who are best known for their contribution to the local art scene, Lindley did in fact display evidence of the family’s artistic gifts and showed his work in the Society’s annual exhibitions from 1913 to 1935.

Born in New Westminster, BC, in 1867, Lindley Crease followed in the footsteps of his father, Sir Henry, a Justice of the BC Supreme Court. Educated in England, he studied law and was called to the BC bar in 1890, and later founded his own law firm. He was actively involved in Church affairs and in Provincial politics and among other distinctions he was President of the Island branch of the League of Nations.

He was a devoted lover of the arts and is remembered for an impassioned speech before the Victoria Real Estate Board in 1935 in which he advocated the establishment of an art gallery for the City of Victoria to be considered without delay. He suggested that a permanent art gallery would not only foster and stimulate art but would have utilitarian value as an additional major tourist attraction and would give visitors a flattering impression of the city’s aesthetic sense. 

Crease’s artistic ability found expression in his hobby of mountaineering, drawn by his sense of natural and environmental values. He derived much enjoyment from attending the annual camps of the Alpine Club of Canada in the Canadian Rockies. He was a keen climber and scaled the likes of mount Arrowsmith and Mount Baker in Washington State. However, his main concern was finding vantage points to savor vistas of snow-clad peaks, icefields, and glaciers. This afforded him the chance to exercise his talents in sketching and painting. 

His drawing ability is demonstrated in two early sketches of the Island’s Maltby Lake (shown here) though to have been done in the 1892-93 period. Apart from being an avid sketcher he was also, as illustrated, a competent landscape artist. 

Lindley Crease, K, C., widely respected for his integrity, kindness, and social consciousness, died at the Victoria family home, Pentrelew, in 1940 at the age of seventy-two.

Sunday, 11 June 2023

History Corner ~ May 2023 ~ by John Lover

 In 1930, Emily Carr, buoyed by critical acclaim on a national scale that had come her way at last --­­­although still somewhat “a prophet in her own land” -- consented to undertake a rare public speaking event sponsored by the Women’s Canadian Club in Victoria. This event featured a solo show at Crystal Garden, depicting fifty of her renditions of West Coast indigenous totems and village scenes, and designed to add power to her argument on the need to appreciate “modern art.”  

Carr had good reason to be encouraged by the interest generated, demonstrated by the high attendance which constituted a record in the annals of the Club. It also gave her a platform to articulate her cause, and in the opinion of one newspaper art critic she did so “in her searchingly clever, humorous, and analytical talk.”

A constant theme was the importance of the creative rather than the merely photographic in art. She suggested that no matter how ugly or crude results seemed to be, it still had merit if it tried to express some real spiritual truth.

Carr went on to decry the Old-World form of expression with its sentimental ditties and canvases as being unsuited for the expression of New World ideas. “Even the cows do not look the same,” she maintained, recalling having told an English artist that a fence in one of his pictures would not keep out a Canadian cow. “And if this country produces a different cow spirit, is it not reasonable that it should produce a different art also?“ The fact that some critics that Canada was not a paintable country was an admission of the need for a new mode of expression.

She issued a plea for creative art, even if not liked, not to be ridiculed. Carr used the example of indigenous art to illustrate this danger. She often heard it said that indigenous carvings were grotesque and hideous. However, these artists used distortion to strengthen their expression, their interpretation of the spirit of the thing. To them everything possessed a spirit of its own. The totem pole was the foundation of indigenous art, and their emblems were usually animals, artistically exaggerated to give a sense of true character; and there was great respect for them, due to the belief that these creatures symbolized the spirit of ancestors and were thus endowed with spiritual powers. 

“The plea I am making is that you should show greater tolerance in your attitude toward creative art. See if it has sincerity before you condemn it,” urged Carr. She admitted that the immediate effect of creative art was often irritating. However, it was more entertaining and stimulating to be unpleasantly affected than to feel nothing at all.         

Artists had the advantage over the camera in that they could call attention to things which they wanted to emphasize and ignore the others. Unless a picture represented something of the artist, it could not live. In painting a mountain, it was not enough to make it photographically exact. One must interpret something of its effect, its impenetrability, as well as its form. To achieve this effect, the artist must resort to a measure of distortion, which was often mistaken for caricature.  But this exaggeration raised the subject out of the ordinary into the sphere of the spiritual. This property of distortion accounted for the living, and vital qualities possessed in the works of the Old Masters. It was not a question of the artist’s inability to draw.  

Carr touched on the effect of the right distribution of line and colour in guiding the eye hither and thither. Of the use of the third dimension in opening up the atmosphere of a picture and giving a feeling that the objects in it were surrounded by air and space. Even feelings, sounds and silences might be intimated if the artist’s vision had imagination. 

It was Emily Carr’s firm conviction that “today we have almost lost the ability to respond to pictures emotionally, and modern art endeavors to bring back this ability to our consciousness again.”