Wednesday 31 August 2022

History Corner ~ August 2022 by John Lover

Ella Susan Gibson, born in Collingborne, Wiltshire, England, in 1894, was typical of a class of British-born artists who fitted seamlessly into the ranks of our Club in its early years. However, she also represented the smaller number of the Island Arts and Society members who helped bridge its transition into the Victoria Sketch Club. 

Susan had shown artistic talent at an early age and attended Schools of Animal Painting in London and Paris, also exhibiting at the Winchester Art Exhibition.

Upon moving to Canada, Susan joined the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Artists League in British Columbia. As a talented painter, both in watercolours and oils, she also became a member of the Island Arts and Craft Society, while still residing in Vernon. She first exhibited at the Society’s annual show in 1925, showing two oil paintings, and became a regular contributor up to 1938.   

In the Society’s collection shown at the Willows Fair exhibition in 1927, her watercolour technique was recognized by the Daily Colonist art critic for its  “illustration of fine movement and tonal gradations.” That same year, art critic Francis Holland found her work at the Society’s annual exhibition to show “tendencies towards the impressionist school.” She exhibited at the BC Provincial Exhibition in 1928, and the Canadian Society of Painters in Toronto. 

In 1954 she joined what was now the Victoria Sketch Club, and again became a regular contributor to the Club’s annual shows. Elected President in 1959, she presided over the events of that year which were organized to celebrate the Club’s fiftieth anniversary. Susan introduced Phyllis Ross, wife of BC Lieutenant-Governor Frank MacKenzie Ross, to open that year’s annual show.

Susan Gibson was made a life member of the Victoria Sketch Club in 1979. She died in Victoria in 1984.

Tuesday 23 August 2022

History Corner ~ July 2022 by John Lover


History Corner
by John Lover
Members who attended the reception for our Government House exhibition will recall the reference made by curator Martin Segger to Club member Archie Fairbairn and his connection to Government House. Martin was also kind enough to let Nirmala photograph a Fairbairn painting in the Government House collection.

Archibald MacDonald Duff Fairbairn was born in 1883 in East London, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, where he articled as a law student and qualified as an attorney-at-law. Arriving in Canada in 1913, he secured a post with the provincial government of British Columbia.

A talented freelance artist, he painted in watercolour, tempera and oil, as well as drawing in pen and ink and charcoal. In Victoria he connected with the Island Arts and Crafts Society, contributed eight of his watercolours to the Society’s annual exhibition in 1916 and subsequently exhibited on eight more occasions up to 1935.  He also exhibited at the Vancouver Exhibition in 1930, representing the IACS, and at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1941. 

Fairbairn was the subject of a chalk portrait displayed at the1929 annual show of the BC Society of Fine Arts by Scottish artist Ina Uhthoff, another society member then establishing a reputation in the region. More light-heartedly, he featured in a self-portrait entitled “Archie by Archie.”  (pictured at right)

He studied painting in England, Germany and America, and exhibited widely, becoming an appointed member of the American Water Colour Society in 1929.  His individual watercolour exhibition in Victoria’s Alexandra Ballroom in 1926 was described by a critic as “unquestionably one of the most interesting individual exhibitions ever shown locally.” This collection numbered about 80 pictures, and while the majority represented scenes within the province, notably in the Rockies region, others captured scenes from France and Egypt.

An inveterate traveler, he undertook many sketching trips in the 1930s and 1940s, from which he depicted First Nations villages and totem poles in Haida Gwait and in the Skeena and Bulkley valleys. His interest in indigenous culture was profound and led him to publish a series of plays and short stories about native life on the Pacific coast.

In 1930 he was appointed by Order in Council as private secretary to His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia. Later, in 1932, a nearby residence, at 960 Joan Crescent, was built for him in Tudor Revival style.

Archibald Fairbairn was clearly not only a fine watercolourist but a man of many talents.  But it is maybe fitting that when he sailed for England in 1956, his registration at Southampton shows his occupation as “artist.” 

He died in California in 1979.