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The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the M├ętis Nation. More

Prairie Prestige: How Western Canadian Artists Have Influenced Canadian Art: Digital Collections

Digital Collections

The material digitized in Prairie Prestige: How Western Canadian Artsists Have Influenced Canadian Art is from the holdings of three archival institutions: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg Art Gallery Archives, and Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg Archives. The records of these nationally and internationally renowned artists are of great value as they demonstrate western Canada's significant contributions to the world of art and culture.

The featured artists in Prairie Prestige are:

  • Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald
  • Bertram Brooker
  • George Swinton
  • Arnold O. Brigden
  • Leo Mol
  • Elizabeth Maude MacVicar
  • Angus Shortt
  • Ukrainian-Canadian artists

The photographs, correspondence, diaries, catalogues, sketches, drawings, and audio clips comprising these digital collections not only display the talent and skill of these amazing artists, but also demonstrate the influence they had on one another and on many other contemporary Canadian artists that followed.

LL FitzGerald at work (WAG - FitzGerald-ACC700.005.1.1C)  


Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald

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L.L. FitzGerald (UMASC - PC 241, A.09-16, Box 1, Fd. 1, Item 16)

Born in Winnipeg in 1890, and despite trips to the west coast, Mexico, and the U.S., FitzGerald remained rooted in Manitoba all his life. He showed an interest in art as a teenager, but began painting seriously in 1912 and exhibited the following year with the Royal Canadian Academy in Winnipeg and Montreal. He studied in New York at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Boardman Robinson, where he was taught the value of colour, balance, form and design —the underlying structure to all his subsequent paintings. Visits to the Chicago Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York further solidified his interest in the classic modernism of Seurat and Cézanne.  FitzGerald’s first solo exhibition was at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1921, where he exhibited Prairie landscape paintings. In 1927, he gave 12 lectures on the history of Russian art, including non-objectivism and Russian Suprematism.

He continued exploring Realism and Naturalism in landscapes and cityscapes, such as Pritchard’s Fence (1928) and Poplar Wood (1929).  These works are strong compositions with an illustrative quality, balanced by convincing shapes and muted tones. Fitzgerald took this careful balance of colour and shape even further in Doc Snyder’s House (1931), which took him over two years to complete, in part because of his painstaking method of execution.


He joined as the last member of the Group of Seven in 1932, after his friend and fellow Manitoban, Bertram Brooker, had shown his work to Lawren Harris.  FitzGerald believed in the validity of the Canadian landscape and in the centrality of nature in art, and was one of the few Group of Seven members to depict the Prairies. However, being very individualistic, he did not share the Group’s land-based nationalism. He exhibited with them for three years and enjoyed the meeting of “kindred souls” and the resurgence and new interpretations and of landscape as a subject.

FitzGerald’s work became more abstract beginning as early as the 1940s, when he began concentrating solely on the abstraction of form and the relationship of objects to their surroundings and the organization of space, as seen in Abstract Landscape (1942) and Driftwood Forms (1943). In the late 1940s he did several still lifes, including Little Plant (1947) and From an Upstairs Window (1948), a view from his home at 160 Lyle Street. In 1950, FitzGerald experimented with a more decorative and Pointillist technique in self-portraits, nudes, and still lifes. He did several “total” abstractions of still lifes and landscapes, culminating with perhaps his most famous, Untitled (Abstract: Green and Gold) (1954), which is stripped down to a design of intersecting planes and forms. But even during this most minimalistic phase, art historian and curator Michael Parke-Taylor writes about how the colours reference the Prairie landscape, the starting point for many of FitzGerald’s works (Michael Parke-Taylor, In seclusion with nature: the later works of L. Lemoine Fitzgerald, 1942-1956, p. 35).  His entire body of work is distinguished by a painstaking, original way of handling brush, pen, pencil, crayon, and paintbrush to get his own look and texture.

FitzGerald was an instructor at the Winnipeg School of Art, (located at what is now the Old Law Courts Building on Kennedy Street) from 1922 to 1924, eventually becoming principal from 1924 to 1949. He continued to practice art, fitting it in outside the hours of a demanding schedule of teaching and administration. The School of Art is now located at the University of Manitoba in a building bearing FitzGerald’s name. He was awarded an Honorary LL.D from the university in 1952.

A year after his death in 1956, the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened a small memorial exhibition of his work and created the FitzGerald Memorial Room. In 1958, this expanded into a large retrospective exhibition held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which also travelled to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, with more retrospectives following in 1963 and 1988. Gallery 1.1.1. at the University of Manitoba has held several major exhibitions, including the first complete exhibition of FitzGerald’s printed works in 1982. More recently, in 2009, the FitzGerald in Context exhibition displayed artifacts of FitzGerald’s life alongside significant works of art from the National Gallery of Canada, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the University of Manitoba’s collection. His works are held in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the McMichael Collection, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

It is interesting to note that in recognition of FitzGerald’s importance and contribution to Winnipeg, Arnold O. Brigden sought and achieved through the Historic Sites Committee of St. James, a memorial boulder with a plaque in Bruce Park. Also in the park one finds “FitzGerald’s Walk,” another commemoration of this great Winnipeg artist.  

Winnipeg School of Art brochure, 1933-1934 (WAG - FitzGerald-PH9.7.17C)


Bertram Brooker

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Bertram Brooker, 1927 (UMASC - PC 16, A.80-53, Box 1, Fd. 4, Item 76)

Bertram Brooker - painter, poet, playwright, novelist, critic, journalist, graphic artist, and advertising executive - emigrated from England to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba in 1905. After running the movie theatre in Neepawa with his brother, and working for newspapers in Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg, and Regina, he moved to Toronto in 1921, where he became the marketing editor of the Canadian advertising magazine, Marketing. Throughout his life, he bridged the spiritual world of art and the commercial world of advertising. His paintings today hang in every major gallery in Canada.

Brooker’s early artistic works of graphic art and design show the influence of modern design in their overriding flat, two-dimensional quality, which art historian Joyce Zemans attributes to his knowledge of contemporary European abstract artists of the 1913 Armory Show (held in New York and Chicago). Zemans found evidence to support her theory when she read Brooker’s letters, housed in the University of Manitoba Archives, in which he wrote about the artists who exhibited at the Armory Show (Joyce Zemans, “First fruits: the world and spirit paintings,” Provincial essays, p. 18). In 1923, Brooker joined Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club, where he met Lawren Harris, Fred Housser, and other members of the Group of Seven.

Brooker admired the Group for “liberating young artists from the stuffy tradition of strict realism.” (Anne Newlands, Canadian art: from its beginnings to 2000, p. 59) Like them, Brooker believed Canadian art should be unique, freed from the chains of naturalism to be an expression of new, spiritual values. Brooker often talked to Harris and Housser about the spirituality of art, and saw abstract art as a way to explore this symbolism and mysticism, although he did not share Harris’ theosophical beliefs (Harper, p. 326).


Brooker continued to experiment (in many media) with abstract or non-objective art, and in 1927 he held what is thought to be the first solo exhibition of non-objective paintings in Canada at the Arts and Letters Club, thereby securing his position in Canadian art history as a pioneer of abstract painting. Besides Harris, Brooker was greatly influenced by Kandinsky, particularly by his book Concerning the spiritual in art, in which Kandinsky explained the search for the artist’s “inner soul” and theorized about the links between music and painting. These ideas culminated in Brooker’s work Sounds Assembling (1928), where he attempted to paint the colour, structure, rhythm, and energy of music. As art historian Dennis Reid writes in A concise history of Canadian painting in Canada, it is similar to the work of the American Futurist painter, Joseph Stella. Sounds Assembling was one of two paintings included in a Group of Seven exhibition in 1928. (This painting was acquired in 1946 for the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, then principal of the Winnipeg School of Art and a member of the acquisitions committee.) Other paintings in the same vein include Alleluiah (1929) and Resolution (1929/30). The latter painting—in terms of the precise arrangement of forms—showed Brooker’s concern for mathematics, but also his quest for the fourth dimension (Zemans, p. 26). Brooker wrote about this in his 1930 article for Canadian Forum as “a new and puzzling illusionism of space that is foreign to normal visual experience.” 

As Reid points out, Brooker had one of his last exhibits of “pure” abstracts in 1931 at Hart House, University of Toronto. Later that same year, Brooker’s art shifted from pure abstraction back to Realism as seen in Phyllis (Piano! Piano!) (1934) and Torso (1937). Art historian Pat Bovey attributes this shift to Brooker’s close working relationship with FitzGerald. (Patricia Bovey, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, Bertram Brooker : their drawings). There were more shifts, including geometric abstractions and Cubism, as Brooker appreciated the Canadian Cubist artist Kathleen Munn and the European artist Raymond Decamp-Valine. However, despite the variation in artistic styles, his work shares the underlying logic of his quest for “oneness” in all creative pursuits. These underpinnings were apparent in his syndicated Southam newspaper column “The Seven Arts” (1928 to 1930), where he analyzed dancing, architecture, theatre, poetry, music, and visual arts.

From 1930 to 1934, Brooker focused on writing and worked for the advertising company J.J. Gibbons. Because of the Depression, his work hours were reduced between 1934 and 1936, and Brooker was able to devote more time to his creative pursuits. In 1936 he published two novels Think of the Earth, which won the Governor General’s award, and The Tangled Miracle.  Brooker had a very successful career in advertising, writing three books about the industry that are thought to have influenced Marshall McLuhan. Bertram Brooker was also a poet, writing many poems in the twenties and thirties that were collected, compiled, and published in 1980 by Birk Sproxton in the book Sounds Assembling: the poetry of Bertram Brooker. A recent exhibition entitled It’s Alive! Bertram Brooker and Vitalism, curated by Adam Lauder, presents a reinterpretation of all of Brooker’s work—art, writing, advertising— and “locates his interdisciplinary practice at the intersection of developments in biology, communications, and visual art in the first half of the twentieth century. “(


George Swinton

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George Swinton, 1964 (WAG - Swinton-SL-ACC_15_2C)

George Swinton, art historian, writer, and collector, was born in Vienna in 1917 and fled to Canada during World War II. He earned a degree in economics and political science from McGill University. In the 1940s he first attended the Montreal School of Art and Design and then the Art Students League in New York City, but did not finish formal training in fine art. He taught art at the University of Manitoba from 1954 to 1974, and Carleton University from 1974 to 1984. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1979 and an honorary degree from the University of Manitoba in 1987.


Exploring many media, he produced watercolours, oil paintings, drawings, and prints. His early artwork was non-objective and showed influences of Wassily Kandinsky, the Fauves, and the German Expressionists. Always exploring the emotional aspects of painting, Swinton particularly admired the expressionist paintings of Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, and Francis Bacon, as seen in several of his landscapes from the early fifties. (George Swinton, “Artist Statement,” Eighty Years of Swinton, 1997).

In 1955, he abandoned abstraction and turned to representational drawing and painting from nature, not from memory. Swinton wrote about this move beyond Abstract Expressionism into something more “wholly communicative,” denouncing purely aesthetic art as decoration and declaring that artists were using this idiom in a decorative or stylized manner, rather than expressive. (George Swinton, “The great Winnipeg controversy,” Canadian Art, v.12, winter 1956, pp. 246–249).

 A keen observer, he was inspired by the people and the landscape that surrounded him. His main subject was landscape painting, which for him was a vehicle for exploring a universal truth and “where he saw the presence of Christ in nature.” (Raul Furtado, George Swinton: painter of the Canadian Prairies, WAG artist file). Swinton declared his love for the Prairies and the North, and like Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald showed a concern for a more universal relationship with nature. Richard Williams writes that it was Winnipeg and the surrounding Prairie landscape that allowed Swinton to not worry so much about style, but to commune with the subject matter, revealing “its spirit through himself in the spirit of the medium.” (Richard Williams, unpublished manuscript, 1963, One-man exhibition of recent paintings and drawings by George Swinton, brochure Arch/FA Library, U of M artist file). This inspiration is evident in Under Dark Cloud, Dead Plane (1996), where Swinton communicates more than just natural phenomena. A prolific artist, he had a dozen solo exhibitions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. His paintings hang there, as well as at the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Although he wrote considerably about art and artists, he was perhaps most remembered for his passion for Inuit art, which began as a hobby after his first working trip to the North for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1957. As an artist and art teacher by profession, he had been asked to write a report for Hudson’s Bay House on Inuit art.

Prairie landscape drawing by George Swinton (UMASC - MSS 210, A.05-47, Box 9, Fd. 1)

After completing this report, Swinton was asked to write more reports and made yearly trips to the region, amazed by the individuality of the places. His experiences there enabled him to begin a definitive collection of Inuit art and become the recognized authority in the field. He went on to write several books that led to a greater awareness of Inuit art, including Eskimo Sculpture published in 1965, and Sculpture of the Eskimo, published in 1972 and re-released in 1999 as Sculpture of the Inuit. The Winnipeg Art Gallery presented The Swinton Collection of Inuit Art in 1987, which reflected his personal taste in Inuit art and affection for the Inuit people of the North and gave viewers a privileged look at an individual’s private passion for collecting. In 1960, he gave 130 sculptures to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and 240 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario that represented some two dozen communities and more than 200 artists from across the Arctic. Swinton later became critical of Inuit sculpture that, in his view, was being churned out in an assembly-line fashion to make money from its sale to tourists, and called for a return to the “soul” of the art form. As a prolific writer, he contributed to many learned journals, and in the 1950s he produced sixty-nine Art in Action shows for the CBC.


Arnold O. Brigden

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Arnold O. Brigden (R) and uncle Frederick Brigden Sr. (WAG - Brigden-PH12_2_5C)

Arnold O. Brigden came to Canada from England in 1903 to live in Toronto with his uncle, Frederick Brigden Sr., who taught him the craft of wood engraving and the emerging craft of photo-engraving. In 1910, he went to New York City to work for Gills, a large graphic arts firm.  In 1911, Frederick Brigden Sr. established Brigdens Limited, in Toronto, and in 1914 the Winnipeg branch opened. In 1914, his nephew Arnold O. Brigden was sent to manage this recently opened Winnipeg location, which evolved into the separate firm of Brigdens of Winnipeg Limited.  He quickly made it into a major commercial art producer in the Canadian West and, upon his retirement several decades later in 1956, it was one of Canada’s oldest graphic design firms.
Located on the top three floors of the Farmer’s Advocate Building at the corner of Langside Street and Notre Dame Avenue, the initial mandate of the company’s existence was to produce the western edition of Eaton’s mail-order catalogue.  It was a monumental task; Brigdens of Winnipeg had to hire 60 to 100 artists as well as retain the services of specialized artists in Chicago and New York City.  Although there were other assignments, the artists worked to deadline around the two Eaton’s catalogues produced per year, providing depictions of dry goods, furniture, hardware, and fashion.  
Various printing techniques were used, ranging from wood engraving to lithographic processes.  The artists showed great skill in pen and ink drawing and brushwork. Each page of the catalogue was treated as a poster, and addressed graphic design concerns such as drawings, title placement, textual information, calligraphy, and black and white space, as determined by the artistic director.

Wood engraving of stove in Eaton's catalogue (WAG - Brigden-PR5_1_9_1C)

Arnold O. Brigden nurtured a strong artistic environment and respected the artistic process.  He hired artists to work for him for over four decades, including many women artists, including Pauline Boutal, because as mothers and non-career women, they could fit in part-time work.

In the days before art council grants and tenured positions in art faculties, places like Brigdens in Winnipeg, like its counterparts Notmans in Montreal and Grip in Toronto, allowed artists to survive financially while working in an art-related field.  Brigdens was the link between the commercial art illustrating world and the academic visual arts, with the Brigden family encouraging its employees to pursue fine arts endeavours and studies (even paying their tuition), outside of work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Winnipeg School of Art. 

For many years, A.O. Brigden was a member of the Winnipeg School of Art’s Art Committee and was an avid art collector of both national and local Manitoba artists.  He donated most of his collection to the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  Angus Shortt, who apprenticed with Brigdens as a wood engraver, was one of the firm’s artists  who was sent to study at the Winnipeg School of Art under Professor L. LeMoine FitzGerald, another former Brigdens employee.  Artistic reputations flourished in these hothouses, affecting the social and cultural history of the city as well as the nation, launching the careers of many artists. 

Some of the artists employed by Brigdens who went on to national and international prominence -- achieving careers as painters and teachers -- were Henry Eric Bergman, Charles Fraser, Phillip Surrey, W. J. Phillips and Charles Comfort, one of Canada’s most well known Social Realists, who went on to paint the murals in the Toronto Stock Exchange and become the director of the National Gallery of Canada.  Other Brigdens alumni include Fritz Brandtner, who used Expressionism to promote Modernism and more European avant-garde styles, first in Winnipeg and later nationally; Gordon Smith, who became one of Canada's most respected abstract painters;  Hal Foster, who illustrated Tarzan comics and Prince Valiant books; Charlie Thorson, who worked for Disney and Warner Brothers studios and created the original design conceptions for Snow White, Bugs Bunny and the early versions of  Mighty Mouse (Sniffles); and L. LeMoine FitzGerald, who went on to join the Group of Seven.


Leo Mol

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Leo Mol was born in 1915 in Polonne, Ukraine, known as “village of potters” because of its abundance of clay. By the time he was 11 years old, he worked almost full time for his father, also a potter, modelling clay and using the wheel.  At 15 he went off to Vienna to study painting with Wilhelm Frass, but it was under the tutelage of Frans Klimsh in Berlin that he became immersed in sculpture, eventually studying at the Berlin Academy. There he studied sculpture and bronze casting in the historical academic tradition.   In 1949, he immigrated to Canada, first to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, but then to Winnipeg where he initially earned money by painting church murals.  By the 1960s, he gradually gained prominence as a skilled sculptor and was earning international commissions for his bronzes. He built his own studio and foundry in Winnipeg and his artistic process was documented by Slavko Nowytski in the film Immortal Image (1979). Mol lived and worked in Winnipeg until his death in 2009.

Leo Mol meeting Pope John Paul II (UCAWA - 07_01_036

Working in the representational academic style, Mol received many commemorative portrait commissions and perhaps his most famous patron was the Vatican in Rome.  In 1967, Mol worked in the studio at the Vatican and created the official bust of Pope Paul VI.  He subsequently did a sculptural portrait of Pope John XXIII, and in 1979 completed the bust of Pope John-Paul II. The latter was the result of personal meetings, sketches, and studies. Mol loved the historical legacy of the sculptural tradition in Rome and said that “in the daily life, you experience the heritage as you are passing by so many masterpieces.” 

Besides Italy, he earned international acclaim in Germany, the United States, and Argentina.  His more famous sculptures include former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker for the Senate Chambers in Ottawa, President Dwight Eisenhower in Gettysburg, PA, and a sculpture of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko that stands in both Washington D.C. and Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Othersculptures include busts of Sir Winston Churchill, Peter Kuch, John F. Kennedy, Terry Fox, and several full-length sculptures of famous people including one of Queen Elizabeth II that stands 2.73 metres high outside the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg.

Mol used the “lost wax”process, a centuries-old tradition to create his bronze casts.  This process was very costly and time consuming, as it included many necessary steps.   After a Plasticine model was sculpted over an armature, a two-part mold was created: the inner of rubber and the outer of plaster. Wax was then poured in, and when cooled became the exact copy of the original sculpture.  The wax was coated with a gritty ceramic shell mold material,  and then fired in a kiln where the wax melted away, ultimately to be replaced with molten bronze.

Mol was meticulous about keeping an inventory of every sculpture that he made, and in 1990 he donated over 300 bronzes, terracottas, drawings, and paintings to the City of Winnipeg. Completed in 1992 at a cost of $4 million, the free attraction at Assiniboine Park is visited by an estimated 250,000 people a year.  It is thought to be the only such garden in North America devoted to the work of one sculptor.  Here one sees an overview of his oeuvre and subjects, including A.J. Casson, F.H. Varley, A.Y. Jackson from the Group of Seven as well as many other busts, several female nudes, Tom Lamb, a famous Manitoban bush pilot, and other iconic Canadian figures. The centrepiece of the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden is the bronze Lumberjacks, a composition of two loggers at work representing the concept of teamwork and balance. So powerfully Canadian is its symbolism, this sculpture was featured on a Canadian stamp in 2002.

Leo Mol's portrait of A.Y. Jackson (UCAWA - 07_01_149

Although a sculptor, Mol also produced a number of major stained glass windows and mosaics for churches in Winnipeg and other centres in Canada, and he did many drawings and paintings. Winnipeg collector Dan Orlikow wrote of his paintings: 

"He’s very unknown for the paintings, and people may be interested to know that he went on sketching trips with the members of the Group of Seven. I have a painting he did with A.Y. Jackson in 1967 and I’ve seen the painting by A.Y. Jackson and I like the Leo Mol one better.” (Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press, July 6, 2009).

Mol’s works can be found in several institutions in Canada, including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Internationally, he is represented in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., and the Vatican Museum. Further institutional support came through honorary degrees from the University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, and the University of Alberta.  Other significant accolades for Mol include being made an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba, and becoming a Honorary Academician of the Canadian Portrait Academy in 2000.


Elizabeth Maude MacVicar

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Elizabeth Maude MacVicar was born in Winnipeg in 1881. She was one of a few people in Canada to paint miniatures, a genre that goes back to fifteenth century France and Renaissance Italy and was used to decorate buttons, jewelry, keepsakes, and even boxes for gambling counters (with a picture of the man’s family to remind him of his family obligations). Historically, vellum was used, but with the introduction of ivory as an art medium in the eighteenth century, this type of portraiture achieved much popularity in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. During MacVicar’s time, it was seen as ”refreshing to find a Canadian woman not only taking a keen interest in the work, but furthering the art through her own efforts in this, her homeland.” (D.O. Reed-Palmer, Vancouver Newspaper, WAG artist file). She painted and exhibited mostly during the 1920s to 1940s, and lived in Toronto, New York, Montreal, London, Ontario, Hamilton, and Vancouver before returning to Winnipeg, where she died after a lengthy illness in 1965.

Strongly encouraged by her family, MacVicar showed an early interest in drawing and painting and “[could not] remember a time when I was not going to some sort of art lesson.” She eventually attended the Winnipeg School of Art, where she studied during the time when Alex Musgrove and then Franz Johnson (Group of Seven member) were the School’s principals. At the early age of five, she painted Scotchmen Curling, which showed her talent for portraying personality and describing action. Depicting people and their personalities became MacVicar’s lifelong passion and drew her to portraiture. In turn, her zest for exacting and detailed work drew her to the world of miniatures. As an adult, MacVicar studied miniature painting on ivory in London, England, visiting the famous Wallace Collection of miniatures in that city, and later toured Italy.

Reproduction of miniature on ivory of Hugh Graham Hallward, grandson of Lord Atholstan, 1928 (WAG - Macvicar-PR15_13_21C)

Warned by her teachers in England not to spend more than 3.5 hours a day doing this intricate painting because of the intense focus required, MacVicar with her infinite patience and love of painting, never found it taxing. To get the most of the northern light, MacVicar would set up her work area in front of a western-facing window, using what looked like a wooden sewing box with the lid propped open, so it would stand like an easel.   She would then pin up an 8.89 x 10.16 cm sheet of ivory, which was stored in a drawer below the easel. Ivory was used because it had inherent warmth and gave a natural transparency to the flesh tints, with the colours growing softer with age. She would mix the watercolours on a celluloid palette, and then, without using a pencil, would outline her portrait with a fine brush, a technique known as the “purist” method. Afterwards, she would slowly and delicately fill in areas to recreate the look of different textures such as satin fabric to children’s curls. This work required precision and detail, and MacVicar once said she “envied the artist who painted canvas in a free, bold style, where they [could] slather the paint on.” (Interview with Jean Hinds, 1943, WAG artist files). Considering ten days to be a quick turnaround, the completed painting would be cut, framed, and mounted on a velvet lined case, put into a locket, or set in a jeweled frame and used as a pendant. 

In regards to the medium, MacVicar felt it important to distinguish the description of miniature from the name, because it was not done for the sake of smallness or size. She believed that if it was a good portrait, then it was sometimes preferred to life-size because it was more intimate and she could “catch the spirit” of the subject. She would always work from life and preferred to paint children because of their “elusive quality” (Hines), but found older faces, full of lines and shadows, much simpler to paint. Besides private commissions for individuals, she also painted miniatures of servicemen and women during World War II. Perhaps her most famous subject was His Excellency, Lord Willingdon, Governor General of Canada from 1926 to 1931, whom she was commissioned to paint a miniature of in 1931. 

Other private commissions brought her to Victoria, Seattle, and New York City, where she met Miss Lydia Longacre, then head of the Association of Miniature Painters of America, who along with other miniaturists suggested she stay in New York, as her paintings would receive wider recognition in the United States. However, MacVicar returned to Canada where she participated in solo and group juried exhibitions as well as private exhibitions. A member of the Manitoba Society of Artists, she exhibited in the first open exhibit of the Manitoba Society of Artists in 1926, and the Royal Canadian Academy throughout the 1920s. She held an exhibition at Hart House at the University of Toronto in 1930 and numerous private exhibitions in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Ontario, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.

Angus Shortt


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Angus Shortt was born in 1908 in Belfast, Ireland, and immigrated to Canada in 1911.  From 1926 to 1930 Shortt began a five-year apprenticeship as a wood engraver and illustrator for the graphic design firm Brigdens of Winnipeg, Limited.  In an interview, Shortt describes the wood-engraving method in detail.  He explained that the 9 x 12 blocks of wood were prepared with a white coating to receive a photographic transfer of the image to the wood.  After the artist had touched up the highpoints, hand engraving was begun and a magnifying glass and a lamp were kept close by.  Proofs were taken, and when ready, a final copy was made on high grade white paper ready for use in full-page layouts.  The wood-engraving process was completely phased out in 1931.  Later the artist/illustrator used “scraper board,” -- a white sheet onto which black ink was applied and when dry, the illustration was scraped in with a scalpel, creating the effect of a wood engraving.  Shortt worked doing illustrations of a variety of items -- ranging from jewelry to farm equipment -- for the western edition of the Eaton’s mail-order catalogue.  Between busy periods, however, he was sent to study art at the Winnipeg School of Art with Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald.

Shortt’s experience with graphic design and Illustrative work, solidified his representational skills and informed his naturalistic depictions of birds, wildlife, and landscapes.  He studied birds from both a scientific and artistic perspective, being interested especially in their plumage and anatomy.   He worked in museums in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and New York City, where he studied taxidermy and exhibition techniques at the American Museum of Natural History.  Its counterpart in Canada, the Natural Museum of Canada, hired him to conduct ornithological surveys in west-central Manitoba for two years.  In 1932, Shortt obtained a federal collecting permission to hunt and taxidermy wild birds.  In 1935, he obtained a position at the Museum of Manitoba, where he worked on restoration of a Treherne Plesiosaur skeleton. 

Angus Shortt and son Terence, 1953 (UMASC - MSS 185, A.04-07, Box 1, Fd. 3, Item 40)

He was able to combine his passions as an ornithologist and artist by working as an illustrator and wildlife artist from 1939 to 1973 at Ducks Unlimited Canada outside Winnipeg at Oak Hammock Marsh.  He depicted the Prairie birds in their natural habitat for handbooks, brochures, posters, and other educational and promotional material.  Continuing in the vein of the British landscape tradition so entrenched in the Prairies from the late nineteenth century on wards, Shortt painted in watercolours early on, and then moved on to oil paintings, because he could do work on a large scale.  It took him about a week to complete one painting, although he did work on more than one at a time.

His paintings were used to illustrate several books, including Sports afield treasury of waterfowl, published in 1957 (previously published in 1953 under the title Sports afield collection of know your ducks and geese), which is still considered the authority on Prairie waterfowl.  My life with birds: the education and successes of a wildlife artist, published in 2003, features Shortt’s life story and many examples of the beautiful artwork he created based on the Prairie birds, wildlife, and landscapes he loved.  His paintings have also been reproduced on stamps and greeting cards.  Over his career, Shortt produced over 4,000 paintings, which can now be found in collections throughout Canada, the United States, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Ireland, England, and Australia.  As a testament to his long career, a painting hangs on permanent display in Shortt’s honour at Duck’s Unlimited Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre.

Ukrainian-Canadian Artists - Sterling Demchinsky fonds

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Leo Mol’s name is most often associated with Ukrainian Canadian art, however there are several other prominent Ukrainian Canadians who have distinguished themselves in the area of the fine arts.  Since the beginning of Ukrainian immigration to Canada in 1891, the church has always played a pivotal role in Ukrainian community life and identity.  Many of the first Ukrainian artists were those that studied and were immersed in traditional Byzantine church art, -- from painting churches, writing icons, creating mosaics, and designing iconostases. With another wave of Ukrainian immigration following World War II, a new generation of church artists emerged. This new group would have a significant impact on how Ukrainian church art is perceived, not only by those Canadians of Ukrainian descent, but by non-Ukrainians alike. It is this group’s legacy which continues to influence and shape the present generation of artists.

Like Leo Mol, many of these artists began their careers in Canada as church painters, and continued to excel professionally in this area. One of the early such artists was Yakiv Maydanyk, whose work can be seen in the interiors of several Ukrainian churches throughout Manitoba. Maydanyk was a fascinating, talented, and multifaceted individual.  His life story was presented as a National Film Board of Canada documentary titled, Laughter in My Soul, by Canadian film director Halya Kuchmij. (Halya Kuchmij, Laughter in My Soul, 1983)   He not only painted, but was a caricaturist, wrote poetry and comedic dramas, and owned a church goods store. Born in Western Ukraine in 1891, he came to Canada in 1911, where he attended the Ukrainian Teacher’s College (then known as the Ruthenian Training School for Teachers) in Brandon, Manitoba. (Mykhailo Marunchak, Biohrafichnyi dovidnyk do Istoriii Ukraintsiv Kanady, p. 404)  It was during these years as a teacher that he created his famous cartoon character, Vuiko Shtif Tabachniuk, whose antics satirized the early Ukrainian immigrant, and appeared as a cartoon series in the Ukrainian Canadian Press.

St. George slaying the dragon by Jacob Maydanyk, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, Meleb, Manitoba (UCAWA - 08_11_139)

From the 1920s to the 1950s, Maydanyk did most of his church paintings, as well as some secular artwork.  His religious paintings were very traditional, yet contained a rich beauty to them, as exemplified in the canvas paintings found within St. Michael the Archangel Church in Olha, Manitoba (Anna Maria Kowcz-Baran, Ukrains’ki Katolyts’ki tserkvy Vinnipegs’koi Arkhieparkhii, p. 165). Later, Maydanyk recruited young artists like Leo Mol, to help with the painting of the interiors of Ukrainian Churches. During the last several years there has been a growing interest in Maydanyk’s art, with collectors trying to locate many of the paintings he completed during his life.