Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Discovery

In my early childhood, I was aware that Auntie Bert was a painter. There were several of her pictures on the walls at home, many more at her own house, and she painted when she accompanied us on a family summer vacation at Oliphant. But I had little appreciation of the role of art in her life, or the scale of what she had accomplished. Perhaps I assumed that everyone had a relative who painted, and it was 'no big deal'.

After her death in 1962, I came to understand that there were boxes of her work in storage in our parents' basement and closets, inherited by our mother. No-one had ever had occasion to do much with them.

When it came time, a few years ago, for Mum to move out of the family home in Toronto that we'd occupied since the 1960s, it became necessary to look more closely at what was there. My sister and I decided we should make it a priority to look at Auntie Bert's work properly. Retirement from our 'day jobs' (a gradual process in my sister's case, still not complete) eventually afforded the time required. We reckoned there might be as many as a couple of hundred works. We got out scanner and camera, and began.

The reality was quite different, and was a staggering revelation. The count kept mounting higher, as we sifted through more and more boxes. Counting every preliminary drawing and sketch as well as finished works, there are over a thousand pieces. And this doesn't include works that she sold or donated to others during her lifetime, for which we have only scant records.

More important than the number, we acquired a new appreciation for how brilliant an artist she was. And we established what she loved to paint most: landscapes and portraits, especially of children. Most often she worked in oils, or in pencil on paper; often in watercolours; less often in other media. Thanks to my sister's growing expertise in genealogical and historical research, we were also able to increase our understanding of the events and influences in Auntie Bert's life, and to delve into the family stories and legends about her.

Most important of all, we came to realize that we have a previously unsuspected 'buried treasure'. We realized that Bertha May Ingle was an artist of extraordinary quality, whose name and work deserve to be much better known than they are. Trying to bring that about is the task we have set ourselves.

Many people we know, including new friends who are professionally knowledgable about art, have viewed her works on the web site or directly or both. We are greatly encouraged that reactions are always very positive -- welcome reassurance that our assessment is not due merely to family bias. We're always delighted to hear from anyone who wishes to comment or enquire.

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