Saturday 28 April 2012

A Private View

It was probably in 1906 that Bertha May Ingle presented a 'private view' of oil paintings in the Principal's Studio of the Margaret Eaton School of Literature and Expression. We have the invitation card and catalogue, giving the date as Saturday December 15th (without a year). The catalogue lists twenty paintings by title and price.

We didn't know anything much about the Margaret Eaton School, but armed with our newly-learned research methods, we began to uncover some of its remarkable story.

The Lillian Massey Building,
University of Toronto
Our mother thought the School might have been in a building that still stands on Queen's Park, just south of Bloor Street West in Toronto. It's a very fine neo-classical structure, which now is called The Lillian Massey Building and houses the University of Toronto's Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of Classics. Well, that wasn't where the School was, it turns out, but we can see now why she thought it might have been.

The Margaret Eaton School
 of Literature and Expression
In fact, the Margaret Eaton School of Literature and Expression was built on North Street, just south of Bloor Street West. The building was completed in 1906, and the School officially opened in January 1907. It was designed to be pretty much an exact copy of a Greek Temple, and it quickly acquired that nickname among Torontonians. Its design reflected the classically-inspired educational philosophy and passion of its founding Principal, Emma Scott Raff. The School was a strong positive force in support of the educational aspirations of women students in Toronto, especially in the performing arts, for two decades, before merging with Victoria College. But the original building itself had a less happy history. Within a few years of the School's opening, North Street was joined up with (and thus became re-named as) Bay Street, and the widening of the thoroughfare at that time required that the porticoed front of the Temple be removed. It survived in that violated state for several years more, even after the Margaret Eaton School moved to Yonge Street, but it eventually succumbed to the inevitable as Bay Street grew wider still, necessitating its demolition. This blog has the story in more detail: A brief history of the Margaret Eaton School in Toronto.

Pumpkin Patch by Bertha May Ingle
(signed Maylaw)
But in 1906 it was new and exciting. From the titles alone, we don't know much about the paintings that Bertha exhibited, and we don't know whether any were sold. There is one exception, however: Pumpkin Patch. We have a small watercolour on textured paper with that title, and we strongly suspect it is very like the oil painting. It was probably executed somewhat later in Bertha's life, and was perhaps intended as a card design.

Why did Bertha exhibit at the School? We thought there were probably connections between the School and the Knowles studio, but my sister has recently discovered that Bertha also very likely knew Emma Scott Raff in Owen Sound, in the 1890s. Perhaps holding an exhibition was a requirement connected with her work at the Knowles studio and the Westbourne School.

Following up Emma's story led us to another fascinating link to family legend. I had long understood that Bertha was somehow acquainted with Dr James Naismith, the Canadian who is famous as the inventor of the game of basketball. But we learned that Emma Scott Raff's second husband (they were married in 1916) was Colonel George Gallie Nasmith, a truly remarkable man in his own right. He was a Toronto chemist and medical professional who, among many accomplishments, suggested the first practical defence against gas attacks in the trenches of Europe during World War I. He was awarded the CMG medal by King George V. This, surely, was more likely Auntie Bert's 'Dr Nasmith'.

Replica of Apollo and Muses by Bertel Thorvaldsen
I have a replica of a famous frieze-in-relief by Bertel Thorvaldsen, known as Apollo and Muses, that belonged to Auntie Bert. The story I remember was that it was a gift from Dr Naismith. From the pictures of Emma's Greek Temple, I think we can safely speculate that Col George Gallie Nasmith was a much more likely donor than Dr James Naismith.

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