Friday, 25 May 2012

Ontario Ladies' College

It took the Ingle family quite a while to settle down, after they came to Toronto in 1901. In their first ten years there, they lived in a series of at least six rented accommodations, as we know from letters, postcards, and City Directories. Eventually, in 1911, they rented premises at 230 Robert Street, their address for the next 10 years. And in 1921, Robert Ingle was finally able to buy a house, at 6 North Markham Street (later re-named Rossmore Road). That house would be Bertha's home address for the rest of her life, its ownership transferred to her name in 1931.

Robert Ingle:
6 Rossmore Rd
All the earlier rented houses (at least those we know of) are still standing, but 6 Rossmore Road is not. It was demolished in the 1960s to allow for the expansion of Vermont Park. Happily, we have a detailed painting by Robert Ingle of the front of the house, as well as photos of the interior taken in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Bertha sketched the living room and dining room in pencil. Although she didn't do a painting showing the house, there is one picture of an urban streetscape (an unusual subject for her). It has recently occurred to me that it may be a view of neighbouring houses, as seen from her front lawn or thereabouts. I hope to explore further; if I'm right, the houses it shows are still standing, at Rossmore Road and Olive Avenue.

Interior of 6 Rossmore Rd
Home ownership must have brought increased expenses, and that may have been one reason that Bertha undertook what would be her longest continuous teaching assignment. In 1922, she became the Art Teacher at the Ontario Ladies' College (OLC) in Whitby, Ontario, a position she held until 1927.

Ontario Ladies' College c. 1920
OLC was housed in magnificent Trafalgar Castle, originally built as his private home by Nelson Gilbert Reynolds, Sheriff of Ontario County, but sold to the Methodist Church in 1874. The Church established OLC in that year in support of their belief in better higher education opportunities for women. The successor to the College still operates today, in Trafalgar Castle, as a private school for girls under the name Trafalgar Castle School. It preserves some of the more-than-century-old traditions.

Bertha seems to have been quite happy at OLC. The December 1922 Vox Collegii newsletter describes her active engagement with the students and with College life.

Front hallway of OLC
We have a pencil sketch of the front hallway of the College building which she drew for publication in the Yearbook.

Hama Kobayashi
An especially sad episode during her years at OLC was the death in 1925 of a student, Hama Kobayashi, who came from a prominent Tokyo family. Bertha had made a portrait of her in pastels, dressed in traditional costume, and we are fortunate to have it still.

Among Bertha's collection of paintings are two by prominent artists she knew from her association with OLC. One is a landscape in oils by Thomas Garland Greene, who was Art Director of OLC during her years there. The other is by Florence Helena McGillivray, a native of Whitby who was Assistant Art Teacher at OLC in the early 1900s. It was probably Ms McGillivray's leave-of-absence in 1908 - 1909 that led to Bertha's first connection with OLC, an assignment as Assistant Art Teacher for that academic year.

And we have an oil painting by Bertha herself that long languished in a dusty frame and under dingy glass. It had a small, heavily tarnished brass plaque on the frame saying:

A gift by the artist
Bertha M. Ingle
A former teacher of the College

From the 1926-27
OLC Yearbook
[Town of Whitby Archives,
Whitby Public Library]

As shown here, I have recently removed the glass and had the old gold-coloured paper mat replaced with a more suitable linen-covered liner. I have cleaned the frame and polished the brass plaque. Being framed under glass at least protected the painting from decades of dust and dirt. It looks much happier now.

But there's a puzzle. We're not sure why we have possession of it, if it was originally given to the College. Perhaps it was returned to the family, after Bertha's death. Perhaps it was returned when OLC became Trafalgar Castle School in 1979; a case of out with the old, in with the new. We plan to investigate further. We'll be delighted if the present School administration wishes to hang it there, again, in a place it could be seen and enjoyed as a small part of their history.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

British Columbia

Bertha's father, Robert Ingle, became an employee of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1898. At first, his employment required being away from home for long periods, a circumstance that likely provided part of the impetus for his wife Mary to move the family to Toronto in about 1901.

Bertha's younger brother John followed his father into the CPR, eventually becoming Station Master at Tappen, a picturesque mountainous spot near Salmon Arm in the interior plateau of British Columbia (BC). Bertha and her mother travelled to Tappen in 1914 to visit him, and Bertha stayed in BC well into the autumn to sketch and paint. It was the first of several visits she made to BC over the ensuing 20 years.

Bertha, John, and Mary Ingle (left to right) at Tappen BC, 1914

She loved the mountain landscapes, and found life there exhilarating, even when she found herself in somewhat primitive conditions. Despite her lameness, she enjoyed being outdoors. She took pride in physical activity and accomplishments, including an all-day hike to the summit of a mountain, nine thousand feet above sea level. "How I enjoyed that day," she wrote afterwards. "I am sure nature intended me for an outdoor life."

As with her visit to Québec, her artist's eye and sensibility responded to the change of ambience. Light and colour were, as always, the touchstones of her experience.

The pictures shown here represent a good example, on a small scale, of a much larger challenge that faces us, as we survey our vast inheritance. Bertha rarely dated any of her artworks. As with many others, the BC pictures are difficult to arrange chronologically. We would very much like to be able, eventually, to shed some light on this question.

To do so, we would like to understand more about the specific techniques she used, and how they developed over time. We've already noticed that her preferred choices of colour palette seem to have evolved in patterns, which may allow us to to group various works by period. There are other potential clues. The evolution of stylistic details; possible influences of other artists; the age and type of the material on which the works are executed; and (occasionally) references in her notes or letters are all possible indications of chronology. Perhaps, as we often think, such matters would make an interesting investigation for a budding student of art history. We're asking around.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Renouncing Renown

As she became better established during her first years in Toronto, both as an artist and as a teacher, Bertha looked to a wider stage.

In November of 1909 she exhibited a painting in the Thirty-first Annual Exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA). It was entitled "Did you lay that?", and although we don't know exactly what it looked like, it was likely contemporary with the sketches in pencil and oils, shown here.

In March of 1910 she had two paintings in the Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA): one was the same picture that had been exhibited at the RCA a few months earlier, and the other was called A Corner of the Barnyard. The barnyard theme of these choices is interesting, given that by then she had done many fine pictures of a wide variety of people and places. It has occurred to us that she may have been influenced by her association in those years with Elizabeth A McGillivray Knowles, for whom colourful barnyard poultry was a favourite and recurring subject.

In November of 1910, in the Thirty-second Annual Exhibition of the RCA, she showed a painting called When the World is Glad and Gay.

After this apparently promising start, something must have happened to change her outlook on this way of publicizing her work. We don't know precisely what it was, but we do know that she never participated in these Exhibitions again.

Part of the reason,
 I believe, was that she was by nature a private person, as well as a strongly independent one. We know from her letters that she was uncomfortable in large exuberant gatherings. I suspect she didn't seek or need approbation from others, apart from the friends and colleagues she chose and respected most.

An insight into her character comes from these extracts from notes written about her by our mother (Bertha's niece) in the late 1950s:

About seventy years ago Bertha had polio. This finished her formal education ... because one leg stopped growing and was too weak to carry her the long distance to the schoolhouse. Activity passed her by because energetic Grandma knew nothing of psychology, and ‘Bert’ was constantly reminded “You can’t do that.” ...

Painting, reading, playing the piano and writing poetry were the things she loved to do. And she had to do them alone. The family was poor, and her brothers and sisters too busy with their own lives and livelihood to spend time with their crippled sister. So the violet was thrust aside to shrink from view and they never knew it was really an orchid. ...

... Her love is for everyone and for life itself. She is simply self-reliant. She pays no lip-service to others’ opinions. Hers are based on her own thoughts and standards, and her criterion first, last and always is what is right. ...

In 1912 the Art Gallery of Ontario (then called the Art Museum of Toronto) began to send questionnaires to Canadian artists, asking for basic biographical information and lists of their exhibitions and awards. The practice continued over many decades, expanding in scope to encompass a wide variety of interesting materials. The resulting Artists Files are accessible to the public, upon request, in the Edward P Taylor Research Library and Archives at the AGO. In 1912, having exhibited so recently at the RCA and OSA, I believe Bertha must have been invited to fill out and return a questionnaire, but there is no file for her. It appears that kind of recognition had become of little interest to her.

All this helps to explain, I think, why she is so undeservedly unknown, today. Self-promotion and public recognition were never her highest priorities. She devoted her life and most of her energy to her family, her close friends, and the development of her art according to her own interests and standards.

Saturday, 5 May 2012


The Plains of Abraham
In the summer of 1907, Bertha travelled to Québec with a group of her colleagues, and of course she painted.

Experiencing a new visual and cultural ambience must have been a revelation to her artist's eye. It stimulated her desire for experimentation, and perhaps freed her from influences and expectations at home. The works she created during the Québec trip have a character that is quite different in subject matter, colour, and technique from what had gone before.

It would happen on later excursions, as well (as we shall see). She was not able to travel extensively or often; her opportunities were limited by financial constraints, by her commitment to her parents (especially in their later years), and to some degree by her lameness in one leg, the result of a serious childhood illness. But she did set off to distant horizons on a few occasions, and always made good use of those chances to develop and expand her creative palette.

At least half of the pages in the oldest sketchbook we have contain her pencil work from the Québec trip. They are superb little gems, breathtakingly perceptive and deftly executed. A few are shown here, along with some of the paintings. More of the sketchbook can be viewed in this album.

The excursion was, at least in part, a 'business trip'. A postcard that Bertha sent to her mother in July 1907 makes it clear that she and her colleagues were hoping to sell their work and perhaps gain new commissions. We know nothing of how successful they were.