Sunday, 29 July 2012


We find an ongoing challenge and pleasure in trying to identify the people and places depicted in Bertha’s artworks.


In an earlier posting (Ontario Ladies' College), I speculated about the location of this painting, wondering if it represents the view from where Bertha's front lawn or porch at 6 Rossmore Rd used to be, looking southeast to the corner of Rossmore Rd and Olive Ave.

I had a chance to visit the neighbourhood recently, and took a photo in that direction. I'm pretty sure it's the same view. The house on the corner appears to have been extended at the back since those days, and the trees are undoubtedly not the same trees, so many years later. The siding is modern. But the angle of the roof seems right, the windows are about right, and so is the colour of the brick houses in the distance. Within a small degree of artistic licence, it's a plausible match.


We had an even more compelling identification a short while ago. Bertha did this pencil sketch of distant mountains, where she depicted the profile as that of a reclining woman.

The Sleeping Giant
There are mountain views in many places that resemble recumbent human figures. A famous Ontario example is the Sleeping Giant near Thunder Bay, the rock formations of the Sibley Peninsula. According to, "An Ojibway legend identifies the Sleeping Giant as Nanabijou, who was turned to stone when the secret location of a rich silver mine was disclosed."

View from Jericho Beach,
Vancouver BC
Because we know Bertha visited British Columbia several times, we wondered if the sketch came from there, and the ship on the water suggested it might be Vancouver. We couldn't find any well-known 'named' associations like the Sleeping Giant, but I asked my daughter, who has spent several years in Vancouver as a student and goes there frequently, to look out for it next time she was there. But there was no need to wait that long. She thought the skyline looked very familiar, and within a short while she had located this photo of the view toward Stanley Park from Jericho Beach. No doubt!

'Mrs Joseph Frampton'

Identifying portraits is sometimes straightforward, for example where we recognize Ingle family members, or where we have labelled photos, or where my sister recognizes neighbours from 6 Rossmore Rd. But in many cases there's an ongoing enquiry. Here's a fine portrait in pencil, one of just a few that Bertha signed, its date unknown. On the reverse side she wrote 'Mrs Joseph Frampton'.

A search of the 1901 Census of Canada revealed a Mr and Mrs Joseph Frampton. They were farmers in Westminster, Middlesex South, Ontario. Joseph is shown as being born in 1848 in England, and emigrating to Canada in 1871. He was married to Sarah Jane Frampton, also English by birth, also born in 1848, emigrated in 1872. They had a son born in 1875. [Note, all three are incorrectly indexed in as 'Frampler'.]

I also found Joseph and Sarah Framton [sic] listed in the 1911 Census, living in Westminster. His birthdate is given there as 1850. One might speculate that he had not yet turned 21 when he emigrated, and falsified his birthdate at that time (giving it as 1848) to appear to be of the age of majority.

Sarah Jane Frampton died a widow, aged 80, in 1928, in Lambeth, Ontario.  Could she be our 'Mrs Joseph Frampton'? If she is, her dates suggest that the portrait may be earlier than the date we had tentatively ascribed to it (the 1910s), by which time Sarah Jane would have been approaching 70. The woman in Bertha's portrait appears to be younger.

Lila Caroline Knowles (left)
With Bertha's connection to the Farquhar McGillivray Knowles studio from her first years in Toronto, we've been interested in other artists who studied or taught there at the same time. One was Lila Caroline Taylor, who in 1931 would become the third wife of Farquhar McGillivray Knowles. My sister came across a photo of Lila Caroline in an article about Alma College (St Thomas, Ontario), where she was Art Director from 1925 till her retirement in 1957.

Looking at the photo, it struck my sister that this portrait by Bertha, which we had never identified, might be Lila Caroline. We've since been unable to find other photos on-line that might help to corroborate the identification. Recently, however, my sister had the great pleasure to visit with the artist Bernice Harper, another former art teacher from Alma College (1962 - 1966), who remembers meeting Lila Caroline Knowles. Bernice kindly lent my sister an Alma College anniversary book from 1977, in which there are two photos of Lila Caroline (in addition to the one above). One new photo is very small, in a 1935 montage of students and staff; a later one shows her in about 1954, at a much more advanced age than the lady in Bertha's portrait. Still, we think it could be she ...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

On the Rails

I've recently put up old-style picture rails in a large room at home, from which paintings can be hung using hooks and light chain. The idea is to have a flexible display area, where the choice of pictures can be easily changed.

Finding picture rail moulding locally wasn't easy. I searched in vain at all the usual lumber suppliers. Eventually it was recommended to me that I visit Hoffmeyer's Mill in Sebringville, Ontario. Problem solved! Hoffmeyer's, aka Ogilvie's Planing Mill Ltd., is a remarkable operation that specializes in making all kinds of reproduction old-fashioned wood products. Their main workshop still has many machines driven by belts connected to an overhead ceiling-mounted rotating shaft. Mr Ogilvie Sr himself made my picture rails, while I waited, by ripping a suitable portion of one of their standard mouldings, and then rounding off the top with a hand router. I took home forty feet of moulding, cut it to the right lengths for my various walls, painted these lengths, and secured them to the walls. For hooks I'm using small cabinet handles.

I have been hanging a few framed pictures from the picture rails, partly to get an idea of how well the picture rail system works, how easy it is to adjust the height, and so on. One picture in particular, a small landscape in oils, was in a rather distressed antique frame under very dirty glass. Thinking it could be much better presented, I decided to disassemble it.

The backing (two pieces of card) and the cardboard mat were in very poor shape, and a corner of the mat actually broke away as I lifted it from the frame. These materials are clearly very old, and much older than those I found in the frame I described in an earlier blog, the one we believe was donated to Ontario Ladies' College around 1930 (see Ontario Ladies' College).

My sister pointed out that it's reasonable to infer that the painting itself is particularly old, perhaps dating from Bertha's time in Owen Sound, before 1901. My sister had already suspected that Bertha's signature as it appears on this picture (all block capitals) is typical of her very early works.

If it is indeed as old as 1900, I wonder if it might have been framed (and signed) for purposes of the Exhibition that Bertha mounted at the Margaret Eaton School in 1906 (see A Private View). The list of titles from that Exhibition appears on the card we have. I believe that any one of several could conceivably refer to this painting.
Could it be Don Flats? Or Down by the River? Is it a Sunset? Or a Hazy Afternoon? Perhaps we'll never know for sure, but it feels like finding one more piece of the puzzle.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

To the Rescue

I wrote in an earlier posting about the need for conservation work on many of Bertha's works. We have been particularly concerned about works on paper. Many drawings and paintings were executed on low quality paper; I have learned that, in Bertha's time, even the sketchbooks sold specifically for artists were made from acidic paper.

We may take the existence of acid-free paper for granted these days, but the Wikipedia article on Acid-free paper tells us that it was as recently as the 1930s that the deterioration of acid-bearing paper was first understood and written about (by William Barrow, a librarian, writing mainly for librarians). In the 1950s, commercially-made alkaline sizing to allow the manufacture of acid-free paper was on the market, but it wasn't until the 1980s that a voluntary ANSI Standard for truly acid-free paper was published. Virtually every piece of paper Bertha used has acidic content that will hasten its deterioration, if nothing is done to slow it down. Many works already show the signs of such deterioration, and others are dirty, torn, or moisture-damaged.

We sought professional advice from an experienced Conservator, Lloy Osburn of Artful Restorations, in Guelph, Ontario. She does wonders restoring art, antiques, and interesting objects of all kind. As a preliminary exercise, we took five paper artworks, each presenting a slightly different challenge. We judged all of them to be worth the expense of expert care. One showed classic foxing, and has drawings of interest on both sides of the paper; one had a stain in a rectangular outline, where another piece of paper had been in contact; one had become so brittle that a piece had broken off; all were somewhat dirty; all of them have torn edges and would benefit from being mounted on acid-free mats.

The results of the work are very gratifying. Of course, they don't look 'just like new', by any means, but they are all greatly improved, much more presentable. All have been treated with a de-acidifying spray that will greatly inhibit further acid deterioration.

[Note:  The before-and-after comparisons below are a little misleading because they were scanned or photographed in different lighting conditions; the required adjustments in colour balance are inexact.]

We intend to follow up with treatment of more drawings and paintings, and are actively working at prioritizing the next stages.