Continuing to highlight its strong Canadiana collection, the Royal Ontario Museum
presents Brushing It In the Rough: Women, Art & Nineteenth-century Canada. This intimate display showcases the pictorial responses of three nineteenth-century women Anna Jameson, a traveler; Susanna Moodie, a settler; and Alice Killaly, a native-born resident to their Canadian experiences. Each woman produced art within societys parameters and their stories reveal the circumstances behind the use of their talents for financial gain. Augmenting the earlier works, the art of Ruth Abernethy provides a contemporary lens onto the role of women in settler society. The exhibits 23 works are displayed from Saturday, August 24, 2013 to Monday, February 17, 2014 in the Wilson Canadian Heritage Exhibition Room of the Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada, located on Level 1 of the ROMs Weston Family Wing.
Dr. Arlene Gehmacher, Curator of Canadian Paintings, Prints & Drawings in the ROMs World Cultures department is the exhibitions curator. She says, The exhibitions title is, as some may recognize, a play on Roughing it in the Bush, the title of Susanna Moodies disparaging account of her early years in Upper Canada. The works featured in this exhibition were not executed in the backwoods, nor were they all done by brush. The spoonerism (wordplay) creates a metaphor for the challenges women encountered in nineteenth-century Canada, and, perhaps more significantly, their strategies in dealing with such difficulties through the production of art.
Anna Jameson (Irish, 1794 1860)
Already a respected author in England, Anna Jameson arrived in Toronto in December 1836 to join her husband, the Attorney General of Upper Canada. The season was bleak as was the marriage and within a year of reuniting, the union was finished. Prior to leaving Canada, Jameson journeyed as far north as Sault Ste. Marie, a bold act of independence and freedom. Writing and sketching as she travelled, Jamesons travelogue memoir, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada was the result of her two-month voyage.
Anna Jameson produced more than 50 drawings of her Canadian experience and a number of the drawings were the basis for etchings, also executed by Jameson. These include the five on display in Brushing It In the Rough. While these were likely intended for her publication, ultimately no images were included. Jamesons approach to her subjects ranges from observer to participant, occasionally inserting herself into the scene. While Jamesons desolate Winter Journey from Niagara by Lake Ontario may be interpreted as a metaphor for her own early despondency, then Voyage Down Lake Huron in a Canoe might reference her escape.
Susanna Moodie (English, 1803 1885)
Born of a middle class family, Susanna Moodie immigrated to Upper Canada in 1832 as the wife of a retired English army officer. First living in the backwoods, after eight years of farming their land, they moved to civilization upon her husbands appointment as sheriff. The comparatively urban environment of Belleville allowed Moodie to focus on writing. Eventually becoming a staple of Canadian literature, her Roughing it in the Bush (1852) recalled the harshness of her backwoods years.
Susanna Moodie apparently took up watercolour painting later in life and the 1860s were a time to develop her skills in the medium. Focused mainly on floral still lifes, she painted from life, also finding inspiration in botanical prints. It is unclear as to why Moodie took up painting floral images but it may have been an attempt to diminish memories of her early years of hardship. Ironically, while painting appears to have been originally a leisure activity for Moodie, it soon became an economic necessity. Moodie sold her works to raise household money with her watercolours eventually commanding five dollars each.
Alice Killaly (Canadian, 1836 1908)
Alice Killaly was born in London, Ontario but lived in a number of towns in Upper and Lower Canada. Given the quality of her signed watercolour landscapes, she likely had formal art education and it is thought that Cornelius Krieghoff may have been her teacher. Killalys first attempt, in 1868, at having her artistic talents formalized as part of a business venture was also her last as she moved to England shortly after marrying in 1870.
Alice Killalys A Picnic to Montmorenci (1868) is a set of six chromolithographs recounting an outing to one of Quebecs most beloved tourist attractions. The title is both realist and ironic. While picnics were enjoyed during the winter at Montmorency Falls, Killalys take on the subject is filled with humour. Two young people, the hapless Buzbie and the non-plussed Miss Muffin are seen engaging in the
ritual of courting. At the time, advertisements touted the set as the first of its kind making the most of its Canadian subject, humour, artist (including Killalys gender), printer and publisher. The process behind chromolithography could, but need not, involve the artist. While Killaly provided the original artwork, as she lived in Toronto and the set was printed in Montreal, it is unlikely that she reproduced the images on the lithographic plate.
Ruth Abernethy (Canadian, 1960 -)
Sculptor Ruth Abernethy was born in Lindsay, Ontario, the descendant of a Scots immigrant. Her collection of Canadiana was inspired by a rekindled awareness of her own familys farming and logging roots in south central Ontario during the nineteenth century. From its inception in 2005, Abernethys Canadiana Collection has been a work in progress, currently comprising 13 works, five of which are housed in the ROMs permanent collection.
The Canadiana series is an exploration of settlement life through the tools, implements, and craftwork used to shape Canada. Each object broadly suggests the pioneers quest for civilization, while also pointedly addressing the role of women in building community. References to handiwork, such as tatting and lace patterns, typically seen as female transform items conventionally evocative of mens labour a hatchet, hammer, or cross-cut saw. In feminizing typically male implements, Abernethy underlines the presence of women into the story of settlement. In combining national symbols with typically female work, she makes the case for the essential role of women in building community.