||January 25, 2008
Fascinating New Biography of Two
of Canada's Pioneer Sculptors
I got my favourite book of 2007 for Christmas and with an
interest in history and art couldn't put it down. Frances Loring and Florence
Wyle, two young sculptors came to Toronto in 1913 and until their deaths three
weeks apart in 1968, forty years ago this month, produced hundreds of fine
pieces of Neo-classical sculpture. This definitive book on The Girls as they
were called is by outstanding biographer Elspeth Cameron who has written books
on several Canadian male literary icons before moving strongly into work on
||Cover of book by Elspeth Cameron, Cormorant
The women, after living in other studios in Toronto, bought
an abandoned church in mid town Toronto and established their home and studio
there. They were kindred spirits who lived together, worked together, and
entertained together in what became a "salon" attracting many friends and
supporters. The likes of Group of Seven artists A.Y. Jackson and Arther Lismer,
well to do patrons, developing art students and local people gathered there
regularly. Besides being talented they were unconventional, entertaining, and
Much has been written on them including a 1972 book The
Girls by fellow sculptor Rebecca Sisler a book I have read a couple of times.
The new book called And Beauty Answers (a line from Florence's poem): The Life
of Frances Loring & Florence Wyle (Cormorant Books) is 527 pages long with 150
pages of notes and 32 pages of photographs. Cameron has refined the art of
biography and the book reads like a novel. The cover of the book shows the two
artists in 1915 in a photo by famous early filmmaker Robert Flaherty.
Another reason I liked the book is because I have a minor
connection with the story that has maintained my interest in them over the
years. I saw their work recently at the McMichael Gallery and the Art Gallery
of Hamilton and their work is available in various other locations including
busts of each other in their memorial park near where they lived at St. Clair &
Mount Pleasant in Toronto.
Loring, who was 7 years older than Wyle, came from the well
to do family of Frank Loring a successful mining engineer in Northern Ontario.
Frances grew up in Cobalt and as she developed an interest in art studied and
traveled in Europe for several years. When she attended the Chicago Art
Institute in 1906 at age 24 she met 18 year old Florence. When they graduated
they went to New York's Greenwich Village where modern art was beginning to
appear. They were committed to a realistic classical Greek and Roman style and
came to Canada to work. In a day when as Cameron says "men made art and women
made babies" they were an anomaly in a man's field that required long hours of
physical work. In spite of some hard times they never took teaching or other
regular work away from their studio.
Loring was a large flamboyant woman in dress and
personality and specialized in larger monumental works. Her work doing
monuments after world war one gave them a start and helped buy the church and a
country acreage where they blossomed. Loring was also a natural leader and among
other things was founder of the Canadian Sculpture Society which set high
standards for sculptors. Wyles smaller pieces included some remarkable statues
of workers in everyday life that the National Gallery has now.
Their work can be seen by Googling their names on Wikipedia
and elsewhere on the net. There is apparently a CTV television program giving a
tour of their work pending later in January. Space does not allow for more
detail on their rich lives.
My Personal Connection
As I mentioned I have a passing connection with the
Loring-Wyles as they were called. In 1952, at age 20, married and in my first
teaching job my wife Eleanor, an aspiring artist, and I met a teacher in a
nearby school who was an ambitious developing carver/sculptor. In the spring of
that year he invited my wife and me to go to Toronto to visit two sculptors he
had contacted. They turned out to be Frances and Florence and we spent an
unforgettable afternoon with them surrounded by their work in various stages of
completion. They were generous with their time and strongly encouraged our
friend and my wife and provided some catalogues and books of interest.
||Elly Mackey chatting with Globe & Mail Art
critic Kay Kritzwizer at the opening of her exhibition in Toronto January
30, 1968. Doug Mackey photo.
I moved to another school the next year but kept in touch
with our friend and found that he was given support by the girls to attend the
Ontario College of Art. After his period at school he set up a studio and I
recall a major exhibition of many of his pieces before we went on our separate
My wife in the mean time, while raising four children,
worked hard at developing her painting and drawing skills. In the early 1960s
she attended Teachers' College and got a job as head of the art department in a
high school in Oshawa where I was teaching. When I got a job in Toronto she
went to art school there.
In January 1968 Av. Isaacs, owner of the well established
contemporary Isaacs Gallery offered her a solo exhibition of her unique color
field paintings. Isaacs had his framer, well known artist William Kurelek frame
them and the show opened on January 30th. In an era when women were still
secondary she was the only woman who exhibited at Isaacs that year and she had a
sold out event.
While preparing for the show, we heard that Florence Wyle
had died. Kay Kritzwiser the Globe & Mail Art critic interviewed my wife at her
opening and the next night attended a memorial for Wyle. The next day
Kritzwiser ran a story in the Globe & Mail on the Memorial and the next day ran
a story with two photos of my wife in the Globe & Mail. Two days later on
February 5, 1968 Loring died. It was with mixed feelings that we enjoyed my
wife's success at the cutting edge of modernism while the great exponents of neo
classicism were passing.
The Globe & Mail also ran a Loring obituary and an
editorial titled The Girls in which they said in part "The strong, sensitive and
capable hands of Florence Wyle and Frances Loring fashioned, over half a
century, much that is worthy in the modest treasure house of Canadian art. Their
deaths, within three weeks of each other, leave us saddened, yet grateful for
the sustained energy and good taste which gave their lives fulfillment and left
us so rich a legacy."
In the 1968 end of the year wrap up on art in the Globe &
Mail four artists including my wife (the only female) were featured. There was
no mention of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle.
||Champlain Cairn, with brass reliefs of Champlain's arrival
at Lake Nipissing in 1615. D. Mackey Photos.
As a footnote to this story I recall recognizing a man in
line in Canadian Tire in North Bay in the mid 1980s. It was our sculptor friend
from 1952. We recalled that wonderful experience and how they supported him. I
asked if he was sculpting any more and he said he had gone on to other more
lucrative things but had recently won a spot on the Champlain Cairn in Champlain
Park on Premier Road in North Bay. He died in 2001. My wife and I visited the
cairn recently, took the pictures shown here, and remembered with pleasure and
some sadness these events.
Heritage Perspective Home Page