There’s A Birch Tree Now Paint It!

Tuesday, June 4, 2018


Marilyn Coulter was ten years old, the only child in a group of women art students.  They were with their instructor in High Park in Toronto’s west end.   The instructor was Clara Harris.  Clara gave Marilyn her first challenge:  ”There’s a birch tree now paint it.”  And in Marilyn’s words “I didn’t know where to start”.  


Marilyn’s story is remarkable and she gave me the opportunity to talk with her:














You can see from the video that Marilyn has an excellent memory and a good sense of humour.  Here are some additional highlights not included in the video:


Marilyn lived in the Baby Point area just 3-4 blocks from Clara’s house.  Clara’s students would congregate at the Old Mill and Humber River sites and Clara would drive down with the painting equipment. 


With marriage and children Marilyn’s artistic pursuits were put on hold.  But not for long.  At their vacation home in Tweed, immersed in nature, her interest in landscape painting was renewed. 


In later years Marilyn became President of the Humber Valley Art Club: some of the members being part of the original Clara painting group.



Of her many accomplishments Marilyn’s favourite work were her sets for the Ontario Ballet Theatre.  No mean feat.   First she would present small samples of her designs to the ballet master.  Once he approved these Marilyn proceeded to work on large 10 x 30 foot panels.  These were done in acrylic, applied with a sponge and took two months to complete. Marilyn did Beauty and the Beast, Wind in the Willows, Rapunzel, The Magic Flute and Aladdin.   When asked if these significant commissions made her nervous she smiled and then replied, “I just took the work in my stride”.

Some of Marilyn’s comments about her passion as an artist: 


"I painted what I saw.


"If the viewer of the painting feels what the artist feels then the painting is a real success.


"When you get older you don’t want to paint outside as much so it broadens your scope of how to portray the scenes.  It’s a challenge not being on location.


"Clara always tutored me and when she moved from her home she gave me her easel.  Oh my goodness using Clara’s easel!  It had a rope that she’d used to hold it down if it got windy."


You can learn more about Marilyn’s life and work through these two websites:


Marilyn and Laura had organized and prepared a sizable display of Marilyn’s art for me to view.   So many were beautiful watercolours and I admit, I purchased some of them.    


Special thanks to Marilyn and her daughter Laura for sharing so much information that contributes to Clara’s provenance.  Marilyn’s life as a successful artist reveals so much about the effort and sacrifice required.   It was a special day!