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Behind Every Artist: A Mentor

Anyone who ever accomplished anything worthwhile had a mentor and today’s women artists are especially lucky! There are some exceptional people and organizations that are fulfilling this vital role. One is MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) which was established a quarter century ago in Winnipeg, Manitoba: its mission statement to address the underrepresentation of female artists in society. To learn more visit: Clara lived in another era, in a world where being female hampered and often precluded artistic success. Clara had to find her own mentors. And she was fortunate: she found two.

Mentor one was Clara’s husband Fred: a man before his time. He was a commercial artist who financially supported life at 23 Valleyview Gardens. But he did much more than that. He got behind his wife, encouraging the development and promotion of her artistic skills. Fred was 32 years old when he posted these diary entries which describe his efforts in great detail. On the home front he cooked, cleaned, made canvases and stretchers, ordered art supplies and provided a separate studio for Clara. But more extraordinary was what he encouraged her to do: travel without him in every season satisfying her artistic passion while honing her skills.

Aug. 14, 1938Getting Clara’s things ready for the trip.

Aug. 16, 1938Starting out like a fine day. Clara happy and on her way

.As described in Fred’s 1937- 42 diary, Clara made lengthy car trips, covering huge distances and for extensive periods of time.

Dec. 15, 1938Car baulky this morning nothing seemed to go right for Clara. On this trip to Haliburton it’s not documented when Clara returned but at this juncture the trip was already three weeks long:

Horses Pulling Logs in Winter, Haliburton, Ontario

Feb. 11, 1941 - Clara off for Haliburton

Mar. 3, 1941 - Clara phoned from Haliburton

But Clara also had a second mentor: artist, Emily Louise Orr Elliott. Emily, twenty years older than Clara, was generous with her understudy, sharing her time, artistic knowledge and friendship.

Mar. 26, 1939Mrs. Elliott up here to look at Clara’s work

Oct. 8, 1940Mrs. Elliott & niece Mary Thompson took me on a picnic to see Clara in her sketching ground

And the influence is obvious when you view Emily’s work: particularly her still life florals. Hers and Clara’s are very similar.

Pink-Purple Mums and Dahlias

And although it’s not mentioned in Fred’s diary both women painted on Toronto Island so it is presumable that they went together. Fred’s diary describes Clara and Emily’s trips. Ones close to home: Kleinburg, Orangeville, King, Uxbridge, and Eugenia Falls. But longer trips to Minden, Haliburton, and Little Current, Ontario; the Laurentians, Quebec; Amherst, Nova Scotia; and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Aug. 9, 1939Clara & Mrs. Elliott on way to Gloucester Sept. 27, 1939Clara & Mrs. Elliott off for the Laurentians July 18, 1940Clara & Mrs. Elliott off for Little Current Clara and women artists at MAWA have utilized and benefited from the maxim which is so well expressed on the MAWA site: “Ask people if they want to work with you; some will say no, others will say yes……. “


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