Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes: a Co-Lab challenge

By Brianna Fitzgerald

As COVID-19 restrictions have suspended in-person children’s programming, the rush of energy, noise and creativity often found on early weekend mornings at art galleries across the country now seems like a distant memory. Since art classes and workshops have moved online to adapt to these times, we are in a period of great innovation in the sphere of children’s art education, meeting new challenges in engaging children’s creativity in a virtual space. This is not the first time that there has been a major shift in the way that children’s art education is delivered. In the 1930s, Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer (1885–1969) attempted to radically shift how Canada thought about art education and to transform the art gallery from a formal space into a vibrant community space.

When I came across images of Lismer’s children’s art classes in the Ronny Jaques fonds in the Library and Archives Canada collection, I felt a rush of memories of my own childhood spent in art classes and the frenzied excitement of little hands and young minds at work making things. Before finding these images, I was unaware of the large role that being an art educator played in Lismer’s life, and his tireless efforts to popularize and emphasize the importance of art education. I was also unaware of how closely his model of education in the 1930s matched what I grew up with decades later. Children’s art classes in Canada grew in popularity across the country in the 1930s, and much of the growth was due to Lismer’s hard work and innovation.

A black-and-white photograph of a girl with dark braids and a light apron kneeling on the floor and holding a paintbrush in her right hand. The bottom of a framed painting can be seen behind her.

Girl with paintbrush at Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes in Toronto (e010958789)

In 1929, when Lismer was appointed supervisor of education at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), he began implementing many programs in line with his desire to democratize art, make it accessible to the average person and turn the gallery into a community space. Lismer’s first successful program was gallery tours for schools, which became part of the curriculum for some grades in the Toronto Board of Education. Lismer then launched Saturday morning children’s art classes. Teachers and principals from local schools would nominate their best art students to be invited to take part in the classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto. There was no tuition for these classes, only a small fee for material costs, and students had the chance to earn a scholarship for a junior course at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University).

With roughly 300 students attending the classes each week, the gallery was a lively place on Saturday mornings. Children were allowed to work freely and encouraged to explore their ideas and creative impulses. Children took part not only in painting and drawing, but also in clay sculpting, creating costumes, and acting in pageants. The classes were held within the galleries themselves, with children spreading out across the floor to work in various media, always in the presence of great works of art hung on the gallery’s walls. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, exhibitions of work from children in the Saturday morning classes were a regular feature on the gallery’s calendar.

A black-and-white photograph of children kneeling in the middle of the floor in a gallery, surrounded by paper and art supplies. A teacher stands near the middle of the room, assisting a student. The walls are hung with framed paintings, and an adjacent gallery is visible behind four dark columns. The scene is full of energy as the children build paper houses.

Children participating in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980053)

The Saturday classes would eventually result in the opening of the Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto, which would facilitate education activities for the gallery. The Art Centre allowed for smaller classes and more direct interaction with each child, and it expanded the possibilities of Lismer’s vision. After several successful years of running the program at the Art Centre, Lismer was invited to undertake a lecture tour across the country to talk about Canadian art and the children’s art classes. Lismer had already been giving talks for teachers in Toronto to teach them about art and his own methods, hoping it would find its way into their lessons. With the lecture tour, Lismer had the chance to change how art was taught across the country.

The Art Gallery of Toronto was not Lismer’s first or last venture into children’s art education. Lismer ran Saturday morning classes at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in Halifax in 1917, where he was the principal at the time. Following his tenure in Toronto and his cross-Canada lecture tour, Lismer became the educational supervisor at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1940. He once again established an Art Centre and education programming, as he had done in Toronto. Lismer continued to be involved with the Art Centre in Montréal, even after his retirement in 1967, until his death in 1969 at age 83.

A black-and-white photograph of six boys sitting on chairs in a gallery. Each boy has a second chair in front of him being used as a drawing easel. Two framed paintings can be seen on the wall in the background, and there are newspapers scattered on the floor.

Boys painting in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980075)

There are over a hundred images available to view online from these children’s art classes, which depict the wide variety of activities that Lismer developed for his education programming. These photographs give us a delightful peek at the classes some 80 years later. They welcome us to familiar scenes of children sprawled out on gallery floors, gathering art materials, painting at makeshift easels or sculpting in clay over tables well wrapped with newspaper. Although art classes for kids look and sound different during the pandemic, we can all look forward to having noise, mess and excitement take over gallery spaces on weekend mornings once again.

If you recognize someone, a location in the museum or a piece of art in the Arthur Lismer children’s art classes Co-Lab challenge, please tag the photograph!


Brianna Fitzgerald is a Digital Imaging Technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Lights on portrait photography

by Francois Deslauriers

I have always been captivated by portrait photography and the way it goes behind the camera. When I was young, photographs of artists, album covers featuring my favorite bands, and portraits of authors on the dust jackets of books fascinated me. I feel this way even now, when I view portraits of historical figures in the Library and Archives Canada collection on which the digitization team has the opportunity to work. When looking at these images, I ask myself: “How did the photographer arrive at this result? And what brings depth to a portrait?” It’s not just luck. It’s all in the lighting!

Of course, there are several other important aspects to the making of an image: the composition, the shot, the choice of lens, and more. Lighting techniques in portrait photography, as well as in filmmaking, including today’s cinema, have a very solid foundation dating back to the 17th century in the works of the painter Rembrandt. One of the most frequently used lighting technique in modern photography has been named after the Great Master: Rembrandt lighting.

Let’s take a look at this technique and its origins.

The Rembrandt lighting technique owes its name to the Great Master who often used this method in his own portraits. The scenes and portraits he painted often represent scenes lit by light sources such as windows or candles.

Black-and-white photo of a young woman in a white lace dress, facing the camera.

Éva Gauthier, 1906. Photo: William James Topley (a193008)

At its most basic level, Rembrandt lighting is usually done with a single light source placed at about 45 degrees from the subject and slightly higher than eye level. The concept is to create an inverted triangle of light on the subject’s cheek on the shadow side. This is very flattering, as it creates lighting that “shapes” the subject’s face and can be controlled. As viewers’ eyes are generally drawn to bright areas of an image, this technique allows the photographer to highlight a profile of the subject, in particular through distinct bright areas of light, while at the same time creating an opposite side in the shadows. (See also: Chiaroscuro) This can be used to the advantage of the subject in order to highlight and emphasize features with bright areas and conceal others by keeping them in the shadows. The contrast thus created between the bright side and the shadow side also brings dimension, atmosphere and drama to the photograph, and therefore gives greater impact to the image.

Black-and-white photo of a man in a dark suit, facing the camera.

Mr. Norman Watt, 1905. Topley Studio (e011169853)

Colour photograph of a woman with glasses looking towards the camera. Beakers and bottles containing liquids are in the foreground.

Portrait of Deborah Zamble, 2002. Susan King (e006610232) Copyright: Susan King.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a cigarette.

Joan Crawford, actress. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh (a212246)

It is important that the viewer’s attention be on the eyes of the subject. This is achieved by creating a catch-light in both eyes. What are “catch-lights,” you may ask? These are the small white dots that appear in the subject’s eyes when the reflection from the light source hits the eyeballs. In a portrait, the position of the light is key. The light source is usually positioned high enough to create that light triangle, and low enough to create catch-lights in the eyes. The viewer’s attention is thus drawn to the eyes, which seem to sparkle.

A black-and-white photograph of a man with his hands clasped together in front of him.

Albert Einstein, 1948. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh. (A212510 )

A black-and-white photograph of a boy in a suit.

Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, 1870. Photo credit: William James Topley. (a025346)

The beauty of technology is that today we have powerful light sources, such as flashes or LED light panels, which are daylight color balanced and portable. These light sources are certainly much more convenient than candles!

Rembrandt lighting is a simple, effective and flattering method of lighting for a wide variety of subjects. If you are attentive, you will be able to see it in many portrait photographs found in the collection, even in your favorite movies and television series.


Francois Deslauriers is a digital imaging technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation division at Library and Archives Canada.

Etiquette, courtesy, good manners and polite society: Retrospective publications at Library and Archives Canada

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

No one who searches through the LAC collection leaves empty-handed. Thirsty for knowledge, LAC’s etiquette collection attracted my attention. My excitement was so strong that I prepared as though I was setting out on a long journey to a destination I like to call “etiquette books published in Canada before 1953.”

We carry the genes of our ancestors with us and we enjoy the benefits of the trails they blazed for us by removing the obstacles that made their daily lives difficult. What’s more, we inherited their know-how and their courtesy.

In fact, etiquette seems like a way to build an orderly, caring and cared-for society. Codes of etiquette allow people to gather for events, joyful or sad, and spend time together in harmony with everyone somehow following the same set of rules. Contact and coexistence with peoples of different cultures have also influenced etiquette on all sides. As such, etiquette textbooks and schools specializing in this area gradually expanded their field of expertise as encounters between different civilizations grew.

The etiquette collection is rich and highly diverse. Far from being outdated, it holds promising interest for many. The works in the collection offer writers or filmmakers possible inspiration for scripts set in an era of interest. For some comedians, retrospective publications provide fodder for skits highlighting the contrast between the customs of modern times and yesteryear. For them, this documentation is vital! Even students researching lifestyles in different eras will find what they are looking for.

Black-and-white photo of people in formal attire seated around a long oval table. The table features place settings and decorative centrepieces.

A group of people demonstrating their good manners (a029856)

What it is exactly?

The terms etiquette and manners differ in that the etiquette is defined as a series of codes that create the conditions for good manners. Etiquette is quite exhaustive and covers all aspects of human life. It applies to behaviours, gestures and expressions both spoken and unspoken.

Many books have been written about etiquette, although the word may not necessarily appear on the title pages. Nevertheless, the following terms or keywords allude to the model practices expected in polite society: courtesy; the art of living; the art of dressing; good manners; the art of presentation; the art of correspondence; home economics; table manners; and politeness in the areas of transportation, leisure, travel and more.

Scope

Good manners are not the focus of publications alone. The once numerous specialized schools often catered to wealthy, elite young women. Finishing schools provided a full range of etiquette training.

Some careers also require employees to graduate from specialized schools, such as schools of protocol or butler schools.

The LAC collection

Vintage publications on etiquette are a treasure trove of information. Among other things, they teach us about the transformations that our society has witnessed. For example, a textbook on good conduct for teenagers informs us about what parents, teachers and society as a whole expected of young people of their generation. Some books describe dress codes. For example, at one time, women were not supposed to go out without a hat, especially to church. Men, however, had to remove their hats in church.

Developments in etiquette

Over time, certain social practices or rules change or fall by the wayside to meet new needs or to adapt to new realities. Etiquette has also adapted to changes in the work world, such as industrialization and the arrival of the female workforce. As communication and correspondence tools evolved, codes of conduct emerged for typed correspondence, the art of speaking by telephone and more.

Sociologists interested in the evolution of society, customs, relationships between men and women, or the role of young people and children in the family are sure to find material for their research. Moreover, when historians describe a major historical figure, they highlight the person’s habits, style of dress, achievements, and the etiquette of the time. Some well-known individuals led a morally questionable existence, while others were more virtuous. Sometimes, what was once considered immoral is no longer so.

Black-and-white photo of a woman setting the kitchen table.

Woman setting the table, 1945 (e010862357)

Some finds in the collection

Mille questions d’étiquette discutées, résolues et classées. M. Sauvalle. Montréal: Éditions Beauchemin, 1907. OCLC 300069021

This encyclopedic-style book covers a range of topics and provides a list of questions and answers about good manners in different situations.

For example, concerning illness:

[Translation] Question—What is the correct way to show concern for close friends who are ill with a mild but contagious sickness?

Answer—Many people with a mild but contagious sickness close their door to their good friends. [In this way,] friends are not exposed to catching the sickness: in this case, their friends should be thoughtful enough to slip their card under the door or in the box […]

Other handbooks are more moralistic.

Traits caractéristiques d’une mauvaise éducation, ou actions et discours contraires à la politesse, et désignés comme tels par les moralistes tant anciens que modernes. L. Gaultier. Quebec: Librairie de W. Cowan et fils, 1839. OCLC 49023922

This collection contains 555 examples of character traits that are contrary to politeness and good manners, and explains what a sensible young person should not do (in terms of clothing, cleanliness, conversations and contact with others).

Finally, people say that some fashions and lifestyles never fade. I like to say that good ideas are timeless. The following publication discusses the art of receiving guests.

Manuel de l’étiquette courante parmi la bonne société canadienne-française. Evelyn Bolduc. [Ottawa]: [1937?]. OCLC 1015541211

[Translation] For the hostess expecting dinner guests […]

We will now turn our attention to the menu that the hostess will have created based on locally available resources and the season. In November, for example, game will be easier to find than it would be in April; grapes are tastier and better than strawberries; and oysters are abundant.

During this season, the following dishes might be served: oysters, consommé, fish (not a crustacean since oysters are already on the menu), a first course, a roast; hopefully not a roast of chicken or turkey every time; salad, a dessert of fruit ice cream or jelly. Coffee is usually served in the living room.

Eating local and seasonal products: a lifestyle choice that nutritionists recommend even today! It also conforms to our responsible consumption principles.

The following pre-1953 publications on etiquette are also in the LAC collection:

How to Arrange a Public Dinner. Walter Gardner Frisby. Toronto, Ryerson Press [1938]. Series: The New Dominion Books, [no. 6]. OCLC 42308995

Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian Social Usage. Gertrude Pringle. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1932. OCLC 5322767

Manners. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914. OCLC: 222701034

Good Table Manners. Narcissa Burwell. [Toronto: Reader Mail, Ltd., 193-?]. Series: Home Service Booklets, 118. OCLC 1007367401

Every publication is unique and the information they contain is invaluable. Some stylists and fashion designers, vintage and contemporary, say they found their niche through the inspiration they discovered in books from a bygone era or in the styles and manners of their grandparents. The same applies to various other occupations.

In any case, the publications discussed in this article are somehow irresistible. They are absolute page-turners!


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a retrospective acquisitions librarian with the acquisitions team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.