“An Artist in Your Midst”

The Old Mill Toronto has a special place in the hearts of Torontonians, and as it celebrates its 100th anniversary a visit to the website was timely. As I scrolled through the site looking at the old photographs and reading the history of the Old Mill I felt compelled to share pertinent information about an artist who lived “in your midst”.

Clara Isabella Harris was an accomplished, prolific artist who lived in close proximity to the Old Mill Toronto. For forty years (1930’s -70’s) Clara and her husband Frederick, a commercial artist, lived at twenty-three Valleyview Gardens.

 

Title: “Clara Perry” (Self portrait before Clara married)

The exterior of the house looked like any other on the street except for one difference: the inside was a “full blown” artists’ den and thriving business.

As described in Fred’s diary:

March 27, 1938 – Clara had W. Scott to sit in afternoon
October 2, 1938 – designing cards, cutting canvases, making stretchers
November 22, 1938 – Evie had 20 school teachers in to see work & get cards
October 14, 1939 – Don, Gloria and Jack for class
April 15, 1941 – Cleaned studio

Clara was well trained. She studied under J.W. Beatty, a colleague and major influence on the Group of Seven Painters; portrait painter Archibald Barnes, George Agnew Reid, Manly MacDonald and William Cruikshank.

She studied at reputable institutions: the Ontario College of Art, the Port Hope Summer Art School (Affiliated with the Ontario College of Art) and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Clara exhibited in Canada and the U.S. with such notables as A. J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael, Emily Carr, Clarence Gagnon, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Paraskeva Clark, Frank Panabaker and Edward Potthast.

True to the “plein-air” method of painting Clara travelled long distances, in all seasons, in Canada and the U.S. Considering the cars and roads of the 1930’s these were serious undertakings. And to “top it off” she often went without Fred!

But Clara’s favourite spot to set up her easel was in her own backyard: the Humber River by the Old Mill. Clara captured the Humber in all its glory as well as surrounding areas. Through careful documentation she has left a significant historical and environmental record before colour photography was commonly used.

From Fred’s diary:

May 14, 1938 – “out to Humber River in morning” 

Title: “Berry Road at the Bottom of the Humber River”, Toronto

 

Title: “Church St., The Kingsway, Toronto, Morning, May 16, 1934”.

 

Title: “Summer on the Humber River, Toronto Ontario”.

 

Title: “Autumn on the Humber River, Toronto, Afternoon, October 15, 1935”.

I now live in the NYC area but return to Toronto regularly facing the reality that change is inevitable. But all is not lost. Clara Isabella Harris and the Old Mill Toronto share a common advantage. Their respective values are appreciated in what exists today and preserved in what is recorded on their websites. A “win-win situation”.

Verna McLean
Curator, Clara Harris Collection
http://www.claraharrisart.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Isabella_Harris