Eliza Thresher, Craigy Bield between Glaud's Onstead and the Washing Green, detail

On a Path to Learning: Early Nova Scotian Women Artists

Sunday, 22 July 2012 to Sunday, 20 January 2013

The exhibition provides a context for ten landscapes painted by Eliza Wilson Brooks Thresher shortly after her arrival in Halifax to establish a drawing and painting academy in 1821. Thresher’s paintings represent various scenes from Alan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd, based on etchings that illustrate the 1808 edition of the pastoral drama. The first professional woman artist in the province, Thresher was probably the teacher who introduced Maria Morris to flower painting, since Morris and her mother operated their first school in Halifax in the premises Thresher vacated when she and her husband moved to Charlottetown.

Maria Morris later studied with William Harris Jones, who operated a drawing school at Dalhousie College between 1829 and 1831, where she won first prize for her painting in his 1830 exhibition. After making a special study of the Wild Flowers of Nova Scotia, she issued lithographs depicting the indigenous flora in 1840, 1853, 1866, and 1867, making her not only our first native-born professional woman artist, but also the first native-born botanical artist in Canada. Morris taught Mary R McKie whose pupils included Margaret Wiseman Stairs, who would have introduced drawing and painting to her daughter Frances Jones. Jones, of course, in 1883 was the first Nova Scotian to have work accepted by the Paris Salon, and was the first Canadian to incorporate aspects of Impressionism into her paintings.

Work by another two dozen other women artists active during the nineteenth century includes landscapes, botanicals, portraits, and records. From small beginnings on Salter Street, the path laid out by Eliza Thresher and Maria Morris became a well-trodden road by the beginning of the twentieth century, but much more investigation is needed before we can fully map the history of our earliest women artists.