Our role at the Public Art Centre is to promote the appreciation of the visual arts and support the practice of artists in St. Thomas and Elgin County.
Written by Miss Carolyn Curtis, 1973 (from the files of the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre)
"Born in 1903 in St. Thomas, Ontario
Attended Wellington Street School.
I always liked to draw as a child - when around 12 years old did a few watercolours and pastels, mostly from imagination - had no training except what was taught in school in those days. A neighbour woman took me one day to show my efforts to Mr. Ross Osgood. I don’t recall what he said of my work but I remember his as a kindly man.
I attended St. Thomas Collegiate, graduating in Jr. Matriculation in 1922 - graduated in Household Science at Alma College in 1924 with the intentions of going onto McDonald Hall in Guelph to study to be a dietitian. Because of a hearing problem, was advised not to take up this line of work. My mother then suggested that I go to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. I was not at all enthusiastic, but agreed to try it out for a year, enrolling in September 1924. The year stretched out to four, at the end of which I graduated in Commercial art under Mr. J. E. H. McDonald.
This was an interesting period as several of the teaching staff were members of the famed Group of Seven, namely Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. McDonald, Frederick H. Varley. Others were J. W. Beatty, Emanuel Hahn who taught sculpture, George A Reid who was the principal of the school then, Robert Holmes, noted for his paintings of Ontario wild flowers and others.
I had taken up Commercial Art with the idea of earning my living in that line, but at that time there were few openings for women and also the Great Depression come along about 1931. I taught handicrafts (which I had learned while at Alma College) in Y.W.C.A. and Girl Guide camps in the summer and also for a short period at Alma College. When the Second war came on, there arose a demand for honour rolls for churches and schools and I did a great deal of lettering on forms supplied by the Government. In the following years, I also did illuminated addresses and certificates for the City of St. Thomas, local organizations and individuals, where the careful training received under Mr. J. E. H. McDonald came in useful. Their were also several Books of remembrance executed.
In the meantime, I did some outdoor sketching in pencil and studied composition under Mrs. Lila Knowles at Alma College, using that medium. I also studied lino cuts under Mr. Harry Tallman at Alma. This was about 1934. Because I was interested in black and white work, Mrs. Knowles suggested that etching might be a good medium for me to follow so in February, 1977 I went to Toronto and studied under Mr. Harry Wallace for a few weeks.
In 1939, I studied etching by correspondence under Mr. Harry Sternberg on the staff of the Art Student’s League in New York. He proved to be an excellent teacher as I was also taught the rudiments of composition. Later, because of the war, there was a shortage of metal so I went back to lino cuts, working on my own, in my spare time. I began to send work to the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers. On the strength of the linocuts I was accepted as a member in 1944. In 1945, I studied aquatint Etching under Mr. Sternberg again, Because I had a tendency to be rather “tight” in my work, he suggested doing studies in black and white wash in order to correct this. This proved to be a turning point as I became interested in watercolour painting, and made my first attempts at outdoor painting in that medium while on a holiday in north Bay in August 1945.
In 1947, I had the opportunity to study for a week under Mr. Nicholas Hornyansky, noted for his very fine aquatint etchings. He was a kindly, conscientious teacher, but his methods were the opposite of Mr. Sternberg and I found myself in difficulties. However, I was becoming more and more interested in watercolours and finally dropped the printmaking line. I remained however as a member of the S.C.P.E.&E. Until 1958.
While the early training received during the four years at the O.C.A. was a great help, when I finally took up the watercolour medium in 1945, I leaned mostly from books on the subject in the local library and elsewhere, and sent painting to the Groups shows held each year also in the Library.
Early in 1966, my sister-in-law, Mrs. John F. Curtis had some interior decorating done in her home. I was commissioned to do six small watercolours of local landmarks for her. They created much interest to friends who came to the house which in turn led to more commissions.
At the October meeting in 1966, The Women’s Art Association had a combined showing of Mrs. Lila Knowles’ and my paintings in the parlour of the Y.W.C.A. In April 1969, the University Women’s Club had an art auction at the Memorial Arena with proceeds being used to form a nucleus of the work of Elgin County artists. I put in the “Old Church in October” and several lino cuts as my contribution. Later, who paintings, the Cedarhurst house at 76 Talbot Street and the Amasa Wood Hospital were purchased for the permanent collection at the Art Gallery which was opened in 1970. Several paintings were sent to the regional show held in the 20/20 Gallery in London, in December 1971. In April 1972, I won third prize for watercolour “Lilacs” at the Second Annual Juried Show at the local Art Gallery. I took part in a four man show in the local gallery in January 1973". ~ Carolyn Curtis 1979
From her birthplace in Zim, Usborne, Ontario, Lila Knowles at the age of 20, went to toronto and studied at Moulton College and with Farquhar McGillivray Knowles. Dr. Dobson, then Principal of Alma College, viewed her work in Granto and immediately hired her to teach art in September, 1926. This appointment lasted 28 years, interrupted briefly when her husband of one year Farquhar McGillivray Knowles, died in 1932. Thereafter, she spent summers sketching on the Atlantic Coast and at Colpy’s Bay near Owen Sound, exhibiting her work their in 1937. Other exhibitions have included : The Robert Simpson Company Ltd., Toronto (1944), Alma College (1946), The Little Gallery, Toronto (1951) and the Ontario Loan and Debenture Company, St. Thomas (1967). When William St. Thomas Smith died in 1947, she purchased his home at 97 Stanley Street and lived their until 1971 when she entered a nursing home. Many area artists have benefited from Mrs. Knowles instruction, both professionally and privately. (From the files of the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre)
“He could recite Latin poetry even under the influence of alcohol”. ~ conversation with Mrs. Dorothy Ayearst May 1981
Ross Reverdy Osgood was born in Oxford County on June 17, 1867. He was the son of Horatio and Annie (Williams) Osgood. The Osgood Family moved to St. Thomas and took up residence at 12 Jessie Street c. 1880. Prior to this time, they lived in Durham County and London, Ontario.
Untrained as a artists, Osgood was educated at local schools in Ingersoll, London, and St. Thomas, Ontario. He said… “There is only one teacher, Nature”, although he ran away to Europe on a cattle boat with the intention of studying art.
By 1887, he was back in St. Thomas and had a studio. For the next 29 years, Osgood lived and painted in St. Thomas. He did not have any one-man shows of his work, nor was he ever represented by a dealer, but he did show at the Western Fair, in the Toronto Industrial Exhibitions, and with the Ontario Society of Artists.
During this period, he was remarkably versatile in his work, painting both in watercolours and oils. He did portraits, figure subjects, landscapes, seascapes, religious subjects, and still lifes. He completed large canvases of incidents in the election campaigns of Sir John A. MacDonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, executed illuminated manuscripts and painted miniatures. He taught painting at his studio and from 1913 to 1915, he taught at Belmont, ON.
On July 17, 1916, Osgood joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went to France to serve as a sapper with the Canadian Engineers. Because of his artistic ability, he was given a letter of authority to sketch on the Western Front. A large number of sketches and wash drawings were made… “in many instances rapidly and under the most adverse conditions with such materials as he happened to have on hand.”
Ross Reverdy Osgood was discharged from the army in 1919 with a fifty percent disability from being blown up by a German shell while out in the centre of pontoon bridge, across the Canal Du Nord.
Returning to St. Thomas, he devoted his time to working up paintings from the sketches done at the front and in rural England. Although he drank very heavily during this period, he refused to touch a painting while under the influence of alcohol.
In his later years, Osgood could no longer paint because of failing eyesight, but he could still entertain his guests for hours reciting Shakespeare and Latin and Greek verse.
“THERE IS A DIVINITY THAT SHAPES OUR ENDS”... a quote often used by Osgood.
Ross Reverdy Osgooddied on July 16, 1946 (From the files - St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre)