Life

Exhibition pays homage to Canadian women

By Susan Doolan, Special to Postmedia Network

Andre Beneteau/Submitted
Donald Stuart is pictured with Anne Golden, who inspired one of the latest necklaces in Homage, currently on display at the Orillia Museum of Art and History. Stuart, one of Canada’s leading gold/silversmiths, created the exhibition of 39 necklaces to represent women across the country, from past to present, across a variety of disciplines.

Andre Beneteau/Submitted Donald Stuart is pictured with Anne Golden, who inspired one of the latest necklaces in Homage, currently on display at the Orillia Museum of Art and History. Stuart, one of Canada’s leading gold/silversmiths, created the exhibition of 39 necklaces to represent women across the country, from past to present, across a variety of disciplines.

Donald Stuart's Homage show is on the move. The exhibition of necklaces inspired by outstanding Canadian women marked its first local appearance in six years when it opened July 28 at the Orillia Museum of Art and History.

An artist's talk July 27, in advance of opening, attracted people from Barrie, Stuart's hometown, as well as one of the women who inspired one of four new pieces in the collection.

"It's a gorgeous exhibit," said Anne Golden. "To be included in the list of inspiring women is very humbling."

Golden, who came from Toronto for the evening, also has a local connection -- she has a place in Oro-Medonte Township. She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2003 in recognition of her commitment to social justice, and the no-clasp necklace Stuart designed honours her continued involvement in social issues. The silver and gold plaques in the necklace tell of her many contributions to society.

Each of the 39 necklaces in the collection has symbolism that reflects the accomplishments of the women who inspired it. One of Stuart's favourites is the 'Famous Five' women who won the 'Persons Case,' which determined women were people under the law and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate. The colours in the necklace represent their efforts: suffragette colours of green, white and violet for Give Women the Vote, and black for their writing to lobby for women's rights.

"It's hard to believe they were not considered people," said Stuart, who felt it was important to include the stories of the women with each necklace, detailing their accomplishments and including the variety of components he used to illustrate it -- driftwood and beach pebbles for artist Emily Carr and antique piano keys for Diana Krall. "I wanted to represent women across the country and eras in as many disciplines as possible. Also, there were fun stories."

Many are well known -- Elizabeth Arden's name is synonymous with an American cosmetic company, yet she was born a Canadian. Others are less famous. Olivia Poole, for example, invented the Jolly Jumper.

Golden is one of four new additions to the exhibition since its first showing at MacLaren Art Centre in 2010. Hayley Wickenheiser is one of Canada's greatest female hockey players; Bertha Wilson was the first female Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; and Elsie Picone, known as the grandmother of Dundas, was added for her contributions to small business.

While the exhibition has been shown at a several other venues, many at the show felt it should tour nationally. However, it is easier said than done. In the meantime, Stuart continues to do one-off shows. The next date after Orillia will be Yukon in the spring of 2017.

Stuart is one of Canada's leading gold/silversmiths. He has received numerous awards for his work, including Order of Canada in 2002.

Growing up in Toronto, Stuart graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1967, where he majored in metal and textiles with a minor in wood. Shortly after, he travelled to Baffin Island to help Inuit women in Pangnirtung set up a handweaving studio. It is one of the largest handweaving studios in Canada, and he continues to keep in touch. It is also where he met his wife, Jill.

Before the couple married, Stuart accepted a position at Georgian College to teach design, wood shop and start a weaving program in Barrie. It was his idea to add an elective in jewelry and, under his guidance, it soon became a three-year program, the first of its kind to incorporate paid co-ops for its students.

Alongside teaching, he continued his own work, in part because he felt it made him a better teacher. Even though Stuart had begun making a name for himself in tapestry, he was losing his passion for the medium and becoming more fascinated with metal. So, he took a sabbatical from Georgian to go back to school in Rochester, N.Y., for a fine-arts degree in metal, crafts and holloware.

He took early retirement from teaching in 2001 to focus on exhibitions and commissions. He continues to volunteer with the Canadian Executive Service Organization, assisting with product development and design. Some of his jewelry -- pieces that are for sale -- were on display at the museum.

Homage includes a sketch of each woman by curator Susan Benson. The exhibition is on display at the Orillia Museum of Art and History until Sept. 25.



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