Reflecting on Doris McCarthy's Archive

Doris on a tree branch at Pine Lake, 1932by Sara Allain

Today our good friends at the Doris McCarthy Gallery at UTSC launched Glam North: Doris McCarthy and Her New Contemporaries, a new exhibition of works on the Canadian north that also celebrates the 10th birthday of the Gallery and the gift of over 230 paintings from McCarthy's estate. A local painter who trained with members of the Group of Seven, Doris became an outstanding landscape painter in her own right, particularly well known for her interpretations of northern Canada.

My first real archival job was to arrange and describe a huge archival collection donated to the UTSC Library by Doris McCarthy's estate. It was a pretty dramatic entry into the world of archiving -  65 unmarked banker's boxes awaited me and Kelli Babcock, my partner in processing. We dove headfirst into the minutiae of Doris' life. We sifted through thousands of letters and photographs and nearly eighty years of diaries where she self-chronicled her rich life. Though she was a teacher, traveller, and writer as well as a painter, art pervades the fonds so deeply that it becomes almost impossible, from an archival perspective, to separate the art from the artist.

Of all of the wonderful materials in the fonds one area in particular stands out as prime examples of Doris' artistic outlook on life - a slide series that Doris used to illustrate a talk she regularly gave, entitled The Artist's Eye. Though she travelled widely, Doris rarely completed paintings in situ - she often sketched or photographed her settings so that she could return to them in her home studio on the Scarborough Bluffs. The Artist's Eye slides show her progression from photo to finished piece in such a beautiful way. Below, you can see how Doris could take a fairly standard eastern Canadian view and create a beautifully stylized landscape.

Slides from the Artist's Eye collection, showing a photo, sketch, and finished painting

You can check out the gorgeous catalogue for the exhibition here, and more information about the archival collection here. Once we've got our Islandora installation completed, we'll have a ton of digitized material to share as well!