Feature

Paint box memories: Art and inspiration at the Port Hope summer school

“Each afternoon, students were free to complete their morning work or wander in search of inspiration.”

Deep in the OCAD University Archives is a paint box that was used by Lois Parker from 1932 to 1935 at the outdoor summer school held in Port Hope, Ontario. The Ontario College of Art (OCA) — as OCAD U was then known —  began hosting the summer school in a converted grist mill on the banks of the Ganarasca River in 1923 (the school actually began in 1913, taking place in various locations before settling in Port Hope). The location provided ideal scenery for landscape drawing and painting, as well as for outdoor figure study.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH421/38_4_116_021: Water side of the Port Hope Summer School, 1923?, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


Parker’s paint box

The paint box is a fascinating record of Parker’s time at OCA’s summer school. It served as container, palette and easel.

Inside, there are suggestive remnants of Parker’s work, such as globs of coagulated paint and two landscape sketches (not pictured here) supported by grooves in the box’s lid. The exterior is covered in signatures of classmates and instructors, with J.W. Beatty’s signature at the bottom right. J.W. Beatty — celebrated Canadian landscape painter and World War One artist — founded and ran the summer school, and was its greatest single influence. 

Image of an open paint covered wooden box used to store tubes of paint.



Image of a closed paint covered wooden box used to store tubes of paint with various signatures written on the lid.



 

 

A typical day at summer school

Parker did not provide a written account of her time at the Port Hope summer school, but a typical day can be pieced together from student stories, newspaper articles and other material in OCAD U’s Archives.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH424/38_4_116_024: Interior of the studio at the Port Hope Summer School, no date, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


The first thing on each morning’s agenda was usually a critique of the previous day’s work in the studio. Afterwards, Beatty and the students would venture out in search of a new subject, such as the cedar grove, Archer’s farm, the mill pond, the Port Hope waterfront or a horse. On Friday and Saturday evenings, students held parties in the studio or visited the Cobourg dance pavilion to mingle with the locals.

After tranquil days and intoxicating evenings, students would return to their living quarters — women in the loft above the studio and men in a large tent outside. Then, the next morning, the fogginess of the previous evening could be washed away with a brisk swim so that the routine could begin again.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH119/57_004_367_019: Students with instructor J.W. Beatty (farthest to the left) outside of the Port Hope Summer School, 1923, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)

 

A unique souvenir of an era long passed

Unfortunately, OCA’s outdoor summer school regularly operated at a loss. Facing a tough economic situation in Toronto and a decrease in attendance, the school closed in 1935. Although the summer school was not financially sustainable, the impact it had on the students who attended is undeniable.

Like a highly personalized yearbook, Parker collected signatures on her paint box in order to remember her time in Port Hope. She preserved the box for over 50 years, before donating it to the OCAD U Archives. This unique souvenir now helps to paint a picture of this romantic time in the university’s history.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH130/57_004_367_030: Students at work with instructor J.W. Beatty at the Port Hope Summer School, 1924, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


 

Sources

Dack, W.L., “Port Hope Revisited: Memories of a Gentler Age.” Alumnus (winter 1982/83): 5–6.
Principal’s Annual Report, 1922/23. OCAD University Archives, OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.
Special Report re: Summer School, 1924. OCAD University Archives. OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.
Minutes of a Meeting of the Council of the Ontario College of Art, Held at the College on Friday, February 28th, 1942, at 6:00 p.m. OCAD University Archives. OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.

 

Scott Hillis, MI, is the visual resources coordinator and acting archivist in Visual Resources & Special Collections at OCAD University’s Dorothy H. Hoover Library.




Deep in the OCAD University Archives is a paint box that was used by Lois Parker from 1932 to 1935 at the outdoor summer school held in Port Hope, Ontario. The Ontario College of Art (OCA) — as OCAD U was then known —  began hosting the summer school in a converted grist mill on the banks of the Ganarasca River in 1923 (the school actually began in 1913, taking place in various locations before settling in Port Hope). The location provided ideal scenery for landscape drawing and painting, as well as for outdoor figure study.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH421/38_4_116_021: Water side of the Port Hope Summer School, 1923?, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


Parker’s paint box

The paint box is a fascinating record of Parker’s time at OCA’s summer school. It served as container, palette and easel.

Inside, there are suggestive remnants of Parker’s work, such as globs of coagulated paint and two landscape sketches (not pictured here) supported by grooves in the box’s lid. The exterior is covered in signatures of classmates and instructors, with J.W. Beatty’s signature at the bottom right. J.W. Beatty — celebrated Canadian landscape painter and World War One artist — founded and ran the summer school, and was its greatest single influence. 

Image of an open paint covered wooden box used to store tubes of paint.



Image of a closed paint covered wooden box used to store tubes of paint with various signatures written on the lid.



 

 

A typical day at summer school

Parker did not provide a written account of her time at the Port Hope summer school, but a typical day can be pieced together from student stories, newspaper articles and other material in OCAD U’s Archives.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH424/38_4_116_024: Interior of the studio at the Port Hope Summer School, no date, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


The first thing on each morning’s agenda was usually a critique of the previous day’s work in the studio. Afterwards, Beatty and the students would venture out in search of a new subject, such as the cedar grove, Archer’s farm, the mill pond, the Port Hope waterfront or a horse. On Friday and Saturday evenings, students held parties in the studio or visited the Cobourg dance pavilion to mingle with the locals.

After tranquil days and intoxicating evenings, students would return to their living quarters — women in the loft above the studio and men in a large tent outside. Then, the next morning, the fogginess of the previous evening could be washed away with a brisk swim so that the routine could begin again.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH119/57_004_367_019: Students with instructor J.W. Beatty (farthest to the left) outside of the Port Hope Summer School, 1923, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)

 

A unique souvenir of an era long passed

Unfortunately, OCA’s outdoor summer school regularly operated at a loss. Facing a tough economic situation in Toronto and a decrease in attendance, the school closed in 1935. Although the summer school was not financially sustainable, the impact it had on the students who attended is undeniable.

Like a highly personalized yearbook, Parker collected signatures on her paint box in order to remember her time in Port Hope. She preserved the box for over 50 years, before donating it to the OCAD U Archives. This unique souvenir now helps to paint a picture of this romantic time in the university’s history.


G.S. Menzie, OCA students in front of the Grange (September 1922) PH130/57_004_367_030: Students at work with instructor J.W. Beatty at the Port Hope Summer School, 1924, photographer unknown (OCAD U Visual Resources & Special Collections)


 

Sources

Dack, W.L., “Port Hope Revisited: Memories of a Gentler Age.” Alumnus (winter 1982/83): 5–6.
Principal’s Annual Report, 1922/23. OCAD University Archives, OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.
Special Report re: Summer School, 1924. OCAD University Archives. OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.
Minutes of a Meeting of the Council of the Ontario College of Art, Held at the College on Friday, February 28th, 1942, at 6:00 p.m. OCAD University Archives. OCAD University fonds. RG8 Governance and Administration. Council/Board of Governors Meetings & Minutes.

 

Scott Hillis, MI, is the visual resources coordinator and acting archivist in Visual Resources & Special Collections at OCAD University’s Dorothy H. Hoover Library.

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Scott Hillis
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