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

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)



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.

Scott Hillis
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ORGS Faculty Talk: Ryan Whyte

Oil painting of two women in profile wearing dresses
Photograph of Ryan White
Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Recipient of the 2013-2014 OCAD University Award for Excellence in Early Stage Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity
"Art History for Women: Art, Fashion, and Subversion in Napoleonic France"

During the First French Empire (1804¬-14/15) women encountered art inside objects of fashion. Specifically, women’s pocket-sized literary almanacs included reproductions of and commentary on canonical artworks. Fashionably bound and worn on the person, they transformed the space of fashion into a zone of spectatorship within which women operated as equivalent to their male counterparts as authors, subjects of art, critics, and audiences. In a period when state policy and ideology divided art from fashion and women from art, women’s almanacs were subversive because their scale changed the space of reception, and their use appropriated female fashion as an arena for the display of and commentary on art.

Dr. Whyte's research reveals legacies of eighteenth-century art and culture that are commonplace in and relevant to the early twenty-first century. He is currently writing a book on the role of printed matter in the Salon du Louvre exhibitions of the Ancien Régime; a second research project explores the visual culture of gastronomy in 18th- and 19th-century France. His other recent work addresses fashion, materiality, and cross-cultural exchange in eighteenth-century print culture. He has also written art criticism and essays for journals that include Artext, Artichoke, Border Crossings, C Magazine, Lola, New Observations, and Parachute.

Venue & Address: 
100 McCaul Street, Room 187
416-977-6000 ext. 474

A Special Tribute to "Maestro" Peter Porcal

Image of Peter Porcal holding a bunch of red peppers above his head
Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 10:30pm

Please join us to raise a glass and celebrate “Maestro” Peter Porcal, resident art historian and administrator for OCAD University’s Florence Off-Campus Studies program.

Porcal lived and worked in Florence and was an instrumental contributor to the OCAD U Florence Campus experience for hundreds of students, alumni and faculty members over the past twenty years. A passionate art historian and professor of Renaissance art, he also coordinated field trips, managed the studio and even assisted students and faculty with their relocation to the city.

Date: Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Time: 5:30-7:30 p.m., remarks at 5:45 p.m.
Location: 100 McCaul St., Room 187 (Lambert Lounge)

Please also join us in The Great Hall on the same evening for the opening of Lo Studio Divino: 40 Year's of OCAD University's Florence Program, featuring the work of the class of 2013/14.

Venue & Address: 
100 McCaul Street Room 187, Lambert Lounge
416-977-6000 x 330


Student artwork from the 2012/2013 Florence Program cohort. Photo by Martin Iskandar.
Student artwork from the 2012/2013 Florence Program cohort. Photo by Martin Iskandar.

Are you ready for an adventure in art history, and a unique studio-based challenge on location in the heart of the Italian Renaissance? The deadline for applications for OCAD U's 2014/2015 Florence Off-Campus Studies Program is January 17.

If you’re one of the 27 students selected to study in the Florence Program in 2014/2015, you’ll spend eight months immersed in Italian culture, surrounded by architectural and artistic treasures from the Italian Renaissance. You’ll learn art history on site in Florence and Rome with renowned art historian Peter Porcal. And you’ll develop your own work in a communal studio setting.

“It’s an experiential way to learn,” said Caroline Langill, Associate Dean, Faculty of Art. “Seeing the work in situ is always superior to a reproduction. Everything has meaning in an artwork when you see it in person.”

The Florence Program is based on more of an open, independent study model than most of the curriculum on campus at OCAD U. Langill describes it as more of a residency program  — something undergraduate students don’t normally have access to. If you go to Florence for your third year of study, it can also help set you up for your thesis. 

“If you haven’t been to Europe and you’re studying art, there’s nothing like it,” said Langill. While she noted experiencing the Renaissance first hand provides a western view of art, it is an important part of art history, and “going to a location like this can give you a critical perspective.”

You will have to pay for the program and your expenses — this is not a funded program — but as Langill points out, it’s not necessarily more expensive in Florence than in Toronto. 

If you apply, your portfolio will be evaluated by two faculty advisors. Applicants with a 70 average and a strong portfolio are all equally competitive.

Learn more

Florence Program overview and eligibility requirements 

Florence Program application form

Florence Program projected expenses

OCAD U to offer new Honours BA in Visual and Critical Studies

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 4:00am

(Toronto—September 26, 2013) For the first time in OCAD University’s 137-year history, students who love art and design and want the opportunity to study its history and context in depth will be able to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Visual and Critical Studies with a specialization in art history.

The BA in Visual and Critical Studies offers students an exceptional educational experience through the study of art history in the creative and dynamic environment of Canada’s premier art and design university; the opportunity to pursue Liberal Arts and Sciences and Interdisciplinary minors; and access to designated studio courses and minors.
“This is an exciting moment in the history of our institution,” said OCAD University President, Dr. Sara Diamond. “The new BA recognizes the academic depth of our students and provides even more pathways for those wishing to come to OCAD University to pursue careers in digital and cultural industries such as gallery and exhibition management, arts and entertainment promotion, curating, publishing and arts management.”

OCAD U’s unique BA program’s academic specialization and breadth — with more than 90 visual culture courses and over 80 breadth courses in English, Humanities, Social Sciences and Science/Technology to choose from — also prepares students for post-graduate study in art history and related fields.

The emphasis of the BA in Visual and Critical Studies is on the expanded field of modern and contemporary art history, which includes the theory and history of design, photography, architecture, performance and new media as well as painting and sculpture. This mix provides an innovative approach to the discipline.

Core program faculty are recognized scholars in the fields of art, design and new media art histories, and are professionally active in the fields of curating and publishing. The range of their scholarly expertise in Asian, Latin American, African, Islamic, Indigenous, Canadian, Medieval, Renaissance and modern European visual culture ensures that the study of art history at OCAD University is genuinely global in scope.

Students can apply for direct entry into first-year beginning in the 2014-15 academic year. Advanced entry is also available for second-year transfer students from other OCAD U programs or other universities.

Detailed information on the admissions process and requirements can be found on the OCAD University website.

Students are also welcome to learn more about the new BA by speaking to OCAD University representatives at the Ontario Universities’ Fair this weekend, September 27 to 29, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

This program is offered under the written consent of the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities for the period from 26 June 2012 to 25 June 2017.  Prospective students are responsible for satisfying themselves that the program and the degree will be appropriate to their needs (e.g., acceptable to potential employers, professional licensing bodies or other educational institutions). 

About OCAD University
OCAD University ( is Canada’s “university of imagination.” The university, founded in 1876, is dedicated to art and design education, practice and research and to knowledge and invention across a wide range of disciplines. OCAD University is building on its traditional, studio-based strengths, adding new approaches to learning that champion cross-disciplinary practice, collaboration and the integration of emerging technologies. In the Age of Imagination, OCAD University community members will be uniquely qualified to act as catalysts for the next advances in culture, technology and quality of life for all Canadians.

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For more information please contact:

Sarah Mulholland, OCAD U Marketing & Communications
416 977 6000 x327
mobile: x1327