Daffodils in Winter
Daffodils in Winter
The Life and Letters of Pegi Nicol MacLeod, 1904-1949
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario
Edited and Introduced by Joan Murray
6 X 9 inches, 350 pages
including 58 b&w plates, 16 figures, and 270 letters
A FASCINATING ACCOUNT of the often turbulent life of Listowel-born MacLeod, one of Canada's few noted women artists, and under-appreciated at that. Editor Joan Murray of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa includes 270 letters of MacLeod's which are a sheer delight to read. In her introduction, Joan Murray shares what drew her to the colourful art, life, and letters of Pegi Nicol MacLeod.
'Although I had been intrigued by the life and work of Pegi Nicol MacLeod for some time, the decision to produce this book was probably triggered by Paraskeva Clark in the late 1970s.
I had included her work and MacLeods' in the show A Terrrible Beauty, organized in 1977. In 1979, as I organized another show, Canadian Artists of the Second World War, I went to interview Clark in her Rosedale home in Toronto.
MacLeod had introduced Paraskeva Clark to the great love of Clark's life, Dr. Norman Bethune. The three of them had briefly been part of the same artists' circle in Toronto, a set renowned for its high spirits. Both MacLeod and Clark and painted the war effort, MacLeod the women's forces, Clark women at work in factories.
Although I was about to engage in a formal interview of Clark, my persistent curiosity about MacLeod asserted itself and I began by inquiring about her friend of forty years.
"She liked men who were bad to her," Clark said.
I was taken aback. MacLeod had always looked like an early bobby-soxer in the photographs I'd seen—like the one at the Kingston conference in 1941, where, standing with A.Y. Jackson and André Biéler, she turns toward the camera, one hand on her chin, one hand holding a cigarette, a barette in her hair.
Such paradoxes, accurately recorded, make historical figures as alive as our inconsistent contemporaries. I was pulled deeper into MacLeod's psyche and began to pursue my own form of art archaeology, ferreting out informants. Many still-living friends of MacLeod's wished to tell me about this woman of unique charm.
Finally, I decided to publish MacLeod's letters. They reveal, as no other "biography" can—except the paintings themselves—what a gifted artist and brilliant personality vanished with her early death in 1949.
The letters, like the paintings, reveal a "quick noter," not an epistle writer. MacLeod wrote as she painted, fast, spontaneously, catching the essence of what was happening in descriptive fragments. Writing mainly to close friends, she needed to explain little. The results are like prose poems, full of exuberance, local colour and warmth. Sometimes she wrote letters on the back of sketches. "The artist with the wayward brush," one critic called her. Her writing has the same freedom and freshness. Her letters are happy truants....'
Pegi Nicol MacLeod
Born in the small town of Listowel, in southwestern Ontario, and later raised in Ottawa, MacLeod rocked the complacency of her era. She was "a sometime ringleader" of a group of artists and sympathizers trying to break away from conventional expectations and create a valid Canadian art community in the 1920s and 1930s. These included the Group of Seven, whose work influenced her own approaches to painting. Her first patrons were Vincent and Alice Massey. She became art editor of The Canadian Forum, "Canada's magazine for the intellectual elite," and she co-founded the Picture Loan Society. As a war artist, Pegi Nicol MacLeod painted women in the armed forces. Both her letters and paintings show her spell-binding character, and her inspiring passion for life.
"Owning a work by Pegi Nicol is like smelling daffodils in mid-winter."