Archive for the ‘Nova Scotia Nine’ Category

A Granny Like No Other
May 9, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.


Working away on a portrait of Marie-Henriette LeJeune-Ross – aka “Granny Ross” (1762-1860). I don’t have a reliable image I can work from, so I’m creating my own image based on research about this woman that became known – and revered – as “Granny Ross”.

 Here’s her story:  basically, she was a trail-blazer in the world of women’s science in Canada. Born to Acadian parents who were deported to France fter the 1748 fall of Louisburg, she established her reputation as a nurse and midwife in the Little Bras d’Or area of Cape Breton during a community smallpox outbreak. She had a cabin built in the nearby woods and used it as an infirmary, where she cared for and saved the lives of many settlers during the epidemic.

It seems she was a small woman, with blue eyes and a dark complexion. Without a doubt, she used her knowledge of plant medicine to help others– right up until her end.(Since the opening of my show, relatives of Granny Ross have gotten in touch: it seems her grandmothers were French and Mi’kmaq, and she learned her healing skills from her Native grandmother.

 “Traveling on foot, by horseback, or on snow-shoes, with a pine torch to light the way at night, (LeJeune-Ross) worked unendingly in a locality where professional medical aid was non-existent. She was revered in the community,” notes Lois Kathleen Kernaghan, in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Back around 1802, she and her family moved from Sydney, to the Northeast Margaree River valley, becoming the first settlers there….and when she moved, her medical skills and reputation traveled with her: As settlement in that area increased, so did the demand for her services.

She eventually went blind, but disability didn’t stop her: In summer, her family, apparently transported Granny Ross to her patients’ bedside in a type of wheelbarrow. And, in winter, she was taken on a sled.

Nova Scotia soil gave birth to this uniquely first Canadian woman of science. She’s gone, but her homestead in Cape Breton remains….



An Emotional Rock
April 26, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada/Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada

The talented Canadian biographer Charlotte Gray – (author of Reluctant Genius about Mabel’s husband, Alexander Graham Bell, and their life together) –  shared with me recently some  insights about Mabel, based upon her research.

Specifically I asked Charlotte 3 questions and shared the first q/a in my prevous blog entry. Here’s the next question I asked her:

Question no. 2:  Charlotte, I think of Mabel as “chief strategic/financial/romantic partner” to Alec/Alexander Graham Bell. How would you describe her relationship with her husband (if you had to write it on the back of a business card or matchbook cover?

Charlotte emails back:

“…Yes, (Mabel) was his romantic partner, emotional anchor and practical helper. If it wasn’t for her chivvying (and her father’s professional help, as a lawyer), Bell would never have registered his patent. It is interesting that Alec’s father-in-law fades out of (Alec & Mabel’s) life once the telephone patent is secured: I think he found Alec simply too exasperating to deal with.

 “ …Alec was the centre of Mabel’s life, and her main link to the speaking world, so it is hard to think of one without the other. But her refusal to allow her disability to limit her in any way was extraordinary.”

Q to Charlotte: What did your learn about Mabel Bell that most impressed you?

“JoAnn …Once I had got over the fact that the man who invented the telephone could never speak to his wife on it, because she was deaf, I was fascinated by the way she provided emotional stability for Alec.” Charlotte says Mabel’s hearing disability was “irrelevant” to their relationship: “her good judgment and strength of character were everything. And that their mutual dependence was extraordinary. She was a woman who could be firm with her eccentric husband, and she had a wonderful sense of humour.”

Behind Every Great Man, An Inspiring Woman
April 5, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Photo Courtesy of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum

I’m working on a portrait right now of Mabel Bell.

I’ve been researching her for a while, and reading Charlotte Gray’s wonderful book, Reluctant Genius  about Mabel’s husband, Alexander Graham Bell, and their life together.

I included Mabel among “the Nova Scotia Nine”” – the 9 women who’ll form the centerpiece for my show in June at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, in Halifax – because she was amazing – and she did amazing works during her time in Nova Scotia.

She started Nova Scotia’s first Montessori School. She was, essentially, her husband’s business manager. The partner who pushed him to patent, the one who pulled his creative team together; she ran a major home/estate, was a pioneering educator based in Baddeck, she was hearing-impaired…

An extraordinary woman and powerful example of what one person can accomplish when they refuse to let any thing dim their light.

Margaret Marshall Saunders and Beautiful Joe
March 23, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

The next woman I came across that really attracted me  – that moved me to paint her, large scale and lovingly – was Margaret Marshall Saunders.

Ever hear of her? Me neither. But turns out she was quite cool – independent, talented, a hard worker, a beautiful soul and a major animal lover. Right around the time when the book Black Beauty was published, MMS – who lived in Milton, N.S. – traveled to visit a relative in Ontario and encountered a dog who had been terribly abused. 

 It horrified her. It moved her. It moved her so much in fact, she wrote a book about the experience and  named it Beautiful Joe. And that book, about a damaged dog, was the first book by a Canadian author to sell more than a million copies.

I think it’s still in print today, and I’m going to check at my favorite bookstore to see if I can find a copy to include in the art show in June.

Here’s a photo of the author herself, with her dog. I don’t know the dog’s name, but something tells me by the end of this show, I will! (She, by the way, wrote under her second name – Marshall – because the times were such that she was pretty sure no one would buy a book written by a woman.)

The impact of Beautiful Joe was obvious: barrier-breaking sales. And not-so-obvious; Beautiful Joe was the catalyst for a shift in consciousness among Canadians.

It started them thinking about how animals should be treated. And it ended in what today is the SPCA, animal protection laws and an increasing respect for animals and debate over how we should relate to them.

Brave Viola
March 14, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Viola Desmond is such an interesting story: forcibly removed from an N.S. movie theatre for refusing to give up her seat, Viola helped spark Canada’s civil rights movement – a good decade before Rosa Parks rose to prominence.

Viola Desmond - Canadian Hero

Viola Desmond 1914 - 1965

Viola’s sister Wanda tells me Viola acted – simply because it was the right thing to do, and because her inherent sense of self respect and dignity just wouldn’t allow her to be swept back by ignorance and stupidity.

A few details: she refused to give up a main-floor seat in a movie theatre and switch up for one in then so-called “nigger heaven” – ie the movie theatre’s balcony. (Since I first spoke with Wanda, Viola Desmond has since gained a lot of exposure – and an official apology from the Nova Scotia government – much thanks to Wanda’s efforts.)

“The photo you are using (to create Viola’s portrait),”” Wanda told me recently, “”was one she had done for her product labels”,”

“We don’t know who the photographer was, but we have copies of it and have given permission to someone else to use the photo. We see no problem in using it.”

Thanks Wanda. In case you’re interested, here’s a sneak peak, thus far, of “Brave Viola”!

Pop Portrait of Viola Desmond

Introducing Rita Joe
March 10, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

I’d like to introduce you to the first woman I decided to paint: Rita Joe.

Rita Joe captured and communicated the amazing and difficult threads of her life – thanks to an ability to write from her heart in unassuming yet compelling words. Her mother died when she was 5, she was orphaned by 10 and, at age 12, went to the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School where, she later recalled, she was constantly told “you’re no good.” She countered by picking up the pen, and writing, to challenge those messages. Often referred to as the “poet laureate” of the Mi’kmaq people, she empowered people and said her s greatest wish: that “there will be more writing from my people, and that our children will read it. … Our history would be different if it had been expressed by us.”

As mentioned in the last blog entry, she was on that list of women that the reference librarians sent along to me – and was someone of whom I had no real knowledge, understanding, appreciation.

Why, after 10 years in a Halifax newsroom, and 20+ years as a journalist, did I not know her story? Her name rang a vague bell but that was it. So I started digging around and discovered why Rita Joe was not only respected and remembered but loved.

She was a woman in touch with her heart, her soul. A person with the ability to remember what it is like to be a child. And someone who was able to pull thoughts and emotions from her heart and mind, scratch them out on paper and make that writing an unbreakable thread between herself and her reader.

Dr. Rita Joe

Dr. Rita Joe 1932-2007

I missed the chance to know her but here was my opportunity to connect with her, and her writing and poetry. And…that face! I fell in love with it as soon as I saw this photo on Dr. Daniel Paul’s website.

I think it would be great if, at the June portrait show at the N.S. Archives, I could get it together and have one of Rita Joe’s books sitting, open for perusing, alongside her portrait. We’ll see.

Turns out there’s a lot to do to get things organized for an art show. But this seems like an important detail: to have something representing the works of each of the Nova Scotia Nine, sitting alongside their portraits. To give practical feeling to their artistic, portrait presence. If it’s still a good idea tomorrow, it’s likely worth pursuing. We’ll see.

Wonderful Women
February 23, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

My portrait show – The Nova Scotia Nine – came about with a visit to my local library, in downtown Halifax. I’d stopped by to see if my favorite HRM reference librarian, Norma, was around.

I had an idea for a show of paintings, for my first art show, and I wanted her help. (She’d helped me with my book cover when I was co-authoring a book about women and technology, for HarperCollins, and I knew a conversation with Norma is always worth the pitstop.)

She was on vacation. So I left her a simple note: “Interested in tracking down women of Nova Scotia of cultural/social/historical significance. Thoughts? ”

Turns out that’s the kind of note that drives reference librarians wild: two weeks later upon her return from a vacation, Norma discovered her colleagues had already come up with a dozen or so names of women they felt fit the bill.

As I walked home with their list in hand, it was immediately apparent: I didn’t know who any of these people were. Pearleen Oliver, Frances Lillian Fish, Nora Bernard, Rita Joe, Gladys Porter, Cora Greenaway, Mona Parson, Evleyn Richardson and Margaret Marshall Saunders.

Others suggested Margaret Meagher, Allie Ahern, Isabel  MacNeill, Abbie Lane, Florence Murray, Jean Whittier, Eva Mader Macdonald, Winifred  Eaton and Pearl Young.

A few I knew: Muriel Duckworth Portia White, Maud Lewis and Sister Catherine Wallace. But most didn’t even ring a bell.. I love research and I waded in with a sense of excitement.

Who were these women? Why, after 10 years in a Halifax newsroom, did I not know their faces, know their stories?

The Start of the Road
February 19, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Sorry I wandered off a bit there in the last entry. I have never written about that before and was surprised at how strongly I was able to express my feelings about painting.

Anyway, now it’s10 years later and I am focused on my first solo show. The centerpiece of which will be 9 large portrait paintings of women I have encountered who accomplished truly amazing things on Nova Scotia soil. They turned our lives around in so many different ways.

And I want to introduce you to them here. Via this Blog. These women, trust me, are worth investigating. So bear with me and I’ll introduce you to each one as we go along here. Let’s say: one woman, each week. Plus, my ramblings about the show and how it’s developing.

Because I hate to think I’m in this alone.  And I know from those years of writing about technology that a “virtual voice” really does echo. So, here goes, goes….goes……goes…..goes…

The Nova Scotia Nine
February 17, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

The focus of the June 2011 show at the Archives will be a group of women I’m calling “The Nova Scotia Nine”. There will be more than 9 paintings in the show but these women, these large-size portraits, will be the focal point.

Most of these women I’d never heard of before this idea for a show started to percolate in my brain. As I encountered each of their stories, the faces, their lives, I was bowled over: Each woman did something really amazing. They changed our province, our culture, our history, the way we think and live today.

They’re very different people but they share two common elements. They were aware of the value of doing something “bigger then themselves.” They contributed to a greater good, I guess you could say. And the second common thread is that all nine are largely unknown characters in the story of our province. And least they were to me.

I found it shocking that I’d spend most of my life, up until recently, working as a journalist – much of that time based in Nova Scotia – and had never heard of these people. Well, all except for one. They are all dead now, unfortunately, so it’s too late to talk with them. But not to late to hold them up to the light. To honor them. To look at their faces and study their lives and their characters.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Exactly that.

I’ve spend the last few months researching them, falling in love with their stories and their faces, and painting portraits of them. Their large-scale portraits will be the focal point for an 18-painting show at the Archives.

My first solo exhibition. I’m excited. Because I want to honor these women, and this feels like a great way to do it.

It Starts With a Blank Canvas
February 16, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Where do I start with a blog? I mean, really: I just want to paint.

To paint women, specifically. I don’t yet know why. Perhaps it’s a matter of beauty. Or of capturing familiar elements of form and character. Maybe it’s just a matter of having grown up with a houseful of brothers; an unaddressed curiousity around sisterhood.

Whatever the reason, I love to paint women.

“An artist,” said Robert Henri (American painter, 1865-9929), “should be intoxicated with the idea of the thing he wants to express.” I am: I want to express the spirit and character of women whose faces and lives capture my imagination. Which is why I’m working so hard on a show, this June, of portrait paintings.

The show will be held at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Stay tuned for details!