An Amazing Month

June 22, 2011 - 2 Responses

This month has been amazing: had a great launch for the Great Women of Nova Scotia & Other Works of Art and am meeting such wonderful people who are drawn to the show. The highlight for me at the opening receptioin was meeting relatives of The Nova Scotia Nine, including two daughters and a granddaughter of Rita Joe – who drove all the way from Eskasoni for the opening reception for the show, as well as a collection of relatives of Marie-Henriette LeJeune – Ross (aka Granny Ross) and Mabel Bell.  

I’m going to post a  few photos from the opening reception, to give you a flavor for things in case you missed it…

News of The Nova Scotia Nine has now spread across the Atlantic: N.S. Tourism called to ask if an IcelandicAir/American Express film crew could stop by the show. (Which they did: The interview will air for the next 3 years on the Iceland-Halifax direct flight as well as a national travel show.)


We’re Open!

June 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

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.

What an evening! The opening night of my Great Women of Nova Scotia art exhibit (which runs til June 25th at the Public Archives) was amazing: to say I was awed by the size of the turnout and the warmth of the crowd would be an understatement.

My event organizer, Colette Robicheau and I decided to rent 200 wine glasses for the evening -feeling optimistic about the turnout. I brought another 50. And… we ran out of glasses.

The room was so crowded some folks said they missed each other in the mix of the crowd: people came, stayed, bought 1/3 of the paintings I had for sale – and, most importantly, they really embraced The Nova Scotia Nine.

Moms brought their daughters, wives brought their husbands, and members of Rita Joe’s, Mabel Bell’s and Granny Ross’ families all made the trek. An amazing evening, truly.

Julia Ying Napier Chiasson and her Mom Jo Napier, with Organize Anything's Colette Robicheau Photo Credit: Jan Napier

Searching for Relatives of the Nova Scotia Nine

June 1, 2011 - One Response

I will be  honouring nine incredible women who changed the course of Nova Scotian history this month. I am currently trying to track down the surviving relatives of these women to invite them to the opening reception on Friday June 10, 2011 at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia inHalifax.

The centerpiece of the 20-painting show, which runs June 10-25 at the Archives, will be The Nova Scotia Nine – a series of contemporary, interpretive portraits of Rita Joe, Mabel Bell, Aileen Meagher, Viola Desmond, Anna Leonowens, Muriel Duckworth, Edith Jessie Archibald, Margaret Marshall Saunders and Marie-Henriette LeJeune-Ross.

So far I’ve been able to contact the descendants of Mabel Hubbard Bell, Anna Leonowens, Viola Desmond, Rita Joe, Muriel Duckworth and “only three” members of Aileen Meagher’s family.

I am hoping to contact the relatives of Margaret Marshall Saunders, Edith Jessie Archibald, Marie-Henriette LeJeune Ross, and more of the Meagher family.

Saunders hails from Milton and Berwick in Queen’s County. Her parents were Maria Kisborough Freeman and Edward Manning Saunders, an accomplished, educated Baptist pastor, historian and author.

Archibald (nee Jessie) is originally fromNewfoundlandand lived in Port Morien before moving toHalifax, where she died in 1936. She was married to Charles Archibald, the president of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

LeJeune-Ross lived in the North East Margaree, where her homestead still stands. She died in 1860, leaving behind 11 surviving children.

If you have information or want to find out more about The Nova Scotia Nine, please contact Jo Napier at (902) 429-7389 or or visit

Ladies Don’t Run

May 31, 2011 - Leave a Response

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.

How could you not fall in love with Aileen Meagher?

Back in the day when ‘a lady did not run’, she cut off her brother’s trousers, fashioned a pair of running shorts and tried out for the Dalhousie track team in 1928. The track coach mentioned the Olympics. Aileen had never heard of the Olympics. Soon, all that would change.

She quickly beame Canada’s record holder for the 100- and 220-yard events and, by 1932, was part of our nation’s Olympic contingent. (A charley horse kept  her out of competition.) By 1935 she was named both Most Outstanding Canadian Athlete and Most Outstanding Female Athlete.

She took home gold and silver medals at the 1934 and 1938 Empire Games and – the year Hitler hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin– Aileen arrived at the Halifaxairport with an Olympic Bronze Medal for the 400 relay.  

Meagher at 1936 Olympics, Photo Credit: NS Archives and Record Management

That’s her, at the front of the group, with her Canadian team, the, and British team prior to presentation with medals in Berlin.

She went on to become a talented artist who traveled the world – filling notebooks with watercolor sketches and captivating snippets.

Hugh Townsend interviewed Aileen for The Chronicle-Herald back in June 1976. In the interview, she recalled how she became a world-class athlete:

 “. . . I didn’t have a diet, no special conditioning, I didn’t know much about training. I just prepared myself to run as fast as I could.”

Later, as a teacher, she used her running medals as a paperweights on her school desk. When her Olympic medal went missing, she was unperturbed. “I know I did it – so, why worry?

The Power of Edith Jessie Archibald

May 24, 2011 - Leave a Response

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.

So now I am back in the studio, “working away” on the soft, gentle face of Edith Jessie Archibald. Take a peek:…

I am using old hotel-room cards to carve away at the surface of Edith Jessie Archibald’s portrait, focusing today on the background surface – trying to create a sense of “sea”… her dress is so staid and proper, starched collar and puffed sleeves, I think the contrast will create some tension and a sense of the energy of a port city alive with rough-hewn possibilities…We’ll see what happens.

When I started researching the women who were ‘key’ to securing the vote for N.S. women, EJA always popped to the surface. She was in good company… Dr. Eliza Ritchie, Edith Murray. Agnes Dennis to name three…

But I chose Edith because she spoke to me, as all “”The Nova Scotia Nine”” did and do: Like Rita Joe, and Viola Desmond, Edith Jessie stood out in character and countenance, in action and impact. In Edith’s case, she wrote powerful essays. Made powerful speeches. And ultimately, she moved people to action, giving downtrodden female citizens a sense of self-worth – a feeling that something greater, for them, was possible.

Okay, back to the studio.

Wrestling With Amazing Anna

May 19, 2011 - One Response

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.

I am, literally, wrestling with Anna Leonowens.

Back in the 19th century, Anna (of The King and I fame) was one of the most amazing women of her time. A widowed mother of two young children – without any visible means of support – who completly re-created herself.

 She became a woman of adventure, an author, a vocal supporter of women’s rights and abolition. She created an amazingly successful and dramatic life for herself. She was hardworking and ambitious. And a great self-promoter. Anna lived for more than two decades in Halifax, and she left her mark on the city, the province – and, ultimately, the country.

“In 1862 she was recommended to King Mongkut of Siam (Thailand) as a potential governess to the royal family, then composed of 67 offspring by the king’s numerous wives. Settling in Bangkok, Leonowens began a remarkable five-year career as “Mem Cha” (“M’am Dear”), which proved to be the pivotal event in a long and curious life.

In 1868, she left that posting and opened a school for training kindergarten teachers in (New York City.

Adept at self-promotion, Leonowens soon became known to the publisher of the prestigious Boston-based Atlantic Monthly.
Under his sponsorship, a series of articles portraying her Siamese experiences appeared in that magazine during 1870, followed immediately by his publication of The English Governess at the Siamese Court.

“”Since castigated as little more than plagiarism and fraudulent misrepresentation, the book was an immediate success…” – (Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online)””

Think of it this way: Readers back then, were hungry for stories about the mysterious Far East. And Anna, who did have a legitimately amazing adventure there, knew how to take a great story and make it sellable .

By the time Anna landed in Halifax in 1876, she was quite famous – as a woman of adventure, an author, a rights activist.

Before she left – 20 years later – to move to Montreal (where she died, at 84 and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery), she left her mark on the city: sparking the establishment of the Victorian School of Art and Design, now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University. So: that’s who I’m wrestling in my studio with – a formidable woman!

A Granny Like No Other

May 9, 2011 - 8 Responses

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 - Leave a Response

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 - One Response

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.

A Peek Behind the Canvas

March 30, 2011 - Leave a Response

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.

It turns out there are a million details to think about to organize an art show. So I, wisely, I am sure, have decided to enlist the help of a friend: Colette Robicheau.

She is a long-time friend, and she now runs a company called Organize Anything. Lest you think this is a shameless plug for Colette, well … I guess it is. But she’s amazing, so I feel she fits in with this blog about incredible Nova Scotian women.

I met her years back, when I was a Toronto-based technology columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and a health columnist for The Globe and Mail and had just written a book for HarperCollins – a series of interviews with women who were using technology in interesting ways.

Anyway she and one of her team, Laura – my patient and talented Blog-manager, who is a journalism grad from Carleton University and a NSCC PR alumn – are helping me organize my Public Archives June 2011 show opener.

Go Team!