A lifetime of art

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Ruth Maunder raised - and helped inspire - a family of artists

Ruth Maunder stands next to an exhibit of her work at Kenny's Pond Retirement Residence. An artist all her life, she held her very first art show last week, at the age of 87. Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

At 87 years old, Ruth Maunder has fulfilled a dream she's had since she was a young girl.

Maunder, a resident at Kenny's Pond Retirement Residence who's been making art her entire life, held her very first art exhibit at the complex last Thursday.

Born and raised in St. John's, she comes by her artistic talent naturally: her father, Englishman James Murdoch, was a professional architect, artist and art teacher.

"I learned to draw when I could hold my crayons," Maunder told The Telegram at the show, held in a lounge on her building's sixth floor. "When dad was going out painting, I used to go with my crayons, and he'd sort of lead me in the things I needed to know."

Inspired by her father, she wanted to go to art school, but never got the chance.

"It was after the depression and during World War II and, at the time, that was not considered something women did, so she was convinced to study biology instead," said her son, Jim. "She travelled to Halifax, to attend Dalhousie University, in a convoy of boats led by mine sweepers."

Ruth took up a job with the province's Department of Health, and married John Maunder, a graphic artist and art teacher. While biology may not have been her first choice for a career, her training added to her life as an artist by giving her an appreciation of nature.

It's nature that Ruth represents most often in her work, with flowers, animals and landscapes dominating her collection. Although some of her earlier pieces are done in oil, watercolour is her medium of choice.

"I didn't like the smell of the oil in the house," she said, explaining why she gave up using the paints.

Ruth's art was more or less put on hold while she raised her four children, but she picked it up again around age 50, taking a three-year correspondence art course and participating in a couple of workshops given by renowned Hungarian watercolourist Zoltan Szabo on the the mainland.

Making a living from her pieces was never a priority, Jim said, although Ruth has sold a few pieces, done on commission. A number of larger oil paintings were meant to be included in a book former premier Joey Smallwood was writing on the introduction of moose and caribou to this province, which never got published. A longtime member of the Arts Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, she often took part in annual group shows, but never pursued showing her work or making money from it.

"She painted for the pleasure of doing it," Jim explained. "She got so attached to some of the pieces while she was doing them, she didn't want to see them go.

"Every inch of the walls of the house was covered in art, some by her father, some by herself."

Ruth gave up painting a few years ago, once the discomfort of osteoporosis and arthritis made it difficult for her to sit or hold a paintbrush for long periods of time. Once she moved into the Kenny's Pond residence, her children approached the people who work there, thinking it would be nice to hang some of the paintings on the many bare walls.

When they laid eyes on some of Ruth's work, Jim said, the idea to hold a show came about. Borrowing portable display walls from the arts council and with the help of the residence's recreation director, Ruth's family set up the exhibit, which featured more than a dozen of her pieces, completed mostly during her 50s, 60s and 70s.

"I had thought of having (a show) before, but never really went into it," Ruth told The Telegram. "It's nice having it now."

While some of her earlier oil paintings - including a profile portrait of her father and depictions of family pets - were among those presented, the show focused on Ruth's watercolours. Various plants, flowers, birds and landscapes were depicted in a style clearly belonging to a seasoned, talented artist and not an amateur hobbyist.

Ruth, herself, remained humble while receiving what her family members say must have been a couple hundred guests during the event, smiling and thanking them quietly for their kind words. Many of her longtime friends had no idea she even painted at all, Jim said.

Now that the exhibit is over, some of Ruth's pieces will be hung in the residence's second-floor dining room.

As her father did to her, Ruth instilled a love of art in her children: Jim is a sculptor and art teacher, Marg is a painter and works in stained glass and jewelry; Alice is a quilter, and John is a talented watercolourist, also with a love of biology. Even Ruth's grandchildren - for each of whom she does a painting on their 21st birthday - are artistic, Jim said.

Ruth no longer spends time at her art but is still a lover of nature, and enjoys going for walks near Kenny's Pond with her family members, feeding the ducks. She said she's also still a lover of art, and admires the work of many local artists.

In another era, she would likely have had an art career just as accomplished as some of them.

"Mom probably would have pursued it as a profession, but being a housewife in the 1950s, Dad was the main breadwinner," Jim said. "Had she been born 30 years later, she would have probably made it her career."

tbradbury@thetelegram.com www.twitter.com/tara_bradbury

 

Organizations: The Telegram, Dalhousie University, Department of Health Arts Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: St. John's, Halifax

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  • Toni
    June 28, 2011 - 08:38

    Aunt Ruth: Congratulations on your show. Ross and I wish that we could have been there.

    • Virginia Houston
      June 28, 2011 - 13:32

      Congratulations, Ruth, on your exhibit. I would have loved to see it.