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Crowds come out to celebrate art opening and Doris McCarthy's 100th birthday

ART EXHIBITION: Crowds came out for the opening of a new art exhibition featuring the work of Doris McCarthy on the occasion of her 100th birthday. (Photo by Joseph George.)

by Eleni Kanavas

More than 200 people, including community supporters, close friends and family of renowned artist Doris McCarthy gathered to celebrate her 100th birthday and the opening of Roughing It in the Bush at the Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) at the University of Toronto Scarborough on June 19.

The new art exhibit marks a very special milestone for the Canadian painter and highlights a spirited life of adventure. Curated by Nancy Campbell, the show features a selection of rarely seen paintings and an archive of photos presenting her much-loved artwork in a new way. The exhibition runs concurrently from June 19 to July 24 at the DMG and the University of Toronto Arts Centre (UTAC).

Throughout her long career, McCarthy has been an influential artist, educator and author who has made a significant contribution to the history of Canadian landscape painting. Her childhood interest in sketching combined with many art classes led McCarthy to study art under the tutelage of Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer.

Although McCarthy was unable to attend the event in person, the reception was broadcast live via Skype, where she watched from the comfort of her Scarborough Bluffs home – affectionately called “Fool’s Paradise.” The crowd also gathered around a large birthday cake to sing “Happy Birthday” and celebrate this special milestone. McCarthy will achieve centenary status on July 7.

“I was born with creativity in my bones and so I wanted to write and paint from an early age,” McCarthy said in a statement read by Ann MacDonald, curator at the DMG. “Now as I lie here contemplating my 100th birthday, I am full of joy thinking of the life I’ve had, leading up to this moment. I’m thankful to those who have assembled this grand celebration of my work. I am thrilled to see the book that portrays the paintings in this exhibit. It is a triumph! I am ever grateful for the birthday wishes I have received, and continue to find happiness in the many simple pleasures that each day brings.”

As an art history teacher during the mid-1900s, McCarthy traveled the world – visiting the high Arctic and Antarctica 12 times – to photograph and sketch its many wonders for her students. Over the years, she has produced a prolific body of work and is best known for her landscape paintings and Arctic icebergs. She has also taught and mentored some of Canada’s most distinguished creative people and was the first woman President of the Ontario Society of Artists.

“Doris is very grateful to Nancy Campbell and Ann MacDonald, and believes the title for the show is quite apt because Roughing It in the Bush brings back her love of nature,” said Beth McCarthy, the great-niece of the painter. “Doris has lived harmoniously with nature, respecting its power and unleashing its splendor on canvas, paper and in the earlier years, on board.”

Born in Alberta in 1910, she moved with her family to Toronto in 1913 and grew up in the Beaches. McCarthy graduated with honours from the Ontario College of Art in 1930 and also studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, England and the Ontario Training College for Technical Teachers. She taught art for 40 years at Toronto’s Central Technical High School and was the subject of an award-winning docu-drama titled Doris McCarthy: Heart of a Painter.

At the age of 79, McCarthy graduated from the University of Toronto Scarborough in 1989 with a BA in English. In March 2004, UTSC opened a brand new exhibition space bearing her name and dedicated to the presentation of leading contemporary artwork. The Doris McCarthy Gallery holds a significant selection of her donated works in the permanent collection, as well as her personal and artistic archives.

In celebration of her 100th birthday, the University of Toronto is honouring McCarthy by dedicating a seat in Convocation Hall. Additionally, the University of Toronto Scarborough is producing an annual Doris McCarthy award, inspired by McCarthy’s tenacious spirit, dedication to the creative process and honour for her commitment to teaching and mentoring.

“This award will be assigned to a Visual and Performing Arts student whose process and work indicate an admirable degree of innovative thinking, rigor, tenacity, sensitive venture, culminating a production deemed excellent,” said Professor William Bowen, chair of the Humanities department at UTSC.

In recognition of her ongoing contribution to Canada’s artistic community, McCarthy has received numerous honours, including: The Order of Canada; The Order of Ontario; five Honorary Doctorates, an Honorary Fellowship to The Ontario College of Art and Design; and the first Artist of Honour at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

As a philanthropist, she has also donated her Scarborough Bluffs home and an endowment for its maintenance to be used as an artist studio and sanctuary after her death. McCarthy’s work is collected by major institutions, including the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada. Her paintings are also featured in many corporate and private collections.

For more information, visit the Doris McCarthy Gallery web site at

© University of Toronto Scarborough