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Robert Amos: Artist comes by talent honestly

Jennifer McIntyre, whose paintings are on show at Eclectic Arts (2170 Oak Bay Ave., 250-590-8095, until May 7) is from an artistic family.

Jennifer McIntyre, whose paintings are on show at Eclectic Arts (2170 Oak Bay Ave., 250-590-8095, until May 7) is from an artistic family. She welcomed me to her Oak Bay home to see some art works by them, and she began by showing me two plaster casts of children posing as the muses of painting and sculpture. They were by Charles S. Kelsey, her great-great-grandfather, who exhibited with the Royal Academy in London in 1838.

“My grandfather was also an artist,” she said. Leonard E. Kelsey taught himself by sketching in the British Museum, before coming to Canada in 1909. In Montreal he became an illustrator for Morgan’s Department Store, and his fine rendering of a woman’s shoe and a puppy dog, created for an advertisement, hangs in McIntyre’s home.

Her grandfather’s brother, Charles Kelsey was a designer of stained glass windows in Montreal, and she has a large example, done in a Pre-Raphaelite style. “My grandfather made the frame,” McIntyre pointed out.

She inherited a painting by Kathleen Morris from her parents — “a wedding gift to them in 1939” — and one by Richard Ciccimarra from her in-laws. These heirlooms hang comfortably with McIntyre’s collection of prints by Canadian artists.

“When we were young and had our first paycheques,” McIntyre told me, “my husband and I tried to buy a piece of art every year — and that meant prints.” Along with woodcuts by John Snow, Walter J. Phillips and Alistair Bell, a colour print from Pat Martin Bates greets visitors by the front door, etchings by Carole Sabiston decorate the dining room, and by the kitchen is a small acrylic by Grant Leier — “one of my heroes.”

At this point we repaired to her basement studio where, remote from family life, she works at a drawing table.

“I grew up in a household where people cared about art: Vancouver School of Art on Saturdays, Banff one summer when it was still like summer camp,” she said. Growing up in West Vancouver, she had Gordon Caruso as her art teacher in junior high school.

After graduating from high school, she came to Victoria to attend the University of Victoria, and never left.

“I didn’t want to be an artist,” McIntyre explained. “I wanted to be a teacher. I was 17. I knew nothing.”

As a student teacher, she visited the Oak Bay High School classrooms of Bill West and Carole Sabiston.

“I decided that’s where I wanted to teach. Carole Sabiston became my hero. Just walking into her classroom, it was just rich with colour, texture, objects, energy — absolutely inspiring! Bill West was next door with a huge old printing press. The kids were so engaged, it was just nothing like I’d ever seen in a high school before.”

The five-year secondary-school education program led to employment, as she was taken up directly from her practice teaching at Mount View High on Carey Road.

“I was 22,” she said, still a little amazed. “There was a very simple little art room, basically no facilities.” That school eventually became Spectrum, where McIntyre worked with Harry Stanbridge for five years.

“It was the go-to art school when Harry was there,” she recalled. “He could discover artists out of any group of kids, and he nurtured them.”

McIntyre’s talents were also discovered. School District 61 hired her to help guide teachers in elementary school, where for eight years she was teaching How to Teach Art.

“No cookie-cutter art!” was her motto, as she went from school to school, “teaching out of her car.” As a demonstration teacher in classrooms, she thrived on challenges, a new one every day.

Then, at last, she got a position at Oak Bay High School, where she spent 13 years and worked with Bevin Bigalky. She went on to employment in the art education faculty at UVic for a further nine. McIntyre told me that at UVic she found a community of like-minded people. Then, about 12 years ago, she took early retirement and set aside the career of art-teaching.

“I had a little chat with myself,” she recalled.

“As a teacher you are using your critical voice all the time, day in day out.” And now she paints a lot. “I had to turn off my critical voice — or turn it down.”

“I work in themes,” she said, and she knows how to get down to work.

“Don’t be fooled by the whole idea of inspiration,” she said. “It’s not about inspiration. It’s about putting yourself at your desk.” Then things happen.

“Time passes and you lose track of time, you’re sort of at one with it. I am not a spiritual person, but that’s a nice place to be. But you’ve got to be there for it to happen.”

In her paintings, McIntyre is not a storyteller. In her painting, the decorative values are to the fore. On the walls around her were colourful panels with patterned grounds, each enlivened by carefully painted representational objects. Some recent themes include fortune cookies, antique Chinese costumes, folk art objects and Japanese tea bowls.

McIntyre shows at Mattick’s Farm, at Art Rental and Sales at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and Eclectic Gallery. She is always at work, making things that will brighten someone’s home and cheer them in their day.


Also on show at Eclectic Gallery are the small abstract paintings of Carolyn Kowalyk. Plus, rare and unique pottery pieces by, and from the estate of, the late Walter Dexter. Dexter fans: Study this interesting array of ceramic art before it is dispersed.

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