Elizabeth Fraser Williamson, Sculptor, Poet, Educator (1914 to 2000)
Statement: Art lies at the well-spring of life itself. It is not tacked on to the periphery of living. True art should be a lodestone for the people, a stirring of memories and visions.
Elizabeth Fraser Williamson grew up in Ottawa, where she completed a four-year course at the Ottawa Fine Art College in 1937. She worked in clay in the village of North Gower, just south of Ottawa, where she and her husband raised their three children. In 1962, she began to work also in concrete. From 1964 to 1965, she studied from sculptor Victor Tolgesy during his semi-abstract organic period.
Spencer Clark and his wife Rose had built a renowned artists’ colony known as the Guild of All Arts at their Scarborough home. In 1970, on the recommendation of painter and patron Doris Huestis Speirs, Spencer Clark invited Williamson to become an artist-in-residence at the Guild Inn. Williamson came to the Guild Inn with a conviction that her mission was to make sculpture appreciation accessible to the public. She made the Pioneer (Osterhaut) Log Cabin her studio. A boulder with a plaque in her memory now rests near the cabin.
She taught extensively at her studio and also gave classes at Scarborough’s Cedar Ridge Creative Centre. The woods, the lake, the bluffs nourished her imagination. Her work includes realistic, semi-abstract and abstract pieces drawn from nature, myth-making and the human spirit. She worked primarily in clay (often cast into concrete, and sometimes bronze) and stone. It was a period electric with creativity. Guests at the Guild Inn would stop by her cottage gallery where she lived. She would invite them to look around, feel the sculptures, and hear the story that was within each piece.
In 1983, Williamson collaborated with photographer Ernest Singer on the book “There’s A Legend in My Spine: Sculptures and Poems of Elizabeth Fraser Williamson” Penumbra Press. Two films (available in DVD at artsonfilm.com) were produced about her work by Alexander Hamilton Brown – the award winning film, A Pathway from Within (1975) and The Sculptures of Elizabeth Fraser Williamson. In 1995, she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the former city of Scarborough.
In 1996, a collection of 182 of her sculptures was bought by the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Foundation and displayed at the Lebovic Gallery in Scarborough operated by a volunteer group, “Friends of Elizabeth”. In 2001, through the efforts of then Scarborough East Councillor David Soknacki, these sculptures were incorporated into the City of Toronto Culture Collections. Later, her Estate added 9 other bronze sculptures. The collection includes pieces in bronze, cement, plaster and clay. Most of the time since then, the majority of the collection has been in storage in anticipation of the redevelopment of Guild Inn Park as a cultural precinct.
Elizabeth wanted people to include good sculpture in their homes just as they do good paintings. To this end, most of her pieces can be easily moved from board room to coffee table, to window ledge, to patio to garden alcove. The legacy of her work fits well with the themes of Toronto’s vibrant contemporary visual artists.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia [maiden name Fraser], she grew up in Ottawa. She married David A. Hamilton Williamson (1941-1970) and had three children, Fraser, Sara and Julia.
At age twelve she was the youngest member of the Ottawa Art Association. She studied painting and later on life drawing under renowned painter Goodridge Roberts. In 1937 she completed a four-year honours course at the Ottawa Fine Art College under the instruction of classical sculptor Lionel Fosbery. Her work in clay sculpture began at around the same time.
Her pursuit of art during the 1930s included theatre under John Gilmour at Ottawa Little Theatre and modern dance with Gwen Osborne.
She continued to develop as an artist in the village of North Gower near Ottawa. During those years she took painting classes from John Clymer and sculpture classes from Victor Tolgesy. In 1963 she began working in concrete.
Williamson was honoured in 1980 as the first artist to receive the Scarborough Civic Award of Merit and Canada 125 Award for Community Service in 1993. In 1995, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Scarborough. Eight post humus bronze editions have been added to the City of Toronto collection in 2006 by her Estate.
Pieces of her work can be viewed at the Scarborough Civic Centre Mezzanine, Cedar Ridge Creative Centre and Albert Campbell Library. More sculptures are in private collections in Canada, United States, Bermuda, and United Kingdom.
Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Foundation collection of 182 of her sculptures is incorporated into the City of Toronto Culture Collections.
“There’s A Legend in My Spine” Copies in National Art Gallery, Ontario Art Gallery, Toronto Public Library
Films: “Pathway from Within”, and “Sculptures of Elizabeth Fraser Williamson” artsonfilm.com Copies in National Art Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Public Library
“The History of the Guild Inn” by Carol Lidgold
Canada Heritage Artists in Canada lists five library systems holding a file on her:
File Locations – University of British Columbia – Fine Arts Library, Winnipeg Art Gallery Clara Lander Library, Hamilton Public Library Local History and Archives Department, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives/Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Art Gallery of Ontario Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives fonds including photographs and textual records
Once Upon A City: Guild Inn an artists’ muse that still inspires, Toronto Star, May 2016
Guildwood Village Community Association
Guild Inn Gardens Period – plaque in Guild Inn Gardens
North Gower, Ottawa
Influence on artists