Image © Art Gallery of Ontario
Imagine a cold day in February more than 90 years ago. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and you are lined up on Dundas Street hoping to register your child in the very first Saturday morning art class offered at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now know as the AGO). The year is 1929 and the excitement is palpable, because if you get a coveted spot, your child would be taught a curriculum supervised by none other than Arthur Lismer.
Today you might be familiar with Lismer as a member of the Group of Seven, best known for his expressive and colourful landscape works. But back in the late 1920s and ‘30s, it was Lismer’s new approach to teaching that had guests lined up out the door.
Hired by the museum’s education committee, Lismer first brought his teaching experience to the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1927. After several years as principal of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Lismer already had ideas about new ways to teach art. In Toronto, he began pioneering an experimental teaching style with an all-new Saturday morning class launched in February 1929. In these classes, Lismer and the instructors he supervised would encourage students to express themselves, instead of just copying the works and techniques of the instructor. By his philosophy, if students could see and discuss the beauty of the world around them, they could begin the process of expressing their own unique creativity and skill.
It was a groundbreaking way of teaching art and if the line-up in the image above is any indication, it was an instant hit!
Following the success of these Saturday morning classes, Lismer went on to create the Children’s Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1933. Through this new ‘Gallery School’, Lismer continued to share his methods by publishing books and going on a cross-Canada speaking tour.
Following his time in Toronto, Arthur Lismer’s teaching career took him to classrooms in South Africa and Columbia University in New York City, before a 26-year tenure leading the Montreal Children's Art Centre (affiliated with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts).
Lismer’s legacy lives on with a wide array of children’s courses taught at the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre. With courses running throughout the year, students of all ages can take beginner courses in painting, sculpting, drawing, photography and much, much more. To get more info on courses offered at the AGO, visit ago.ca/learn.