One hundred years of inspiration

On Thursday, Nov. 25, at her beloved home, called Fool’s Paradise, overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs, Doris McCarthy passed away peacefully in her sleep surrounded by the people and things that she deeply loved.

Doris McCarthy was born in Calgary in 1910 and moved to the Beach when she was only four years old. Her family lived for three years on Maclean Avenue and in 1917  they bought a house that Doris describes in her book, A Fool in Paradise as being “in the backyard of the big white house at the corner of Balsam and Pine” on Balsam Avenue. At the age of 16, Arthur Lismer (famed member of the Group of Seven) announced that a full year scholarship at the Ontario College of Art had been won by one “Miss Doris McCarthy.” She was stunned and wrote “by the end of the long street car ride home to the Beach, the decision had been made that I would go to Art College in the fall.” It was that ride home that set the direction for Doris to be an artist for the rest of her life.

In the spring of 1939, for $1,250, Doris purchased a piece of land at the end of Meadowcliffe Drive in Scarborough, that she described as “a heavenly spot, 12 acres on the corner between the bluffs and a  great lovely ravine, nature on three sides, my beautiful lake…it’s a perfect spot.” Her mother labelled it “that fool’s paradise of yours,” and that name stuck and it has been called Fool’s Paradise (FP for short) ever since. She eventually built her house there (mostly by herself,) and lived in it for the rest of her life.

Doris donated FP to the Ontario Heritage Foundation along with an endowment of $500,000 to be used as artists’ residence and studio after her demise.

My relationship with Doris began through the encouragement of my Aunt Ginny Clark, a lifetime Beach resident, who after attending Doris’ solo art show in 1978, said to me, “She is one of the greats. You should collect her work.” My relationship with Doris grew by keeping her informed of all the market activities around the world concerning her work. Doris and I shared the unflinching belief that her work was undervalued and underappreciated but eventually that would be corrected. She encouraged us to “take the tarts when they were passed,” and we took that advice to heart becoming addicted to collecting her artwork.

There is something about Doris’ work that touches my inner being like no other artist. I once asked Doris, rather spontaneously, “What did she think it was that found so appealing in her work?” She answered, in a second, “It is the love I put into every painting.” Every painting was like a child to her that she sent off in the world to spread its joy to those that, in her words “had the good sense” to own one. Even in her last years, her eyes would light up, as she recalled, with unerring accuracy, where she was and what were the circumstances around the painting of a particular painting – even 70 years ago – as if it were yesterday.

Doris is the quintessential example of what it is to be a Canadian. A rugged individualist, fiercely passionate about Canada – she painted every part of it, a liberated woman – well ahead of her time, a beloved educator – teaching a generation of Canadian artists, deeply held spiritual convictions, a completely positive, tolerant and focused individual, who fulfilled her destiny on this earth with passion, purpose and grace that makes her life one worth studying and emulating for all present and future generations of Canadians. She was the living embodiment of what being a Canadian is all about.  Doris said she was “a sucker for Canada.” We need to look no farther than our own backyard to find the heroes that we need.
Every now and then, a cherished human being like Doris comes along who lives a life that is so inspirational and exceptional that the rest of us who have been or will be in some way influenced by her are elevated by her very existence.

With her passing, we as Canadians have lost a great spirit and a magnificent human being. While the history of her vast accomplishments and extensive biography are readily available for study, her legacy will live on through her family, friends, students and most all of, through her prolific body of artwork that includes more than 5,000 paintings from every part of Canada and around the world. I know my life has been tremendously enriched by her art and life and I will miss her beautiful expressions of loving words and her boundless joy for life and living.

Her funeral is scheduled for Thursday Dec. 2 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Aidan’s Church in the Beach.

For more biographical information: www.dorismccarthy.com
Quotations from Fool in Paradise – An Artist’s Early Life by Doris McCarthy. Published by Macfarlane Walter & Ross 1990.  Copyright Doris McCarthy


Alan Bryce is the owner of Passages Art Inc.  (www.passagesart.com) and has been a devoted fan of Doris and her art for over 35 years. He is the author of the book: Art Smart: The Intelligent Guide to Investing in the Canadian Art Market.

Passages Art and Spazio dell arte (www.spaziodellarte.com) are sponsoring a show entitled “Honouring Doris McCarthy – A Collectors Passion” opening on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 at 400 Eastern Ave., Suite 201. This show has been in the planning for over a year and more details will follow in subsequent issues of Beach Metro.

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