Eleanor - Elaine Harrison
Eleanor - Elaine Harrison
Title: Eleanor with Cat
Artist: Elaine Harrison
Description: Acrylic painting on masonite art board. Measures 23 x 17 1/2". Signed and dated (1985) at bottom right. Original frame.
Eleanor Ressor Wheler (1900-1996) was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She studied nursing and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 1944. Eleanor worked as a public health nurse in different parts of Ontario and taught at the University of Toronto School of Hygiene. She came to Prince Edward Island in 1945 and worked as a public health nurse. Eleanor lived with her companion, artist Elaine Russel Harrison, in Bedeque and at their summer home “Windswept” in Fernwood.
Elaine Harrison (1915-2003) spent most of her working life as a teacher in Summerside. Although she was with the PEI Art Society in the 1950s, it wasn’t until her retirement from teaching in 1968 that she devoted most of her time to writing, and painting. She was inspired by the work of the Group of Seven and iconic artists such as Tom Thomson and Emily Carr. Over time, Harrison’s painting style evolved. In later years, she rarely used brushes, preferring to apply paint with a pallet knife. Harrison's works are vigorous, direct, colourful, abstracted impressions of her favourite subjects: the red cliffs and shorelines near her summer home in Fernwood; the stands of hardwood trees near her home in Bedeque, PEI; Island harbours; and her many cats. A retrospective exhibition entitled, Elaine Harrison: I Am an Island That Dreams, was held in the Art Gallery of the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in 2011/12.
Elaine Harrison graduated from Dalhousie University in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in Latin and English. She moved to the Island with her family that same year, when her father, the late Archdeacon G. R. Harrison, became Rector of St. Mary's Anglican Church in Summerside and St. John's Church in St. Eleanor's. She began her 30-year teaching career in Summerside in 1939. She spent many years teaching English and Latin at Summerside High School and, for a few years, taught geometry, German, and art. Carrying on the tradition of women artists throughout the century, Harrison was an inspired teacher, believing that education was not a means to an end but a way of life. Education was not simply about facts and figures but also included nurturing the creative mind. She was a self-taught artist, "reading all kinds of books about art and studying the works of all kinds of artists". She was drawn to the work of the modern masters: Van Gogh, Picasso, Kandinsky, Rouault, Tom Thomson, and Emily Carr, to name a few. Expressionistic artists who seek an emotional or spiritual truth, something beyond straight realism, touch her poet's soul. Throughout her teaching career, Harrison painted and was an active member of the PEI Art Society and the Great George Street Gallery. Since her retirement from teaching in 1968, Harrison devoted her extraordinary energy to painting, writing, and environmental activism. Harrison's influential work as a teacher has been publicly acknowledged. In 1997, Elaine Harrison received an honorary degree from UPEI. The Dr. Elaine Harrison Award at UPEI was established through the Estate of Elaine Harrison following her death in 2003. The award is granted to a second-, third-, or fourth-year full-time student who is talented and working toward an Arts or Music degree, and has a demonstrated financial need.