Blind Contour Drawing #25 –
“Dishcloth on Line #3 ”
– Mary Pratt 1997
Mary Pratt grew up on one of the most well-regarded streets in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She was one of two daughters to a Harvard-educated provincial cabinet minister.
She was heavily influenced by her maternal grandmother, Edna McMurray, who was the co-founder of the first Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) chapter in New Brunswick. Pratt, like her grandmother, served her community on several boards and communities during her lifetime, especially with matters of the arts and education.
Pratt attended Mount Allison University, studying Fine Arts under Alex Colville, Ted Pulford, and Lawren P. Harris. It was Colville who influenced the development of her style and her subsequent move toward realism. Harris was less enthusiastic. In her second year, she met the artist Christopher Pratt they married in 1957. Harris was quick to inform her that there could only be one artist in a marriage and she was not it.
Despite his forewarning, Pratt kept up with her practice even after they moved to Scotland so that her husband could attend the Glasgow School of Art. They had two children while there and even though she had very limited time, she continued to paint. They moved back to the Maritimes in 1961, to Newfoundland, Christopher’s home, had 2 more children and Pratt continued to work. The couple separated in 2004.
While she was frustrated by the lack of time she could work, she kept up with her practice by focusing on the ordinary things she found around her home in rural Newfoundland. She began to experiment with the use of light and found that she couldn’t sketch fast enough so started to take photos of mundane moments that she described as having an erotic charge. Months later, getting the slides back, she would reassess if her subject still held that special quality and only painted those moment that she loved.
This portrayal of the ordinary helped Pratt earn national recognition. She started to show her work in 1967 and by the 1970’s her focus was turned towards the everyday objects of women’s domestic lives.
In 1996, Pratt was named Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1997, she was awarded the Molson Prize for visual artists from the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2013, she was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She was also awarded nine honorary degrees from various universities throughout Canada. Pratt was also the first Atlantic woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.
Pratt suffered severe near-sightedness, which is reflected in the focal depth of her paintings. She also found difficulty walking and using her hand by middle age because of Rheumatoid arthritis. She continued to paint until her late 70’s.
Her subject matter elevated the mundane scenes of domesticity. Pratt’s art was powerful and political. It was derived from what she called an erotic charge for the moment she captured and then painted.
Born: March 15, 1935, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Died: August 14, 2018, St. John’s, Newfoundland