"Silence and Alchemy"
Marion Nicoll, "Silence and Alchemy."
Marion Nicoll: Silence and Alchemy,
University of Calgary Press
The Marion Nicoll retrospective last year in the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary is one of a spate of recent exhibitions that has reconsidered the modernist history of Western Canada. Nicoll, of course, was one of the earliest abstract painters in a province that, as curator Christine Sowiak observes, was late to accept modernist art. That Nicoll faced considerable odds – from frail health to the bias against women artists all too common in her lifetime – makes her achievements all the more remarkable.
Nicoll, who lived from 1909 to 1985, was the first full-time female instructor at what’s now the Alberta College of Art and Design. The exhibition catalogue, with essays by Ann Davis, the gallery’s former director, and art historians Elizabeth Herbert and Jennifer Salahub, looks at everything from the spiritual underpinnings of abstract art and Nicoll’s close ties with New York’s arts community to the regional context of her production and its links with craft. Taken together, the essays provide a rounded portrait an artist who seems particularly emblematic of her era.